March 1, 2005


A free Europe tops pope's many legacies (JOHN O'SULLIVAN, 3/01/05, Chicago Sun-Times)

It is rare for secular-minded people to sense the hand of Providence in history -- or at least to admit doing so -- but even quite dedicated atheists saw his election as pope in 1978 as a world-changing event. One such, Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB, warned his Politburo colleagues that a Polish Pope would likely destabilize their Soviet Union by giving hope to the nations held captive within it.

Eleven years later the evil empire crumbled and the captive nations emerged blinking into the light of freedom. Others played vital roles in that liberation -- Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, the heroic dissidents behind the Iron Curtain -- but the pope had provided its spiritual impulse. If the pope had achieved nothing more in his lifetime than to be the religious spark of liberty in Europe, he would be a historical figure of the first rank. In fact he has been a world-changing figure in many other ways too:

He has finally interred the restless ghost of Christian anti-Semitism, declaring it to be a serious sin and famously referring to Jews as "our elder brothers." Anti-Semitism still persists and may even be growing in Western Europe, alas, but it no longer has even a faint justification in Christian teaching.

He has sought close and fraternal relations with the leaders of other religions on a basis of mutual love and respect without either surrendering or seeking the surrender of fundamental beliefs. He has not fully succeeded with the leaders of Orthodox Christianity -- who sometimes resent the intrusion of Catholicism into their heartlands -- and he is believed to be privately distressed that Muslim leaders have been often frightened by their own extremists into remaining silent about attacks on Christians and Christianity. Still, the seeds of better Christian-Muslim relations have been planted for later generations to harvest.

He has given strength and hope to traditional Christian believers of all denominations in their battle with secularism and theological liberalism. American Catholics and evangelical Protestants were still mildly hostile strangers when he entered the papacy; today they cooperate and pray together on a host of issues from abortion to welfare reform.

He developed a more sophisticated Catholic understanding of capitalism in his encyclicals -- continuing to condemn a purely materialistic account of life and social purpose but declaring private enterprise and entrepreneurship were praiseworthy expressions of man's creativity that required economic freedom to flourish. He thus moved away from older Catholic ideas of "corporatism" that had privileged existing businesses, stifled the aspirations of new entrepreneurs, and retarded economic development in southern Europe and Latin America.

Above all, he took seriously the universalism of the Catholic Church and made regular pilgrimages to the whole world -- in particular to the poor countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

No one has ever filled the shoes of the Fisherman better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 1, 2005 10:22 AM

Alas, like Willie Mays, another superstar who painfully hung around long after it was time - pedophilia scandal, Iraq - to hang it up.

And yes, I know Christ did not come down from the Cross.

Posted by: Rick T. at March 1, 2005 1:44 PM

There are worse things than a Pope who opposes war.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 1:53 PM

If a Europe free from Communism is his greatest victory, a secular and spiritually dead Europe is his greatest defeat.

Posted by: daniel duffy at March 1, 2005 2:34 PM


It was long dead when he got there. The failure to revive it is certainly a defeat, but the Muslims will see to that.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 2:39 PM

The fact that he is Polish made it hard for his message to be heard in France and the rest of Europe. It is viewed as peripheral to not central to Europe.

I was thinking about him the other day in connection with Solidarity. And the reality is that without his spiritual guidance and his example, the peaceful protests could never have happened. The Communists would have sent out the hired thugs from the ZOMO and that would have been it. And there is no question that once Poland was lost to the Commies, there was no way they could keep anything else.

I thought he still bought into the corporatist BS though, and he has been pretty free and easy about condemning capitalism. Also, his honest efforts in fighting the anti-Jewish stuff in his Church have been huge, while far from entirely successful. But he made an excellent start, after the backsliding from Paul VI on the matter, and we'll have to be patient.

He was 100% wrong on the Iraq war, but then he's not infallible.:)

Posted by: Bart at March 1, 2005 4:04 PM

"There are worse things than a Pope who opposes war."


Agree. But not much worse than turning a blind eye to child abuse.

Posted by: Rick T. at March 1, 2005 4:50 PM


The abuse scandals are generally an American phenomenon and a function of hysteria and the recruitment of gays as priests. The Church has less of a problem than other institutions where employees have access to children, for instance the American public school system.

It should have been dealt with much better here and the Vatican displayed a tin ear in not recognizing it wasn't being dealt with.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 5:06 PM

Vocations among heterosexual men are nearly non-existent today. The Pope was dealing with the American church as it is. The active recruitment of homosexuals was the product of late 20th century moral relativism which infected all institutions. The end of the cold war, the liberation of eastern Europe and awakening the west to the developing culture of death seems to have always been at the top of his agenda not the sexual inclinations of seminarians. Longer term, the Church will survive and even prosper because of his leadership.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at March 1, 2005 5:24 PM

OJ - well said. I have not seen any Cardinals from the rest of the world comment on the abuse (and cover-up) scandals, but I would bet they are not really surprised (although I am sure they are angry). Like most of us.

Perhaps the Pope will say something about it before he dies. His successor will have to, if he wants to turn the tide for Catholicism in the US.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 1, 2005 5:28 PM

Bart, JP2 deserves a lot of credit on the economic stuff. No retrograde corporatist he.

Read Centesimus Annus.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 2, 2005 12:24 AM