25 Years of Pope John Paul II.
A Man of Liberty and Integrity_James Leroy Wilson-25 Years of Pope John Paul II
I’ve made references in recent weeks to Roman Catholicism, quoting Scott Hahn on the issue of Covenant, and saying that JFK would have been a better President if he had taken orders from the Vatican. That said, I am not a Catholic. But there is much to admire about that faith, beginning with its leader, its Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.
This year is the 25th anniversary of his reign. One of the few, if not the first, non-Italian in centuries to hold the post, his promotion from Archbishop in Poland inspired and encouraged the Polish people. Lech Walesa may have been the leader of Solidarity, the most effective resistance movement in the entire Communist bloc, but John Paul was the spiritual leader of anti-Communism. Poland was the first European Communist country to bend - in the summer of 1989, when free elections were held. In November, the Berlin Wall fell.
Granted, the communist system couldn’t work. Ludwig von Mises saw through it in 1922. George Kennan did in the late forties, which is why he advocated a policy of “containment.” Mises disciple Murray Rothbard was confident the system would self-destruct without the U.S. waging proxy wars against it. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also realized that it wasn’t working, and his “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” policies only tried to delay the inevitable.
And then there were the American Cold War conservatives, who in Ronald Reagan found their man for President. The Soviets were then faced with a large military build-up by their adversary, including the threat of spaced-based weapons defense. They knew then that the Communist Revolution would not conquer the world.
Historians will dish out credit where they see fit. I believe Mises and Rothbard were correct, but nevertheless the course of events led to the demise of Communism when
it did, instead of, say, five or ten years later. And John Paul II played a major role in his own opposition to communism.
That this Pope deserves credit for helping to liberate most of Europe annoys many Americans. It seems that conservative Protestants like this Pope more than liberal Catholics. Although, to be fair, I heard John Paul II’s biographer George Weigel, on Jeff Cavins’ “Morning Air” radio show say that asking whether the Pope is liberal or conservative is to place him in an entirely inappropriate political box, that it would be like asking whether Daunte Culpepper is a great shortstop.
But the American view of him is brilliantly illuminated in a satirical “news” story in The Onion
: “Pope John Paul II: 25 Years of Laughs”
. The Pope’s stand on contraception and a female priesthood are examples of the view that Catholic teaching is so absurd that it is funny.
One Protestant minister I know said that many American Catholics are really Protestants. This may be true. They disagree with the Pope, preferring uniquely Protestant and democratic values over Church teaching. The American pedophilia scandal of the past twenty months didn’t help matters.
John Paul is a foreigner to Americans. He doesn’t think like we do, or act like we do, either - otherwise he would have retired several years ago. The criticisms he has endured by American Catholics “seeking change” are overshadowed by the bigger picture, the worldwide Church, of which the United States is only a small part.
The exclusion of female priests is one example of the “foreign-ness“ of Catholic faith to the American Way. Not having studied the Catholic side of the issue, intuition and logic pretty much explain it for me. Americans see that there are female Protestant clergy, see the status of clergy as one of prestige, and decide that it is unfair that Catholic women don’t get a chance at becoming Catholic clergy. Along with that, they see Protestant clergy married to spouses. Why shouldn’t Catholic priests be allowed to marry?
But the Protestant clergy relies on metaphors of leadership like shepherd, elder, teacher, guide, or facilitator. However it is put, the pastor is the “leader” of the congregation.
But if I understand the Catholic position, the Priest is married to The Church itself, just as a Nun is married to Christ. The metaphor of marriage, of spiritual union, and of having Mothers and Fathers - which is why Mary is called the Mother of God - is to attribute to The Church the type of family relationship we have of our own parents. The Fatherly role is different from the Motherly one, and we expect the male to make the ultimate sacrifice before the female. It is through the father that we are taught and led, but through the mother that we are nurtured. Which is why it is usually only by tragedy that we wouldn’t feel a more intimate bond with the mother instead of the father. The Catholic priests are called “Fathers,” monks “Brothers.” But then there are also orders of nuns, with Mother Superiors and Sisters.
Yes, these Mothers do not administer sacraments or hear confessions. And there isn’t any official “Holy Mother” office akin to the Pope. But think about this: of all the harsh critics of Pope John Paul II, only the atheist writer Christopher Hitchens has had the moral courage to trash Mother Theresa as well. But if the Pope is so bad, then Hitchens should be on the right track.
The uncomfortable truth that Protestants and dissident Catholics all know but are afraid to admit is that Mother Theresa agreed with Pope John Paul II on virtually everything. But we criticize the Holy Father for his doctrines, even though those same exact doctrines motivated Mother Theresa in her work among the impoverished in Calcutta.
Mother Theresa was until the day she died, and in many ways still is, the de facto
spiritual Mother not only of all of Roman Catholicism, but of all Christendom. But in America and other places in the egalitarian West, the Pope remains a figure of controversy and derision. This is how it should be. Make the man suffer for his beliefs, but let the woman carry on in her good works.
But it is not in their ambition or search for prestige that made this Pope who he was (how could a Pole ever expect to become Pope?) or Mother Theresa who she was (how come she never “cashed in” on her fame?). It is in the complete sacrifice of their lives to that which they believed, and to the God whom they loved, that gave them the courage and perseverance to carry on until the day they died (a day which, for John Paul II, is yet to come).
If the Catholic model for Church governance is completely wrong, as Protestants suspect, that’s one thing. But to live - to be born from the womb - requires both a mother and a father. To be raised in the faith also requires spiritual
mothers and fathers, whose roles and functions may be quite different from each other but equally important. Why would a woman want to be a priest, let alone Pope, when they can work like Mother Theresa instead? And why should a married priest be interrupted by the needs of a parishioner when he was about to spend time with his family? Is not this parishioner his family?
The other main American complaint against this Pope, and the teaching of Catholicism in general, has to do with contraception. Contraception was condemned by all Christian denominations until the 1930’s, when the Episcopal Church began to permit it. How did this happen? Was it because they had the wisdom to recognize that the pleasures of sex were by themselves good, independent of its relationship to a complete giving of oneself to another that may or may not create new life?
Or was it the result of the persuasion of the proto-Fascist, and vehemently anti-Catholic, Progressive movement that also gave the United States such jewels as the public schools, the Federal Reserve System (the one and only cause of inflation), the Income Tax, World War I, and Prohibition? The goal of these nationalists was to have the government control every aspect of our lives, and they advocated birth control as a check against “overpopulation.”
Other Protestant denominations fell in line, because they lacked any authority, any “High Priest” to tell them what is right or wrong, good or bad, or where to draw the line. American Protestantism has looked at least as much to Washington D.C. as to the Bible to get its bearings.
Then the emergence of modern “pop culture” and the Sexual Revolution happened. And what do you know? The Protestants started protesting against Elvis’s gyrations, Playboy
magazine, and sexual promiscuity. But they initially agreed with the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade
decision legalizing abortion because everything Washington D.C. did was right. But then some of them changed their mind. And then homosexuals came out of the closet. And pornography became rampant. Protestants of various stripes were able to condemn one thing, but not another. They wanted to make the marriage bed “safe” from conception, but thereby made hollow the idea that that bed should be “safe” from fornication - whether homosexual or heterosexual. If sex was to be “intended for pleasure,” and unrelated to the complete
giving of bodies to each other, and we moderns have the lucky fortune to enjoy fairly effective birth-control and disease-control, well then, where does the Bible, in its original languages, condemn what we call fornication?
And then there’s the scourge of divorce and illegitimacy. Not even the most “conservative” of Protestant denominations has been able to bring themselves to censure their clergy for the wayward behaviors of their children. Few bring themselves to condemn divorce and remarriage. This clear abdication of Biblical standards has undermined the Christian faith, and have falsely led others to divorce and remarry without their conscience alerting them.
The conservative Protestant is forced to concede that the Catholics have been right the whole time about everything
regarding sexuality and sexual relations - except contraception
. In other words, the Protestant position is built on a house of cards. History has demonstrated this corruption and error. The wreckage of the modern American family can be attributed to a lot of things, but Catholic moral teaching isn’t one of them.
There may be much that is wrong in the Catholic Church, but perhaps not as much wrong as many of us think. And I write this not in defense of the Catholic Church, but to remind us all that there are different ways of looking at the world. That perhaps the American dual and contradictory obsessions with individualism and equality do not exactly fit either the natural world, or the spiritual world either.
The Pope believes the same things he did 25 years ago, and forty years ago, and maybe even sixty years ago. It is this integrity of belief, not the willingness to change or compromise in order to win favor, that will win him whatever credit he gets, in both this secular world and of the spiritual world. He may have been the right man at the right time, both to bring Communism to an end and to enforce an unchanging standard for Church teaching and moral truth that would provide a model not only for Catholics, but for Christians everywhere.
The freedom movement has been blessed by John Paul II. May his health recover so he can carry on his work, and may we see many more like him.