Requiescat in Pace

Requiescat in Pace

Requiescat in Pace

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 4 2005 11:42 AM

Requiescat in Pace

All the papers lead with the death of Pope John Paul II on Saturday night at 9:37 p.m. after many years of suffering from several debilitating illnesses. He was 84, led the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years, and was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. "Our Holy Father John Paul has returned to the house of the Father," Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the Vatican undersecretary of state, told the thousands of faithful who were gathered in St. Peter's Square below the pope's apartment. After a brief moment of stunned silence, the crowd broke out into applause, an Italian custom that symbolizes hope when someone dies. The pope's health began severely deteriorating on Thursday, when a urinary tract infection led to a sharp decrease in his blood pressure, a high fever, and failure of his kidneys and heart. On Saturday morning the Vatican announced the pope was drifting in and out of consciousness. In an often-quoted statement, one of the pope's advisers said the pope sent out a message on Saturday to the young Catholics gathered in the square: "I was looking for you. You have come for me, and I thank you."

The New York Timesnotes that after a doctor certifies the pope's death, tradition calls for the Vatican camerlengo, the cardinal who handles the pope's secular duties, to call the pope's baptismal name three times and then strike his forehead with a silver hammer. The Washington Postsays Pope John Paul II's body will lie in state at St. Peter's Basilica beginning on Monday afternoon. The date of his funeral will be determined on Monday morning when a group of cardinals meets, but according to rules set out by the pope it should take place within four to six days of his death. The Los Angeles Timespoints out that although most popes are buried below St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican refused to say whether Pope John Paul II would be buried there as well. Some speculate that he might have left instructions to be buried in his native Poland.

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As the pope's death was not a surprise, all the papers have in-depth analyses of John Paul II's legacy and they all agree that his 26-year reign changed the Catholic Church, as well as the role of the papacy. He was the most well-traveled pope in history, visiting 129 countries in 104 trips abroad. Pope John Paul II championed the cause of the poor and is widely credited with being an integral force in bringing down communism. He also opened unprecedented dialogues with other religions and was the first pope to visit a synagogue and a mosque. He ordered the Vatican to open full diplomatic relations with Israel and also issue an apology for the church's failure to speak out against the Nazi execution of Jews during World War II. Throughout his reign, the pope also apologized to many groups for previous wrongdoings of the church, including women, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims, among others. Notably, the papers also take a critical look at his tenure, describing how many who were expecting the pope to lead the Catholic Church to modernize its rules have been disappointed. Throughout John Paul II's papacy he affirmed the church's traditional views on sex, women's roles in the church, abortion, and homosexuality. Many also criticize the pope for not issuing a strong enough reprimand against the bishops who were involved in abusing children in the United States.

All except three of the more than 100 cardinals who will vote for the next pope were appointed by Pope John Paul II, leading many to believe that whoever will be chosen will not stray far from his beliefs. But the NYT points out an old Roman saying, "Always follow a fat pope with a skinny pope," to emphasize that the selection process might be a time when cardinals try to make up for what they may view as Pope John Paul II's shortcomings. The debate now seems to be whether the cardinals will want to return the papacy to an Italian or whether they will select a pope from the developing world, where the Catholic Church is currently strongest. Although all the papers agree there is no clear front-runner, the WP is the only one that gives a short profile on each of the six cardinals that are currently seen as having a good chance of taking the job: Joseph Ratzinger from Germany, Diogini Tettamanzi from Italy, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras, Francis Arinze from Nigeria, Claudio Hummes from Brazil, and Christoph Schoenborn from Austria.

In other news, the LAT fronts, while the rest of the papers go inside with, an attack by approximately 40 to 60 insurgents against the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that wounded 44 U.S. troops. (The WP puts the number of U.S. troops wounded at 18, while the NYT says it was "at least 20.") The insurgents set off two car bombs and attacked the prison with a variety of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades. The NYT points out that this is the latest in a string of well-organized insurgent attacks against U.S. forces.

Also in Iraq, the WP gets word that Shiite Muslim clergy are warning that they may support mass protests if the naming of a new Iraqi government keeps getting delayed. "If there was a choice for protests, the protests wouldn't be typical. They would be protests in the millions," a cleric's spokesman said. The NYT says several Iraqi politicians are now blaming flaws in the interim constitution, which was written by Iraqis and Americans, for the current impasse. Meanwhile, the LAT notes that the Bush administration is warning that the failure of the Iraqis to come up with a government is encouraging insurgents while threatening the country's progress toward democracy.

All the papers go inside with the latest from Zimbabwe, where opposition leaders said the government is guilty of fraud both during Thursday's parliamentary elections and in the counting afterward. The results gave a wide victory to President Robert Mugabe's party. The opposition, however, has not planned any protests. Public gatherings not approved in advance by the police are illegal, and Mugabe warned in a news conference that any protests would be met with force. "We can also raise mass action against their mass action, and there would obviously be conflict, serious conflict," Mugabe said. The LAT points out that although the 81-year-old Mugabe, who has been president of Zimbabwe for 25 years, had previously promised to relinquish power by 2008, he has now declared he will stay in power until he turns 100.

In an example of Mugabe's, um, colorful personality, he gave the Saturday news conference while flanked by two large stuffed lionesses. Mugabe, who has made it virtually impossible for foreign media to report in Zimbabwe (the country was declared one of the world's worst places to be a journalist by the Committee to Protect Journalists  in 2004), proceeded to ask the journalists, "Are you afraid?" He went on: "You are well protected against my two lions. They are very friendly lions, in the nature of their master."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.