I was going to write something about how Pope John Paul II had done great things to eradicate communism and bring his message to Catholics around the world, but that his church's conservative policies on birth control and the spread of AIDS in third-world countries left much to be desired. In Tuesday's Washington Post, Richard Cohen says everything I would have said, only better.
I'm not Catholic, but I'm fascinated by the rituals surrounding the selection of the next pope. The cardinals gather to select one of their membership to lead the church, using a system that's been in place for centuries with only minor adjustments. What I really find interesting is that once the pope is elected, he has absolute power over the church. I'm used to traditional democratic systems where the leader of the government is still beholden to an elected representative body and the people. The pope can essentially do what he wants. Which includes choosing the cardinals who will elect his successor. It's an intriguing cross of democracy and an absolute monarchy. Actually, it's more of an oligarchy and a theocracy. Or something entirely unique. I'll stop now.
I've also been reading up on past popes. I had no idea about the conspiracy theories behind the sudden death of John Paul I in 1978. And it's always entertaining to refresh my memories from high school history of the corrupt popes in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Good times (if you were pope back then, apparently).