FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

John Paul II, the Death of a Reactionary

Chicago, Illinois

The media haze of encomiums and rosy reminiscences about Pope John Paul II can’t change what the man was in real life–a hard-line right-winger who saw his mission as defending the most backward institutions and traditions of the Catholic Church.

Obituaries for John Paul–born Karol Wojtyla–mentioned his humble beginnings in Poland, then governed by a so-called communist government that repressed the Catholic Church. Named pope a few years before the Solidarnosc general strike of 10 million workers in Poland, John Paul was seen as an advocate of freedom and democracy–an image that the U.S. government and its Cold War allies happily promoted.

Less talked about was how John Paul provided Washington with a trump card against the development of what was known as “liberation theology” in Latin America–where people associated with the church, including leading priests and bishops, championed the struggles of workers and the poor.

The pope occasionally criticized U.S. imperialist ventures, like the recent invasion of Iraq. But he was always far more an ally than opponent, and he used his quarter-century reign to reassert the Vatican’s role as a bastion of reaction.

In church doctrine, John Paul was mainly known for halting the moderate reforms initiated by the Second Vatican Council–and insisting on the most conservative possible attitude on such questions as abortion and birth control.

The pope cracked down on dissenters from the church’s anti-choice stance. Even contraception remained beyond the pale–the equivalent of genocide, in the Pope’s fundamentalist view. For John Paul, sex was only allowed between a husband and wife, and then solely for the purposes of procreation. Obviously, this “papal teaching” is widely ignored among even faithful Catholics, but it was typical of John Paul’s cobwebbed views.

Among the predecessors he looked to most was Pope Pius IX, a megalomaniac who reigned during the 19th century, and whose Syllabus of Errors condemned democracy, freedom of the press and the belief in human progress.

John Paul was a longtime supporter of the secretive Opus Dei movement, with its rituals of corporal mortification and ties to European fascists–and the less well-known Legion of Christ, another ultra-conservative and equally cult-like organization that believes most Catholics have deserted the faith. All the pundits and academic experts who talk about the backwardness of Islam should take another look at the strange practices and proscriptions associated with Catholicism.

When the U.S. church was exposed for harboring sexual predators among its priests, John Paul’s Vatican helped organize the cover-up, refusing to admit that anything about the workings of the church contributed to the scandal. Even a right-winger like former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a member of the National Review Board of Catholic Lay People, which authored one report on the priest scandal, was forced to resign after he compared the Church hierarchy’s methods of concealing sexual abuse to those of La Cosa Nostra.

Karl Marx wrote that religion is “the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” For most followers, Christianity and Catholicism offer comfort in an unjust world. Church figures like the pope are associated with a system of ideas that helps people cope in the here and now, and gives them hope of a better world in the afterlife. That’s why so many Catholics can claim to be believers, even while living lives that are wholly opposed to the church’s musty dogma on issues like sexuality.

Likewise, some social activists take inspiration from their Catholicism–with its Biblical injunctions to stand up for the downtrodden–in organizing against war and for social justice.

But as an institution, the Catholic Church has always been on the side of the exploiters and oppressors–as probably the richest and most powerful institution throughout the last millennium, and a chief prop of an unjust system to this day. From the Crusades to conquer Muslim lands, to the Inquisition that tortured Jews and dissenters, to collaborating with Nazis during the Holocaust, the Catholic Church hierarchy has maintained itself by accommodating to the ruling class of the day.

John Paul II stood squarely in that tradition. He doesn’t deserve to be remembered as a hero who opposed tyranny, but as a reactionary who did his utmost to preserve an institution built on bigotry, intolerance and injustice.

ALAN MAASS is the editor of Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: alanmaass@sbcglobal.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

ALAN MAASS is the editor of the Socialist Worker and author of The Case for Socialism. He can be reached at: alanmaass@sbcglobal.net

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail