When deeply conservative politicians like Australian PM John Howard start describing the Pope with loaded accolades you know immediately how to place JP II in the current political ecology. Howard told a Melbourne dinner last night:
“This wonderful man who has been not only an inspiring leading of the Catholic church, but he’s been a wonderful warrior for freedom and democracy.”
This of course is not the experience of those who have dared dissent within the church. Hans Kung summed it up well a number of years ago:
Instead of a modernization in the evangelic spirit, one has gone back to the traditional fundamental Catholic lessons – rigorous moral encyclicals, traditionalist-imperialist world catechism. Instead of a collegiality between the pope and the bishops, there is an authoritarian Roman centralism expressed in the nomination of bishops and the attribution of theological seats over the interests of local churches.
Instead of an opening to the modern world, there are complaints and scoldings about a supposed adaptation to it and the encouragement of traditional forms of piety. Instead of dialogue, there is more inquisition and a rejection of freedom of thought and teaching in the Church. Instead of ecumenism there is again emphasis on everything narrowly Roman Catholic.
In a look at the pope’s achievement prepared by CNN in 1999 to mark the JP II’s 20 years as pope one unnamed source noted that this pope grew up in Poland with a church under siege and he has never grown out of that siege mentality:
Part of his problem is also his strength: He grew up in Poland where the church was persecuted by the Nazis and then by communism. The church was always under attack, and he developed a siege mentality. He has never really lived in a pluralistic, democratic society.
So even after the fall of communism, the model of the church is still one that is under siege. But now it’s by secularism, critics in the church, consumerism or relativism. And he responds with this kind of siege mentality, where the church is at war over these issues. And when you’re at war, you don’t have democracy. You don’t debate what you’re going to do.
It’s that very experience that made him so good at helping the church’s suffering from persecution and gave him such a strong backbone in saying what he thinks. But it makes it very difficult to see the grays and the ambiguities, and that there might be a place within the church for (those who disagree).