I should probably mention that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, so when I write about the death of Pope John Paul II I'm coming at it from a purely secular, political perspective.
I'm old enough to remember the last couple of papal selections (one right after the other), and I remember the selection of Karol Wojtyla to be Pope was viewed (among other things) as a strike against the Communist rulers of his native Poland. The Pope definitely lived up to that billing -- he probably had more influence than any other single person is bringing about the fall of the various Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and later the USSR itself. Definitely more influence that Ronald Reagan.
You might expect the Pope would have also had a thing or two to say about the other Cold War superpower. But last year it looked to me that at best the Vatican stood by as American bishops pretty openly took the side of George Bush against John Kerry in the presidential campaign, and Pete Coors over Ken Salazar in the Colorado Senate campaign, based solely on the issue of reproductive choice. Certainly the GOP leadership views the Catholic hierarchy as part of its governing coalition.
That doesn't strike me as something inevitable, and I definitely don't get why the Catholic leadership has allowed itself to become part of the modern GOP political apparatus when it is obvious that the GOP supports a lot of things that are in opposition to Catholic principles. Certainly that pro-GOP tilt doesn't seem to match up with the Pope's public statements, particularly his vocal stand against Bush's invasion of Iraq. Perhaps Vatican bureaucrats took advantage of the Pope's illness to push the Church closer to the Republican Party, and a new, hale and hearty Pope will put a halt to that.
As a non-Catholic American, I really hope the College of Cardinals does not pick a new Pope who will selectively prioritize a few hot button cultural warfare issues, while ignoring a lot of other values I thought the Church was supposed to support, like opposition to war and support for efforts to help the poor. All I really can ask is that the new Pope not allow the Church to wade into American politics in the selective, pro-Republican partisan way it did in 2004.