Meanwhile, as Pope John Paul II was being elevated into an international icon of rectitude, the Church was quietly trying to contain the scandal of priests molesting boys. The scandal emerged first in the United States and Canada, as people grew braver about challenging powerful institutions and as the stigma related to homosexuality declined.
Despite the sickening evidence of these abuses, the Vatican remained disturbingly ambivalent. Instead of reporting the crimes to civil authorities for prosecution, the Church usually offered offending priests some counseling before reassigning them to new parishes.
That pattern of tolerating the intolerable has continued into the latest phase of the scandal as new cases were revealed, from a Wisconsin school for deaf boys to parishes in Germany, Ireland and across Europe.
Again, the Vatican mixed in a few expressions of regret with an aggressive P.R. campaign to tamp down the outrage.
A look-back over the past two millennia, however, might suggest that it is the Vatican that is due for some serious soul-searching.