By Deal W. Hudson
The television and radio interviews are already taped and waiting to be broadcast. The passing of Pope John Paul II will unleash a media spin on his papacy guaranteed to make you nauseous: This was a pope who cared about the poor but did not engage in dialogue, a pope who traveled the world to speak but not to listen, a pope who electrified crowds with his charisma but did not trust the leadership in his church, a pope who was a serious and prolific writer but rolled back the reforms of Vatican II, blah, blah, blah.
This will be the spin of dissenters and left-wingers frustrated by a pope who didn’t give them what they wanted, what they thought should belong to them—namely, a Church reorganized along the lines of the Episcopal church (which is presently falling apart over the appointment of an openly gay bishop).
I’m confident that CRISIS readers will be ready to challenge this spin for the rot that it is. The talking points are simple. The pope did listen to dissenting opinions on Humanae Vitae and the priesthood, rejecting their arguments and offering his own in 14 encyclicals, along with the new Code of Canon Law and Catechism of the Catholic Church. The pope did participate in dialogue, not only within the Church but with leaders of all religious traditions—especially the Jews—with whom he met on his travels. The pope did implement the reforms of Vatican II, not the ersatz “spirit of Vatican II,” accomplishing a genuine updating of theology, liturgy, and lay participation in ministry. Finally, the pope did trust his bishops, by forging close working relationships with cardinals like Ratzinger, Schonborn, and Arinze, thus bitterly disappointing the self-appointed leaders of democratization in the Church.
The authors of this spin were youthful in 1978 when John Paul II took office and expected the millennium to herald a Church of woman priests, birth control, and localized control of parishes and chanceries. Now they’re older and have left Call to Action to seek legitimacy in Voice of the Faithful and other organizations. They talk openly about a successor to John Paul II who will “listen,” but what they actually mean is a pope who will do their bidding.
At present in the United States, there are Catholics who hope the next pope will be more “open” to the selection of priests and bishops by the laity. Jim Post, cofounder of Voice of the Faithful, has finally come clean expressing his support for the lay selection of bishops and providing an example of what his organization means by “structural change.” Post and his supporters want to reverse the authority structure of the Church by making it democratic. Democracy is good for government but undermines the tradition and form of the Catholic Church. The legacy of John Paul II—particularly his enormous paper trail—has insured that it will never happen.
Other mainline Christian denominations have listened to such voices and, as a result, have been lured into the irrelevancy of cultural assimilation. One denomination after another has adopted modish, politically correct causes at the expense of the faith’s core message of spiritual salvation. Christianity is not primarily an earthly program for political change, psychological comfort, or the satisfaction of media outlets. John Paul II took his message directly to the people, thereby forcing the media to cover his message and leaving the malcontents to fume at the outer boundaries of cable news and talk-radio shows.
The brief feeding frenzy after the passing of John Paul II will be a period of payback against the pope whose wisdom and goodness overwhelmed the cunning of his detractors. But have no fear. The white smoke will herald the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing the Church another leader who will again. outsize those who would tailor the Church to their own measurements.
Published in Crisis Magazine, November 1, 2003