This week you will be inundated with honorific obituaries to Karol Wojtila, Pope John Paul II. I am writing not to honor Wojtila; he will (quite frankly) receive more honor in the next week than any individual mortal deserves. I write as a witness to the damage this man did during his 26 years as Roman pontiff to the causes of liberty and peace throughout the world.
There will be few voices such as mine raised on the occasion of Wojtila’s death, but someone must speak the truth. Much of what I say here will be new (perhaps even surprising) to non-Catholics. To Catholics, I write to remind them of what each of them knows but seldom acknowledges. Karol Wojtila forced the best minds out of the Catholic Church, or at least to the extreme margins of the Church. Wojtila sanctified the baroque reproductive/sexual bugaboos that infest the Catholic Church while striving to ideologically lobotomize the Catholic clergy and laity. Although he was a fine ambassador of good will to Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, Wojtila degraded the richness of Catholic faith and tradition into mindless displays of loyalty. An archaic organization that had shown signs of serious promise as a refreshed (and even potentially progressive) social force under Popes John XXIII and Paul VI was methodically and ruthlessly drubbed into the mold of ideological and cultural reaction. The record shows that Karol Wojtila was a charming man and a master of international public relations, but he was a political and cultural reactionary to his core
Remember that I and many others did not become Catholics by reason of our voluntary decisions. Long centuries before my birth, complex systems of custom and loyalty and political alliances led the Irish and Bavarian peasants who made up the bulk of my ancestors to become cemented within the Roman Catholic Church. As an infant, my family inducted me into the Catholic Church by way of the rite of baptism. As a young child, I was educated in Catholic schools. In my childhood, loyalty to family and Church stood much higher than loyalty to nation. Even as I have defined myself as an individual in a secular society, the ties of ancestry, ethnicity, early experience and schooling leave me thoroughly “Catholic” in many senses.
Largely because of the actions of Karol Wojtila, it is unlikely that my grandchildren will be raised as Catholics. For many years I vowed that I would not cede the Catholic Church to the vile reaction induced and symbolized by Pope John Paul II. I strove for many years to be one of those who kept alive the fine things within the rich Catholic religious and cultural tradition, but in the last two years I have had to acknowledge that this quest can no longer reasonably be pursued within the current institution of the Roman Catholic Church. In death, Wojtila’s reaction is likely to entirely prevail, since he transformed the Church itself by promoting only the most rigid and automoton-like of clerics to positions of responsibility.
Ignore the press hype about kissing the ground while globetrotting and recognizing Israel. Forget the ridiculous lie that John Paul II favored “human rights.” Ignore the canned media obituary coverage that strives to show you that Wojtila (like Nixon, Reagan, Bob Hope, and (soon) Margaret Thatcher) were “great” international figures. Here is part of the damage wrought by this arch-reactionary and the regressive forces he unleashed in the Catholic Church:
1. Among Wojtila’s first actions as Pope was to attack freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech in Catholic universities. Progressive theology, feminist thought, and “liberation theology” were driven from accepted Catholic discourse. Catholic universities in Europe and North America have lost their best scholars in the humanities and have sunk into being miserable intellectual ghettoes with respect to history, philosophy, theology, and related fields.
2. Wojtila revived and strengthened the Office of the Inquisition under the infamous Cardinal Ratziger. The “Holy Office” was near abolition under the two previous pontiffs, but Wojtila wielded the Inquisition as his special shock troops in a relentless campaign to silence all varieties of opinion other than his own. Repression of thought at the level of the diocese and parish became commonplace again after a blessed reprieve in the 1960s and 1970s.
3. Pursuing his lifelong dedication to fanatic anti-communism, Wojtila pressured the reluctant Christian Democrats of Italy, Germany, and Holland to accede to the placement of US cruise missiles in Europe in the early 1980’s. As a result of this provocative action by the United States, nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union came even closer than during the Cunan Missile Crisis. The result might have been the nuclear annihilation of the planet. No credit to Wojtila, the planet survived. Wojtila’s claims as an advocate of peace are false to their core.
4. Wojtila has intervened repeatedly in the electoral politics of his homeland, Poland, since the late 1980s to bring about government by socially conservative politicians who pass papal muster on women’s rights and abortion and “anti-materialism” (opposition to the introduction of consumerism). Despite some cultural and economic promise in the late 1980s, Poland has become stultified with vast out-migration of educated Poles and economic paralysis. When they are being honest, migrating Poles will tell you that Wojtila and the power of the Polish Catholic Church are destroying their homeland.
5. Wojtila badgered the progressive Latin American bishops and archbishops (yes, there used to be several of them!) to abandon support of cooperatives, peasant political initiatives, and community organizing in his infamous campaign to eliminate “liberation theology.” Only safe, traditional, right-wing candidates were promoted into the Catholic hierarchy. Wojtila denounced “liberation theology” and drove its proponents in Nicaragua and many other places out of the Catholic Church.
6. In the United States, Wojtila in 1980 forced Father Robert Drinan, one of the nation’s leading elected progressive politicians, to resign from Congress (under penalty of being forced to leave the priesthood). At the same time, Wojtila fostered the alliance of right-wing American Catholic bishops with the “Christian right” on the issues of abortion, women’s rights, and homosexuality. In North America and beyond, a double standard has been applied by Wojtila for Catholic clergy involvement in political causes. Advocating for progressive causes has been forbidden as impermissibly “political” while advocacy and alliances against abortion, contraception, and women’s rights has been approved as necessary “witnessing” to Catholic values.
7. Wojtila has systematically purged what were previously culturally and politically progressive religious orders such as the Jesuits and Franciscans. These worldwide purges of the orders have been carried out by appointees Wojtila has made as heads of the various orders. In some cases, progressive leaders in the religious orders were forced to retire early so that his handpicked reactionaries could take command.
8. Wojtila has refused to acknowledge what had been a central role of women in the Catholic Church. He not only opposed the elevation of women to ministry (despite powerful evidence that women performed such roles in the early Christian Church), he refused to allow the many orders of nuns to creatively adapt to modern conditions. As a result, the Catholic sisterhoods are virtually defunct, and the clerical personnel of the Catholic Church has been turned into an all-male private club.
9. Wojtila has forbidden the use of indigenous cultural forms in worship services in non-Western countries. Gone are the marvelous masses and hymns from Africa and Latin America that inspired Christian worship in the 1960s and 1970s. In Western countries, he has insisted on restricting the use of Catholic church buildings to specifically religious purposes despite their great value as venues for concerts, art exhibits, and community activities. Multiple uses of churches was a tradition carried down from the Middle Ages. The great cathedrals of Europe were designed on the assumption of multiple uses.
10. Despite painfully obvious need and institutional commitments made during the Second Vatican Council, Wojtila refused to modernize working conditions for the Catholic clergy. Catholic priests remain the most underpaid and overworked of denominational Christian ministers. In addition, the input of priests into promotion processes within the clergy, which traditionally acted as a counterweight to hierarchical oppression, has been reduced by Wojtila to a nullity.
11. Flying in the face of historical precedent and the most basic common sense, Wojtila refused to consider issues of clerical celibacy and the upgrading of the diaconate to the central functions of the ministry. Clerical celibacy is (quite frankly) a custom originating in the early middle ages for purposes of property consolidation, and it has always been “honored more in the breach than the observance.” Furthermore, deacons performed sacramental functions until modern times. The restriction of sacramental functions to a celibate priesthood was not even an official ideal of the Catholic Church until the sixteenth century. Wojtila’s refusal to even permit discussion of issues concerning clerical celibacy and full sacramental functions for the diaconate has created a vast shortage of Catholic clergy and turned the most energetic and talented Catholics away from ministry within their own Church.
12. The ancient tradition of partial autonomy of the “nationes” within the Catholic Church has been broken by Wojtila. Traditionally, the national councils of Catholic bishops within each country had considerable leeway in governing the local churches. Wojtila, unlike any of his modern predecessors, regularly intervened and overturned decisions by the national councils concerning details of religious customs and personnel decisions.
13. Wojtila deepened and intensified the reproductive doctrinal fetishes of his most reactionary predecessors. Official “Catholic” positions on contraception and abortion are creations of deservedly obscure, personally bizarre, and sexually twisted theologians resident in the Roman theological colleges during the nineteenth century. They have no basis whatsoever in the beliefs and practices of either the ancient or medieval Church. Because of Wojtila’s use of the Catholic Church’s influence in international organizations and its alliance with the “Religious Right” in the USA, international birth control programs have been starved and gutted over the last two decades. As a result, tens of millions of African, Asian and Latin American infants and children have lived and died in misery!
14. Despite Wojtila’s external reputation as some sort of “liberal,” Catholics know that Wojtila is the close ally of the extremist and highly secretive Catholic movement known as Opus Dei. Wojtila has welcomed and blessed the practices of Opus Dei, which is a kind of “Church within the Church.” He has promoted clergy who are affiliated with Opus Dei to the highest of positions within the Church. Opus Dei members congregate in secret in KKK-like costumes and engage in practices which include wearing hairshirts and self-flagellation. They maintain a network of secret monasteries and houses where young Catholics (especially those from wealthy and prominent families) are taken for intensive indoctrination sessions. Opus Dei members have been reliably reported by deprogrammed former members to favor re-ghettoization of Jews and international military crusades against Islam. US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a key member of Opus Dei in North America. The most likely successor to John Paul II is the ultra reactionary Archbishop of Milan, Dionigi Tettamanzi (known in Italy as the “Beast of Milan”) who is reputedly one of the maximum leaders of the secretive cult of Opus Dei.
15. Wojtila methodically purged the College of Cardinals of any creative or free-thinking members, and almost all members of the current College of Cardinals, which will now choose Wojtila’s successor, are rightwing clerical robots appointed by Wojtila himself. The Catholic Church is now guaranteed to have a self-perpetuating reactionary leadership for the indefinite future.
16. All initiatives for democratization of governance of the Catholic Church which began in the 1960s and 1970s were stopped in their tracks by Wojtila. American Catholics no longer talk about lay input into major decisions of the Church. The many talented laymen and laywomen who run the day-to-day operations of Catholic parishes and diocese are treated with highhanded disrespect, and the most talented have left or are in the process of leaving.
17. Wojtila cruelly abandoned the Catholics of Northern Ireland to a fate of political oppression and denial of their basic human rights. The Catholics of Northern Ireland are the only European Catholics still undergoing systematic persecution for their religious beliefs. One might have thought that Pope John Paul II would have championed the human rights of Northern Irish Catholics. Instead, Wojtila never spoke out against the horrendous oppression of his coreligionists in Northern Ireland. His sole contribution to the discussion of Northern Ireland was to condemn IRA violence (without any corresponding condemnation of British Army or loyalist violence) and demand a cessation of IRA activities, which would simply have left the Catholics in Northern Ireland completely helpless to their oppressors.
18. Last but not least, Karol Wojtila proved his utter moral bankruptcy in his horrendous mishandling of the pedophile scandals in the Catholic Churches of the United States, Canada, Ireland, Britain, and several other nations. Wojtila could never bring himself to a clear apology or an acknowledgement of wrongdoing or institutional responsibility for the Catholic Church’s practices of abuse, intimidation, and rape of tens of thousands of children and adolescents. Most reprehensibly, Wojtila removed the independent power of the United States Catholic bishops to discipline pedophile priests while attributing the horror and filth within the American Catholic Church to some sort of American cultural malady.
Visiting a synagogue and a mosque, issuing a few statements about Iraq and Palestine, opposition to capital punishment as an isolated issue–Sorry, but these and some other (mainly symbolic) “proofs” of John Paul’s “humanity” and his “apostolate of peace” ring very, very hollow to this American Catholic who has had his tradition and his Church wrenched from him by an Eastern European rightwing fanatic in Pope’s clothes.
Jim Connolly can be reached at: JConno2031@aol.com