BREAKING NEWS ~ John Paul II dies; pope championed freedom, rights

[JURIST] Pope John Paul II [official website; BBC profile; CBC backgrounder] has died, according to Vatican sources. He was 84. An announcement [recorded audio] has just been made in Italian and English on Vatican Radio, monitored over the Internet from Pittsburgh. Vatican Radio's 105 Live FM service has posted a memorial page in black.

John Paul's health had been deteriorating gradually for years due to Parkinson's disease and the after-effects of a 1981 assassination attempt, and recently he had been admitted and re-admitted to Gemelli hospital in Rome for treatment of flu and fever and the insertion of a tracheotomy tube. Earlier this week he chose not to go back to the hospital for further treatment, and instead remained in the Vatican.

His pontificate was the third-longest in papal history, surpassed only by that of Pius IX in the 19th century and by St. Peter. A Pole, and the first non-Italian elected pope in 450 years, he has been credited with a leading role in precipitating the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. An exponent of social justice and human rights, meaningful rapproachement with Judaism, Islam and other world religions, international abolition of the death penalty, and a vigorous, youth-oriented evangelicalism that he spread personally on over 100 foreign visits, he was nonetheless criticized for centralizing papal and hierarchical control within the Catholic church, suppressing politicized "liberation theology" in the developing world and refusing to liberalize doctrines disfavoring women and homosexuals. He insisted on strict prohibitions against birth control and abortion. He brought in a revised Code of Canon Law [text] in 1983. Members of the Catholic church's papal electoral body, the College of Cardinals [backgrounder], have already been summoned to Rome to begin deliberations on choosing a successor. Reuters has more on the papal succession process.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II addressed the UN General Assembly on the topic of freedom, human rights and universal moral law, and reflected on the collapse of totalitarianism in Europe. Listen to his address [excerpt] via the History Channel.

3:10 PM ET - The Pope's time of death has been given at 9:37 PM local time in Rome, 2:37 PM ET. The official procedure to have been followed then has been described this way:

When the Pope dies, the head of the Sacred College of Cardinals, or Camerlengo, verifies the death. Standing over the deceased, he calls the pontiff by his baptismal name three times. Upon receiving no response, he announces the death and arranges for the Fisherman's ring -- inscribed with the name of the reigning pope -- and papal seal to be broken.
Upon the Pope's death, during the sede vacante - when the Papacy is vacant - some of his powers pass to the College of Cardinals [backgrounder]. More information on the funeral process and papal election is available in English from the Scottish Catholic Media Office.

4:18 PM ET - At the White House, President Bush has made a brief televised statement on Pope John Paul's death.

5:50 PM ET - AP is reporting that the College of Cardinals will meet on Monday in preparation for its conclave.

6:12 PM ET - The Vatican has posted on its website the full text of Pope John Paul II's instruction on papal succession entitled Universi Dominici Gregis, "The shepherd of the Lord's whole flock", as well as a full retrospective on his pontificate with year-by-year collections of speeches, encyclicals and video clips.

7:55 PM ET - Vatican Radio has made this updated announcement concerning the death of Pope John Paul II and funeral arrangements.

8:37 PM ET - The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a series of papal succession backgrounders, including:

 

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