John Paul II, Pope
The first Slavic POPE ever and the first non-Italian elected to the See of Peter in four and a half centuries, John Paul II’s personality, pastoral method, and magisterium left indelible marks on world Catholicism. As the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation popes defined the Church’s relationship to an emerging modern world, the Second Vatican Council as authoritatively interpreted by John Paul II may well define Catholicism’s relationship to whatever follows in the twenty-first century and beyond.
Early Life. Karol Józef Wojtyła was born on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, a provincial Galician town near Kraków. His father, Karol, was a retired army officer; his mother, Emilia Kaczorowska, had previously borne another son, Edmund, and a daughter who died shortly after birth. Emilia Wojtyła died in 1929; young Karol, Lolek to his family and friends, was just finishing the third grade. Three and a half years later, his brother Edmund, a doctor, died of scarlet fever contracted from a patient. Lolek and his father lived by themselves for the next nine years. The son would later write that his father’s piety, austerity, and interest in Polish literature and history constituted “my first seminary.”
Wojtyła received an excellent classical elementary and secondary education in Wadowice, where he was a star student and a fine athlete and outdoorsman. During high school he immersed himself in the classics of Polish Romantic literature and became deeply involved in the theater under the influence of an avant-garde director, Mieczysław Kotlarczyk.
In 1938 Wojtyła moved with his father to Kraków to begin studies in Polish PHILOLOGY at the Jagiellonian University. His undergraduate career was interrupted by the Second World War. Shortly after conquering Poland, the Nazis closed the university and shipped many of its professors to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Polish cultural life went underground for the duration of the war.
The War Years. From 1939 to 1945 Wojtyła was heavily engaged in various forms of cultural resistance to the German Occupation of his homeland. He continued his studies when the Jagiellonian University reconstituted itself underground. With his mentor, Mieczysław Kotlarczyk, he founded the Rhapsodic Theatre, a clandestine troupe whose experimental productions of Polish classics helped keep alive the national memory the Nazis were determined to erase. He joined UNIA, a broad-based, clandestine resistance movement which included armed cadres and a unit devoted to saving Polish Jews from the HOLOCAUST (SHOAH); UNIA worked to lay the cultural, social, and political foundations for a postwar Christian democratic Poland. Young Wojtyła also took an active role in his parish, leading one of the original Living Rosary groups of young men; here he encountered the lay mystic Jan Tyranowski (1901–1947), who introduced him to the writings of St. JOHN OF THE CROSS and St. TERESA OF AVILA. As all these activities were strictly banned by the Occupation, Wojtyła lived for more than five years at the daily risk of his life.
From 1940 to August of 1944 Wojtyła was also a manual laborer, first as a quarryman and blaster and later as a worker in the Solvay chemical factory on the outskirts of Kraków; the experience marked him for life. After his father’s death in February 1941, Karol struggled to discern his vocation, torn between his love for the theater and the academic life and an increasing sense that he was being called to the priesthood. After a period of intense REFLECTION (during which he explored the possibility of entering the CARMELITES, only to be told that they were accepting no new novices during the war), it became clear to him that GOD intended him for the priesthood. The heroic Archbishop of Kraków, Adam Stefan SAPIEHA, accepted him as a candidate, and for two years Wojtyła lived a double life, continuing his manual work and his resistance activities while beginning his PHILOSOPHY and THEOLOGY studies in the clandestine seminary that Sapieha had created in defiance of the Occupation.
In August 1944 when the Gestapo attempted to arrest the young men of Kraków to forestall a repetition of the Warsaw Uprising, Sapieha took his clandestine seminarians into his home, which functioned as an underground seminary, until the Soviet Army drove the Germans from Kraków in January 1945. Daily life with the “prince-archbishop,” as Sapieha (son of a noble Polish-Lithuanian family) was known, provided Wojtyła with his model of the priest and bishop as defensor hominis, the defender of the rights of his people.
The Young Priest. On November 1, 1946, Cardinal Sapieha ordained Wojtyła to the priesthood and then sent him to ROME to obtain his doctorate in theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelicum.” After living at the Belgian College for two years and exploring the Belgian and French worker-priest experiments during vacations, Wojtyła completed a dissertation on The Doctrine of Faith According to St. John of the Cross under the direction of Réginald GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, O.P. Garrigou’s single criticism of the dissertation, that Wojtyła did not use the phrase “divine object” of God, indicated that the young Polish priest-scholar was beginning to move beyond the Neoscholasticism then dominating Catholic intellectual life.
After six months of service in the country parish at Niegowić, Father Wojtyła was assigned by Cardinal Sapieha to St. Florian’s Church in Kraków, a parish frequented by Catholic intellectuals and professionals. His task was to form a new chaplaincy for the students of the Jagiellonian University, the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts, and the Kraków Polytechnic: a front-line post in the struggle with Poland’s new communist regime for the SOUL of Polish youth. Father Wojtyła became an immensely successful student chaplain and a pastoral pioneer. He encouraged his students to participate actively in the Mass; he formed choirs, directed theatrical groups, and provided off-campus opportunities for philosophical and theological studies that were difficult or impossible in the Marxist-dominated academic environment of Kraków. Defying both clerical convention and communist restrictions on organizing youth groups, he took young men and women into the countryside for skiing, hiking, camping, and kayaking trips that were also opportunities for pastoral care. His young friends called him Wujek (Uncle), a kind of Stalin-era nom de guerre; as the circle of students expanded, they called themselves Wojtyła’s Środowisko, or milieu. The friendships formed in these years endured throughout Wojtyła’s life. As he formed young professionals into mature Christians, they were forming him into one of the most dynamic priests of his generation and igniting his interests in modern problems of sexual ETHICS, marriage, and family life.
Amidst this intense pastoral activity, Father Wojtyła wrote numerous essays and poems (the latter published pseudonymously) for the independent Kraków Catholic newspaper Tygodnik Powszechny (Universal Weekly). He also composed a play, Our God’s Brother, which explored the temptations of revolutionary violence through Kotlarczyk’s inner theater dramatic method. The play was loosely based on the life of Albert CHMIELOWSKI, a Polish painter who founded a religious community dedicated to the homeless.
Scholar and Bishop. In 1953 Wojtyła completed his habilitation doctorate under instructions from Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak (1890–1962). His dissertation explored the moral philosophy of the German phenomenologist, Max SCHELER, and marked the beginning of Wojtyła’s intellectual combination of THOMISM and PHENOMENOLOGY. One of the dissertation readers, Professor Stefan Swieżawski (1907–2004), encouraged the young philosopher to join the faculty of the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), the only Catholic institution of higher education behind the iron curtain. Archbishop Baziak approved the arrangement, and Karol Wojtyła was appointed instructor in philosophical ethics at KUL, where he later occupied the Chair of Ethics. Wojtyła maintained his relationship to KUL for decades, participating in a distinctive philosophical project in which the truth of reality and morals were probed through a disciplined reflection on the human person. The KUL philosophers proposed to challenge Marxism and other distorted modern ideologies on their own intellectual ground: What is authentic human liberation? On this basis Wojtyła eventually developed a complex philosophical anthropology rooted in an analysis of human moral agency.
While commuting weekly to KUL, where he was a magnetic teacher, CONFESSOR, and counselor; Father Wojtyła continued his pastoral work in Kraków, adding a ministry to healthcare professionals to his ongoing work with students and teaching social ethics in the Kraków seminary. In 1958 Pope PIUS XII appointed him TITULAR BISHOP of Ombi and Auxiliary Bishop of Kraków. After Wojtyła was ordained bishop in Wawel Cathedral on September 29, 1958, he added a new load of episcopal duties to his academic work at KUL and his pastoral activities. In conversation with his graduate students and other lay friends, Bishop Wojtyła prepared his first book, Love and Responsibility, in which he discussed sexual ethics and the beauty of sexual love with a frankness startling in its time and place.
The Second Vatican Council. When the Ante-Preparatory Commission appointed by Pope JOHN XXIII wrote the world’s bishops inviting suggestions for the agenda of the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Wojtyła, the forty-year-old auxiliary of Kraków, responded with a philosophical essay urging that the council propose Christian HUMANISM as the Church’s response to the civilizational crisis of the mid-twentieth century. Defective ideas of the human person, Wojtyła argued, were at the root of a century of fear that had already produced two world wars, three totalitarian systems, unprecedented slaughter, and the greatest persecution of the Church in history. Reconstituting the Church as an evangelical movement proclaiming the truth about the human Page 498 | Top of Articleperson was, in his judgment, the crucial intellectual and pastoral task of the Council—a vision congruent with John XXIII’s historic opening address to the bishops on October 11, 1962. That vision would guide Wojtyła’s participation in and implementation of Vatican II for more than forty years.
Wojtyła attended all four periods of the Council, taking an increasingly active role. Entering the council as a very junior auxiliary bishop, he participated in the third and fourth periods (and the crucial intercession between the third and fourth periods) as the archbishop of Kraków, a post to which he was nominated by Pope PAUL VI on December 30, 1963. His formal interventions at the council were on themes he had stressed during his priestly ministry: the universal call to HOLINESS, the baptismal dignity of all Christians, the lay vocation in the world as an expression of the triple munus of CHRIST, and religious freedom as the first of human rights. Wojtyła’s largest contribution to Vatican II came in helping draft and then defend Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Work on this document during the early 1965 intercession and the fourth period of Vatican II brought Wojtyła into contact with important Western theologians, including Yves Marie-Joseph CONGAR and Henri de LUBAC; the latter became a good friend.
During the later periods of the council, Wojtyła began work on Osoba y czyn (Person and Act), his major philosophical work, which was intended to provide a secure philosophical foundation for the council’s anthropology and teaching on religious freedom. In it, he utilized the resources of both a renewed Thomism and phenomenology.
Archbishop of Kraków. With the entire Polish Church Wojtyła celebrated the millennium of Polish Christianity in 1966. In 1970 after completing a guidebook to the Vatican Council’s sixteen documents, Sources of Renewal, he began planning an extensive implementation of Vatican II, aimed at enabling his entire archdiocese to relive the conciliar experience. After two years of preparation the Synod of Kraków began in May 1972 and was completed in June 1979. Five hundred discussion groups brought religious, clergy, and laity together to learn the council’s teaching and apply it to the pastoral life of the archdiocese.
Named CARDINAL in 1967, Wojtyła’s priorities as archbishop included a vigorous defense of religious freedom, which involved an ongoing battle with the communist regime over the construction of new churches and the public expression of Catholic faith; the development of the seminary and a faculty of theology to replace the theology faculty of the Jagiellonian University, which had been closed by the regime in 1954; support for family life, including the establishment of an Institute of Family Life and diocesan-wide marriage-preparation programs; youth ministry; outreach to intellectuals; a broad-ranging ministry of CHARITY; and extensive parish visitations. In carrying out these projects, Wojtyła exemplified the local bishop as pastor, teacher, and defender of the rights of his people.
Cardinal Wojtyła collaborated closely with Cardinal Stefan WYSZYŃSKI, Primate of Poland. The two men had different sensibilities, and Wojtyła’s ECCLESIOLOGY was more reflective of Vatican II than Wyszyński’s. But the communist regime was completely unsuccessful in its ongoing attempts to drive a wedge between the two Polish cardinals, both of whom were determined to maintain the Church’s unity against an implacable foe. Wojtyła also did what he could to support the hard-pressed Church in Czechoslovakia; he and one of his auxiliary bishops clandestinely ordained priests for service underground in Czechoslovakia.
During his fourteen years as archbishop of Kraków, Wojtyła became one of the best-known and most highly respected churchmen in the world. In addition to his work as a cardinal with various dicasteries of the Roman Curia, he participated in the meetings of the SYNOD OF BISHOPS in 1969, 1971, 1974, and 1977, serving as relator of the 1974 synod on evangelization. Wojtyła was also elected by his episcopal peers as a member of the Synod Council. In 1968 a Kraków-based theological commission organized by Cardinal Wojtyła sent a lengthy memorandum on the Church’s marital ethic to Pope Paul VI, who was then preparing the ENCYCLICAL Humanae vitae’; the memorandum proposed a thoroughly humanistic understanding of human sexuality as the foundation for the Church’s sexual ethic and teaching on CONTRACEPTION.
Wojtyła visited the United States and Canada in 1969 and returned to the United States in 1976 for the International Eucharistic Congress. He also led the Polish delegation to the 1973 International Eucharistic Congress in Australia. In April 1974 he gave a major philosophical paper at the International Thomistic Congress in Italy, drawing the admiration of the German philosopher Joseph Pieper (1904–1997), among others. Paul VI invited Cardinal Wojtyła to deliver the 1976 Lenten retreat for the pope and his closest Curial collaborators; Wojtyła’s retreat conferences were later published as a book, Sign of Contradiction.
The Year of Three Popes. Paul VI died on Aug. 6, 1978; Wojtyła traveled to Rome with Cardinal Wyszyński for the conclave that elected Albino Luciani of Venice as Pope JOHN PAUL I on August 25. On September 29, after celebrating his twentieth episcopal anniversary with friends, Wojtyła received the news of John Paul I’s
death the previous night. Over the next several days Wojtyła wrote “Stanislaw,” a poetic meditation on the first martyr-bishop of Kraków. On October 8 at the church of St. Stanislaw in Rome he preached at a memorial Mass for John Paul I, citing John 21:15 and the capacity for a greater love of Christ as the prime requisite of Peter’s successor.
On October 16, the second day of the second CONCLAVE of 1978, Karol Wojtyła was elected the 263rd successor to St. Peter. Taking the name John Paul II, he immediately broke precedent by receiving the first homage of the College of Cardinals standing, rather than sitting on a faldstool as tradition dictated. Like John Paul I, he declined coronation with the tiara. The HOMILY at his installation Mass on October 22 was punctuated by the ANTIPHON, “Be not afraid! Open the doors to Christ!”—a proclamation of robust faith and a call to a new Christian humanism that would characterize his pontificate for more than two decades.
JOHN PAUL II AND THE WORLD
Pope John Paul II had a greater impact on contemporary history than any pope in centuries. Yet his capacity to shape the world of his times was not mediated through the normal instruments of power. Rather, his PAPACY embodied a new, post–Constantinian approach to politics that was anticipated by the Second Vatican Council. The council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom had broken the Church free from the embrace of political authority by asserting that the Catholic Church would no longer accept coercive state power as a buttress for its truth claims or as a support for its evangelical mission. This new vision of the Church’s relationship to the worlds of power—an ecclesiology of public engagement in which the Church sought to teach the nations, not rule the nations—had a decisive influence on the pontificate of John Paul II, and through him, on the history of the late twentieth century.
The Framework. The intellectual framework for John Paul II’s public witness and diplomacy and his distinctive view of the history of his times may be found in his two addresses to the General Assembly of the United Nations. In his first UN address on October 2, 1979, John Paul characteristically began his analysis of world politics with the dignity of the human person: Any legitimate politics, he proposed, “comes from man, is exercised by man, and is for man.” Human progress was to be measured, not only by material standards, but in the realm of the human spirit; that was why the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a “milestone on the long and difficult path of the human race.” Violations of human rights, not weapons stockpiles, were at the root of the world’s division into Cold War camps and were the primary threat to world peace. The cause of peace was thus the cause of human rights, and the first of human rights was religious freedom. To deny Page 500 | Top of Articleanyone the freedom to search for the truth, to adhere to it, and to express it publicly was profoundly dehumanizing, because the search for truth was of the very essence of humanity. Religious believers, agnostics, and atheists should be able to agree on this as a matter of shared humanistic conviction. Rightly understood, religious freedom was not a sectarian matter.
In this 1979 address, which challenged both communist regimes and the instrumental view of politics frequently encountered in the West, John Paul II explicitly committed the Catholic Church to the cause of human freedom and the defense of basic human rights as the primary goals of its engagement with world politics, a commitment that had been implicit in Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in terries and in Vatican II’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom.” Sixteen years later, on October 8, 1995, the pope deepened that commitment in a second address to the UN General Assembly, which was marking its fiftieth anniversary in a world dramatically changed from 1979.
In that address John Paul II vigorously defended the universality of human rights, a concept then being challenged by authoritarian regimes in Asia, by Islamic activists, and by some western intellectuals. The universal reach of the quest for freedom, the pope argued, was a key to understanding this quest as “one of the great dynamics of human history.” Moreover, the global character of the human striving for freedom bore empirical witness that there is a universal human nature and a universal moral law; this moral logic built into human beings was the basis for a genuine dialogue between individuals, nations, and cultures. The “universal moral law written on the human heart is precisely [the] kind of ‘grammar’ which is needed” if the world was to engage in a serious conversation about the human future: if a “century of violent coercion,” as the pope put it, was to be followed by a “century of persuasion.” The world had yet to learn to “live with diversity”; yet difference was enriching, for “different cultures are but different ways of facing the question of the meaning of human existence.” If humanity could learn “not [to] be afraid of man,” then men and women would eventually come to see that “the tears of this century have prepared the ground for a new springtime of the human spirit.”
The Challenge to Communism. As his 1979 UN address made clear, John Paul II intended to be a global public defender of human rights: He would challenge the material power of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes with the weapons of the human spirit and of culture, those products of man’s spiritual nature that create national identities. This “culture first” strategy of change was first tested in the pope’s native east central Europe.
The Soviet authorities quickly discerned that the election of a Polish pope created a profound challenge to the post–Yalta order in Europe. As restive and persecuted Catholic minorities in Lithuania and Ukraine asserted themselves more vigorously in the wake of John Paul’s election and, as the pope ignited a revolution of conscience in Poland that spread throughout the Soviet external empire, the Kremlin’s worst fears were realized.
John Paul II’s epic nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979 was a primary, even decisive, catalyst in the decade-long process that led to the collapse of European communism ten years later. In some forty homilies and addresses, John Paul returned to his Polish countrymen their authentic history and culture, giving them tools of resistance that communism could not blunt. One-third of the Polish nation saw the pope in person, and virtually everyone else saw him on television or heard him on radio. The visit, a moment of catharsis for a people oppressed since 1939, was also a moment of moral clarification in which tens of thousands of people made the personal decision to resist the communist culture of the lie and to take the “risk of freedom,” as the pope would call it at the United Nations in 1995.
The results of that revolution of conscience came swiftly. SOLIDARITY, a free-trade union movement that was also a de facto political opposition, was born in August 1980 in Gdańsk. In December 1980 the Soviet Union was on the verge of launching an invasion of Poland to crush the new independent union and execute its leaders. On December 16, 1980, having been made aware of this threat through his own informants and through United States intelligence sources, John Paul II wrote an unprecedented personal letter to Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982), urging full respect for the integrity of Poland and the rights of its people and signaling his nonnegotiable support for Solidarity. It seemed to many observers that there was an obvious connection between the pope’s relationship to Solidarity and the attempt on his life that took place on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square, when he was shot by a professional assassin with links to Warsaw Pact intelligence services.
John Paul condemned the imposition of martial law in Poland on December 13, 1981, which included the mass arrests of Solidarity leaders. During his 1983 pilgrimage to his homeland, he urged the Polish authorities to enter a dialogue with the Solidarity leadership as the precondition to national renewal. In 1987 as the Polish economy and regime slowly crumbled, John Paul returned to Poland to help lay the moral foundations for the free society whose emergence he anticipated, an expectation that was vindicated two years later when Solidarity swept the available seats in the first semi-free elections in Poland in decades.
During the 1980s the pope urged Catholic leaders throughout east central Europe to be vigorous defenders of religious freedom and other basic human rights. His support had a marked effect on Cardinal František TOMÁŠEK of Prague, who was transformed from a rather mute figure into the grand old man of the democratic resistance to communism in Czechoslovakia. John Paul also inspired a revitalized Catholic resistance in Slovakia, where numerous Catholic clergy and laity emerged from underground to take leading roles in the resistance. As these events were unfolding, the Lithuanian Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers Rights intensified its activity despite harsh Soviet repression, and activists for religious freedom became more vocal among the Greek Catholics of Ukraine. John Paul’s apostolic letter of December 31, 1980, Egregiae virtutis, naming Ss. Cyril and Methodius, apostles of the Slavs, as co-patrons of Europe was an unmistakable signal to Catholics throughout central and eastern Europe that the pope would bend every effort to re-link the two halves of Catholic Europe. The pope’s increasing prestige as a global moral leader brought him into contact with Soviet dissidents in the mid-1980s. In 1985 human rights activist Elena Bonner (1923–) left a secret meeting with John Paul in the VATICAN in tears, saying “He’s the most remarkable man I have ever met. He is all light. He is a source of light.” Some three years later, John Paul counseled Bonner’s husband, Soviet physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov (1921–1989), as he tried to clarify his political responsibilities in the USSR.
Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–), the last leader of the Soviet Union, visited John Paul II in the Vatican on December 1, 1989, symbolically marking the end of seventy years of fierce Soviet anti–Catholic PROPAGANDA and persecution. In the mid-1990s Gorbachev publicly conceded what was obvious to the Catholic people of central and eastern Europe throughout the 1980s: that John Paul II had been the pivotal figure in the complex events that led to the collapse of communist regimes in 1989. That the pope did this not by issuing anathemas or by calling princes to REPENTANCE in the snow but by igniting a revolution of conscience that ultimately produced a nonviolent political revolution demonstrated in action the morally driven approach to world politics that he had outlined to the United Nations in 1979.
John Paul II was less successful in engaging communist regimes in Asia. More than two decades of efforts to open a line of dialogue with the People’s Republic of China were largely frustrated, although diplomatic contacts between the HOLY SEE and the PRC took place. In November 1983 the pope wrote a private letter to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997), underscoring the Church’s respect for Chinese culture and requesting a formal dialogue; Deng Xiaoping never answered, and his successors persistently blocked the pope’s efforts to visit any part of China. Holy See relations with Vietnam were also difficult during the pontificate, although some progress was made in the 1990s on the appointment of bishops.
The Challenge to Free Societies. John Paul II quickly discerned that the quest for human freedom had not been completely vindicated, much less secured, by the Revolution of 1989. On May 1, 1991, his third social encyclical, Centesimus annus, analyzed the dramatic events of the recent past while scouting the terrain of public life in the democracies of the future. Describing the free and virtuous society as an interlocking complex of three parts—democratic polity, free economy, public moral culture—the pope argued that the last was the foundation of the entire edifice. DEMOCRACY and the free economy were not machines that could run by themselves. Absent the disciplines and direction given by a vibrant public moral culture, democracy and the free economy would self-destruct; as the pope explained in perhaps the most controversial sentence of the encyclical, “a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.”
The totalitarianism John Paul had in mind was not a recrudescence of FASCISM or communism, but a gross utilitarianism that drove genuine moral discourse out of public life. A democracy without transcendent moral reference points would have to resolve its differences on the basis of power alone, the pope warned. And that would spell the end of democracy. In his 1992 encyclical Veritatis splendor, the pope deepened his challenge to free societies, arguing that a mutual recognition of the obligations of the moral law was the most secure foundation on which to build democratic equality and to safeguard the rights of the less powerful. John Paul returned to this theme in the encyclical Evangelium vitae (1995), chastising democracies that erect moral wrongs into “rights” as “tyrant states.” The democratic future was profoundly threatened, the pope wrote, if those whom the strong deemed weak, inconvenient, or burdensome could be put beyond the boundaries of legal protection through the legalization of ABORTION and EUTHANASIA.
The urgency of these life issues for the democratic future was underlined by the World Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in September 1994. The U.S. government and several of its European allies, coordinating their efforts with the UN Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, intended that the Cairo conference would declare abortion as a basic human right on par with religious freedom or freedom of speech. John Page 502 | Top of ArticlePaul II, amidst the difficulties caused by a broken femur and hip-replacement surgery in April 1994, led a worldwide effort against this proposal, deploying all the assets of Vatican diplomacy while conducting a vigorous public campaign through the media in defense of the rights of women and the rights of the unborn. It was a striking example of the pope’s enduring conviction that the word of truth, spoken clearly and forcefully enough, can bend the shape of history in humane directions. The Cairo conference refused to endorse the notion of abortion as a basic human right. Few doubted that it would have done so absent the intervention of John Paul II exercising the power of moral witness.
John Paul II and Latin America. When John Paul was elected in 1978, Latin America was both the demographic center of world Catholicism and an arena of turmoil, confusion, and violence. During his first pilgrimage abroad in January of 1979, the pope spoke to the Third General Conference of the Conference of Latin American Bishops Conferences (CELAM) in Puebla, Mexico. In a lengthy address he criticized those aspects of LIBERATION THEOLOGY which portrayed Jesus as the “subversive man of Nazareth.” A Church fully engaged in the struggle for JUSTICE in Latin America was an evangelical imperative; a partisan Church, the pope insisted, was an evangelical impossibility. These themes were later developed in two instructions from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on “Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation” (1984) and on “Christian Freedom and Liberation” (1987). The pope’s 1979 visit to Mexico, which had been governed as a secularist one-party state for decades, gave the local Church an unprecedented opportunity to express itself publicly. Tremendous popular support set in motion a process in which the Church was gradually freed to assume the kind of culture-forming role that John Paul II had urged at Puebla. In 2000 one-party rule in Mexico ended, and a new future for Mexican Catholicism opened up.
The pope’s sharpest personal confrontation with certain distorted theologies of liberation came in Nicaragua in 1983. There, the Marxist Sandinista government (which included two priests) attempted to disrupt the pope’s Mass in Managua and to drown out his homily. The pope’s efforts were vindicated, however, in the democratic transitions in Central America of the late 1980s. Those transitions, effected through popular votes, put an end to the civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, which had led to a crude persecution of the Church in the former and the murder of the Archbishop Oscar ROMERO in the latter.
The problems of democratic transition also framed John Paul’s important pilgrimage to Chile in 1987. Chile had been ruled for fourteen years by a military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet (1915–2006). Human rights abuses were widespread; the Chilean Church had responded by creating a Vicariate of Solidarity, which sought to rebuild civil society in the country. Beginning in 1978 the Holy See, at John Paul II’s initiative, had successfully mediated a border dispute between Chile and Argentina that threatened to result in war, and the pope had considerable credibility with both the Pinochet regime (which included many serious Catholics) and the Chilean democratic opposition. The pope and his Chilean collaborators designed a pilgrimage built around the theme of civil reconciliation. During the pilgrimage John Paul defended the Church’s role as promoter of human rights, signaling to both the government and the democratic opposition that a nonviolent transition to democracy was imperative. The pilgrimage was marred by a violent demonstration that threatened to disrupt the pope’s Mass in Santiago; the pope refused to leave the venue and the Mass was completed, despite the riot, in which the government seemed not entirely innocent. Eighteen months after the pilgrimage, a national plebiscite rejected continuing military rule and set Chile firmly on the road to democracy.
A year later John Paul defied the efforts of Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1912–2006) to block his meeting with that country’s democratic dissidents. As in Chile, the pope stressed the moral cleansing of society as the foundation of building authentic democracy. Less than nine months after the pope’s visit, General Stroessner was overthrown in a military coup, which led to general elections in 1989 and a democratic transition that the local Church supported throughout the 1990s, despite difficult political and economic conditions.
As with Poland in 1979, John Paul’s epic pilgrimage to Cuba in January of 1998 sought to restore to a hard-pressed people their authentic history and culture. This reclamation of national culture would, it was hoped, create the foundations of civil society and enable Cuba to move beyond communist dictatorship and re-enter the community of the western hemisphere. The Castro regime was reasonably cooperative during the papal visit, which saw the first public display of the national Marian ICON, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, in forty years. In the years immediately following the papal pilgrimage, however, change in Cuba was much slower than either the Holy See or the local Church had anticipated.
In 1978 when John Paul II was elected pope, virtually all of Latin America was ruled by authoritarian regimes of one sort or another; economic stagnation was epidemic; and Central America was beset by chaos and war. Within two decades Latin America had made a remarkable transition to democratic governments and free economies, although widespread POVERTY and some Page 503 | Top of Articlepolitical instability remained. While the changes in Latin America had multiple causes, it was clear that John Paul’s ability to inspire an engaged Church that was not a partisan Church had had a considerable impact on Latin American public life.
Papal Diplomacy Under John Paul II. Even as John Paul II explored the possibilities of a post–Constantinian papacy that engaged the world of power through moral witness and argument, the diplomacy of the Holy See continued. By 2000 the Holy See had formal diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level with 172 countries and was represented at the United Nations, the European Community, and a host of other international agencies and organizations. John Paul’s annual New Year’s meetings with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See provided an opportunity to drive home the message that all politics, including international politics, had an irreducible moral component.
A singularly dramatic accomplishment of John Paul II’s diplomacy was the completion of a “Fundamental Agreement” between the Holy See and the State of ISRAEL on December 30, 1993; they exchanged ambassadors the following year. The Fundamental Agreement was the result of a complex eighteen-month-long negotiation in which the pope’s personal commitment to full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Jewish state played a decisive role.
John Paul’s diplomacy also suffered frustrations. Through both formal and informal means, the pope tried to help create conditions for a peaceful resolution of the crisis of Yugoslavia. These efforts did not meet with notable success. John Paul was determined to go to Sarajevo as a witness for peace when the city was being destroyed by shelling, but a scheduled 1994 visit was canceled because of the threat of violence against pilgrims. When the pope did manage to get to shattered Sarajevo in 1997, officials discovered and defused a bomb, evidently intended to destroy his motorcade, along the road into the city.
In 1982 the pope was confronted by a diplomatic conundrum: Could he make a long-planned pilgrimage to Great Britain during the Falklands/Malvinas War, which was being fought against Argentina, a Catholic country? John Paul’s solution was instinctively pastoral: to fulfill his commitment to Great Britain, to go on pilgrimage to Argentina the following month, and to urge peace and reconciliation in both countries. The 1989–1990 Gulf crisis and the period before and during the Iraq War that commenced in 2003 were trying times for the pope, who urged a negotiated diplomatic resolution, first to Iraq’s invasion and subjugation of Kuwait and subsequently to the threat posed by the Saddam Hussein regime. In 1992 addressing the UN Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome, John Paul spoke of a duty of humanitarian intervention in situations where GENOCIDE was impending or underway; the pope did not specify on whom this duty fell or how it was to be carried out. As with the Gulf War and the Iraq War, the question of a papal development of the Church’s traditional just-war doctrine was, evidently, being left for a future pontificate. In Ireland in 1979, in Latin America throughout the 1980s, and in the Philippines in 1985–1986, the pope had urged a “preferential option for nonviolence” in resolving sectarian conflict and in effecting democratic transitions. The relationship of this option to the Church’s traditional approach to interstate conflict, in which the restoration of justice was the primary imperative, was also a topic for future theological development.
Throughout his pontificate John Paul II, whose contempt for the Yalta division of Europe into Cold War camps dated back to the late 1940s, spoke frequently about the urgency of rebuilding a Europe that could breathe with both its “lungs,” east and west. This personal passion matched the Holy See’s longstanding commitment to European unification through such instruments as the Common Market and the European Union (EU). In later years, however, the pope sharply criticized the tendency of EU bureaucracies and the European Parliament to enshrine a host of dubious lifestyle rights in European law; the Holy See also grew increasingly concerned about the way in which issues of abortion, euthanasia, and the technological means of human reproduction were being resolved in western European states. During the 2003–2004 debate over a new European constitutional treaty, John Paul II, without success, urged Europe’s political leaders to acknowledge formally the Christian sources that had, over the centuries, helped inform contemporary European commitments to human rights and democracy. These concerns and contentions raised questions about the future of the Holy See’s relationship to European integration.
John Paul II also dealt with the worlds of power through an unprecedented informal diplomacy. With the pope’s encouragement, although without any formal linkage to the Holy See, the Sant’ Egidio Community, a Rome-based Catholic renewal movement, successfully mediated the Mozambican civil war in a series of negotiations during the 1990s. Similar Sant’ Egidio efforts took place in Algeria and the Balkans, although without measurable success. John Paul II also sent Cardinal Roger ETCHEGARAY, the French president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as a personal, unofficial representative to conflict situations in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania. The
cardinal described this informal diplomacy, aimed at getting conflicted parties in conversation with one another, as a “politics of presence” that was a “reinforcement and extension of the spiritual mission” of the pope.
THE POPE AND THE CHURCH
Immediately after his election John Paul announced that the program of his pontificate would be the full implementation of the Second Vatican Council. Like Pope John XXIII, John Paul II believed that the council was a “new Pentecost” in which the Holy Spirit was preparing the Church for a “springtime of evangelization” in its third millennium. That conviction set the framework for the pope’s governance of the Church, his magisterium, and his distinctive papal style.
An Evangelical Church. The most visible expression of John Paul’s vision of the Church as a dynamic evangelical movement proposing to the world the truth of the human condition was his wide-ranging program of pastoral pilgrimages, of which there were 104 between 1979 and 2004. The pope took seriously the injunction of Luke 22:32, that Peter’s distinctive mission was to strengthen his BRETHREN in the faith. Interpreting this mandate literally while marrying it to the modern transportation and communications revolutions, John Paul II traveled to virtually every corner of the planet (as well as making 146 pastoral visits within Italy and visiting almost 300 Roman parishes). His global evangelism drew two of the largest crowds in human history, in Manila in 1995 and in Mexico City in 2002. By the end of the pontificate, John Paul II, having traveled more than 720,000 miles, had been seen in person by more human beings than any man who ever lived. The impact of this new style of papal witness was multiplied by the broadcast media, as radio and television brought the Successor of Peter into billions of homes.
In line with his evangelical priorities John Paul moved quickly to address one of the most deeply contentious issues in post–conciliar Catholicism, devoting 129 general audience addresses between 1979 and 1984 to an innovative “theology of the body” which sought to explain the Church’s sexual ethic (and meet the challenge of the sexual revolution) on the basis of a humanistic reading of human sexuality and a fresh analysis of biblical texts. In a similarly conflicted area John Paul worked to open a new dialogue between the Church and natural science. In 1981 he established a papal commission to re-examine the Galileo case; the commission report, issued in 1992 and endorsed by the pope, openly admitted that the Church had made an “objective error” in the Galileo controversy.
The pope’s commitment to Vatican II teaching on the “universal call to holiness” impelled him to restructure the process of BEATIFICATION and canonization in 1983. The APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION Divinus perfectionis magister shifted the paradigm of the process from legal procedure to scholarly historical investigation. The result was an unprecedented number of beatifications (1,338) and canonizations (482) during the pontificate, as the pope sought to give public expression to the Church’s teaching that sanctity was available to everyone.
World Youth Days, which drew millions of young people from all over the planet for a week of catechesis and liturgical celebrations with the Bishop of Rome, were another John Paul II innovation and quickly became a signature event in the pontificate. The first international WORLD YOUTH DAY, held in Buenos Aires in 1987, was followed by similar meetings in Santiago de Compostela (1989), Czestochowa (1991), Denver (1993), Manila (1995), Paris (1997), Rome (2000), and Toronto (2002). The Rome WYD, which drew two million young people to its closing Mass, was the largest pilgrimage in European history. The pope’s magnetic attraction for the young, which involved a profound challenge to lead lives of moral heroism, continued even as he aged.
John Paul’s leadership in more traditional Church events should also be understood in an evangelical and conciliar framework. The sixteen general, regional, and local Synods of Bishops he summoned and attended, like the post–synodal apostolic exhortations he wrote as a reflection on the deliberations of a Synod general assembly, were intended to provide interpretive keys to the renewal of Catholic life as proposed by Vatican II. The Extraordinary Synod of 1985, marking the twentieth anniversary of the Council, was of particular importance for its stress on the Council’s COMMUNION ecclesiology, its critique of political and ideological interpretations of Vatican II, and its commissioning of the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. Of special note as well were the Synods (and subsequent apostolic exhortations) on the family, the priesthood, the sacrament of reconciliation, the lay vocation in the world, the priesthood, and the CONSECRATED LIFE. While few, including the pope, were entirely satisfied with the Synod process, the pontificate unmistakably established the Synod of Bishops as a permanent feature of Catholic life.
John Paul’s was also one of the most important legislative pontificates in history. Following the intentions of John XXIII, he completed a thorough reform of canon law, issuing the new Code of Canon Law for Latin-rite Catholicism in 1983. The apostolic constitution promulgating the new code, Sacrae disciplinae leges, stressed its incorporation of the ecclesiology of Vatican II. A new Code of Oriental Canon Law for Eastern Catholic Churches was issued in 1990. In addition to these legislative accomplishments, the pope also Page 506 | Top of Articlereorganized the Roman Curia to reflect the council’s concerns in the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus. In 1996 he issued Universi dominici gregis, which reformed the process for the election of a pope by suppressing election by acclamation and delegation, stressing the personal responsibility of the cardinal-electors, and providing for election by simple majority after two weeks of inconclusive voting under the traditional two-thirds majority rule (a provision that would be rescinded by his successor, who restored the two-thirds rule while retaining John Paul’s attempt to limit on the number of ballots by narrowing the field after thirty-four failed ballots).
In another apostolic constitution, Ex corde ecclesiae (1990), John Paul sought to strengthen the Catholic identity of all Catholic institutions of higher education, as he had done in Sapientia christiana, a 1979 apostolic constitution regulating pontifical universities and pontifical faculties in the sacred sciences. Ex corde ecclesiae caused considerable controversy in the United States, even as the pope changed the terms of debate over the distinctive character of CATHOLIC COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES. Sapientia chistiana and Ex corde ecclesiae were important moments in the pope’s continuous effort to strengthen Catholic intellectual life as an integral part of what he came to call, in the 1990s, the “new evangelization,” which put considerable emphasis on the evangelization of culture.
The pope’s reform of Vatican press relations was also evangelically inspired. John Paul II recognized the crucial importance of the media. His 1984 decision to appoint Joaquín NAVARRO-VALLS, a Spanish layman and veteran foreign correspondent, as papal spokesman and head of the Holy See Press Office helped move the Vatican into the modern communications age. An online Vatican Information Service began transmitting daily bulletins in 1991. According to Navarro, John Paul II saw the “dialectic with world opinion” available through the media as an instrument for reforming the Church and shaping the world political agenda, as in the months before the Cairo world population conference in 1994.
The multiple strands of John Paul’s effort to get the Church to experience itself as a vibrant evangelical movement were woven into a complex tapestry during the Great Jubilee of 2000, which the Pope frequently described as the interpretive key to his pontificate. After opening the Holy Door of St. Peter’s on Christmas Eve 1999, John Paul undertook an extensive biblical pilgrimage in several phases to Mount Sinai, the Holy Land, Athens, and Damascus. The Iraqi government made it impossible for the pope to begin this pilgrimage in UR, home of Abraham, the Church’s “father in faith,” so John Paul celebrated a day of recollection in honor of Abraham in the Vatican audience hall. Symbolizing the universal call to holiness, there were special jubilee days in Rome for consecrated RELIGIOUS MEN AND WOMEN, the sick, health-care workers, artists, permanent deacons, the Roman Curia, craftsmen, priests, scientists, migrants and itinerants, journalists, prisoners, young people, intellectuals, the elderly, bishops, families, athletes, parliamentarians and government workers, agricultural workers, the armed forces and police, laity, the disabled, and the entertainment world. In June 2000 Rome hosted the forty-seventh International Eucharistic Congress. On the First Sunday of LENT during the JUBILEE YEAR, the pope, presiding at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, publicly asked God’s forgiveness for the sins Christians had committed against the GOSPEL and against their neighbors in the first two millennia—a “cleansing of the Church’s conscience” which John Paul believed essential to preparing for the twenty-first-century springtime of evangelization. The Christian witnesses of the twentieth century, the greatest century of persecution in history, were honored at a special ecumenical service at the Roman Coliseum on May 7. During the Jubilee the pope beatified a host of martyrs (from Brazil, the Philippines, Poland, Thailand, Mexico, and Vietnam), two popes (Pope PIUS IX and John XXIII), and two of the child visionaries of Fatíma (Francisco and Jacinta Marto). The first saint canonized during the jubilee was Sister Faustina KOWALSKA, the Polish mystic whose devotion to the merciful Christ had spread throughout the world. In October 2000 John Paul canonized 120 martyrs of China, the Philadelphia heiress and foundress Katherine DREXEL, and Josephine BAKHITA, a former Sudanese slave.
The Great Jubilee of 2000, which drew an estimated twenty-seven million pilgrims to Rome, was solemnly closed on January 6, 2001. As John Paul had intended, it had been a celebration of the evangelical future, not simply a commemoration of the past.
Magisterium. Unlike previous councils, Vatican II had provided no interpretive keys to its teaching through doctrinal definitions, creeds, canons, or anathemas. The extensive magisterium of John Paul II, which marks his as one of the great teaching pontificates in history, offered the Church keys for the authentic interpretation of Vatican II and its implementation.
In addition to issuing seven APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTIONS, John Paul II wrote fourteen encyclicals and fifteen apostolic exhortations, touching virtually every major issue on the post–Vatican II Catholic agenda. His inaugural encyclical, Redemptor hominis, was the first encyclical ever on Christian anthropology and offered the Church and the world a set of program notes for the Page 507 | Top of Articlepontificate to follow; Redemptor hominis was also the first panel in a Trinitarian triptych of encyclicals that came to include Dives in misericordia and Dominum et vivificantem. Two encyclicals, Veritatis splendor and Fides et ratio, defended the human capacity to know the truth of things, including the moral truth of things. The pope’s social doctrine was developed in three encyclicals: Laborem exercens, Sollicitudo rei socialis, and Centesimus annus. Ut unum sint was the first encyclical ever devoted entirely to ecumenism. Redemptoris missio recommitted the Church to the mission ad gente in a distinctively dialogical mode: “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.” Evangelium vitae was a passionate defense of the right to life from conception until natural death. Other encyclicals honored SS. Cyril and Methodius (Slavorum apostolic) and the Blessed Virgin at the end of the 1986–87 Marian Year (Redemptoris mater), while the pope’s final encyclical, Ecclesia de eucharistia, reminded the Church that the vital center of its life and mission is the Holy Eucharist.
Following the lead of Paul VI in Evangelium nuntiandi, John Paul sought to complete the work of general assemblies of the Synods of Bishops with post–synodal apostolic exhortations addressing key issues of the post–Vatican II period: Catechesi tradendae (catechetics), Familiaris consortio (marriage and family life), Reconciliatio et paenitenti (the sacrament of PENANCE), Christifideles laici (the lay vocation in the world), Pastores dabo vobis (the ministerial priesthood and priestly formation), and Vita consecrate (consecrated life). John Paul also issued apostolic exhortations after the pre-jubilee regional synods for Africa, Asia, North and South America and after two synods to consider the Church’s condition in Europe.
The Pope also wrote a large number of apostolic letters, among the most important of which were Dominicae cenae (the Eucharist), Salvifici doloris (redemptive SUFFERING), Euntes in mundum (the millennium of Christianity among the eastern Slavs), Mulieris dignitatem (women in the modern world), Tertio millennio adveniente (announcing the Great Jubilee of 2000), Dies Domini (on sanctifying time and the Lord’s Day), and Novo millennio ineunte (concluding the Great Jubilee of 2000). Among some Catholics in North America and western Europe, the apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which reaffirmed that the Church was not authorized to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood, caused controversy.
John Paul II also devised new forms of the papal magisterium, writing extensive letters to families, children, artists, and the elderly. John Paul’s theology of the body should also be considered among the most important developments in his papal magisterium. In addition to his formal magisterium, John Paul II created a new method of papal dialogue with the world by publishing an international best-seller (Crossing the Threshold of Hope), two volumes of memoirs (Gift and Mystery, Arise–Let Us Be on Our Way), a philosophical dialogue (Memory and Identity), and a three-paneled set of poems (Roman Triptych).
Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue. With the pontificate of John Paul II, the Catholic Church entered fully into the ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT and in doing so reconfigured the world movement for Christian unity. The pope laid particular emphasis on ecumenism with the Christian East, in the HOPE that the wounds of a millennium of Christian division (formally opened in 1054), could be healed on the threshold of the third millennium of Christian history. While the pope did not bring that great dream of ecclesial reconciliation to fruition, in part because of the reluctance (and, in some cases, hostility) of Orthodox leaders and theologians, he did advance Catholic ecumenism (ad orientem) in numerous ways: visiting Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I (1914–1991) at the Phanar in 1979 and hosting Dimitrios in Rome in 1987 and his successor Bartholomew I (1940–) in 1995; through his PILGRIMAGES to Romania (1999), the Holy Land (2000), Greece and Damascus (2001) and Ukraine (2001); and in the encyclical Ut unum sint, which seemed to propose a return to the status quo before 1054. The difficulties of dialogue with ORTHODOXY were amplified by the post-communist resurgence of the once-heavily-persecuted Eastern Catholic Churches in the former Soviet Union and its satellites.
More tangible progress was made during the pontificate with the Oriental Orthodox churches (sometimes known as Monophysite or pre-Chalcedonian churches), as the pope signed or re-affirmed common Christological declarations with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Syrian Orthodox Church, and also with the ASSYRIAN CHURCH OF THE EAST. John Paul II formed a close spiritual friendship with the Armenian Católicos, Karekin I Sarkissian, who died in 1999.
John Paul also bent considerable efforts toward closing breaches in western Christianity dating back to the reformation. At the pope’s insistence, a meeting with other Christian leaders and an ecumenical PRAYER service were part of virtually every papal pilgrimage throughout the world. The once-promising Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue ran into considerable difficulties, however, when parts of the ANGLICAN COMMUNION decided to admit women to the ministerial priesthood, a decision that raised questions about Anglican understandings of APOSTOLICITY and Page 508 | Top of Articlesacramentality. The pontificate saw some advances in the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, including a historic “Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith” in 1999, but without the cause of full ecclesial communion being much advanced. John Paul’s global evangelism and his vigorous defense of the right to life created new possibilities for ecumenical dialogue with evangelical and pentecostal Protestantism, even as the Catholic insistence on the centrality of the life issues to contemporary Christian witness created further ecumenical difficulties with liberal Protestant communities.
In 1995 the general secretary of the WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES told a Roman audience that a new ecumenical paradigm was needed, in which the various Christian communities would abandon the quest for a common CREED, a common baptism, and a common Eucharist while working together on issues of the environment, peace, and world poverty. Thus John Paul’s insistence that Christian unity must be unity in the truth that Christ bequeathed his Church made the Catholic Church the principal institutional defender of the classic goals that had launched the modern ecumenical movement in 1910.
Building on Vatican II’s declaration Nostra aetatae, Catholic-Jewish relations entered a new phase with the pontificate of John Paul II. The pope’s historic 1986 visit to the SYNAGOGUE of Rome, his steady condemnations of the sin of anti–semitism, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, and the pope’s Holy Land pilgrimage laid the foundation for what some observers saw as a new, theologically oriented Catholic-Jewish dialogue in the twenty-first century.
In 1985 at the invitation of King Hassan II (1929–1999), John Paul addressed a large gathering of Muslim young people in Casablanca. During his jubilee pilgrimage to Damascus in 2001, he became the first pope to visit a MOSQUE. The dialogue with ISLAM, however, was made more difficult because of Muslim persecution of Christians in the Holy Land, Asia, and Africa, which the pope sharply challenged during a visit to Sudan in 1993, and by the threat posed in the last years of his pontificate by the rising violence of global jihadism. The pope also met on several occasions with the Dalai Lama, and was enthusiastically received by Hindus in India in 1986.
On October 27, 1986, the pope gathered several dozen world religious leaders at Assisi for an unprecedented World Day of Prayer for Peace. “Being together to pray,” John Paul insisted, was not syncretism. Criticism of the event from some curial elements continued long afterwards.
Internationalizing the Curia. The pope drew his closest collaborators in Rome from throughout the world Church, accelerating the internationalization of the Roman Curia that had begun under Paul VI. Among the pope’s closest advisers were a German (Cardinal Joseph RATZINGER, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from November 1981), an African (Cardinal Bernardin GANTIN of Benin, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops from 1984 to 1998), a Slovak (Cardinal Jozef TOMKO, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops from 1979 to 1985, and prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples [Propaganda fidei] from 1985 until 2001). A Spaniard (Eduardo MARTÍNEZ SOMALO), an Australian, (Edward CASSIDY), an Italian (Giovanni Battista Re [1934–]), and an Argentine (Leonardo Sandri [1943–]) served the Pope in the crucial post of Sostituto (Deputy for Ordinary Affairs of the Secretariat of State), in effect the papal chief-of-staff. In 1998 an American, James Harvey (1949–), was named Prefect of the Papal Household; by 2001 nineteen of the twenty-four heads of Roman dicasteries were non-Italians.
After Paul VI’s Secretary of State, the Frenchman Jean VILLOT, died in 1979, two Italian papal diplomats were appointed to this most senior post in the Roman Curia: Agostino CASAROLI (1979–1990) and Angelo SODANO (from 1990). The pope’s choice of Casaroli, architect of the Ostpolitik (Eastern Politics) of Paul VI (about which Cardinal Wojtyła had had serious doubts), surprised some. But the Polish pope, with his vigorous public defense of religious freedom, and the Italian curialist, devoted to the discretions of diplomacy, made an effective team in confronting European communism. Two Italians (Achille Silvestrini [1923–], later Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and Giovanni Lajolo [1935–]) and a Frenchman (Jean-Louis Tauran[1920–], later Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church, and named cardinal in 2003) served John Paul as Secretary for Relations with States, or foreign minister of the Holy See. Father Roberto Tucci, S.J. (1921–), the president of Vatican Radio, played an important role as impresario of the pope’s foreign travels for more than fifteen years.
The pope’s willingness to go against the grain of bureaucratic convention led to several distinctive episcopal appointments during his pontificate: a convert from JUDAISM as archbishop of Paris (Jean-Marie LUSTIGER); a former US Navy chaplain, who had been a diocesan bishop for just a few months, as archbishop of New York (John O’CONNOR); and, in the latter years of the pontificate, intellectually accomplished and publicly assertive younger bishops who had not followed the conventional career path as leaders of major sees.
Between 1979 and 2003 John Paul II created 231 cardinals (including one whose name remained in pectore). On six occasions he called the College of Page 509 | Top of ArticleCardinals into extraordinary CONSISTORY to discuss various problems of Catholic life, a practice that had lain fallow for 400 years. By the time of his death John Paul had created more than 90 percent of the electorate that would choose his successor.
Controversies. Ecumenical Councils have always been followed by controversy, and the pontificate of John Paul II, an expression of Vatican II, was no exception. In 1982 the pope intervened in the governance of the Society of Jesus, appointing a personal delegate to lead the Society after the incapacitation of its general, Father Pedro ARRUPE. Father Arrupe’s successor, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach (1928–), was elected in 1983; opinions differed widely on whether the papal intervention had led to a successful reformation of the Church’s largest and most prestigious male religious order.
The situation of post–conciliar Catholic theology was another arena of controversy. On December 15, 1979, at the order of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Hans KÜNG’s ecclesiastical mandate to teach as a professor of Catholic theology was withdrawn; in 1987 CDF wrote the Chancellor of The CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA that Father Charles Curran was to be considered no longer suitable to teach Catholic theology. In both cases, action followed extensive and public DISSENT by the theologians in question and lengthy consultations with Vatican officials. Public action was taken against less than a dozen theologians during the pontificate, and the pope’s theological critics remained in control of many theological faculties in the West, suggesting that frequently heard charges of repression were over-wrought.
John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger made considerable efforts to reconcile Archbishop Marcel LEFEBVRE and his followers. In 1984 the pope granted an indult allowing more widespread use of 1962 Roman Missal of John XXIII. But the core of the Lefebvrist dissent was not liturgical, but rather theological: Among other matters, the French archbishop disdained the Council’s ecclesiology and refused to accept Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. His refusal to be mollified by the 1984 indult made clear that he considered Vatican II an act of infidelity of which liturgical change was but one manifestation. Dissent became crisis when, on June 30, 1988, Lefebvre, after lengthy and fruitless negotiations and a plea from the pope, ordained four new bishops without authorization. On July 1 Cardinal Gantin signed a decree stating that, as Lefebvre had committed a schismatic act, he, the four bishops he ordained, and the retired bishops who had taken part in the ordinations had automatically incurred EXCOMMUNICATION. Any Catholic supporting Lefebvre would also incur excommunication. On July 2 the pope issued an apostolic letter, Ecclesia Dei, creating a commission to reconcile those of Lefebvre’s supporters who did not wish to follow the Frenchman into SCHISM.
While criticism of the pope from self-styled progressive Catholics received extensive media attention, John Paul II was also criticized, if less vocally, by Catholics who welcomed his strong evangelical presence and his vigorous exercise of the papal magisterium, but who thought him lax in his governance of the Church: too willing to countenance theological dissent and insufficiently energetic in reforming the episcopate, the priesthood, and the religious orders. The pope, committed to what he termed the “method of persuasion,” had, it seems, a different ecclesiological vision and a different strategy, based on the conviction that what was true to the vision of Vatican II would endure and flourish, while what was false would wither and eventually die of its own implausibility.
A Different Kind of Pope. Determined to remain himself, John Paul II gave a distinctive personal stamp to the Office of Peter. Until the summer before his death, he hosted an annual seminar at CASTEL GANDOLFO, the papal summer residence, for humanities scholars or scholars in the natural sciences; some participants were agnostics or atheists. With the exceptions of those times when he was in hospital or on vacation (two more innovations: a pope being treated in a hospital and a pope spending time hiking in the Italian Alps), he invited guests for lunch or dinner every day, drawing information about the Church and the world from a diverse set of personalities. The pope also maintained an extensive, informal correspondence, outside official channels, with interlocutors throughout the world. Friends and colleagues became accustomed to unexpected phone calls announcing that “the Holy Father would like to speak with you.”
John Paul also reorganized the procedures for the quinquennial Ad limina visit that all diocesan bishops make to Rome in order to spend more time with the bishops individually and in national or regional groups. Ad limina visits under Paul VI gave the visiting bishop one opportunity to meet the pope; John Paul II met each bishop four times: in a private session, at Mass, over a meal, and by delivering a discourse to the bishop’s national or regional group (the discourse was given to each bishop individually in written form after 1995). By one knowledgeable estimate, forty percent of the pope’s official schedule was devoted in any given year to meetings with bishops. John Paul II also took his title as Primate of Italy with greater seriousness than any pope in centuries, and by the end of the pontificate Italy showed measurable signs of increased Catholic practice.
The pope’s determination that the Vatican itself should reflect the realities of the world Church was manifest in the vast number of audiences he granted to an extraordinary range of groups, including chefs, hairdressers, and kayakers. John Paul changed the ambience of the Vatican in other ways. In 1994 he opened a CONVENT for contemplative nuns inside Vatican City, a new feature of Vatican life that demonstrated the pope’s conviction that prayer must be at the heart of the ministry of service exercised by the APOSTOLIC SEE. In 1988 John Paul dedicated a shelter for the homeless within the walls of the Vatican. During his pontificate the pope also created two new PONTIFICAL ACADEMIES—the Pontifical Academy for the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life.
From 1994 on John Paul suffered from an increasing number of physical burdens. He was most visibly affected by a form of Parkinson’s disease and a hip replacement that left him walking with pain. Yet the pope’s charisma did not diminish, as the jubilee year amply demonstrated. In a world tempted to think of the elderly and disabled as disposable, the pope’s witness to the dignity of human life was magnified by his evident physical suffering.
That the world was deeply touched by that witness became evident during Lent of 2005, much of which John Paul II spent in the Policlino Gemelli or in a sickbed in the papal apartment in the Vatican. Immediately after his death on April 2, 2005, millions of pilgrims poured into Rome, effectively doubling the population of the city in the days before the papal funeral Mass, which was celebrated in St. Peter’s Square on April 8 before a vast congregation that included more than seventy heads of state, the ecumenical patriarch of CONSTANTINOPLE, representatives of a vast array of other religious communities, ordinary Romans, and several dozen members of Karol Wojtyła’s Środowisko, themselves now well advanced in middle age, who came to Rome to say goodbye to the man they still called Wujek. An estimated two billion people participated in John Paul II’s funeral by television and witnessed a sight not seen since the funeral of Pope St. GREGORY I in 604: the sponatneous acclamation by the congregation that the deceased pope should be called “great.”
The cause for the beatification of John Paul II was opened in Rome later in 2005. Having received testimony from both formal witnesses and thousands of people who spontaneously wrote letters of thanks, the local (diocesan) process was completed on the second anniversary of the late pope’s death, April 2, 2007. The cause was then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Enduring Accomplishments. As he led the Church into the third millennium of its history, ten enduring accomplishments of the pontificate of John Paul II could be identified. He had revitalized the papacy as an office of evangelical witness. He had secured the legacy of Vatican II in its fullness as an epic spiritual event at which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, had engaged modernity through an enriched sense of its own unique nature and mission. He had been the pivotal figure in the collapse of European communism. He had identified the moral challenges facing free societies in the twenty-first century. He had put ecumenism at the heart of the Church’s CONSCIOUSNESS. He had created the possibility of a new religious dialogue between Catholicism and living Judaism. He had modeled a truth-centered method of interreligious dialogue, demonstrating that humanity’s deepest convictions could be in conversation rather than in conflict, and he had re-ignited the Church’s dialogue with the sciences. He had proposed a compelling Christian response to the sexual revolution in his theology of the body. He had made clear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that the Church could still advance a comprehensive account of its faith and hope, and he had positioned the Catholic Church as the principal institutional defender of the claims of human reason. He had given inspiration to tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of human beings. His inaugural call, “Be not afraid!” had changed the course of world history by changing the direction of individual lives.
In light of these accomplishments, it was frequently suggested that history would know him as “John Paul the Great.”
SEE ALSO AD LIMINA VISIT; APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION; BODY, THEOLOGY OF ; CANON LAW, 1983 CODE; CANONIZATION OF SAINTS (HISTORY AND PROCEDURE); CATECHESI TRADENDAE; CENTESIMUS ANNUS; CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI; COLD WAR AND THE PAPACY; CURIA, ROMAN; DIES DOMINI; DIVES IN MISERICORDIA; DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, CONGREGATION FOR THE ; DOMINUM ET VIVIFICANTEM; EASTERN SCHISM; ECCLESIA DEI; EDUCATION, CATHOLIC (HIGHER) IN THE UNITED STATES; EUCHARISTIC CONGRESSES; EUNTES IN MUNDUM; EUROPEAN UNION AND THE PAPACY; EVANGELIUM VITAE; EVANGELIZATION, NEW; EVANGELIZATION OF PEOPLES, CONGREGATION FOR THE; EX CORDE ECCLESIAE; FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO; FIDES ET RATIO; FROM ROME TO CAIRO AND BEIJING : JOHN PAUL II ON FAMILY AND HUMAN RIGHTS; GALILEI, GALILEO; GOD IN THE WORLD : A TRINITARIAN TRIPTYCH; HOLINESS, UNIVERSAL CALL TO; HUMANAE VITAE; HUMANISM, CHRISTIAN; JEWISH -CATHOLIC RELATIONS; JOHN PAUL II AND INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE; JOHN PAUL II INSTITUTE ON MARRIAGE AND FAMILY; JOHN PAUL II’S ECONOMIC TEACHING : A CALL FOR SPIRITUAL, MORAL, AND STRUCTURAL CONVERSION; JUSTIFICATION, JOINT DECLARATION ON; KAROL WOJTYŁA : EARLY YEARS; KAROL WOJTYŁA : POET, PLAYWRIGHT, PHILOSOPHER, AND PATRIOT; LABOREM EXERCENS; LATIN RITE; LUBLIN, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF; MARTYR; MISSAL, ROMAN; MONOPHYSITISM; MULIERIS DIGNITATEM; NEOSCHOLASTICISM AND NEOTHOMISM; ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS; ORTHODOX AND ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES; PACEM IN TERRIS; PAPACY : 1978–1988; PAPACY : 1988–1994; PAPACY : 1995–2000; PASTOR BONUS; PASTORES DABO VOBIS; POLAND, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN; POPE JOHN PAUL II CULTURAL CENTER ; RECONCILIATIO ET PAENITENTIA; REDEMPTOR HOMINIS; REDEMPTORIS MATER; REDEMPTORIS MISSIO; SACRAE DISCIPLINAE LEGES; SALVIFICI DOLORIS; SANT ’ EGIDIO, COMMUNITY OF; SAPIENTIA CHRISTIANA; SLAVORUM APOSTOLI; SOCIAL JUSTICE; SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS; SYNOD OF BISHOPS (ASSEMBLIES); TERTIO MILLENNIO ADVENIENTE; THE CHURCH IN DIALOGUE WITH SCIENCE : THE WOJTYŁA YEARS; THE CHURCH IN POLAND, 1965–2000; THE CHURCH IN POLAND, PRE -1965; THE CHURCH, THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM, AND THE CHALLENGE OF NEW DEMOCRACIES; THE LEGACY OF VATICAN II IN THE PONTIFICATE OF JOHN PAUL II; THE LIFE OF JOHN PAUL II: A CHRONICLE; THE PERSONALIST PHILOSOPHY OF KAROL WOJTYŁA; UNITED NATIONS AND THE PAPACY ; UNIVERSI DOMINICI GREGIS; UT UNUM SINT; UT UNUM SINT : JOHN PAUL II’S ECUMENICAL COMMITMENT; VATICAN COUNCIL II; VERITATIS SPLENDOR; VITA CONSECRATA; WAR, MORALITY OF; WOMEN AND PAPAL TEACHING.
Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtyła: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1997).
Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, translated by Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee (New York 1994).
Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, edited with an introduction by Michael M. Waldstein (Boston 2006).
Kenneth L. Schmitz, At the Center of the Human Drama: The Philosophical Anthropology of Karol Wojtyła/Pope John Paul II (Washington, D.C. 1993).
George Weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York 1999; rev. ed. 2000, 2005), contains bibliography.
The ecclesial writings of John Paul II can be found on the official Vatican Web site, available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/index.htm (accessed March 21, 2008).
Distinguished Senior Fellow
William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies
Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. (2009)