FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pope With Blood on His Hands

London, England

John Paul II became Pope in 1978, just as the emancipatory 60s were declining into the long political night of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. As the economic downturn of the early 70s began to bite, the western world made a decisive shift to the right, and the transformation of an obscure Polish bishop from Karol Wojtyla to John Paul II was part of this wider transition. The Catholic church had lived through its own brand of flower power in the 60s, known as the Second Vatican Council; and the time was now ripe to rein in leftist monks, clap-happy nuns and Latin American Catholic Marxists. All of this had been set in train by a pope – John XIII – whom the Catholic conservatives regarded as at best wacky and at worst a Soviet agent.

What was needed for this task was someone well-trained in the techniques of the cold war. As a prelate from Poland, Wojtyla hailed from what was probably the most reactionary national outpost of the Catholic church, full of maudlin Mary-worship, nationalist fervour and ferocious anti-communism. Years of dealing with the Polish communists had turned him and his fellow Polish bishops into consummate political operators. In fact, it turned the Polish church into a set-up that was, at times, not easy to distinguish from the Stalinist bureaucracy. Both institutions were closed, dogmatic, censorious and hierarchical, awash with myth and personality cults. It was just that, like many alter egos, they also happened to be deadly enemies, locked in lethal combat over the soul of the Polish people.

Aware of how little they had won from dialogue with the Polish regime, the bishops were ill-inclined to bend a Rowan-Williams-like ear to both sides of the theological conflict that was raging within the universal church. On a visit to the Vatican before he became Pope, the authoritarian Wojtyla was horrified at the sight of bickering theologians. This was not the way they did things in Warsaw. The conservative wing of the Vatican, which had detested the Vatican Council from the outset and done its utmost to derail it, thus looked to the Poles for salvation. When the throne of Peter fell empty, the conservatives managed to swallow their aversion to a non-Italian pontiff and elected one for the first time since 1522.

Once ensconced in power, John Paul II set about rolling back the liberal achievements of Vatican 2. Prominent liberal theologians were summoned to his throne for a dressing down. One of his prime aims was to restore to papal hands the power that had been decentralised to the local churches. In the early church, laymen and women elected their own bishops. Vatican 2 didn’t go as far as that, but it insisted on the doctrine of collegiality – that the Pope was not to be seen as capo di tutti capi, but as first among equals.

John Paul, however, acknowledged equality with nobody. From his early years as a priest, he was notable for his exorbitant belief in his own spiritual and intellectual powers. Graham Greene once dreamed of a newspaper headline reading “John Paul canonises Jesus Christ”. Bishops were summoned to Rome to be given their orders, not for fraternal consultation. Loopy far-right mystics and Francoists were honoured, and Latin American political liberationists bawled out. The Pope’s authority was so unassailable that the head of a Spanish seminary managed to convince his students that he had the Pope’s personal permission to masturbate them.

The result of centring all power in Rome was an infantilisation of the local churches. Clergy found themselves incapable of taking initiatives without nervous glances over their shoulders at the Holy Office. It was at just this point, when the local churches were least capable of handling a crisis maturely, that the child sex abuse scandal broke. John Paul’s response was to reward an American cardinal who had assiduously covered up the outrage with a plush posting in Rome.

The greatest crime of his papacy, however, was neither his part in this cover up nor his neanderthal attitude to women. It was the grotesque irony by which the Vatican condemned – as a “culture of death” – condoms, which might have saved countless Catholics in the developing world from an agonising Aids death. The Pope goes to his eternal reward with those deaths on his hands. He was one of the greatest disasters for the Christian church since Charles Darwin.

TERRY EAGLETON is the author of The Illusions of Post-Modernism: Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
Subhankar Banerjee
Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode
Lawrence Davidson
What the Attack on Marc Lamont Hill Tells Us
James McEnteer
Breathless
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Face of Justin Trudeau: Are Palestinians Canada’s new Jews?
Dean Baker
Pelosi Would Sabotage the Progressive Agenda With a Pay-Go Rule
Elliot Sperber
Understanding the Yellow Vests Movement Through Basic Color Theory 
Rivera Sun
The End of the NRA? Business Magazines Tell Activists: The Strategy is Working
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Historic Opportunity to Transform Trade
December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail