|Pope changed world without armies|
Mon Apr 4, 8:54 AM ET Top Stories - USATODAY.com
By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY
When Josef Stalin was told that Pope Pius XII opposed his policies, the Soviet leader famously replied: "How many divisions has the pope?"
A half-century later, when the Soviet empire had fallen without a bullet being fired, Stalin's last successor made an admission: "Everything that happened in Eastern Europe in these last few years," Mikhail Gorbachev said, "would have been impossible without this pope."
"This pope" was John Paul II, who, by the time he died Saturday, had demonstrated the power of the papacy, inside the church and out. But his legacy is debated even as he is mourned. Will he go down as "John Paul the Great?" Or did he wound the institution he plainly loved by holding power too closely for too long?
He was contradiction personified. In the world, he was a liberal, fighting for political freedom and religious tolerance. In the church, he was a conservative, fostering the traditional, hierarchical Catholicism he knew in Poland.
He espoused human rights around the globe, yet stifled dissent in the church. He reached out to people everywhere, yet those at the margins of Catholicism felt ignored.
He alienated many liberals, gays and feminists by refusing to reconsider church doctrines.
Despite his insistence on personal sexual morality, he was slow to respond to a priest sexual-abuse scandal.
John Paul II took office in 1978 as a novelty - a Pole and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years - and became a revolutionary. He began his papacy with the words, "Be not afraid!" and followed his own advice. He went places no pope had been, met people no pope had met, fought battles no pope had fought.
He was alert as well to modern challenges to Catholic doctrine: Two weeks ago, his Vatican condemned a Florida judge's order to remove the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged American woman who died Thursday.
He served longer than any other pope in more than a century. He traveled farther and named more cardinals and bishops than any other pope. And he elevated more new saints than the previous 17 popes combined.
He reached out to Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths. He spoke against capitalism and communism, spoke up for the poor, spoke up for life as he defined it from very beginning to very end. "I am the voice of the voiceless," he said in 1979 on his first overseas trip as pope.
He preached the gospel on every continent save Antarctica, in the process traveling more than 750,000 miles - the equivalent of 30 times around the world. If St. Peter was the "rock" on whom Jesus said he would build his church, Peter's 263rd successor was a rolling stone.
As his biographer George Weigel observed: "It is a very obscure corner of the planet that has not been in some way touched by the life of this pope and by his proposals."
Shaped by World War II
Born Karol Wojtyla, he was the last major world leader to be shaped by World War II. "I learned the great lessons of my generation - humiliation at the hands of evil," he wrote. The Nazis invaded Poland and made him a forced laborer. The communists tried to drive his church out of business.
Thanks to the jetliner and the communications satellite, "he was able to make himself more present to the world than any other pope, and the world changed because of that presence," says Gerald Fogarty, a Jesuit priest and professor of church history at the University of Virginia.
In his first months after becoming pope in 1978, John Paul II shattered the image of a reclusive, cautious monarch shuttered behind the Vatican's walls and protected by advisers. This pope had been a mountain climber, skier, poet and actor. He liked to hug and joke and sing. You didn't have to be a theologian or diplomat to understand what he was saying.
Because of John Paul II's example, his successor will have to be more than the CEO of the Roman Catholic Church. He will have to be a celebrity as well as a preacher, a pilgrim and an evangelist. "There is no reversing this," Weigel said. "The church expects it. The world expects it."
The former actor knew the value of an image and the power of a gesture. As long as he was able, he kissed the ground in every nation he visited. He went to the prison cell of the man who shot him, and forgave him. He waved a finger to publicly rebuke one of the priests who took a post with the Nicaraguan government in violation of Vatican rules.
New archbishops used to receive the pallium, a wool vestment symbolizing their ecclesiastical authority, in ceremonies at their home cathedrals. John Paul II began calling them to Rome each June to personally bestow the pallium, thereby underscoring both his authority and his affection.
John Paul also determined how his successor will be selected - and by whom. He revised the election process in 1996. And he has appointed all but three of the 117 cardinals eligible to elect a pope and most of the bishops who will serve under him.
His appointments moved the church's center of gravity into the Third World, home to roughly a third of the cardinals who will choose the next pope. Anyone who was shocked by a Polish pope should be prepared for the possibility of a black, brown or yellow one.
John Paul II did not merely proclaim that a non-violentfaith could change the world; he proved it. In Europe, he supported Solidarity, the labor movement in Poland that began the fall of European communism. In Missouri, he saved the life of a convict on death row. The pope's personal appeal for clemency was granted by a governor who favored capital punishment.
He preached to some of the largest crowds in history, including one estimated at more than 5 million in Manila in 1995. By some estimates, John Paul II was seen in person by more than a billion people.
Staid Vatican ceremonies became "pep rallies to broadcast the pope's views," according to Fogarty. So many people wanted to attend papal Masses and general audiences that the events had to be moved from St. Peter's Basilica to the square outside.
Stand against communism
John Paul's greatest moment came in June 1979, when he returned to Poland as pope. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned Polish officials not to receive the pope: "It will only cause trouble."
He was right. The pope's visit showed the world that Poland loved Catholicism and hated atheistic communism. In nine days, he was seen by one of every three Poles. As he proclaimed the importance of Polish independence, crowds chanted, "We want God!"
A year and a half later, with the Soviet Union on the verge of invading Poland to suppress Solidarity, the pope wrote Brezhnev a personal letter, implicitly comparing any Soviet incursion to the Nazi invasion of 1939.
Communism, he later remarked, was a rotten tree; all he had to do was shake it.
Viewed through the lens of American politics, the pope was an enigma - "to the left of liberal Democrats on social issues and to the right of conservative Republicans on moral values," in the words of Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and church observer.
He was also a conservative on church governance. Bishop Karol Wojtyla was an enthusiastic participant in the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965 and abolished or undercut many of the old ways, such as the Latin Mass and meatless Fridays. But Pope John Paul II was more concerned with stabilizing the church after Vatican II than rekindling reform.
The pope apologized for centuries of mistakes by laity and clergy but vigorously upheld the church's opposition to abortion, artificial birth control and homosexual relations. He choked off debate on celibacy and the ordination of women.
Some dissident theologians, such as the Rev. Charles Curran of Catholic University of America in Washington, were dismissed from positions at Catholic institutions. U.S. Rep. Robert Drinan, a Jesuit and former dean of the Boston College Law School, was told not to seek re-election because the pope did not want priests directly involved in politics.
John Paul failed to solve at least one fundamental crisis: the shortage of priests. Scott Appleby, a church historian at the University of Notre Dame, said the pope "bet the future on recruiting more priests." But at the end of his papacy, the church faced the specter of full pews and empty rectories.
Nor did he appear to play a particularly effective role in dealing with the American church's sex scandals, in which hundreds of priests going back decades were dismissed or resigned for offenses ranging from molesting boysto consensual sex with women.
Although the pope was not personally implicated, his papacy was marred.Despite major court cases dating back to 1985, John Paul "did not instruct bishops not to reassign abusers" and "had almost nothing to say about what was going on until April 2002," said EileenFlynn, a Catholic writer and professor at St. Peter's College in Jersey City.
The pope called American church leaders to Rome to discuss the scandal and later approved their policy for dealing with molesters in the clergy. He told a worldwide meeting of young Catholics in Toronto in July 2002 that "the harm done by some priests ... to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame."
Reaching out to the world
The pope often tried to use his office to promote peace. "Heads of state came to regard him as an essential partner in working for world peace," Fogarty said. The pope opposed not only the Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq war in 2003 but also the U.S. military action in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Diplomacy also strengthened the church's ability to evangelize. When the pope visited Mexico City in 1979, the church was still under restrictions dating to the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. The pope could not celebrate Mass outside a church, and the president of Mexico met him only in his role as a private citizen. When the pope returned in 1999, after relations were established, he held Mass in Aztec Stadium in Mexico City and was greeted as a visiting head of state.
John Paul did far more than any pope to improve the church's relations with Jews. In 1986, he became the first pope to visit the main Jewish synagogue in Rome. In 1993, he established diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1998, he formally apologized for the failure of many Catholics to help Jews during the Holocaust.
"A thousand years from now, when nobody knows what a communist was, there will still be Jews and Catholics," said Reese, the Jesuit church analyst. "And they will see the end of the 20th century as the time when their communities made peace and began to become friends."
Yet John Paul's papacy also saw many moments of tension with Jews. He canonized Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who died in the Holocaust. He promoted to the status of "blessed" Pius IX, the 19th-century pope who allegedly referred to the Jews of Rome as "dogs." He granted an audience to Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, despite controversy about Waldheim's role in the German military during World War II.
John Paul believed he was destined by God to lead the church into the third millennium. Having triumphed over fascism and communism, he felt he could do the same over individualism and materialism - problems that were far more tenacious.
But the pope's true legacy might not yet be apparent. Weigel, his biographer, said John Paul believed he had planted ideas about social justice and Christian faith "that will flower many years after his death."
Karol Wojtyla thought that was part of his mission. As he said when introduced to a farmer in Iowa in 1979, "We are all farmers."
How many divisions has the pope? Some, Winston Churchill once noted, are "not always visible on parade."