It seems to me there’s a certain parallel between John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. Both were immensely popular for their hopefulness, their buoyancy, their ability to connect with all sorts of people, their love for what they led, their directness and willingness to stand on principle. Both were viewed with a mixture of contempt and grudging admiration by those who count as our betters.
Both were also actors. In Reagan’s case it seems that his success was both the culmination and the incipient final collapse of the postwar conservative movement, and more generally of an America that stood for ideals but was not itself wholly abstract, so that it made sense to speak of things like “American traditions,” “limited government,” and “pride in America” as things we could share that would knit us together. It turned out that he had achieved success by seeming to make present something that had all but disappeared.
I can’t help but feel that something a bit similar may be true of the late pope, and there may be very hard times ahead for the Catholic Church as a public institution. The Church of today has a certain inherited position of respect and importance in the world, and Vatican II put off trouble by downplaying its essential opposition to fundamental principles of modern life that have become more and more compulsory. It should be clear though that from the standpoint of modern public law the Church is not the sacrament of unity of mankind but a hate crime. Once the emotion dissipates, and the new pope turns out to be Catholic but without John Paul’s glamour, the relation between the Church and the modern ordering of government and society may become much more difficult to fuzz. So I’d prepare for some bumps to come. Going with the flow and looking on the bright side isn’t going to do the job.