The Pope Is Near Death, Necessitating A Step-Up In Religious Coverage
If, as now appears likely, this great man is near death, and a new Pope will soon be chosen, the choice and its impact on the world will be of profound importance. That really goes without saying.
In these circumstances, I believe the L.A. Times should send additional reporters and columnists to Rome, and two are preeminently suitable. Both have long served the newspaper capably. Both have a high degree of religious knowledge. Both happen to be Catholic, though that is not by any means their sole religious qualification.
Tim Rutten, the media columnist in Calendar, is extremely knowledgable about the Catholic faith. His column just a few days ago about the circus-like Schiavo affair was possibly the best written anywhere in the country on the matter and it had a profound Catholic perspective. Rutten is particularly well-attuned to progressive tendencies struggling to make themselves felt in the Church. He is also greatly respected throughout the newspaper for work he has also done in Opinion and Metro. He would be of outstanding value in Rome during this period. He has family obligations, of course, but I think he could make adjustments that would allow him to go for awhile.
Teresa Watanabe, former Times Tokyo bureau chief and a longtime writer on religious topics, also would greatly enhance Times coverage in Rome during a Papal selection process. She has a young daughter, but perhaps her husband and child could go to Rome with her for a limited time.
The Church may be nearing a moment when the pressures for change, on such matters as celibacy of the priesthood, birth control, homosexuality and child abuse could be immense. Because of his preeminent position in the world as a moral guide, the man chosen as the next Pope will immediately be a crucial figure. This is one of the vital stories the Times will be covering in the next year or more. There is certainly nothing wrong with our present correspondent in Rome, Richard Boudreaux, but he will need assistance.
Pope John Paul II has been a resolute, often conservative figure, but also a great humanitarian. His background in Poland, his direct experience with the two most awful tyrannies of our time, those of Hitler and Stalin, gave his Papacy much of its value. No one can view his departure from the scene without great emotion. As a Jew, I was particularly admiring of the strides he made against anti-Semitism, and I was naturally appreciative of his comments on a trip back to his homeland that Nazism was "an ideology gone mad." He was also one of those most responsible, Gorbachev, Walesa and Reagan being the others, for the fall of the Communist Empire.