Page 1299 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 5 April 2005

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adulthood. Also, he lived through the darkness of Nazism and the Stalinist regime that ruled his country for most of his life.

However, as pope he became a very popular leader because, as Alan McElwain and Chris McGillion said in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, he had the great leader’s skill of projecting his presence so universally that people felt they knew him and he knew them personally. Of course this was helped by his grasp of six languages, and one of the world’s most savvy media machines, which runs out of the Vatican. He made many overseas trips and television appearances. I think the fact that Mr Smyth spoke about his 1986 visit to Canberra is telling in that regard.

What the pope did for the world we will always remember. There is a tendency at these times to focus on the positive sides of people’s lives, and I think that is appropriate. He assisted with the collapse of communism in East Germany through visits to Poland, where his speeches undermined the credibility of the regime. He built bridges between Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Let us remember though that, while the pope did much good for many groups, his strict adherence to the most conservative Catholic dogma meant a continued erosion of rights and health. For instance, in 1994, the historic coming together of fundamentalist Islamic leaders and the Christian leaders of states and in the church was built on an alliance against the reproductive rights of women. That alliance has gained strength and we have seen a lack of adjustment in this approach to birth control and abortion, especially the simple availability of condoms in an era where HIV/AIDS is ravaging Africa and many of the other countries where the Catholic Church is a very influential player.

Let us remember, too, that gay people will forever feel outside those most traditional Catholic churches; that non-traditional families do not necessarily have a place; and that the church was unable to speak out on injustices to women—whilst I acknowledge the pope was very strong in speaking about injustice to the third world.

Let us remember too that the pope opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought that perhaps the most useful thing I could do was to read something the pope said in his address on the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1990. The pope did speak out on a number of issues, including poverty and environmental issues. He said that day:

The ecological crisis reveals the urgent moral need for a new solidarity, especially in relations between the developing nations and those that are highly industrialized. States must increasingly share responsibility, in complementary ways, for the promotion of a natural and social environment that is both peaceful and healthy … It must also be said that the proper ecological balance will not be found without correctly addressing the structural forms of poverty that exist throughout the world. Rural poverty and unjust land distribution in many countries, for example, have led to subsistence farming and to the exhaustion of the soil. Once their land yields no more, many farmers move on to clear new land, thus accelerating uncontrolled deforestation, or they settle in urban centres which lack the infrastructure to receive them. Likewise, some heavily indebted countries are destroying their natural heritage, at the price of irreparable ecological imbalances, in order to develop new products for export. In the face of such situations it would be wrong to assign responsibility to the poor alone for the negative environmental consequences of their actions. Rather, the poor, to whom the earth is entrusted no less than to others, must

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