Karol Jozef Wojtya, John Paul II, 1920-2005
Reactionary in shepherd's clothing
A selection of articles published immediately after the death of Pope John Paul II on April 3, 2005
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Wanted: Jesus Christ on a good day (and more)

Written by Morris West for the Sydney Morning Herald, April 4, 2005.

The late Morris West wrote numerous novels about the Catholic Church, including The Shoes of the Fisherman. This is an edited version of an article West wrote exclusively for the Herald in 1997, to be published on the death of the Pope.

Let us pray for a man of courage

In the Society of Jesus, there is an interesting practice. When a superior's term of office expires, his colleagues are asked to submit, in writing, a portrait of the man they think should replace him.

It's a useful idea. The retiring candidate is given a critique of his performance and the new nominee is given a clear statement of what his colleagues expect of him.

One recent occasion elicited the wry but heartfelt comment: "What they're looking for is Jesus Christ on a good day."

This leads, by natural progression, to the recital of a wish list to summarise the best intentions of the electors and the most urgent needs of the church.

How old a man? Hard to prescribe, isn't it? A young and sturdy pontiff may last too long, so that the arteries of the church harden along with his own. Pope Paul VI prescribed a retiring age for cardinals and bishops. There would seem to be every good reason for a similar prescription for the supreme pontiff.

The encroachments of age and infirmity would not then create a constitutional crisis for the church, or a crisis of conscience for an ailing pontiff driven by zeal or ambition to complete his policies at all costs.

What nationality? The prescription, at first glance, is easy. Nationality is not important; we need a universal man for a universal church. Not so fast, please! The Pope is elected first and foremost as Bishop of Rome. All else hangs on that, flows from that.

The Romans, rightly, have first claim on him and they will assert it vigorously, as they have done down the centuries.

If he cannot speak their language, they will despise him, whatever his virtues. If he cannot match their subtleties and understand their history, and that of his own office, they will manipulate him shamelessly. If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would offer very long odds against another exotic like the late pontiff. A South American might be an outside bet.

So, now, we need a healer: a man of compassion. From the balcony of St Peter's and the window of the papal apartment, he sees the vast mass of people from all nations under the sun. Their voices rise to him in a confused murmur.

It is impossible for him to distinguish their faces or to decipher the grief and hope and, sometimes, the terror in their eyes. I repeat here what I have written in another place: we need a minister, not a magistrate. We need a mediator of the great mystery.

We need a wise man, too. We need one calm in his belief. It is this calm wisdom which is the true mark of the healer.

It is the wisdom which sees and accepts the wholeness of creation; which does not seek to explain the vast mystery of it, bright and dark, but embraces it as part of the gift of life, and mediates it, lovingly.

The wise man will be an open one. He will listen and consider before he pronounces. He will recognise that language is at best an imperfect human instrument; that it changes from generation to generation, from place to place.

He will respect the risk-takers. He will encourage free inquiry and open debate on hard questions. He will put an end, forever, to secret denunciations and secret inquisitions about the orthodoxy of honest scholars. He will not stifle their questions or their speculations, but protect them in charity against detractors. It's a big wish list.

Does such a paragon exist? Will the electors be wise enough to recognise him and choose him? Will he be willing to accept the office?

We pray that we may get a man filled with all the gifts of the Spirit.

All we can be sure of is that he will be a man of a certain age, already cast in a certain mould, honed and buffed by pastoral or curial practice. He will be a bachelor, long untrammelled by the demands of community life. He will have a confessional, but not social, practice with women. He will be accustomed to the nuances of power and the deference accorded to his rank, all of which will make him, in some degree, an idiosyncratic man. It will certainly isolate him.

The myth-makers will work on him. The masters of ceremonies will create what Robert Browning called "the rare show of Peter's successor".

Now, I believe it is time for Peter's new successor to speak directly to the people of God, to beg their personal support and understanding in the brute tasks which lie ahead of him. They need him desperately; he needs them, too. Without their presence, his office would have no meaning.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/Wanted-Jesus-Christ-on-a-good-day-and-more/2005/04/03/1112489348660.html


More monologue than conversation
On issues that are important to women, John Paul turned a deaf ear, writes Veronica Brady for the Sydney Morning Herald, April 4, 2005.

Dr Veronica Brady is a Loreto sister and an honorary senior research fellow in the Department of English, University of Western Australia.

Any attempt to assess the significance of the long pontificate of John Paul II as far as women are concerned is a tricky business.

To an outsider, the Roman Catholic Church probably seems like a large and formidable institution, globalised long before the present era of globalisation. To an insider, being a Catholic means being part of a continuing conversation, an attempt to live out and think through the meaning of the gospel.

It is thus deeply subjective, prayerful, if you like, but it also joins us with all those others throughout the world who are struggling to keep alive a belief in the value of the human person, a sense of the sacred and of whatever words such as justice, compassion, love, faithfulness, loyalty and so on may mean.

That is why I have problems with the direction in which the Pope was leading the church. For him, it seems to have been more a monologue than a conversation; one, moreover, from which the voices of women, half of the human race, were largely excluded.

By and large, he reiterated traditional teachings on matters such as contraception, the family, abortion and so on, seemingly without listening to what an increasing number of women may have to say on these issues, or taking into account recent developments in the understanding of human sexuality and fertility and the crisis of overpopulation facing parts of the world.

The language of his pronouncements was sexist, and God figured almost exclusively as masculine, although God is beyond gender.

Not surprisingly, many women have begun to feel there is no place for them in the church and almost no concern for the issues that confront them.

It is true that the Pope strenuously contested the consumerism and the culture of instant gratification that is responsible for much of the violence against women. He also attacked developments in biotechnology that threaten women, insisting on the value and dignity of the human person.

A proper conversation involves listening as well as speaking, and the Pope was not a good listener. At a time when so many certainties are being questioned, for instance, he showed little sense of the painful ambiguities facing people in the modern world.

As far as many women are concerned, perhaps the crucial aspect of this inflexibility was the Pope's refusal even to contemplate the possibility of the ordination of women.

In a world in which women's equality with men is increasingly recognised and is proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in which Australian law makes discrimination on grounds of gender unlawful, some of us find it scandalous that the official church should have lobbied to be exempt from some of the provisions of this legislation and continue to treat women as second-class citizens and exclude them from official positions of authority.

The argument, of course, is that women and men are different, but difference should not mean subordination, and the images of women in papal pronouncements point to what is really at issue: exclusion from power.

A woman's place, we are told, is in the home, and women are represented as wives and mothers, submissive, sacrificial, dutiful and obedient, or not represented at all.

It is true that in countries such as the United States, and to a lesser extent in Australia, some women now hold positions of authority within the church in some dioceses, but that is partly thanks to their own efforts and partly because of the shortage of men to fill these positions.

This highlights the injustice, perhaps even absurdity, of the exclusion of such women from the priesthood, apparently for no reason other than that they are not men.

It also denies a basic principle that the church is supposed to represent: that all human beings are equal and equally worthy of respect before God.

What seems to be at issue instead is institutional self-preservation. For many, the official Catholic Church now faces a crisis of authenticity.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of papal attitudes to women is the suspicion that, in the long run, they derive from the misogyny, the suspicion of sexuality and the association of women with temptation, the carnal other, which has existed for so long in the church but which has no basis in the teaching of its founder.

The Pope's continued insistence on compulsory celibacy for the priesthood contributes to these suspicions.

This failure to confront misogyny means a failure to accept responsibility for attitudes that have oppressed, and continue to oppress and humiliate, women throughout the world and led to horrifying violence against them.

To say all this is not to deny the importance of the contribution the Pope made in many fields; in his attacks on so-called economic rationalism, consumerism and the destructive consequences of globalisation, for instance, and his defence of refugees, indigenous peoples and minorities generally.

It is therefore a sad and curious irony that he seemed insensitive to women's issues and failed to join the conversation opening up between men and women and between different cultures, presenting an image of God as somehow aloof from this present world, static rather than dynamically challenging.

Conversation, of course, is a difficult art, especially nowadays when, as a friend of mine says, in any one room you will meet people belonging to three different centuries, the 19th, the 20th and the 21st. It is surely important, however, not just to listen to voices from the past.

Voices from the present, especially of those excluded from and oppressed by power, and also those who look to the future, have a claim to be heard.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/More-monologue-than-conversation/2005/04/03/1112489348969.html


VATICAN CITY: Pope John Paul II, a reactionary in shepherd's clothing.

Written by community member Barry Healy for the Green Left Weekly, April 6, 2005.

Karol Jozef Wojtya, known as John Paul II since assuming the office of pope in October 1978, will be remembered as one of the most significant, though certainly not the most progressive, figures in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope John XXIII, who preceded Wojtya as head of the Church by two papacies, is still revered by many Catholics for radically reorienting the church by convening the Vatican II Council, which directly fed the growth of what is known as “liberation theology”. From Vatican II the democratic notion emerged that the whole church — laity and clergy — were united as the “People of God”.

John Paul II's pontificate was organised as a conscious counter-revolution against Vatican II — a winding back of the clock towards an archaic Catholicism politically aligned with violent terror against liberationists around the world.

Wojtya was born in Wadowice, a small city 50 kilometres from Cracow, Poland, on May 18, 1920. During the Nazi occupation he worked in a quarry while secretly studying for the priesthood in a clandestine seminary.

William Johnston, who teaches Modern Church History at Melbourne's Yarra Theological Union, thinks Wojtya felt “exiled” from the direction Europe took in the second half of his lifetime.

“Remember he grew up under, really, three dictatorships — first Pilsudski in Poland, then the Nazi occupation of Poland which was the worst anywhere. He grew up not many miles from Auschwitz, and then of course the Communists came in from 1945 on”, Johnston told ABC Radio National's Religion Report in 2004. “So this is not a man who ever experienced democracy, and his hopes for a post-dictatorship Europe have not been fulfilled.”

The closed world of Polish Catholicism under the heel of Cold War Stalinism was staunchly patriarchal and anti-communist but warmly supported by masses of Poles as the one institution through which they could organise free of the bureaucratic Stalinist regime.

After leaving Poland for the wider world and the peak leadership position within Catholicism, Wojtya never wavered in his Cold War mindset. His guiding beliefs were that communism is the greatest danger to Christianity, that only deferential obedience to the church hierarchy is the proper behaviour for the Catholic masses and that collaboration with the great power designs of brutal capitalist temporal forces was the way to advance the banner of the faith.

This, combined with aspects of medieval theology, directly conflicted with the waves of liberal thinking that swept the church following Vatican II.

In Latin America, in particular, the freeing up of the Catholic structures combined with the example of the Cuban Revolution propelled masses of Catholic workers, peasants and lower-ranking priests into revolutionary formations such as Nicaragua's Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). This broad trend was characterised as “liberation theology” and was typified by grassroots democracy, an anti-capitalist reading of the New Testament and egalitarian religious leadership.

In Europe and North America there were less radical but nonetheless democratic rumblings. In 1997, for example, 2.5 million German and Austrian Catholics petitioned the pope to admit women priests and married priests and abandon the church's hostility to homosexuality; the Vatican was unmoved.

John Paul II brought considerable energy and political acumen to his reactionary crusade. He made 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy, wrote five books, issued 14 encyclicals and was seen by literally millions of people.

He was also a great cannoniser — canonising 482 saints, more than any previous pope. His thinking was that by providing each nation with its own saint the Catholic tradition of incense and obscurantism could be revived.

Bizarrely, one of those saints was the last of the Hapsburg rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Emperor Karl, who ruled during World War I.

John Paul II also appointed 231 new cardinals, which has stacked the college that will elect the new pope with archconservatives.

One of his great political alliances was with US President Ronald Reagan. In 1980 the gang that organised the Reagan for the presidency movement met in Santa Fe for a conference and issued a statement saying: “US foreign policy should begin to confront liberation theology (and not just react to it after the fact). Unfortunately Marxist-Leninist forces have used the church as a political weapon against private ownership and the capitalism system of production, infiltrating the religious community with ideas that are more communist than Christian.”

Reagan, as president, quickly moved to form a united front with John Paul II against liberation theology. The pope fought the theology while the Reagan administration nd its Latin American allies murdered the liberationists.

Among the fallen was El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered in 1980 by a right-wing death squad while saying mass. The Arena party, the death squads' legal face, sent a delegation to the Vatican weeks before the assassination protesting Romero's public statements in defence of the poor.

While the Salvadoran people regard Romero as a saint, John Paul II attempted to ban any discussion of Romero's beatification for 50 years. However, popular pressure from El Salvador later led the Vatican to put off the issue for only 25 years.

John Paul II's preferred saintly role model was the Spanish fascist Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, one of the reactionary and weird Catholic secret societies that the pope has used as weapons against progressives.

After failing to discipline the Brazilian bishops, John Paul II simply started appointing Opus Dei members as bishops died. In this manner he undermined one of the strongest bases of liberation theology.

Australia's most prominent liberationist parish, St Vincent's in Sydney inner-city suburb of Redfern, has been saddled with priests from another Catholic cult called the Neocatechumenate (visit for some illuminating stories of John Paul II's priests studiously avoiding contact with Redfern Aborigines).

Reagan and John Paul II found another area of common interest in Poland when the Solidarity trade union movement burst into prominence in 1980. Vast sums were funnelled through the church into the Polish movement.

The Vatican encouraged an activist priesthood in Poland that it moved heaven and earth to destroy in other areas of the world. According to Time magazine, a grateful Reagan agreed in 1984 to alter the US foreign-aid program to comply with the Catholic Church's teachings on birth control, specifically abortion and birth control.

The capitalist news media has created John Paul II personal popularity in Poland with the “collapse of communism” there in 1989. More than a decade after John Paul II's blessed the restoration of capitalism in Poland, a public opinion survey in 2002 by the Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS) found that 56% of Poles said their lives were “better” under the 1970s Stalinist regime of Edward Gierek than they are today.

In 2000 John Paul II made a rhetorical flourish of calling for an end to Third World debt through his call for a “jubilee” — the mechanism by which debts were wiped out once every 50 years in ancient Jewish society (it was the demand that Jesus raised and died for).

However, the Vatican never attempted to build a popular movement around its call. While criticising the excesses of capitalism, John Paul II feared communist revolution more. His real ideology was integralism — the medieval idea that the state will rule the people and the church will guide the state.

By assiduously aligning himself with the most reactionary elements of late 21st century power politics, John Paul II left a profound crisis in Catholicism in his wake. Latin America was once overwhelmingly Catholic but the US rulers have used their Protestant fundamentalist sects as weapons against liberationist Catholics there. Now 10% of Brazilians are believed to be talking in tongues!

In the developed capitalist countries, Catholicism continues to bleed membership as believers tire of the ridiculous strictures on their sexuality and democratic rights within the church. As AIDS threatens millions in the crucified impoverished world and wars and indebtedness worsen, the Catholic Church's lame responses are simply making it irrelevant.

Source: http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2005/621/621p19.htm






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