I basically agree with your evaluation. JPII has been a leader who belonged to no Catholic "party" or "camp." It is a mistake to label him a "conservative," although that term certainly describes his relationship to many of the leaders in the Catholic establishment who have not been supportive of the magisterium. His conservatism, if anyone wants to call it that, is contextual. His commitment to orthodoxy is responsible for the various emphases of his pontificate that appeal to both the left and the right (again, to use labels that don't quite work). To the left he was the pope of human rights and the opponent of the death penalty; to the right he was the defender of doctrine and the pope who restored the proper priorities within Catholic social teaching. Uniting both of these flanks in his popularity is the underlying appeal for a "culture of life." It's to President Bush's credit that he has made this theme such a prominent part of his public policy, and I don't think the pope minded that a Texas Methodist used it so often. I know that in all Bush's private meetings with the Holy Father JPII commended him for his support for a culture of life.
There was certainly nothing wrong, in my opinion, with Republicans trying to make the case that their presidential candidate was closer to the Catholic position on the life issues than the alternative. And, to be fair, the Democrats should and did try to make their case to the Catholic voters as well. Given that JPII has succeeded in underlining the priority of life issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and embryo research, it will be important to watch if the next pontiff continues that emphasis. These points of emphasis, amid the so-called seamless garment, are emerging as perhaps the central point of debate over the Catholic vote.
But at this moment, I am sure we are all struck with the sanctity of the man who is passing away before our eyes.
Deal W. Hudson