Pope John Paul II
Pastor to the world, he led a revolution of conscience
Nor could John Paul II sit still for long. Even in the pain-filled waning days of his reign, until his last bed-ridden days, the aging pontiff seemed energized and at his best when meeting with his flock. Filling baseball stadiums like a rock star, he possessed a remarkable flair for imagery and dramatic gesture. On a grassy hillside in Galilee, at a crowded city park in Manila, in a rain-soaked football stadium in Denver, he delighted youthful audiences, laughing, joking, and singing with them but also imploring them to "look to Christ, who gives you the meaning of life." And they responded, with squealing adulation usually lavished on rock stars: "John Paul Two! We love you!"
While pastoral ministry was the focus of his foreign trips, John Paul II also used his travels to advance ecumenical and interfaith relations. He was the first pope to visit a mosque and a synagogue. During a 2000 trip to Israel, he lit an eternal flame in remembrance of Holocaust victims, and a year later, during a trip to Greece, apologized for Catholic offenses against Orthodox Christians, bringing a slight but significant thaw to centuries-old enmities dividing Christianity's western and eastern branches.
Breaking the mold. Yet some Vatican insiders say he neglected the papacy's managerial functions, allowing more leeway to Vatican bureaucrats in day-to-day operations. "It is yet to be determined if that was a positive or a negative," says one member of the Roman Curia. Nor is it clear whether the pope's final years, shaken by debilitating illness, gave Vatican bureaucrats enhanced power. But broadly speaking, says papal biographer George Weigel, "John Paul II broke the mold of the bureaucratic-managerial papacy."
Throughout his reign, both his critics and his admirers laid claim to the "true spirit" of reform under the Second Vatican Council as they evaluated his leadership. Liberals were disappointed that he didn't take what, in their minds, were the logical next steps in embracing modernity: lifting a church ban on use of contraceptives, which many Catholics disregard anyway, and opening the priesthood to women and married men.
In the United States, Catholic dissent was particularly intense. In 1986, the Vatican stripped Seattle's archbishop of many responsibilities after the prelate ran afoul of papal views on issues like homosexuality, contraception, and divorce. That same year, Catholic University Prof. Charles Curran was banned from teaching Catholic theology after questioning church teachings on women and sexuality. And the Rev. Terrance Sweeney, a Jesuit, was forced to resign from his order after refusing to destroy the results of a survey of American bishops about celibacy and the ordination of women--in which a quarter of those surveyed reportedly approved of optional celibacy. "It was a monochrome approach to Catholicism," says the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame.
Today, the majority of America's Roman Catholic bishops were appointed by the pope, ensuring a clergy much less willing to question authority and an end to the reinterpretations of traditional liturgy that had marked the post-Vatican II years. "That autonomy has been reined in," says the Rev. Donald Senior, president of the Catholic Theological Union. "He remade the hierarchy."