Belief in the innocence of rulers depends upon the ignorance of those ruled.
Hugh Ross Williamson.
The Catholic world at large had barely recovered from the shock of John Paul’s death, sudden and unexpected as it was, when another event diverted their attention from the Sedis vacantia (vacancy of the Apostolic See) to the puff of white smoke that, on 16 October, 1978, issued from the small bent chimney of the Sistine Chapel, and to the announcement that followed it: ‘We have a new Pope.’
More than the usual excitement resulted, and there were those among the more experienced observers who noted that much of it came from the same quarters that had acclaimed John XXIII; from those who greeted the changes (or disasters, as many thought) that resulted from his reign, as long awaited and welcome signs that the Church was throwing off its iron archaic fetters.
For the new Pontiff was Karol Wojtyla, who received something like a hero’s welcome because he was a Pole, from behind the Iron Curtain, where religion, especially the Christian, had had to run the gauntlet, and where now, although the era of blows and taunts was somewhat relaxed, it was still subject to a mainly wary and restricted acceptance. Wojtyla was, incidentally, the first non-Italian to be elected Pope since 1522.
A veteran American journalist who had the not inappropriate name of Avro Manhattan, who knew the Vatican more intimately than he did the White House, and who was well versed in Russian tergiversation, had earlier written: ‘The proportion of radical Cardinals, and of future members of the Sacred College, whose political leanings range from light pink to scarlet red, has been mounting and will continue to increase. The inevitable result will be that, thanks to the greatest number of Leftist clerics, the election of a Red Pope is becoming more likely.’1
Had such a Pontiff arrived in the person of Karol Wojtyla?
In view of the strained relationship between countries in the West, and those behind the Iron Curtain, the officially irreligious policy of the latter, and the emergence of John Paul II as the new Pope elected to be called, a number of questions presented themselves that called for an answer. His orthodox early training and development, his becoming a priest, and his rise to Archbishop and then to Cardinal, had proceeded normally.
Many hundreds of his co-religionists in Poland during the thirty years of Communist domination had undergone petty or serious persecution, many being jailed, some put to death. Yet there is no indication of Wojtyla ever undergoing more than the usual trials that have to be endured by known dissidents. He had not been subject to any sustained or menacing outcry, and his relationship with the Marxist authorities had been the same as that of any ordinary citizen who wore his faith upon his sleeve.
Through it all he must have been called upon, as a prelate, to give not only religious but also social, and even economic advice to those of his faith, advice that must have sometimes conflicted with the governing code. Yet he was never actually silenced, and he was tolerated, even privileged by the authorities, while his religious superior, Cardinal Wyszynski, then Primate of Poland, lived under constant pressure.
A case in point was the granting of permission to leave the country. When the Synod of Bishops was called for Rome, both Cardinals applied for exit visas. The Primate encountered a blunt refusal, but Wojtyla was given permission as a matter of course.
He experienced the same favour when it came to attending the conclave at which he was elected, and those who had been dismayed by the prospect of a Pope from a Soviet background soon felt they were justified.
Pierre Bourgreignon, writing in Didasco, a French publication that appeared in Brussels, April 1979, said: ‘No one capable of coherent thought will easily believe that a Cardinal from behind the Iron Curtain can be anything but a Communist plant.’
A similar doubt was expressed in The War is Now, an Australian production issued on behalf of Catholic tradition. If Wojtyla, it asked, is a true Catholic Pole, ‘why would proper, sensible, prudent Cardinals with the Church’s welfare at heart, elect a target, a man whose family and people remain under the gun, a whole nation of ready-made hostages or martyrs?’
The Abbé de Nantes, leader of the Catholic Counter-Reformation of the Twentieth Century, was more downright: ‘We have a Communist Pope.’
It was formerly acknowledged that differences, when they were in Poland, did exist between the two Cardinals. Wyszynski never yielded an inch when dealing with the controllers of his country. Wojtyla was all for coming to terms and continuing ‘dialogue’ with them, along the lines that had been established by Paul VI; and what was more noticeable, Wojtyla, apart from never actually condemning atheistic Marxism, stood in the way of those who wished to adopt a more militant attitude towards it.
Someone had noted that during the conclave in the Sistine Chapel, at which he was elected, the solemnity of the occasion, and the fact of being overlooked by Michelangelo’s gigantic frescoes of the Last Judgment, did not prevent Wojtyla reading from a book that he had thought fit to take in for instruction – or for a little light relief from the gravity of choosing the Vicar of Christ? It was a book of Marxist principles.
Those who regarded him with suspicion were not reassured when he rejected the ritual of coronation and chose to be ‘installed’, and when he let it be known that he rested more easily in an ordinary chair than on the Papal throne. Were Church practices, they asked, to undergo a further paring down after those that had already resulted from the Council? Their fears grew when he put aside the mantle of authoritarianism with which the Church, of which he was now the Head, had hitherto been invested. And any lingering doubts they may have had vanished when, in his inaugural speech, he undertook to fulfil the last will and testament of Paul VI, by adhering to Pope John’s directives of collegiality and the liturgy of the New Mass – and that, it may be observed, in spite of the fact that he must have been aware of all the obscenities that followed it.
When making that announcement, Wojtyla stood by a makeshift altar that, like Paul VI’s bier, was bereft of any religious sign in the form of a crucifix or cross.
Other indications of what might be expected of the new Pope soon followed. In his first encyclical he praised Paul VI for having revealed ‘the true countenance of the Church’. He spoke in a similar vein of the Second Vatican Council which had given ‘greater visibility to the Eucharistic sacrifice’; and he undertook to follow and promote the renewal of the Church ‘according to the spirit of the Council’.
A later statement referred to that Council as having been ‘the greatest ecclesiastical event of our century’; and it now remained to secure ‘the acceptance of fulfilment of Vatican Two in accordance with its authentic content. In doing this we are guided by faith.... We believe that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, was with the Council Fathers, that the Church contains, within its magisterium, what the Spirit says to the Church, saying it at the same time in harmony with tradition and according to the demands posed by the signs of the times’ (my emphasis).
His remark on being in harmony with tradition was flatly contradicted by his admission that ‘the liturgy of the Mass is different from the one known before the Council. But’ (he added significantly) ‘we do not intend to speak of those differences.’ It was essential to renew the Church, in structure and function, to bring it into line with the needs of the contemporary world; and from that admission it needed but a step for Wojtyla to emphasise the revolutionary principles of 1789, with the glorification of man, liberated man, as a being who is sufficient unto himself. Man was the only idol deserving the reverence of those on earth, his stature being confirmed by and classified as the Rights of Man.
That somewhat hazy terrestrial belief has been the inspiration of every Left-wing movement from then on. With a fine disregard for the authority of law it was proclaimed, in America, that ‘liberty is the very foundation of political order’. While a few years ago François Mitterand, the Communist who is now President of the French Republic, said that ‘Man is the future of Man.’ It was then left for Karol Wojtyla, as John Paul II, to enshrine that belief in a modern religious setting by declaring that ‘Man is the primary issue of the Church’; a Papal announcement that is thoroughly in line with the Marxist principle that ‘Man is an end in himself and the explanation of all things.’
The Pope then proceeded to pass from verbal to more active approval of the political system from which he had emerged. Speaking of the Church in Poland, he said that ‘its relationship with Communism could be one of the elements in the ethical and international order in Europe and the modern world.’ He maintained a friendly understanding with the Red occupiers of his country, and thought it possible to open up a spiritual détente with them. In furtherance of this the Communist Minister of State, Jablonski, with a train of comrades as large as that of any Eastern potentate, was received at the Vatican. Then came the Soviet Minister, Gromyko, who was granted more than the prescribed time with His Holiness.
He greeted guerrillas between their bouts of ‘freedom fighting’ in Africa and Nicaragua. His moral support went with them. He opened the door of his study to the Mexican Jose Alvarez, who travelled far and wide in South America calling on extremists to light the flames of anarchy. Not even the Pope’s intimates knew what passed between them. He was the ‘star’ speaker at a Latin American Congress in Panama City, where the theme was certainly not religious, since the organisers were the Communist dictator, General Torrijos, and the Marxist Sergio Mendez Arceo, of Cuernavaca.
When addressing a group of refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the Pope’s lukewarm attitude was commented on by Robert Serrou, the Paris Match correspondent. The Pope, naturally enough, had commiserated with his audience, but why, asked Serrou, had he not so much as mentioned the Red terror from which they had escaped?
In view of that failure to condemn tyranny, it is remarkable that one of the few strictures uttered by John Paul II has been directed against those Catholics who deplore the gradual taking to pieces of the Church since Vatican Two: ‘Those who remain attached to incidental aspects of the Church which were more valid in the past but have now been superseded, cannot be considered the faithful.’
His orthodoxy, when it came to the teaching of Catholicism and its relation to other religions, has also been called into question. It is a commonplace, but no belittlement of Islam, to point out that the fatalistic Arabian tradition, with its denial of Christ’s divinity and of the redemption, is a far remove from the essentials of Christian belief. Yet the Pope told an audience of Moslems that their Koran and the Bible ‘are in step’. And in more casual mood, was he pandering to the mechanical spirit of the age when he told a gathering of motorists to have the same care for their cars as they have for their souls? Or was it by a slip of the tongue that the importance attached to cars preceded that of souls?
One of the Pope’s letters, dated 15 September, 1981, on the subject of private property and capitalism, shows a marked contradiction of and a departure from the Church’s teaching. For in the letter he says: ‘Christian tradition has never upheld the right of private property as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary, it has always understood the right as common to all to use the goods of the whole creation.’
That is so blatantly false, and so opposed to what every Pope from Leo XIII to Pius XII had said, that one is tempted to agree with those outspoken trans-Atlantic critics2 who bluntly call Karol Wojtyla a liar, and who follow that up with the exhortation: ‘Break off, Charlie!’
For here I quote from Leo XIII: ‘The Socialists endeavour to destroy private property, and maintain that the individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies.... It is unjust, because it would rob the legal possessor, bring the State into a sphere that is not its own, and cause complete confusion to the community.’
Leo went on to say that a man works in order to obtain property, and to hold it as his own private possession. ‘For every man has the right by nature to possess property of his own. This is one of the distinct points between man and the animal creation.... The authority of the Divine Law adds its sanction forbidding us in the gravest terms even to covet that which is another’s.’
From Pius XI: ‘The primary function of private property is in order that individuals may be able to provide for their own needs and for those of their families.’
And from Pius XII: ‘The Church aspires to bring it about that private ownership shall become, in accordance with the plans of the divine wisdom and with the laws of nature, an element in the social system, a necessary incentive to human enterprise, and a stimulus to nature; all this for the benefit of the temporal and spiritual ends of life, and consequently for the benefit of the freedom and dignity of man.’
And still from the same Pope: ‘Only private ownership can provide the head of a family with the healthy freedom it requires to carry out the duties allotted to him by the Creator for the physical, spiritual, and religious well-being of his family.’
Side by side with these proclamations the Church has issued warnings against Liberalism, which ends in capitalism, and against Marxism which preaches the abolition of private property. Therefore the statement made by John Paul II may be seen to be extraordinary compared with many of those made by his predecessors.
During his early life in Cracow, both as student and as a young priest, Wojtyla acquired a liking for the theatre that has never left him. It began when he joined a school dramatic group, and later, during the war when Poland was occupied, what is often referred to as a ‘subterranean theatre’, which means that rehearsals and performances took place in a room, sometimes the kitchen of an apartment, secretly and by candlelight.
‘It was round about that time’, says one of his biographers3, ‘that he formed a sentimental attachment to a young woman’; and from then on she has followed him like a shadow, by rumour, newspaper report, and in the conversation of Polish exiles on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sometimes the details differed. The most unlikely version, that was probably put out to engage sympathy, was that she worked against the Germans, had been discovered, and shot. Another gives the date 1940 as marking the height of their attachment. According to Blazynski, who was born in Poland, the future Pope was popular with the girls and ‘had a steady girl friend’.
His love of entertainment extended to the cinema, and to such superficial mock-religious shows as Jesus Christ Superstar. After one performance of the latter he spoke for twenty minutes to the audience on the theme of love and joy. He encouraged the adolescent bawling and aimless strumming of guitars that, in the name of popular accompaniments, make some present day Masses unbearable to many. In the same spirit, he invited the American evangelist, Billy Graham, to preach one of his red-hot sermons in the church of St. Anne, Cracow.
One of the subjects discussed by the circle in which he moved was a book by the writer Zegadlowicz, which had been frowned upon by the Church because of its obsession with sex; while an early piece of writing by Wojtyla (translated by Boleslaw Taborski and quoted by Blazynski) contains such lines as ‘Love carries people away like an absolute.... Sometimes human existence seems too short for love.’
The same theme occurred in Wojtyla’s book Love and Responsibility, 1960, which, Blazynski says, ‘does not ignore the bodily reality of man and woman, and goes into considerable detail in describing both the physiology and psychology of sex (the latter often with a great deal of insight that might seem surprising in one who is now, after all, a celibate clergyman.’
Even when Wojtyla became Pope the ghost of the mystery woman who had haunted his student days was not laid. There are those among Polish exiles who claim to have known her, and one of the most downright rumours spread is that her name is Edwige.
But be that as it may, not even Wojtyla’s apologists can deny that he has shown more interest in human sexuality than any Pope since the Middle Ages. Many listeners to an address he gave in Rome were quite embarrassed when he launched into details on lust and the nakedness of the body.
Some of his own statements have given publicity agents ample scope to enlarge upon them. ‘Young people of France’, he cried to a far from mature audience in Paris, ‘bodily union has always been the strongest language that two people can say to each other.’ Those words have been called some of the most stupefying ever spoken by a Pope.
During his visit to Kisingani in Zaire, Africa, a correspondent in Newsweek shook his head sadly over the way in which the Head of the Roman Church dispensed with formality. In humid heat, and almost as soon as he stepped from the plane, he was seen ‘grinning, sweating, swaying and stomping with dancing girls.’ He has been photographed watching a group of adolescent girls in one-piece garments that reached well above the knee carry out a series of acrobatic dances. Another picture has recently come to hand in which, at Castelgandolfo, he watches a young dancer perform convolutions in front of him, with her head and face almost lost sight of in a flurry of white underclothes.
A play written by Wojtyla, The Jeweller’s Shop, was produced at the Westminster Theatre in May, 1982. Said to be written in purple prose, the producer hoped that the play ‘should draw the punters’ as well as the church audiences.
His hope may well be realised since the play, still quoting The Daily Telegraph (28 April 1982) ‘embraces the unlikely subject of prostitution.’4
There is no need for John Paul II to enter deeply into the differences in the Church resulting from Vatican Two. It has been said that he is walking with a rose in his hand – that is, until the early gains achieved by John XXIII and Paul VI have been consolidated. The once proud boast relating to the One True Church has diminished into a spineless acknowledgment of ‘these ecumenical days’. The claim of Papal authority, which has yielded place to the idea of power-sharing with Bishops, may remain on the Church’s statute books for a while longer, but the force of its divine origin has been watered down; and the altars, always a sign of ‘whatever gods may be’, have been demolished.
Even so, the next phase of the attack upon the Church, from within, has passed beyond its preparatory stages and is already under way. It is likely to be less spectacular than the earlier depredations. The word ‘revisionary’ will be heard more often than ‘change’. The churches will no longer be used as amatory playgrounds. Yet what is likely to result from meetings in the Vatican Synod Hall, between more than seventy Cardinals and Bishops, will probably, in the long run, be quite as devastating as the innovations that have now been accepted as norms by a largely unperceptive and uncritical public.
Among the subjects that are known to have been discussed are marriage and abortion; and prelates such as Cardinal Felici are rational enough to admit that the issues on these, and similar questions, have virtually been decided in advance. Marriage annulments, robbed of much of their earlier formality, will be made easier. The threat of excommunication will be lifted from women who undergo abortion; and, a still greater earnest of more and vital concessions to come, the articles of Canon Law will be reduced from numbering 2,414 to a possible 1,728.
But these considerations will not weigh heavily on those who are likely to be impressed by the Pope’s visit to this country in May this year, 1982. The power of Mr. Mark McCormack’s International Management Group has been invoked to provide the same publicity for a Pope that it has so ably done for golfers, baseball toughs, and tennis players; while a firm of business consultants, Papal Visits Limited, will add further promotional backing.
The proven dramatic instinct of John Paul II will doubtless come into play as, scattering blessings from a glass-topped vehicle, he rides slowly between miles of fencing, stands, marquees, and Press platforms, and over carpet decorated with thousands of plants, to where three crosses, the tallest a hundred and twenty feet high – no, Mr. McCormack, Calvary was not like that – rise above a steel and canvas altar structure.
After Mass, the faithful may come away with a screwdriver that bears a sticker showing the Pope’s head on its handle. All arrangements for the visit will be in the capable hands of Archbishop Marcinkus, who has obviously been washed clean of the somewhat doubtful reputation that clung to him in Rome.
2. The publishers of Veritas, an orthodox newsletter. Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
3. George Blazynski in John Paul II (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979). Some of the incidents related here are taken from that book.
1. English theatre critics did not exactly acclaim the Pope’s efforts as a playwright-editor.