April 4, 2005


The legacy of a pope who changed history (The Economist, 4/03/05)

John Paul II, spiritual leader to the world's one billion or so Catholics, has died. He will be remembered as a pope who resisted pressures to “modernise” the church's values—and a man who changed history by precipitating the fall of Soviet communism

WHATEVER future generations may say about Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday April 2nd, aged 84, they will look back with amazement on the moment when, for the first time in 500 years, a Christian bishop was in the vanguard of world history. That was in June 1979, barely nine months after the Polish prelate's surprise call to the Vatican, following the untimely death of Pope John Paul I. On a return visit to his homeland, the new pope was bathed in an outpouring of popular devotion that amazed almost everybody, from Warsaw's dissidents to an appalled Soviet Politburo. Millions of Poles turned out to sing, weep and pray with the man they knew as Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of the university town of Krakow. From then on, the Soviet communists began losing their grip on their East European vassals, and the end of the Iron Curtain was in sight. Stalin's mocking question—“How many [military] divisions has the pope?”—had received its answer.

What John Paul managed then was to neutralise, at a stroke, the tyrant's most important weapon, fear. For the remaining quarter-century of his papacy, he reaffirmed his message: “Be not afraid”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2005 9:02 AM

OJ, this seems as good a time as any to interrupt your continuous hagiography of JPII with a few contrarian views. No great man fails to make great mistakes or have great flaws.

For example, Winston Churchill's leadership especially in the summer of 1940 gave Britain the strength to stand alone against Nazi tyranny and probably saved Europe (if not the world) from a new dark age. But Churchill's wartime leadership was a series of blunders, from the ill fated intervention in Greece and the failure to finish off the Italians before Rommel arrived to the sinking of the Repulse and the humiliating loss of Singapore.

Abraham Lincoln deserves his revered status as savior of the Union and the emancipator of the slaves. But his war time leadership consisted of bothersome meddling in command decisions and the inability to a pick a competent Union general, as well as the cancellation of our basic right of habeus corpus.

John Paul II was also a great man, a giant of the late 20th century. He deserves to be called "The Great" by history. He fought Nazism as a youth and was instrumental in the (but was not the cause of) the fall of Communist tyranny. Even Gorbachev admitted that the peaceful dissolution of the Warsaw Pact would not have been possible without him. I'll never forget how he visited his would-be assassin in prison and forgave him. I'll also never forget his visit to a Jewish synagogue and his apology for the Church's sins against the Jewish people.

Yet for all his charisma and triumphs, he too had his flaws and made his mistakes. These are well summarized in a recent article by dissident catholic theologian Hans Kung in Der Spiegel:

(see http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,348471,00.html)

Outwardly, John Paul II supports human rights, while inwardly withholding them from bishops, theologians and especially women.... The great worshiper of the Virgin Mary preaches a noble concept of womanhood, but at the same time forbids women from practicing birth control and bars them from ordination.... This pope, while preaching against mass poverty and suffering in the world, makes himself partially responsible for this suffering as a result of his attitudes toward birth control and explosive population growth.... By propagating the traditional image of the celibate male priest, Karol Wojtyla bears the principal responsibility for the catastrophic dearth of priests, the collapse of spiritual welfare in many countries, and the many pedophilia scandals the church is no longer able to cover up..."

Speaking of the pedophilia/ephibophilia scandals his response (or lack of response) showed a major gap in his otherwise impressive moral credibility. Christopher Hitchens illustrates this by describing the "fate" of Cardinal Law:

(see http://slate.msn.com/id/2116085/)

A few years ago, it seemed quite probable that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston would have to face trial for his appalling collusion in the child-[abuse] racket that his diocese had been running. The man had knowingly reassigned dangerous and sadistic criminals to positions where they would be able to exploit the defenseless. He had withheld evidence and made himself an accomplice, before and after the fact, in the one offense that people of all faiths and of none have most united in condemning. (Since I have more than once criticized Maureen Dowd in this space, I should say now that I think she put it best of all. A church that has allowed no latitude in its teachings on masturbation, premarital sex, birth control, and divorce suddenly asks for understanding and "wiggle room" for the most revolting crime on the books...Anyway, Cardinal Law isn't going to face a court, now. He has fled the jurisdiction and lives in Rome, where a sinecure at the Vatican has been found for him. ...[Update, April 4, 2005: And to add injury to insult as well as insult to injury, this wicked old fugitive will, in the coming days, be a part of the holy conclave that assembles to decide on the next Pope. Could anything be more disgusting?]

Well, I can think of something more disgusting, the Vatican's negative response to the US bishops' "one strike and you're out plan" for dealing with child abusers. In effect, the Vatican under JPII's leadership said the first one is a freebie. Such a morally repugnant stance made me ashamed to be a Catholic.

This Pope is also famous for the number of saints he has created. However, many choices were questionable, and reveal a serious moral blind spot. No, I'm not referring to Pius XII or even the fascist founder of Opus Dei. I'm referring to Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb and leader of the brutal Ustase, as described by Matt Yglesias:

(see http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2005/03/saint_stepinac.html)

a quisling organization whose brutality against Orthodox Christians and Jews got so out of hand at times that the government of Nazi Germany felt compelled to try and restrain their conduct at times. ... At his later trial for war crimes, he admitted to a personal daily kill tally of at least one hundred people, including children.") After the war, Ante Pavelic, the head of the Ustase state, made his way to Italy where he lived under the protection of the Catholic Church in San Girolamo monastery. San Girolamo was the base of operations for Father Krunoslav Draganovic who "With protection of college head Monsignor Juraj Magjerec and Pope Pius XII, turned San Girolamo into waystation and hiding place for fugitive Ustase," and ran an operation known as the "Ratline" which was charged with spiriting Ustase war criminals, including many priests, away to safety in South America.

Christianity in Europe died on his watch. Though the process had been going on for some time, his stubborn, authoritarian opposition to the modern world in effect pulled the feeding tube on European Christianity. As a result, former centers of worship are nothing more than tourist attractions. No nation's faith fell harder or faster than Ireland's:

(see http://crookedtimber.org/2005/04/03/when-the-pope-came-to-ireland/)

And then, in the space of a month in 1992, the X-Case brokethe Attorney General was granted an injunction preventing a pregnant 14-year-old rape victim from leaving Ireland to have an abortion in Englandand the popular and charismatic Bishop Eamon Casey turned out to have a 17-year-old son by an American woman. In 1979, the boy would have been about the same age as my brother was when we piled into the car for that long drive to Limerick. As the country was coming to terms with Annie Murphys story of sex and the single Bishop (not all that charitably, it must be said), Fr Michael Cleary died. He was the singing priest, a popular TV and radio personality with his own show on RTE. He was an outspoken advocate of traditional Catholic values and he delivered his message in a direct Dublin style. The punters liked it. After his death, people learned that hed had a long-term relationship with his housekeeper, fathered two children and forced her to give the first one up for adoption. After that came an avalanche of cases of physical and sexual abuse, the appalling Fr Sean Fortune, the Magdalene Laundriesand on and on. Something similar happened in the political sphere too, as over and over things that had been open secrets became common knowledge.

Apparently the scandals are world-wide, not just in America (see also the Austrian seminary scandal which occured under the nose of Cardinal Shonbrun - one of the papabile).

Then there was his oppositon ot he liberation of Iraq as voiced by by Cardinal Soldano, the secretary of state, Cardinal Martino, the Vaticans permanent observer at the United Nations, and the former nuncio to the United States, Cardinal Laghi. Given the tight control JPII maintained, these men could not have spoken so without his approval and blessing.

All in all though, I admire hime as a great man, even when I disagree with him on certain issues. He was a force on the world scene and we shall not see his like again anytime soon.

Posted by: Daniel Duffy at April 4, 2005 3:33 PM


Of course Marxists hated him.

Posted by: oj at April 4, 2005 4:30 PM

An ad hominem is the best you can do?

Pity, I was hoping for a bit of a challenge. I guess you're not up to the task of logically or factually refuting the above. Oh well, as Clint Eastwood said, a man's gotta know his limits.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 4, 2005 4:45 PM

Falsify Hitchens? He was pro-Soviet Union and anti-Reagan/Thatcher/Pope. Falsify Kung? No one who doesn't hate Catholicism takes him seriously. I stopped reading after that.

Posted by: oj at April 4, 2005 5:12 PM