Coming from a country where a besieged church could count on the strict obedience of its followers, the Polish pope had little sympathy for the more liberal form of Catholicism he found in the secular societies. He railed against "cafeteria Catholics" who wanted to pick and choose which church teaching they would obey. He never relented in his exclusion of practicing homosexuals and divorced people from Communion. He flatly ruled out the possibility of the ordination of women as priests.
Our photo gallery spans the pope's youth to his last days at the vatican.
Many priests and theologians who appeared to challenge official positions were harshly disciplined. In 1986, the American theologian Charles Curran was fired for straying from church doctrine on matters of sexual morality in his teaching. Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle was reprimanded for excessive openness on the questions of marital annulments and relations with the local homosexual community. The Swiss Catholic thinker Hans Küng was disciplined for questioning the notion of papal infallibility. "This pope is a disaster for our church," Küng once said. "There's charm there, but he's closed-minded."
In the appointment of bishops and cardinals, Pope John Paul made strict conformity to his views on core issues a litmus test and showed little inclination to take local parishioners' wishes into account. In Germany, 163 theology professors signed a letter in 1989 objecting to John Paul's autocratic style of governance and "intense fixation" on the problem of contraception. At Fribourg, the largest Roman Catholic university in Switzerland, students conducted a funeral march carrying a coffin marked "Second Vatican Council."
John Paul II remained unmoved. "It is a mistake to apply American democratic procedures to the faith and the truth," he said. "You cannot take a vote on the truth." The proper task of the theologian, he said, was "to guard, defend, and teach the sacred body of revelation in strict subordination to the pope and his bishops." He insisted that he was not a "severe" man. "I am sweet by naturebut I defend the rigidity principle. ...God will always have the last word."
His emphasis on doctrinal discipline increased markedly with communism's collapse. As the Cold War ended, he tried to prepare the church for its next great challenge: offering a religious alternative to the materialistic culture of modern capitalism. He sensed that the societies of Eastern Europe, weakened by years of totalitarian rule, would succumb to the "viruses" of rampant materialism and a culture of individual pleasure. Visiting Poland in 1991, he remarked that Europe now seemed "tempted by a vast theoretical and practical atheistic movement that appears to seek a new materialistic civilization."
In the United States in 1993, he assailed a "culture of death," in which he linked abortion, euthanasia, drug abuse, and violence. "Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and wrong and are at the mercy of those with the power to 'create' opinion and impose it on others... So many young people [are] throwing away their lives in a flight into irresponsibility and falsehood... In a culture which holds that no universally valid truth is possible, nothing is absolute... Good comes to mean what is pleasing or useful at a particular moment. Evil means what contradicts our subjective wishes. Each person can build a private system of values."