An American Catholic Reflects on
Papacy of John Paul II
By JIM CONNOLLY
week you will be inundated with honorific obituaries to Karol Wojtila, Pope
John Paul II. I am writing not to honor Wojtila; he will (quite frankly)
receive more honor in the next week than any individual mortal deserves. I
write as a witness to the damage this man did during his 26 years as Roman
pontiff to the causes of liberty and peace throughout the world.
There will be few voices
such as mine raised on the occasion of Wojtila's death, but someone must
speak the truth. Much of what I say here will be new (perhaps even
surprising) to non-Catholics.
To Catholics, I write to remind them of what each of them knows but seldom
acknowledges. Karol Wojtila forced the best minds out of the Catholic
Church, or at least to the extreme margins of the Church. Wojtila sanctified
the baroque reproductive/sexual bugaboos that infest the Catholic Church
while striving to ideologically lobotomize the Catholic clergy and laity.
Although he was a fine ambassador of good will to Protestants, Jews, and
Muslims, Wojtila degraded the richness of Catholic faith and tradition into
mindless displays of loyalty. An archaic organization that had shown signs
of serious promise as a refreshed (and even potentially progressive) social
force under Popes John XXIII and Paul VI was methodically and ruthlessly
drubbed into the mold of ideological and cultural reaction. The record shows
that Karol Wojtila was a charming man and a master of international public
relations, but he was a political and cultural reactionary to his core
Remember that I and many
others did not become Catholics by reason of our voluntary decisions. Long
centuries before my birth, complex systems of custom and loyalty and
political alliances led the Irish and Bavarian peasants who made up the bulk
of my ancestors to become cemented within the Roman Catholic Church. As an
infant, my family inducted me into the Catholic Church by way of the rite of
baptism. As a young child, I was educated in Catholic schools. In my
childhood, loyalty to family and Church stood much higher than loyalty to
nation. Even as I have defined myself as an individual in a secular society,
the ties of ancestry, ethnicity, early experience and schooling leave me
thoroughly "Catholic" in many senses.
Largely because of the
actions of Karol Wojtila, it is unlikely that my grandchildren will be
raised as Catholics. For many years I vowed that I would not cede the
Catholic Church to the vile reaction induced and symbolized by Pope John
Paul II. I strove for many years to be one of those who kept alive the fine
things within the rich Catholic religious and cultural tradition, but in the
last two years I have had to acknowledge that this quest can no longer
reasonably be pursued within the current institution of the Roman Catholic
Church. In death, Wojtila's reaction is likely to
entirely prevail, since he transformed the Church itself by promoting only
the most rigid and automoton-like of clerics to positions of responsibility.
Ignore the press hype about kissing the ground while
globetrotting and recognizing Israel. Forget the ridiculous lie that John
Paul II favored "human rights." Ignore the canned media obituary coverage
that strives to show you that Wojtila (like Nixon, Reagan, Bob Hope, and
(soon) Margaret Thatcher) were "great" international figures. Here is part
of the damage wrought by this arch-reactionary and the regressive forces he
unleashed in the Catholic Church:
1. Among Wojtila's first actions as Pope was to attack
freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech in Catholic universities.
Progressive theology, feminist thought, and "liberation theology" were
driven from accepted Catholic discourse. Catholic universities in Europe and
North America have lost their best scholars in the humanities and have sunk
into being miserable intellectual ghettoes with respect to history,
philosophy, theology, and related fields.
2. Wojtila revived and strengthened the Office of the
Inquisition under the infamous Cardinal Ratziger. The "Holy Office" was near
abolition under the two previous pontiffs, but Wojtila wielded the
Inquisition as his special shock troops in a relentless campaign to silence
all varieties of opinion other than his own. Repression of thought at the
level of the diocese and parish became commonplace again after a blessed
reprieve in the 1960s and 1970s.
3. Pursuing his lifelong dedication
to fanatic anti-communism, Wojtila pressured the reluctant Christian
Democrats of Italy, Germany, and Holland to accede to the placement of US
cruise missiles in Europe in the early 1980's. As a result of this
provocative action by the United States, nuclear war between the US and the
Soviet Union came even closer than during the Cunan Missile Crisis. The
result might have been the nuclear annihilation of the planet. No credit to
Wojtila, the planet survived. Wojtila's claims as an advocate of peace are
false to their core.
4. Wojtila has intervened repeatedly in the electoral
politics of his homeland, Poland, since the late 1980s to bring about
government by socially conservative politicians who pass papal muster on
women's rights and abortion and "anti-materialism" (opposition to the
introduction of consumerism). Despite some cultural and economic promise in
the late 1980s, Poland has become stultified with vast out-migration of
educated Poles and economic paralysis. When they are being honest, migrating
Poles will tell you that Wojtila and the power of the Polish Catholic Church
are destroying their homeland.
5. Wojtila badgered the progressive Latin American
bishops and archbishops (yes, there used to be several of them!) to abandon
support of cooperatives, peasant political initiatives, and community
organizing in his infamous campaign to eliminate "liberation theology." Only
safe, traditional, right-wing candidates were promoted into the Catholic
hierarchy. Wojtila denounced "liberation theology" and drove its proponents
in Nicaragua and many other places out of the Catholic Church.
6. In the United States, Wojtila in
1980 forced Father Robert Drinan, one of the nation's leading elected
progressive politicians, to resign from Congress (under penalty of being
forced to leave the priesthood). At the same time, Wojtila fostered the
alliance of right-wing American Catholic bishops with the "Christian right"
on the issues of abortion, women's rights, and homosexuality. In North
America and beyond, a double standard has been applied by Wojtila for
Catholic clergy involvement in political causes. Advocating for progressive
causes has been forbidden as impermissibly "political" while advocacy and
alliances against abortion, contraception, and women's rights has been
approved as necessary "witnessing" to Catholic values.
7. Wojtila has systematically purged what were previously
culturally and politically progressive religious orders such as the Jesuits
and Franciscans. These worldwide purges of the orders have been carried out
by appointees Wojtila has made as heads of the various orders. In some
cases, progressive leaders in the religious orders were forced to retire
early so that his handpicked reactionaries could take command.
8. Wojtila has refused to acknowledge what had been a
central role of women in the Catholic Church. He not only opposed the
elevation of women to ministry (despite powerful evidence that women
performed such roles in the early Christian Church), he refused to allow the
many orders of nuns to creatively adapt to modern conditions. As a result,
the Catholic sisterhoods are virtually defunct, and the clerical personnel
of the Catholic Church has been turned into an all-male private club.
9. Wojtila has forbidden the use of
indigenous cultural forms in worship services in non-Western countries. Gone
are the marvelous masses and hymns from Africa and Latin America that
inspired Christian worship in the 1960s and 1970s. In Western countries, he
has insisted on restricting the use of Catholic church buildings to
specifically religious purposes despite their great value as venues for
concerts, art exhibits, and community activities. Multiple uses of churches
was a tradition carried down from the Middle Ages. The great cathedrals of
Europe were designed on the assumption of multiple uses.
10. Despite painfully obvious need and institutional
commitments made during the Second Vatican Council, Wojtila refused to
modernize working conditions for the Catholic clergy. Catholic priests
remain the most underpaid and overworked of denominational Christian
ministers. In addition, the input of priests into promotion processes within
the clergy, which traditionally acted as a counterweight to hierarchical
oppression, has been reduced by Wojtila to a nullity.
11. Flying in the face of historical precedent and the
most basic common sense, Wojtila refused to consider issues of clerical
celibacy and the upgrading of the diaconate to the central functions of the
ministry. Clerical celibacy is (quite frankly) a custom originating in the
early middle ages for purposes of property consolidation, and it has always
been "honored more in the breach than the observance." Furthermore, deacons
performed sacramental functions until modern times. The restriction of
sacramental functions to a celibate priesthood was not even an official
ideal of the Catholic Church until the sixteenth century. Wojtila's refusal
to even permit discussion of issues concerning clerical celibacy and full
sacramental functions for the diaconate has created a vast shortage of
Catholic clergy and turned the most energetic and talented Catholics away
from ministry within their own Church.
12. The ancient tradition of partial
autonomy of the "nationes" within the Catholic Church has been broken by
Wojtila. Traditionally, the national councils of Catholic bishops within
each country had considerable leeway in governing the local churches.
Wojtila, unlike any of his modern predecessors, regularly intervened and
overturned decisions by the national councils concerning details of
religious customs and personnel decisions.
13. Wojtila deepened and intensified the reproductive
doctrinal fetishes of his most reactionary predecessors. Official "Catholic"
positions on contraception and abortion are creations of deservedly obscure,
personally bizarre, and sexually twisted theologians resident in the Roman
theological colleges during the nineteenth century. They have no basis
whatsoever in the beliefs and practices of either the ancient or medieval
Church. Because of Wojtila's use of the Catholic Church's influence in
international organizations and its alliance with the "Religious Right" in
the USA, international birth control programs have been starved and gutted
over the last two decades. As a result, tens of millions of African, Asian
and Latin American infants and children have lived and died in misery!
14. Despite Wojtila's external reputation as some sort of
"liberal," Catholics know that Wojtila is the close ally of the extremist
and highly secretive Catholic movement known as Opus Dei. Wojtila has
welcomed and blessed the practices of Opus Dei, which is a kind of "Church
within the Church." He has promoted clergy who are affiliated with Opus Dei
to the highest of positions within the Church. Opus Dei members congregate
in secret in KKK-like costumes and engage in practices which include wearing
hairshirts and self-flagellation. They maintain a network of secret
monasteries and houses where young Catholics (especially those from wealthy
and prominent families) are taken for intensive indoctrination sessions.
Opus Dei members have been reliably reported by deprogrammed former members
to favor re-ghettoization of Jews and international
military crusades against Islam. US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is
a key member of Opus Dei in North America. The most likely successor to John
Paul II is the ultra reactionary Archbishop of Milan, Dionigi Tettamanzi
(known in Italy as the "Beast of Milan") who is reputedly one of the maximum
leaders of the secretive cult of Opus Dei.
15. Wojtila methodically purged the College of Cardinals
of any creative or free-thinking members, and almost all members of the
current College of Cardinals, which will now choose Wojtila's successor, are
rightwing clerical robots appointed by Wojtila himself. The Catholic Church
is now guaranteed to have a self-perpetuating reactionary leadership for the
16. All initiatives for democratization of governance of
the Catholic Church which began in the 1960s and 1970s were stopped in their
tracks by Wojtila. American Catholics no longer talk about lay input into
major decisions of the Church. The many talented laymen and laywomen who run
the day-to-day operations of Catholic parishes and diocese are treated with
highhanded disrespect, and the most talented have left or are in the process
17. Wojtila cruelly abandoned the
Catholics of Northern Ireland to a fate of political oppression and denial
of their basic human rights. The Catholics of Northern Ireland are the only
European Catholics still undergoing systematic persecution for their
religious beliefs. One might have thought that Pope John Paul II would have
championed the human rights of Northern Irish Catholics. Instead, Wojtila
never spoke out against the horrendous oppression of his coreligionists in
Northern Ireland. His sole contribution to the discussion of Northern
Ireland was to condemn IRA violence (without any corresponding condemnation
of British Army or loyalist violence) and demand a cessation of IRA
activities, which would simply have left the Catholics in Northern Ireland
completely helpless to their oppressors.
18. Last but not least, Karol Wojtila proved his utter
moral bankruptcy in his horrendous mishandling of the pedophile scandals in
the Catholic Churches of the United States, Canada, Ireland, Britain, and
several other nations. Wojtila could never bring himself to a clear apology
or an acknowledgement of wrongdoing or institutional responsibility for the
Catholic Church's practices of abuse, intimidation, and rape of tens of
thousands of children and adolescents. Most reprehensibly, Wojtila removed
the independent power of the United States Catholic bishops to discipline
pedophile priests while attributing the horror and filth within the American
Catholic Church to some sort of American cultural malady.