February 06, 2005

The Men Behind The Pope

VATICAN CITY
Time Magazine

BY JEFF ISRAELY | VATICAN CITY

Ever since the Pope barely survived a 1981 assassination attempt, Catholics worldwide have got used to praying for his health. Whenever John Paul II has a setback and he's had quite a few in the past 10 years speculation about his successor ratchets up another notch. So when the Pope was rushed to the hospital last week suffering from an inflamed windpipe, spasms of the larynx and the flu, people wondered how long he would be able to continue in office. The Vatican reported that John Paul was making a good recovery, but with the 84-year-old Pontiff increasingly debilitated by Parkinson's disease, some are asking a more immediate question: Who's running the church?

Despite his physical frailty, Vatican officials say John Paul is still mentally alert and capable of making the big decisions. And the Pope insists on appearing as often as possible in public. But even the most steadfast loyalists concede that his failing health has forced the Pope to delegate a substantial chunk of his workload. "He's still the head of the church," says one priest based in Rome who is well-connected to top Vatican officials. "But he's more of a figurehead. He's not making the day-to-day decisions anymore." That, according to one senior Vatican official, poses risks. "There's more of a chance for corruption," the official told TIME. "People start coming in and looking for a favor sometimes with money looking to have someone appointed or transferred to this or that diocese."

There have been no recent reported charges of priests or laypeople bribing church officials, but there have been concerns that the Holy See was lax in responding to the ongoing sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. And there have been some mixed messages coming out of Rome. Just last week, the theologian Georges Cardinal Cottier contradicted longstanding Church teachings that ban condom use, saying they could be "legitimate" to fight aids. The Vatican also seems to have been caught off guard by Spain's move to legalize gay marriage, which the church vehemently opposes.

Posted by kshaw at February 6, 2005 09:20 AM