This article by historian Timothy Garton Ash, an expert on eastern European history, The first world leader Guardian (UK) 04/04/05, has what seems to me a much more balanced and realistic take on the influence of John Paul II in the fall of the Soviet bloc than most of the commentary I've seen:
I watched at close quarters John Paul II's impact on the Soviet bloc, from his election in 1978 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. No one can prove conclusively that he was a primary cause of the end of communism. However, the major figures on all sides - not just Lech Walesa, the Polish Solidarity leader, but also Solidarity's arch-opponent, General Wojciech Jaruzelski; not just the former American president George Bush Senior but also the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev - now agree that he was. I would argue the historical case in three steps: without the Polish Pope, no Solidarity revolution in Poland in 1980; without Solidarity, no dramatic change in Soviet policy towards eastern Europe under Gorbachev; without that change, no velvet revolutions in 1989. (my emphasis)
The part I highlighted is what is missing from the other articles on his legacy that I've seen. His influence in that process was very important. But it was important in the historical sequence that Garton Ash describes. The Pope's personal influence and prestige was not nearly so great in other eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc as it was in Poland. Poland even now remains more religious (mostly Catholic) than the others. Poland and Ireland are probably the only two EU countries in which regular church attendance is higher than in the US. John Paul II was also Polish and had built a strong network of contacts and influence in the Polish Catholic Church.
I was especially interested in seeing what the Swiss ecumenical theologian Hans Küng had to say about John Paul II's legacy. Unfortunately, an article by him that appeared in a Swiss newspaper Sunday is apparently not available online. But I did find some quotes from him.
Pope John Paul II: a conservative who has revolutionised the papacy AFP/Yahoo! News 04/01/05
"For the Catholic Church, this pontificate, despite its positive aspects, has really been a disaster," said Swiss theologian Hans Kueng in an interview in 2003.
"Many women have turned away from the Church because of the pope's position on contraception and the ordination of women," he added.
Vorsichtige Kritik an Johannes Paul II. Netzeitung.de (German) 03.04.2005
Der Schweizer Theologe Hans Küng äußerte die Meinung, Johannes Paul II habe der katholischen Kirche eine «schwere Erblast» hinterlassen. Die persönliche Frömmigkeit und das Engagement von Johannes Paul seien unbestritten, schreibt Küng in der «Sonntags-Zeitung»: «Innerhalb der Kirche aber herrscht eine Hoffnungs- und Vertrauenskrise.»
«Die Innenpolitik des polnischen Papstes war verheerend», schreibt Küng weiter. Viele Bischöfe seien mittelmäßig oder unfähig, es fehle an qualifiziertem Priesternachwuchs. «Viele hoffen jetzt auf einen Papst, der den Reformstau abbaut.» Der mit zahlreichen Preisen ausgezeichnete 75-jährige Küng lehrt in Tübingen. Wegen seiner Kritik am Papsttum entzog ihm der Vatikan 1979 die kirchliche Lehrerlaubnis.
Auch die hannoversche evangelische Landesbischöfin Margot Käßmann wünscht sich, dass der nächste Papst Mut zu Reformen hat. «Es ist zu hoffen, dass ein neuer Papst die Medienfähigkeiten von Johannes Paul II. verknüpfen kann mit Innovation nach innen, mit Reformwillen, Offenheit, Demokratie, Frauenförderung, Transparenz», sagte sie. Vieles davon habe bei Johannes Paul II. gefehlt. Sein Pontifikat habe etwa in Fragen der Frauenordination, der Ökumene und der Schwangerschaftskonfliktberatung keine Fortschritte gebracht.
[Translation: The Swiss theologian Hans Küng expressed the opinion that John Paul II left behind a "difficult legacy" for the Catholic Church. The personal piety and the [social] engagement of John Paul are undisputed, writes Küng in The Sonntags-Zeitung: "But inside the Church, a crisis of hope and trust prevails."
"The internal policy of the Polish Pope was disastrous," writes Küng further. Many bishops are mediocre or unfit, he says, and there is a shortage of qualified candidates for the priesthood. Many are now hoping for a Pope who will dismantle the barriers to reform." The 75-year-old Küng, who has won many prizes, teaches in Tübingen [University of Tübingen in Germany]. Because of his criticism of the papacy, the Vatican removed the Church's teaching authority from him in 1979.
The Hanoverian Evangelical [Protestant] state bishop Margot Käßmann also wishes that a new Pope can combine the media savvy of John Paul II with internal innovations, with the will to reform, openness, democracy, support of women, transparency," she said. Much of that was missing with John Paul II. His pontificate made no progress, for example, in question of the ordination of women, ecumenism and the controversy over advice to pregnant women [a special controversy in Germany], she said.]
I believe she's the only one I've seen who has said that John Paul II made little progress on ecumenical relations. I wonder how well she's informed on that aspect of his papacy.
The following two articles got me thinking more about the dark side of John Paul II's legacy:
Papst Johannes Paul II - 1920 - 2005. Er hat weltpolitisch markante Spuren hinterlassen von Thomas Hofer Profil 14/05 (Vienna), accessed 04/03/05.
Opus Dei is a "personal prelature" (a type of official Catholic organization similar but not identical to religious orders), composed of both clergy and laity, that is normally described those who are not it's partisans as ultraconservative. Now based in Rome, it was founded in 1928 by the Spanish prelate Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer; it is currently headed by bishop Javier Echeverría, who John Paul II selected for that position. To give the group's own description:
Opus Dei is a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. It was founded in Madrid on October 2, 1928, by St. Josemaría Escrivá. Currently over 80,000 people from every continent belong to the prelature. Its headquarters, together with its prelatic church, are in Rome.
Opus Dei gave key support to the Fascist regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and also to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. The order directs two universities: the Universidad de Navarra in Spain and the Universidad Nacional de Piura in Peru.
Opus Dei is hardline conservative by almost any measure: in its theology, its social outlook and its politics. The Opus Dei Awareness Network treats the group as a cult. James Martin wrote in the Jesuit magazine America (Opus Dei in the United States 02/25/95 issue):
Opus Dei is the most contoversial group in the Catholic Church today. To its members it is nothing less than The Work of God, the inspiration of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, who advanced the work of Christ by promoting the sanctity of everyday life. To its critics it is a powerful, even dangerous, cult-like organization that uses secrecy and manipulation to advance its agenda.
John Paul II had a close relationship to Opus Dei. For one thing, it is the only "personal prelature" in the Catholic Church, a status granted in 1982, early in his papacy. This designation was a way to boost the official status of the group and to put it on a similar standing as religious orders like the Dominicans or Franciscans. As Martin writes, the Pope's elevation of Opus Dei "prompted critics to ask why a professedly lay organization would need such a status."
Karol Wojtyla apparently had quite an emotional attachment to Opus Dei. On the day in 1978 when he arrived in Rome for the conclave of cardinals that wound up selecting him as Pope, he went to pray at the tomb of its founder Josemaría Escrivá. He also elevated Opus Dei's founder to sainthood during his papacy. The process was one of the fastest to declare someone a saint on record. Critics of Escrivá's dubious record were not invited to testify before the tribunal considering his beatification (the first step toward declaring someone a saint).
The Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Ángel Sodano, who is second in administrative command in the Vatican, is an Opus Dei member. The Vatican's portavoz, in charge of publicity, is also an Opus Dei member, Joaquín Navarro Valls. Juan José Tamayo-Acosta comments with reference to his role, "If information is power, he who controls it in the Church holds all the power."
He also relied on Opus Dei to suppress the liberation theologians and the "base communities" (religious-based reform groups) in Latin America. After the murder of Archbishop Romero in El Savador bya rightwing death squad, he appointed a Spanish Opus Dei member, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle, as archbishop of San Salvador, who promptly cozied up to the unpopular army then carrying out a brutal counterinsurgency war.
The Profil article notes that in South America alone, John Paul II appointed more than a dozen Opus Dei members as bishops. One of them is considered to be a leading candidate for the Pope now, Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, archbishop of Peru. Tamayo-Acosta writes, "Cipriani supported the dictatorial political measures of [former President Alberto] Fujimori until the last moment." When Cipriani performed his first mass at the cathedral in Lima, he was greeted by chants of, "God, free us from Cipriani."
Profil also describes the youth-oriented organization set up by John Paul II, Communione e liberazione, as a "cult-like" group within the Church. John Allen, discussing the appointment of another leading candidate for the papacy, Angelo Scola, as the patriarch of Venice, wrote (Scouting report: three soon-to-be-cardinals range from conservative to more conservative to unknown National Catholic Reporter 01/11/02 issue):
For Italians, Scola’s ascension marks a victory for the lay movement Communion and Liberation over Catholic Action, its long-time rival. Catholic Action represents the Paul VI faction of the Italian church, centrists who abandoned church and state battles such as those over legalization of divorce and birth control. The ciellini, as members of Communione e Liberazione are known, are more likely to insist that civil law should reflect church teaching. In Italian politics, they are aligned with the right; Rocco Buttiglione, a long time ciellino, is a minister in the Berlusconi government. Scola is a longtime advisor and supporter.
Over the years, tensions generated by Communione e Liberazione ran deep. This is reflected in the fact that nowhere in Scola’s lengthy official biography can one find the diocese for which he was ordained a priest. In fact, he was ordained alone in 1970 in Teramo, in Northern Italy, after leaving a seminary in Milan. Rumors have long suggested that Scola was asked to leave as part of an anti-ciellini purge, though an Italian bishop who was rector of the seminary at the time told me Jan. 9 that this is not true. But the matter is sensitive enough, according to a source in Communione e Liberazione, that Scola’s original diocese was “censured” from his résumé as an unwelcome reminder of the group’s troubled past.
I commented in a previous post on the Profil report that Karol Wojtyla before becoming Pope had also participated in the controversial exorcism ritual. This is one aspect of his very conservative/traditional personal faith that had other manifestations, as well. One was that he also "fast-tracked" the canonization (designaing of a saint) of Padre Pio, a controversial mystic. As Richard Owen reported in "Fast-track sainthood for priest dismissed as fraud" Times of London 06/15/02:
In the 1920s, after Padre Pio first displayed the stigmata, or "wounds of Christ", the Vatican launched a series of investigations, and in 1931 banned him from saying Mass. Some reports compiled by the Vatican claimed that Padre Pio had assignations with women in his cell and used nitric acid to "provoke the stigmata", followed by eau-de-cologne to create an "odour of sanctity". Agostino Gemelli, founder of the Rome Catholic university hospital which bears his name (and which now treats popes) reported that Padre Pio was possessed by the devil and was an ignorant and self-mutilating psychopath who exploited people’s credulity. ...
The case for Padre Pio was clinched with the election of the Pope in 1978, an event predicted by the miracle-working friar while Karol Wojtyla was still an obscure young Polish priest. The Pope’s faith in Padre Pio was confirmed in 1963 when, as auxiliary bishop ofCracow, he asked Padre Pio to pray for a woman friend suffering from throat cancer. She was declared "inexplicably" cured eleven days later.
Finally, there is the late Pope's strong "Marian" devotion, his dedication to the veneration of the Blessed Virgin. (Also known as the "BV," to less pious Catholics.) Though it may seem counter-intuitive, an emphasis on Marian devotion is historically associated with conservative trends in the Catholic Church. I suppose one reason for that is that one of the main criticisms of the Protestants during the Reformation and after was that the Catholics had come to "worship" Mary and other saints. Since "conservative" in the Church tends to mean traditional and less open to finding common ground with Protestants, it makes sense that traditionalists would find the veneration of Mary a useful practice.
That's not invariably true; feminist scholars and theologians have interpreted aspects of Mary's image in Christianity in a way that would promote greater equality and participation of women. Liberation theologians and their Latin American supporters cherished the Magnificat, Mary's speech of gratitude in Luke 1:46-55, as a statement of solidarity and support for the poor and the oppressed (from the Revised Standard translation):
My soul magnifies the Lord ...
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. ...
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagaination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
I'm guessing this is not really a favorite text for the Christian Right.
But John Paul II's brand of Marian devotion emphasized the traditional view which glorified the Church hierarchy and who insisted on excluding women from the priesthood, among other "traditional" view on women, their role in the world and their sexuality. It also goes hand-in-hand with an emphasis on visions of Mary and other mystical claims, or downright superstitious and phony, as in the case of Padre Pio.