After Pope John Paul II

Millions around the globe are mourning the passing of Pope John Paul II. World leaders traveled to the Vatican for his funeral and messages of sorrow came from nations as diverse as the U.S., Cuba and China.

The pope’s 26-year reign included many stands people rightly respect. He brought a moral authority to the antiwar movement with his condemnation of the Iraq war and Bush’s aggressive policies. He spoke against growing inequality between rich and poor and stood against the death penalty. He apologized for the historic “sins” committed by the church.

Toward the end of his reign, he developed friendly relations with Cuba and criticized the U.S.-led blockade of that island. John Paul also spoke out against “savage capitalism.”

Yet, on theological issues, he undid much of the progress that the Roman Catholic Church made since the Second Vatican Council.

His lead in suppressing the “liberation theology” movement in Latin America hurt both the church itself and the people there.

John Paul II actively opposed distribution of condoms in AIDS-ravaged Africa and voiced animosity toward the rights of women and gays and lesbians. His ultraconservative positions on stem cell research and family planning negatively affected people both inside and outside the Catholic Church.

The late pontiff leaves behind a church divided after a long sex abuse scandal that reached all the way to the Vatican, after it was revealed that the church hierarchy sheltered priests who sexually abused children. Cardinal Law, who covered for predatory priests as archbishop of Boston, resigned, but was rewarded with a job in the Vatican.

George W. Bush and others hailed Pope John Paul’s role in the destruction of socialism in Poland, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. While John Paul deftly exploited socialist Poland’s weaknesses, the destruction of socialism in the region was a setback for humanity, unleashing the very forces of “savage capitalism” that he later condemned.

Who will the College of Cardinals elect to replace him? Will the right wing dominate?

Or will the cardinals choose a pope who moves to modernize the church — to ordain women as priests, allow priests to marry, embrace reproductive freedom for women, support gay and lesbian rights and other human rights, and challenge the inequities of capitalism?

No to ‘nuclear option’

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) seized on the Terri Schiavo tragedy to divert attention from his own sleazy crimes while instigating mass hysteria against the courts for refusing to order her feeding tube reconnected. The judges will have to “answer for their behavior,” he ranted.

Another Texas Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, went even further. He justified the recent murder of a federal judge in Atlanta and of the husband and mother of a Chicago judge as payback because judges make “political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public.” The frustration “builds up to the point where some people engage in violence,” he said.

Threatening a judge is a crime, but DeLay and Cornyn are so emboldened they now invite retaliation against those whose rulings they don’t like. They would destroy the judiciary as an equal, independent branch of government, undermining the system of checks and balances in the Constitution.

That’s why the “nuclear option,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s drive to terminate the Senate filibuster rule, is so menacing. Democratic senators have used the filibuster, which requires a two-thirds majority to end Senate floor debate, to block extremist, racist and male supremacist judicial nominees.

If Frist succeeds, these nominees would sail through by a simple Senate majority vote, facilitating President Bush’s drive to pack the federal judiciary with right-wing extremists.

Many pro-democracy groups seek a bipartisan Senate majority to preserve the filibuster rule. Sen. John Kerry sponsored an ad in USA Today, endorsed by 200,000 people, in support of the filibuster.

Just as the American people responded to the outrageous congressional actions in the Schiavo tragedy, we need to speak out on this extremist attack. Call your senators at (202) 224-3121. Urge them to vote to save the filibuster rule.