The glossy publicity material for His Holiness, a book being published simultaneously in eight countries and in excerpted form by Reader’s Digest, contains a list of nineteen “Possible Questions” for the authors. Designed for anticipated press conferences and interviews, these questions are anything but probing and do not suggest that the authors, both investigative journalists, hold their colleagues in high esteem. Nevertheless, such “puff” questions are revealing in their way: more than half of them are invitations to the authors to boast of their discoveries, and they show that Bernstein and Politi (who writes for the Italian daily La Repubblica) mean their sub-title to be taken seriously. They do believe that they have brought to light the hidden history of our time.
Their book is written in a style appropriate to such a claim, rhetorically inflated and awash in hints of secret conversations, confidential informants, and unrevealable sources. In their chatty descriptions of people, places, and events, the authors miss few opportunities to reproduce a cliché. A Jewish attorney in the Pope’s birthplace is said to have been held “in the highest esteem both by his co-religionists and by most of the Gentile movers and shakers of Wadowice.” As a substitute for an account of Karol Wojtyla’s debt to Polish literature we are told that “Adam Mickiewicz, the Romantic bard, in particular set strings resonating in Karol.” At audiences with the new Pope, we learn, “nuns went crazy.” His Holiness is simultaneously urgent and soggy, with gobbets of interesting information adrift in a tumbling onrush of breathless, “colorful” prose.1
What have our authors discovered that lay hidden before? According to their own claim, two things. First, a hitherto unknown alliance during the 1980s between Pope John Paul II and the Reagan administration, whose aim was to bring down communism in Europe and prevent its appearance in Central America. Second, that the role of the Pope in engineering the downfall of communism in Europe was vastly more important than anyone had hitherto suspected. They also claim to have revealed for the first time the nature and extent of US (covert) support for Solidarity after the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981, and to have shown that it was papal influence that shaped US policy in other matters—notably the opposition of the Reagan and Bush administrations to international agencies that support and practice family planning.
Since the authors are cagey about some sources—“secret,” “confidential,” and “private” appear frequently in the rather unhelpful endnotes—and heavily dependent on interviews (over three hundred by their account), it is impossible to check or corroborate much of the information.2 But it seems reasonable to believe them when they tell us that William Casey (director of the CIA) and Vernon Walters (“Presidential ambassador-at-large”) met regularly with the Pope, briefing him on US satellite information about Soviet troop movements and the like. It seems plausible to infer that the US administration came to think of the Polish Pope as a natural and powerful ally, treated him as such, and were in their turn favored by a Pope whose objectives dovetailed well enough with those of the US governments of the era—as they put it, “Wojtyla’s Church became the administration’s principal ideological ally in the struggle against the Sandinistas.” In the same way, the authors are probably right when they say that the minutes of the Soviet Politburo in the early Eighties reveal a lot of nervousness over Poland and its friend in the Vatican. As the Polish Communists well knew, a change in the position of the Catholic Church, from compromise to resistance, could have a destabilizing impact on the local regime and region.
Bernstein and Politi may therefore be said, giving them maximum credit, to have demonstrated convincingly the existence of mutual US-Vatican interests and support as well as the fears aroused in Soviet circles by actual or anticipated papal initiatives.3 But they can hardly be said to have discovered things previously unknown. Thus the authors claim to have uncovered a “covert CIA operation, secretly authorized by Carter, to smuggle anti-Communist books and literature into Eastern Europe.” I am interested, though not surprised, to learn that these smuggling operations had CIA financial backing; but that books were being taken clandestinely into Communist countries during the decade prior to their liberation is old news, and not only to those of us who had a walk-on part in that drama. The same is true of American backing for Solidarity in its underground years; all that this book adds to our knowledge of that support is an estimate, based on confidential sources, of the amounts involved ($50 million) and the supposition that this support was part of a secret agreement with the Vatican. In neither case will this information come as a shock to contemporary observers, scholars, or other journalists.
It is thus absurd to describe as “essentially accurate” Richard Allen’s puerile and self-serving description of the Reagan-Vatican relationship as “one of the greatest secret alliances of all time.” It is a gross overstatement to suggest that the Vatican and Warsaw joined Moscow and Washington as the “essential coordinates” of the cold war. These and other hyperbolic claims reflect the authors’ own blinkered perspective, as well as their rather charitable attitude toward their sources, whose information is rarely questioned and whose motives pass uninvestigated. In any history of the last years of the cold war, or of the collapse and fall of the Soviet Union, the Pope will obviously figure prominently, not least for the part played by Solidarity and the Polish opposition in the undermining of Communist credibility. In a similar vein, the story of the struggle for the soul of Latin America unavoidably entails consideration of the motives and interests of the Vatican at a time when those interests dovetailed with the overt and covert undertakings of conservative US governments. But that is not the full story, and the incapacitating defect of this book is that it takes the part for the whole and believes that it has uncovered the hidden narrative of our time when it has in practice confirmed and fleshed out just one interesting chapter.
It is tempting to suppose that this might have been a better book had there been less Bernstein and more Politi. For Marco Politi is an expert on the Vatican, and it is the story of this Pope and the hopes and disappointments surrounding him that offers a far more interesting clue to the history of our time than any number of energetic attempts to uncover secret alliances and hidden plots. The expectations aroused by the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla were unprecedented in modern times. In the Catholic Church he was regarded by some as a likely radical—open, imaginative, and young (just fifty-eight when elected pope in 1978), but already a veteran of Vatican II. Energetic, charismatic, and seemingly modern, this was the man who would complete the work of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI and who would lead the Church into a new era, a pastor rather than a Curial bureaucrat.
Many “liberation theologists” favored his election, and liberal cardinals and archbishops in South America and elsewhere campaigned for him. His conservative supporters took comfort in his reputation for unbending theological firmness and the moral and political absolutism deriving from his experience as a priest and prelate under communism. This was a man who would not compromise with the Church’s enemies. Others still saw in him an “intellectual” pope, at ease in the company of scholars and himself well-versed in at least some aspects of modern thought, notably the philosophy of Husserl. All supposed that at the very least they would have a pope of the center, modern enough to handle the Church’s new dilemmas, traditional enough to hold the line against too much innovation.
In some sense they were all wrong. Karol Wojtyla is not a man whose strong views cancel each other out or tend to equilibrium. He is, rather, a man of many extremes. He may have been the first non-Italian pope in half a millennium, but he was no outsider—perennially re-elected to the Synodal Council of Bishops and a participant in Vatican II at the age of forty-two, he was a particular favorite of Paul VI and almost certainly that Pope’s private choice to succeed him. Like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the powerful head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Wojtyla had been startled out of his early reforming enthusiasm by the radical aftershock of John XXIII’s reforms and was already an instinctive administrative as well as a doctrinal conservative at the time of his election. But his style belied his message.
From the outset, this was a pope devoted to Reconquista, to breaking with his predecessors’ Roman acquiescence in modernity, secularism, and compromise. His campaign of international appearances—complete with carefully staged performances in huge open arenas with oversized crucifixes and a paraphernalia of light, sound, and theatrical timing—was not undertaken without design. This was a Big Pope, taking himself and his Faith to the world; not the old, shrinking Western Catholic world of Italy, France, and Spain, but to Brazil, Mexico, the US, and the Philippines. There was something strikingly immodest about the ambitions of this new Pope, visiting thirty-six countries in the first six years of his incumbency and openly proclaiming his goal, as the authors of this book rightly put it, of shaking “the Church out of its inferiority complex vis-à-vis the world.” Intuitively grasping a central feature of Catholicism’s popular appeal, John Paul II beatified and sanctified as no modern pope had done before him, virtually recasting the history of his Church in a hagiographic and martyrological vein.
The initial appeal of this energetic, messianic papal style was not confined to the non-European world. In Central Europe, too, the first Polish pontiff was no less adept at fulfilling his admirers’ expectations. Breaking with the “Ostpolitik” of his predecessors, he visited Poland in the year following his elevation to the papacy, attracting huge gatherings of the faithful and the admiring and definitively throwing in the Church’s lot with the forces for change that would soon thereafter coalesce into the Solidarity movement. He also discouraged Catholics everywhere in Central and Eastern Europe from negotiating, compromising, or debating with Marxism, and thereby offered his Church not merely as a silent sanctuary but as an alternative pole of moral and social authority, a crucial if temporary ally for the political opposition in Communist lands.
The same charismatic self-confidence that was used to such public effect in the Philippines or Central America thus became a political weapon in Communist Europe, neutralizing the efforts of “reforming” Communist leaders to negotiate civic compromises with the newly emboldened local spiritual leadership. In the decade following his visit to Poland, there can be no question but that John Paul II played a central part in the reduction and defeat of Soviet domination in Central and Eastern Europe. It was only after the initial wave of enthusiasm in Asia and the Americas had subsided, and communism in Europe had been overthrown, that the contradictions of the new papacy began to emerge.
These can perhaps be seen most clearly in his misleading reputation as a “pope of ideas.” From his early days as Archbishop of Kraków (a position to which he was appointed in 1958), Wojtyla had evinced a taste for intellectual companionship, inviting theologians and other scholars for frequent discussions and showing a disarming capacity to listen to views very different from his own. During his papacy he has been the host of a regular series of “conversations” at his summer residence in Castelgandolfo, where sociologists, philosophers, and historians have been invited to discuss problems of the modern world in the papal presence. The participants tend to be predominantly Polish or German, with a generous sprinkling of North Americans, but they have included some of the best-known names among contemporary scholars—Leszek Kolakowski, Edward Shils, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Ernest Gellner, Ralf Dahrendorf, Charles Taylor, Bernard Lewis, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, and Paul Ricoeur, among others. Topics for discussion have included “Europe and Civil Society,” “On Crisis,” “Europe and its Offspring,” “Man in the Modern Sciences,” “Liberal Society,” and so forth.4
To judge from the most recent of these conversations—on “The Enlightenment Today,” held at Castelgandolfo in August—intellectual exchange with the Pope is not the main object of the encounter. The Pontiff listens for three days to a series of papers of varying quality. He takes no direct part in the ensuing discussion, but “summarizes” the proceedings at their completion. His summary is not so much a contribution to the subject as an occasion for accommodating the broader theme of the meeting to his own concerns. It is not clear how it could be otherwise. This is a man whose central contention about the modern world, as expounded in his many writings, is that it has undertaken for three hundred years a war against God and Christian values, a conflict in which he has now sought to engage himself and his Church to the full. The dilemmas and paradoxes of Liberalism, Enlightenment, Science, and secular philosophical speculation interest most of his guests at these meetings for their own sake. For the Pope, however, while discussion of such matters may variously inform, depress, or even on occasion divert him, they serve above all to confirm what he already knows and believes.5
As a committed Thomist the Pope derives his understanding of basic moral truths from his Faith.6 The labors of Reason need to be heard and understood, but they have their place and must be kept in it. Bernstein and Politi are wrong to suppose that when he invoked words like “alienation” to describe the condition of working people, Wojtyla was, as they put it, “using Marxist language.” The papal vocabulary of moral interrogation and condemnation has its own sources, and if modern social theories have adopted or adapted similar language this does not suggest that they mean the same thing, much less that a conversation is taking place. If we are to understand this Pope and his practices we must first take him seriously on his own terms. His notions of absolute truth, of the unacceptability of “relativism”—whether in values or explanations of behavior, of good and evil, right and wrong—are founded upon the rock of Catholic fundamentalism, and it is upon that rock that the waves of ecumenicalism, “liberation theology,” and modernization of Church liturgy, government, and practice have crashed in angry disappointment.
Karol Wojtyla is Polish. His Christian vision is not only rooted in the peculiarly messianic style of Polish Catholicism but Poland itself is for him part of that Christian story.7 He sees (or saw) in Poland not only the embattled eastern frontier of the True Faith, but also a land and a people chosen to serve as the example and sword of the Church in the struggle against Western materialism—the authors of this book quote a wartime colleague of Wojtyla who recalls him announcing that Poland’s sufferings, like those of ancient Israel, were the price of its failure to realize its own ideal, to bear witness for Christ. This outlook, and his decades-long isolation from Western theological and political currents, probably account for his insensitive tendency to baptize anything and everything into a very particular Polish-Christian vision—witness his initial enthusiastic support for the projected Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, later withdrawn in the face of international protest. His thoughtless description of Poland under martial law as a “vast concentration camp” reflects a similar limitation.8
His Polish origins and his tragic early life also help to explain a marked inclination to Mariolatry—which in turn offers an indirect clue to his obsession with marriage and abortion. Karol Wojtyla lost his mother when he was eight (he would lose his only sibling, his older brother Edmund, three years later; his last surviving close relative, his father, died during the war when Wojtyla was nineteen). Following his mother’s death he was taken by his father to the Marian sanctuary at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and made frequent pilgrimages there in following years—Zebrzydowska, like Czestochowa, is an important center of the cult of the Virgin Mary in modern Poland. By the age of fifteen he was already the president of the Marian sodality in Wadowice, his home town. He has always placed great store in apparitions of the Virgin, and has visited sites all over the globe—in Guadeloupe (the Black Madonna), Argentina (Virgin of the Apparition), the Philippines (Virgin of Perpetual Help), Lourdes, and elsewhere. He has brought to the Vatican statues, icons, and depictions of Mary from all over the world. That Mehmet Ali Agca should have shot (but failed to kill) him in Rome on May 13, 1981, merely confirmed his commitment—May 13 being the date of the Virgin Mary’s reported appearance in Fátima (Portugal) in 1917. The Pope’s response was to have the bullet that was removed from his body installed in a golden crown and placed on the head of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary at Fátima.9
This devotion to Marian symbols makes many Western Catholics, and not only among the laity, distinctly uneasy, and has generated resentment at Pope John Paul II’s imposition of a Polish partiality upon the universal Church. His mysticism, while also marked, is less characteristically Polish and has occasioned less debate. For all his bulk and energy and charisma, this is not a worldly pope. Wojtyla wrote his thesis on Saint John of the Cross, the sixteenth-century Spanish contemplative, and shares many of his subject’s propensities—a taste for deep meditation, an unconcern verging on contempt for the things of this world, and an attraction to the “dark night of the soul” in which some hear a laudable call to Catholic soul-searching but which others find morbid. Wojtyla at first wished to become a monk (he was discouraged by his priest) and his longtime lack of interest in political resistance, whether against Nazis or Communists, reflects a remoteness that is echoed today in his utter unconcern with the widespread offense given by his moral pronouncements.
The combination of the Pole and the mystic in this Pope may help explain why he has taken so aggressive a stand against “Western materialism and individualism,” and thus against much of contemporary capitalism. It is of course the business of the Catholic Church to inveigh against material idols and the sin of pride. But Karol Wojtyla has gone much further. In his 1975 Lenten Exercises at the Vatican, three years before becoming pope, he explicitly announced that of the two threats to the Church, consumerism and persecution, the former was by far the greater danger and thus the worse enemy. Indeed, his criticisms of Marxism, both as a system of thought and as a political practice, derive from his broader condemnation of the worship of material progress, capitalist profit, and secular self-indulgence. Like Václav Havel and other opponents of communism during the Seventies and Eighties, he believes that it is modernity, and the modern faithless West, that has been the source of our present crisis. Communism and its attendant evils, including environmental pollution, are but a secondary symptom and were anyway exported east from their Western sources.
It should be said that one consequence of this way of thinking is that Pope John Paul II, like Havel, has an instinctive grasp of some of our current dilemmas—and he is, after all, as the authors of this book conclude, the only surviving international spokesman for some sort of system of universal values. There is much agreement today that we lack not only a broadly acknowledged moral compass but also any vision of the public space in which shared ideas of good and bad might have an effect. Lacking a common “community of destiny,” so to speak, we are all too frequently tempted to fall back on communities of origin, the besetting sin of nationalism and “multiculturalism” alike. But the Pope, characteristically, goes further. His own origins and trajectory have afforded him virtually no experience of life in a democracy and he is given to conflating “soulless capitalism” with “selfish liberalism” in ways which suggest that he is insensitive to the complexities and costs of open societies. In his last years he has given way to the temptation to believe the worst of what he hears of post-Communist societies (Poland in particular)—hence the newly authoritarian note in his pronouncements, where attacks on selfish hedonism have merged with a dislike of freedom in many other forms as well.
All these habits of mind have now come together in the Pope’s crusade for “family values” in general and against abortion in particular. Here, too, the Pope has the makings of a case—you don’t have to be a conservative Catholic to worry about the texture of family life today, or to recognize that abortion or genetic engineering raise troubling ethical questions. But a genuine papal concern for our moral condition in these matters is vitiated for many by the insensitive way in which absolute authority is invoked in what are truly contested and painful debates. For this Pope, marriage is not just a sacrament but a vocation. Condoms are not a “lesser evil” (an option with respectable antecedents in Christian theology) but forbidden. Abortion is a “holocaust.” Men and, especially, women who slip from the path of righteousness stand utterly condemned—the Bishop of Lowicz in Poland, Monsignor Alojzy Orszulik, announced in September of this year that anyone in his diocese “guilty of the crime of abortion” would be excommunicated. Karol Wojtyla has turned his back not only on “modernity” and on compassion, but even on the recommendations of a 1966 Vatican commission on contracep-tion, which gingerly suggested that there was nothing in the Scriptures to justify root-and-branch condemnation of birth control.
The Pope’s obsession with sex—a subject on which he has written much, and in considerable graphic detail—curiously mirrors the concerns of those Americans whose culture he so scorns. And just as the abortion issue distorts large tracts of US public life, so Wojtyla’s fixation has damaged both his image and his impact elsewhere, notably in South America. His reiterated condemnation of the abuse of private property, and his reassertion of the natural right of all to share in the use and benefit of worldly resources, had raised hopes that this Pope would be a resolute foe of what a British Conservative prime minister once called “the unacceptable face of capitalism.” It was anticipated that even if he was not himself a committed proponent of social reform he would be consistently sympathetic to the victims of social and political repression. In a speech in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979 he reiterated the demands of the 1969 Medellín Conference, notably a “preferential love for the poor.” In recent speeches in El Salvador and in France he has placed a growing emphasis on his opposition to wars and conflicts of all kinds, civil and international, and only this year, in San Salvador, he visited the tomb of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Salvadoran Archbishop killed during Mass in 1980 by a rightist death squad.
But the same Archbishop Romero, a year before his death, had expressed private disappointment at the Pope’s lack of sympathy for the work of the Church in Latin dictatorships—“He recommended great balance and prudence, especially when denouncing specific situations…. I left, pleased by the meeting, but worried to see how much the negative reports of my pastoral work had influenced him.”10 By the end of the Eighties the view seems to have become widespread among disappointed audiences and priests in Central and South America that papal sympathies for the victims of political repression were more easily aroused in the countries of Communist Europe. In Chile and Argentina, during visits in 1987, he devoted many hours of public speaking to attacks on proposals to liberalize the divorce laws, but refused to meet victims of Pinochet’s repression or the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina. His compassion for the unborn, it seemed, could on occasion exceed his sympathy for the living—or the dead.11
This makes a little more sense when we recall that the Pope is not just a would-be universal pastor. He is also the head of a huge, ancient institution and carries three distinctive responsibilities. First, he has the duty of preserving and transmitting the Church’s doctrine. Where central doctrinal issues are not at stake, Wojtyla has been innovative and adventurous: he has visited synagogues, something no previous pope ever did, thereby acknowledging the legitimacy of other faiths; under his direction the Vatican has ceased to hold Jews responsible for the Crucifixion; and Wojtyla has been the first Catholic leader to offer some amends for the Church’s silence during the Shoah. In fundamental matters, however, Karol Wojtyla has a marked taste for what in another context might be called “Founder’s Intent”—if Jesus did not choose women to be his priests, nor should John Paul II. Accidental disputes may come and go, but fundamental propositions must be retained and enforced, whether they concern the perpetual virginity of Mary, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or the timeless validity of the properly doctrinal pronouncements of past councils and popes.
Secondly, the Pope as head of the Church has administrative responsibilities which he, like many of his predecessors, sees primarily as issues of institutional discipline. In this respect, at least, there is a suggestive comparison between the Catholic Church and the erstwhile Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (though it has been many centuries since the Catholic Church had the capacity or desire to engage in the physical persecution of heretics). John Paul II is at the center of a worldwide apparatus always at risk of splitting into heretical segmentation. “Eurocommunism,” “Socialism with a Human Face,” “Local Roads to Socialism,” and the like have their precise analogues in the modern Catholic Church.
In both instances reformers have occasionally harbored the illusion that they had a friend at the center who sympathized with their efforts to update ideology and governance—only to discover that the men at the top were in the end more concerned with power than popularity, more worried about preserving authority than discovering or disseminating justice. Under John Paul II the powers of local bishops have been contained, and like any local Communist Party secretary they have been pressed to explain and justify their past actions, their present failures, and their future efforts. The bitter conclusion of Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian priest who left the service of the Church in 1992 after being condemned for deviations, echoes the disabused sentiments of countless former Communists: “Ecclesiastical power is cruel and merciless. It forgets nothing. It forgives nothing. It demands everything.”12
Thirdly, the Pope is only a temporary incumbent of the permanent chair of Saint Peter. He is above all responsible for ensuring continuity and the survival of his Church. Whatever his gestures to others—encounters with Jewish and Muslim communities, recognition of the State of Israel, ecumenical outreach to other Christians—the Pope is not engaged in their concerns. The Catholic Church, as an institution about to enter its third millennium, plays for different stakes, and its concessions to any passing worldly considerations are at best tactical. Its overwhelming strategic objective is self-preservation. Much of what preoccupies contemporaries is thus of only contingent significance to the Pope. That is why, from his own perspective, he is very properly deaf to the pain and anger aroused by the pronouncements of his pontificate. If he is right, and he is not a man given to doubt on that score, then not only is it good that he should pursue his chosen path, but he has no choice.
It has become commonplace to compare Karol Wojtyla, in the twilight of his reign, to Pius IX, the liberal cardinal who ascended to the papacy in 1846 at the young age of fifty-four. Disillusioned with liberalism after the experience of the revolutions of 1848, he retreated into deep conservatism and promulgated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mary in 1854 and the doctrine of Papal Infallibility at the Vatican Council of 1869-1870. In his Syllabus of Errors of 1864 he listed eighty errors of modernity, the last of which reads “that the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself to and agree with progress, liberalism, and modern civilisation.” By the end of his papacy, which lasted over thirty years, Pio Nono had made the Catholic Church synonymous with obscurantism and reaction.
Yet the very opposition that the hard-line Church aroused among the secular authorities of Europe helped save it. As a contemporary British diplomat noted:
The Pope had made his Church ridiculous by the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception, of the Syllabus and of his own Infallibility, but these dogmas were of interest only to the faithful and in no way concerned or stood in the way of those who chose to ignore them…. Bismarck’s anti-Church policy has compelled the German bishops to rally around the Pope and suffer martyrdom for discipline’s, obedience’s and example’s sake, and the Church that was ridiculous is becoming interesting to the religious and conservative population of Europe.13
Wojtyla’s tragedy, of course, is that he began by benefitting from the popularity born of resilience in the face of persecution, and only later proceeded to expose his Church to ridicule for its moral intransigence. But there is an earlier comparison which is more to the point. In 1198, at the even younger age of thirty-eight, an Italian, Lotario de’ Conti di Segni, became Pope Innocent III. Energetic and authoritarian, Innocent set about centralizing power in the medieval Church. He proclaimed himself the Vicar of Christ (the title was not used before then), preached, and organized an unsuccessful Fourth Crusade against the Infidel in 1204 and a brutal and utterly effective Crusade against the Albigensian heretics of southwest France. At the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, in the year before his death, he defined the modern doctrine of the Eucharist and the subordination of the bishops and the congregations to papal authority.
In between these professional duties he found time to bring down one medieval German emperor (Otto IV), raise up another (Frederick II), and give the French king his vital support in a conflict with the German Empire that resulted in the first great French military success (at Bouvines in 1214) and the definitive establishment of France as a power in Europe. With Innocent III the medieval papacy attained the zenith of its secular influence and theological authority. Yet the same man, by the very extent of his claims and rulings, was also the last of the great medieval popes and contributed to setting in motion those forces—secular and spiritual—that would lead to the downfall of the universal Church.
Karol Wojtyla’s Church is no longer universal even in name. But the logic of his origins, his thought, and his circumstances has led him to stake out claims that no pope since Pius IX has asserted so aggressively, and no pope since Innocent III has ever been able to secure. Like Innocent he has been a powerful but uncomfortable ally to a succession of secular partners, all of whom have some cause to regret their dealings with him. His successes are now behind him. The problems that he has bequeathed to his Church lie ahead.
October 31, 1996
The book resembles nothing so much as a five-hundred-page Time magazine piece—as well it might, since it was in Time that Carl Bernstein, in 1992, first revealed the hitherto secret material on which the present book is based. ↩
Especially when the authors appear to be engaged in mind-reading, as on page 487, where we are told what the Pope was purportedly thinking while addressing an unappreciative audience in Kielce, Poland. Nothing in the sources for that speech suggest privileged authorial access to papal thoughts on the podium. ↩
There is some discussion of the hypothesis that it was the Soviet secret services who set up the unsuccessful attempt to kill the Pope in 1981, but the authors of this book are no better informed than previous investigators and conclude rather lamely that the charge is credible but “not proven.” ↩
The papers given at these encounters have been published in German, edited by Professor Krzysztof Michalski, the director of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, which organizes the discussions. ↩
Things were probably a little different in earlier days, before the Pontiff’s present illness. But according to Czeslaw Milosz, no hostile witness, matters were much the same at a Castelgandolfo “conversation” he attended in 1987. See Czeslaw Milosz, A Year of the Hunter (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994), pp. 21-27. ↩
On the Pope’s Thomism, and his theological leanings more generally, see George Huntston Williams, The Mind of John Paul II (Seabury Press, 1981), especially Chapter 4, “Mystic, Underground Seminarian, and Thomist.” ↩
Nearly all Poles today are at least nominally Catholic. But it doesn’t hurt to recall that this convenient conjunction of religious and secular identity, which served the Church so well in its struggle with communism, is partly the work of the Devil—or at least of his servants. It was Hitler and Stalin who gave Poland its present shape—until 1939 some 30 percent of Polish citizens practiced other faiths and of those one third were Jews. His untroubled, innocent Polishness is a side of the Pope that has always disturbed some of his more thoughtful compatriots and admirers, notably Milosz. ↩
It may be that a gap has opened up between the Poles and their Pope, a gap of which he has only recently become aware. Until the overthrow of communism the mere act of collective Catholic worship in Poland represented not only an expression of faith but also a widespread form of passive resistance to the authorities—hence the Pope’s own sense, shared by many outside observers in the time of Solidarity, that the country was solid in its obedient Catholicism. In the years since 1989 Polish citizens have gone their own way, increasingly deaf to the moral requirements and criticisms of the Catholic hierarchy—in recent opinion polls well over half those questioned favored legalized abortions. The image of Poland that Wojtyla shared with so many of his countrymen in times past, that of a land imbued with a collective Christian mission, may be on the wane. ↩
The Pope’s first engagement on his recent visit to France was to pay homage to Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort, the eighteenth-century missionary author of A Treatise on True Devotion to the Holy Virgin. ↩
From Archbishop Romero’s Diary, quoted in Tad Szulc, Pope John Paul II: The Biography (Scribner, 1995), p. 326. ↩
Liberation theologists in particular were soon disillusioned with the new Pope, for whom salvation can come from but one source, and who, in his own words, regards social questions as best left to sociologists. See His Holiness, p. 201. ↩
John Paul II is an ardent supporter of Opus Dei, the secretive society of influential lay Catholics founded in Spain before the Second World War and committed to a combination of modern secular influence and traditional conservative religion. He would probably not dissent from the claim of Opus Dei’s founder, Monsignor Escrivá y Balaguer, that God asks of his servants “holy intransigence, holy coercion and holy shamelessness.” See Joan Estruch, Saints and Schemers: Opus Dei and its Paradoxes (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 262. The latest study of the administrative and institutional practices of the Vatican is by Thomas J. Reese (Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, to be published by Harvard University Press later this year). ↩
Odo Russell to Lord Derby, April 1, 1874, in Noel Blakiston, editor, The Roman Question: Extracts from the despatches of Odo Russell from Rome, 1858-1870 (London: Chapman & Hall, 1962), p. xxxvii. A few weeks earlier, on March 4, 1871, Russell had observed to his correspondent that “the Roman Church has always derived strength from persecution, but is impotent against the power of freedom and its blessings.” ↩