John Paul II: patron saint of anti-modernism

Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) with US President Ronald Reagan.

By Barry Healy

June 7, 2011 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- As part of its attempts to turn back the clock in the Catholic Church the Vatican drew 1.5 million of the devout to Rome on May 1 for the beatification ceremony of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. John Paul II may become the fastest declared saint in history.

The Vatican is also pushing the canonisation of Pius XII, who was pope during World War II.

While attention has been drawn to John Paul II’s woeful record on the issue of sexual abuse within the church little has been said about the reasons for the rush to beatification and sainthood.

Australian Catholics have recently witnessed the forced retirement of Toowoomba’s Bishop Bill Morris for the crime of suggesting that the Church allow married clergy. His treatment compared with the scandalous non-punishment of sexual predator priests the world over is glaring.

This drive to canonise popes from before and after the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) is a calculated slap in the face to all progressive Catholics and is an attempt to reinstitute the most reactionary elements of Catholic heritage.

"John Paul II is universally praised as someone who fought for peace and human rights”, the Los Angeles Times reported the Swiss theologian Hans Kung as telling the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. “But his preaching to the outside world was in total contrast with the way he ran the church from inside, with an authoritarian pontificate which suppressed the rights of both women and theologians... Wojtyla and Ratzinger [the current pope] are the people most responsible for the chronic sickness of today's Catholic Church."

Scale of sexual abuse scandal

The scale of the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church is staggering. According to a report commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops released on May 19, more than 11,000 incidents of sexual abuse of children by US priests have been reported since 1950.[1]

In Mexico, Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, “one of the most dynamic, profitable, and conservative religious orders of the 20th century” with 800 priests and approximately 70,000 followers worldwide, was, as Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto puts it, “a bigamist, pederast, dope fiend, and plagiarist”.

How did Maciel’s sexual hypocrisy go unnoticed for decades? He was a “close associate of John Paul II”, says Guillermoprieto.[2]

Some other examples illustrate the overall trend of official denial and cover up.

In 1980, the Munich Diocesan Council, chaired by then-archbishop Ratzinger accepted the transfer of Peter Hullermann, a priest accused of getting an 11-year-old boy drunk and then getting him to perform oral sex on him. The council referred the priest to counselling but neglected to enforce any of the recommendations that the treating psychiatrist made, including not allowing him access to children.

After years of scandal and police investigation Hullerman was finally relieved of his priestly functions in 2010.

In 1981, a US bishop desperately wrote to Rome asking that another molester-priest be “laicised”, that is, relieved of his priesthood. Unfortunately, Ratzinger had by then moved to head the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and after an extended silence replied:

This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favor of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.3]

Ratzinger urged the bishop to give the errant priest “much paternal care as possible” and nothing more.

Public discussion of the sexual abuse problem first reached prominence in the USA, but quickly spread internationally. As Benedictine nun Joan Chittister explains:

After stories of the first few high-profile cases of serial rapes and molestations and their unheard of numbers died down, the focus shifted away from individual clerical rapists to the unmasking of what was now obviously a systemic problem. This prevailing practice of episcopal cover-ups, of moving offenders from one parish to another rather than expose them either to legal accountability or to moral censure in the public arena, occupied the spotlight. It was a practice that saved the reputation of the church at the expense of children. It traded innocence for image.[4]

In 2001 Pope John Paul II ordered that all files relating to sexual accusations against priests worldwide be forwarded to Rome, to be dealt with personally by Ratzinger. Ratzinger issued an update of the 1962 Vatican document Crimen Sollicitationis (“The Crime of Solicitation”), inserting a requirement for the child victim, accused priest and any witnesses to maintain silence on the matter on threat of excommunication from the Catholic Church

As the crisis grew, Ratzinger's expressed an incredible attitude. On November 30, 2002, in Murcia, Spain, he was asked about the scandals enveloping the Church. This was his reply:

In the church, priests are also sinners. But I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower. In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than one percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type. The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information or to the statistical objectivity of the facts. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the church.[5]

The desire to re-establish the trustworthiness of the Catholic Church is a key driver to current Vatican activities. As Pope Benedict XVI Ratzinger has met sex abuse victims in both the United States and Australia, publicly endorsed a zero tolerance policy towards abusive priests and openly apologised for the Church’s wrongs.

But the credibility that the Vatican wants to build, while drawing on modern communications management, is based on antique thinking.

Mass media events

A clue to the roots of the highly visual Catholic fervour on May 1 is found in the large contingents of Eastern European Catholics who flocked to St Peter’s Square. John Paul II spent a great deal of energy assisting the overthrow of Stalinist governments, especially in his native Poland.

While capitalism has been painfully reimplanted in those countries the memories of Stalinist crimes still bring people to gratefully worship at the church’s altar – though in smaller numbers than before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As the Catholic Church bleeds membership around the world, the Vatican has methodically set about organising disparate groupings of believers into mass events, such as World Youth Day and the May 1 beatification to draw media attention.

Key to this has been fostering an array of fanatical “movements” within the church, such as the notorious Opus Dei and the bizarre Neocatechumenal Way. The “Neo Cats” specialise in intervening in parishes to drive out liberal Catholics. For example, they have made their mark in Redfern’s St Vincent’s church by refusing to serve communion to Aboriginal children or officiate at Aboriginal funerals.

John Paul II personally fostered these movements as shock troops in his war to drive the legacy of the Second Vatican Council out of the church. It is the destruction of Vatican II that is the impetus to fast track John Paul II’s and Pius XII’s canonisation.

Vatican II, a gathering of all the world’s bishops that lasted for several years in the early 1960s, was a breakthrough event in Catholic history. Before it, the Catholic Church had been strongly committed to opposing the modern world.


In 1870 Pope Pius IX had himself declared infallible by the First Vatican Council. The inflation of his spiritual power was a mirror image to the loss of his temporal power, having lost all the papal states to the unification of Italy.

Pius IX also published a Syllabus of Errors that guided Catholicism well into the 20th century. It taught that Catholics should not “reconcile and harmonise” themselves with “progress, with liberalism, and with recent civilization”.

The succeeding pope, Pius X (who has been sainted), took the hatred of progress one step further: He enforced an oath against modernism, which all Catholic bishops, priests and teachers had to swear until 1967.

Behind this wall of obscurantism the Catholic Church could safely shelter while the world saw the rise of Nazism. Before becoming Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, as Vatican ambassador, negotiated the Reichskonkordat with Nazi Germany.

During WWII the Vatican advised the Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime in France that its "Jewish statutes" did not conflict with Catholic teachings. When US diplomat Harold Tittman asked Pius XII in 1941 to condemn the atrocities against Jews; the pope replied that the Vatican wished to remain "neutral".

Against this background Vatican II stood out as a beacon. As Catholic priests, nuns and laity engaged with the world many got drawn towards radical conclusions.

Liberation theology

The theological trend known as liberation theology was a fruit of this engagement and the Nicaraguan, Salvadoran [of the 1970s and 1980s] and other Latin American revolutions were influenced by it.

The CIA-organised Contra death squads that ranged against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua often targeted liberationist peasants. Not only peasants; Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down in in San Salvador in the middle of saying mass.

Pope John Paul II and his henchman Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) were openly hostile to liberation theology. Unfortunately, for them, liberation theology has escaped the confines of the church and has blossomed in the Bolivarian Revolution championed by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Evo Morales of Bolivia.

As Benedict XVI reveals more of his reactionary agenda it can be expected that more people will bail out of the Catholic Church. And we can expect more media circuses, designed to “circle the wagons” of the Catholic faithful against the modern world.

[Barry Healy is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Perth, Western Australia. The shorter version of this article appeared in Green Left Weekly, Australia's leading socialist newspaper.]


[1] The Australian, “A study of the Catholic church sex scandal in the US has blamed the abuse on a moral decline in society”, May 19, 2011,

[2] New York Review of Books, “The Mission of Father Maciel”, May 17, 2010,

[4] National Catholic Reporter, “Divided loyalties: an incredible situation”, March 17, 2010.

[5] National Catholic Reporter, “Will Ratzinger's past trump Benedict's present?”, March 17, 2010,