Pope John Paul II
JOHN PAUL II became a part of the fabric of life of the late 20th century. To some people he was Christ’s representative on earth. He himself certainly believed that he had been chosen by a higher power to lead humanity on to a different path.
But he has left behind a Church that, because of his political agenda, finds itself increasingly on the margins of European society. Every reactionary and traditionalist movement within the Church claims John Paul as their friend and supporter.
Every progressive Catholic organisation has suffered years of isolation and exclusion at the hands of a man who refused to enter into dialogue and believed his job was to teach, not to listen.
At his death, John Paul must have realised that all his plans had turned to dust. Rather like King Canute, his promoters held him up as an invincible force who could stem the tides of human history and development.
At the time of his election in 1978, the arrival of a Polish pope was openly welcomed by the bourgeoisie as a tremendous Trojan horse that would undermine the socialist bloc from within. John Paul certainly had the same agenda, but he never recognised the sinister forces that were manipulating him. A utopian idealist, the new Pope believed that he had to bring down the socialist governments of Eastern Europe and replace them with some sort of earthly paradise.
Unfortunately for him, the capitalists of the United States and Western Europe were only interested in using him to achieve their own ends, which was the re-establishment of unbridled market forces and the complete destruction of everything that had been achieved since the October revolution.
The co-operation between the Vatican and the CIA in promoting and financing the counter-revolutionary "Solidarity" movement in Poland was just the first step in a truly unholy alliance in which the Pope worked with the most unprincipled forces on the planet.
Elsewhere in the World, John Paul certainly received rapturous welcomes wherever he travelled, but his countless visits had little lasting impact. One obstacle was that the Pope always came amongst his faithful as one who expected to be obeyed. He was promoted as some sort of religious superstar, and people responded accordingly, but fewer and fewer felt that he had anything valid to say about their lives.
At a recent World Youth Day rally in Paris, the organisers were amazed that the thousands of young people who had so enthusiastically cheered the Pope during the day were the same ones who the following morning left the campsite littered with used condoms.
The Pope’s increasing obsession with sexual issues, with the ban on artificial contraception and the place of women and gays within the Church and within society as a whole were all attempts to close the stable door after the horse had bolted. Few people bothered to actively oppose the Church, but the Church became increasingly irrelevant.
Despite his endless speeches about the dignity of the human person, several events called into question the Pope’s judgement. During John Paul’s visit to Chile, many people were astounded by scenes of him laughing and joking with the military dictator Augusto Pinochet in the Moneda palace in Santiago. This was the same building where Pinochet’s gunmen had murdered the democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Such open support for a fascist regime was in marked contrast to his public humiliation and condemnation of progressive priests who served in the popular government of Nicaragua following the Sandinista revolution, that for a few years brought liberty and development to that tragic corner of Latin America.
So many of Pope John Paul’s dreams turned sour. His greatest mistake was to believe that the Church could somehow ignore the laws of human social development and economics. He made the calculation that he could control the course of events in eastern Europe, whereas he ended up being cast aside by the international capitalists for whom he had acted as a useful stooge.
The end of the Soviet Union has brought misery and poverty to countless millions, and the Church has proved to be just as irrelevant in the East as it now is in the West. Perhaps if John Paul had been content to serve simply as a humble follower of Jesus, rather than fancy himself as a world statesman, he himself would have found greater happiness and the World would be a better place.
Karol Wojtyla was born near Kracow in 1920 and appointed Archbishop of Kracow in 1964. Elected Pope in 1978 he survived an assassination attempt in 1981 and died in Rome in 2005.