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openDemocracy writers assess the legacy of the Polish pope, Karol Wojtyła, and ask whether the world's most powerful religious institution can be made more democratic.
A minor feature of Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the United States on 15-20 April 2008 was to highlight the awkwardness of George W Bush. The embattled president had already defied protocol by meeting the pontiff at the airport on his arrival, and then compounded embarrassment by hosting a party to celebrate Benedict's 81st birthday, only to find that the pope was otherwise engaged (though several Vatican functionaries turned up to represent him, thus to some degree saving Bush's face).
Just in case then point had not been picked up, Pope Benedict XVI repeated it on 12 September 2007 at his customary Wednesday general audience in Rome. He reflected on his trip to Austria on 7-9 September, the ostensible purpose of which being a visit to the ancient Marian shrine of Mariazell, and spoke of meeting in Vienna representatives of the diplomatic corps.
Michael Walsh is a writer and broadcaster. He was librarian at Heythrop College from 1972 to 2001. Among his books are The Secret World of Opus Dei (HarperCollins, 2004) and The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History (Canterbury Press, 2003 )
Also by Michael Walsh in openDemocracy:
"Cutting the Vatican down to size" (5 April 2005)
"From Joseph Ratzinger to Pope Benedict XVI" (20 April 2005)
"The Regensburg address: reason amid certainty" (20 September 2006)
"The Pope and the Patriarch" (4 December 2006)
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In his long life, the Polish pope, Karol Wojtyła, was at the forefront of the struggle for liberty. But in his twenty-six years at the Vatican, where did this towering figure stand on democracy? The distinguished writer Neal Ascherson dissects an ambiguous legacy.