John Paul II has finally made it. He’s right up there with Adolf Hitler and The Computer. On January 2, he joined the ranks of heroes and villains honored as Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.” Oddly enough. Time did not go out of its way to portray the Holy Father as you would expect. Actually, it presented a rather reverent profile marred only by the obligatory curtsey to apostate liberals. Indeed, it championed the Bishop of Rome as a profoundly holy man trying to reform a profoundly sinful world.
Time called the Roman Pontiff a man of “rectitude” who has “demonstrated throughout the 16 years of his papacy [that he] needs no divisions. He is an army of one, and his empire is both as ethereal and as ubiquitous as the soul.” The magazine gave John Paul II credit for derailing President Clinton’s shameful population control proposal at the U.N. conference in Cairo, and it used no immoderate adjectives to describe his apostolic letter on the ordination of women. The magazine simply reported the truth. “His answer, in brief, was no. The document disappointed and outraged many Catholic women.” Can’t argue with that. Time even found space to praise the insights in his best-seller, Crossing the Threshold of Hope.
In short, the magazine portrayed John Paul II as a “warrior” Pope, which is what historian Paul Johnson called him in a concluding, comparative profile of the Holy Father and another Man of the Year, the author of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII.
On the down side, the profile was a bit silly. Time sought the opinions of other religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Billy Graham, who agreed the Pope was an important fellow. That’s nice, but who cares what they think? If Time can bestow the award on its own, it can certainly produce the profile without seeking help from the Asiatic spiritual equivalent of a Navajo medicine man.
The magazine also included the obligatory profile of a Roman Catholic priest who really is not a Catholic at all, whose services are “more like a campfire sing-along” and at any given moment might feature a dance performance by children and a skull session on feminism or divorce. And the editors did not forget to include the mandatory “survey,” which reported that 56 percent of Catholics do not believe the Pope is infallible when he speaks on matters of morals and that 89 percent believe “it is possible to disagree with the Pope and still be a good Catholic.”
Still, the profile was positive and, left at that, would have been fine. It is the dubious distinction “Man of the Year” that rubs you the wrong way, especially if you are Roman Catholic. Dubbing Robert DeNiro “Best Actor” is one thing, but a few editors at Time deciding who the “Man of the Year” is bespeaks hubris of Shakespearean magnitude, especially if the “man” is the Vicar of Christ. Presumably, when the millennium arrives. Time will name a “Man of the Century.” Will the winner be Stalin, Hitler, or John Paul II, Successor to the Throne of Peter? Ironically enough, Time‘s photo editor found exactly the right words to describe the Holy Father, perhaps because the captivating and moving images that accompanied the article really were worth a thousand words apiece. “His pictures radiate like the man himself,” she said. Of course they do.
Happily, who the Pope is. Whom he represents, and what he teaches are eternal, not ephemeral, and he transcends the banal awards of any secular institution. Question is, what’s next? The Nobel Prize?