Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pope With Blood on His Hands

by TERRY EAGLETON

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:
October 18, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
Seizing Kirkuk
John Wight
Weinstein as Symptom: Notes From Hollywood
Matthew Hoh
Bowe Bergdahl: Traitor to American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy
Chris Ernesto
Funding for War vs. Natural Disasters
Aidan O'Brien
Where’s Duterte From and Where’s He Going To?
Jon Bailes
Mental Health and Neoliberalism: an Interview with William Davies
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Reason Behind Trump’s Angry Diplomacy in North Korea
Paul Craig Roberts
Washington, Not China, is the Biggest Threat to American Power
Mike Davis
El Diablo in Wine Country
Binoy Kampmark
Trump’s Iran Deal
Lara Merling
Remember Puerto Rico Needs Fair Medicaid Funding Too
Phil Rockstroh
2 or 3 Things I Know About Capitalism
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain
Rambo Wept: Our Commandos Good, Your Terrorists Bad
Dimitris Bellantis
On Catalonia: Debates in the Greek Left
Robert Koehler
The Calm Before the Storm
Mike Hastie
Napalm Sticks to Kids
October 17, 2017
Suzanne Gordon – Ian Hoffmann
Trumpcare for Veterans? VA Outsourcing Will Create Healthcare Industry Bonanza
Patrick Cockburn
The Real Destabilizer in the Middle East is Not Iran But Trump
Jonathan Cook
The Real Reasons Trump is Quitting UNESCO
Murtaza Shibli
My Friend From ISIS in Raqqa
Kathy Kelly
Wrongful Rhetoric and Trump’s Strategy on Iran
David Bonner
Beyond Taking a Knee: Duane Thomas, Where are You When We Need You?
Tom Gill
Austerity, Macron-Style
Liaquat Ali Khan
Pakistan Faces a Life-Threatening Military Coup
Jeff Mackler
Is Trump a ‘Moron?’
Amena Elashkar
If You Work for Justice in Palestine, Why Won’t You Let Palestinians Speak?
John Feffer
Trump’s Unprecedented Right-Turn on Foreign Policy
Ariel Dorfman
Trump’s War on the Mind
Dean Baker
The Republican Tax Plan to Slow Growth
Gerry Brown
The Return of One-Man Rule in China?
Binoy Kampmark
Climate Change Insurgent: Tony Abbott’s Crusade
Kent Paterson
Assassination in Guerrero: the Murder of Ranferi Hernandez Acevedo
Rob Okun
Men and Sexual Assault in the Age of Trump
October 16, 2017
Vijay Prashad
A Tale of Two Islands
Ben Dangl
Profiting from America’s Longest War: Trump Seeks to Exploit Mineral Wealth of Afghanistan
Jan Oberg
Trump is Moving Toward War With Iran
Thomas S. Harrington
The Baseless Myth of the Poor, Propagandized Catalans
Steve Brown
When a Radio Host Interviews a War Criminal, Is It Churlish to Ask About His War Crimes?
Howard Lisnoff
Capturing the Flag
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS is Facing Near Total Defeat, But It Has Been Beaten and Come Back Before
Julian Vigo
The Fall of Harvey Weinstein and the Sexual Blindspot of Misogyny
James Munson
The Rich Can’t Achieve Plurality, But the Poor Can
Amitai Ben-Abba
The NIMPE Critique of Antifa
Robert Fisk
We Will Soon See What the Word “Unity” Means for the Palestinian People
Alice Donovan
Civil War in Venezuela: a US Joint Operation with Colombia?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail