Papal Paradox

Dionne Jr., E. J.
April 2005
New Republic;4/18/2005, Vol. 232 Issue 14, p23
The article focuses on the impact of Pope John Paul II on the modern Catholic Church. "A sign of contradiction" was a favorite John Paul phrase, and it might be said to define his papacy. In his effect on Roman Catholicism's relationship to the world, his achievement will be judged as liberal. But his impact on the Church he leads has to be seen as conservative. Take first John Paul's approach to the outside world. Before the Second Vatican Council and the papacy of John XXIII, the Church decried modernity and liberalism, which many in the Church leadership condemned simply as "a sin." Vatican II changed that, marking a truce with the modern world and, for many Catholics, an opportunity to embrace it. The Church sided with religious tolerance, democracy, and human rights. John Paul lived in dynamic tension with modernity. That is different from outright opposition. And he was obviously skilled at adapting a 2,000-year-old Church to the realities of the times. He realized that a centralized papacy provided him with a platform no other religious leader could claim. In the world's large struggles--over human rights and democracy, poverty and social justice, war and peace, life and death--the Pope, to use a quasi-Marxist phrase he would probably hate, put the Church on the right side of history.


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