John Paul II's First Year

Twelve months is a short time. Yet for such an encouragingly energetic and tirelessly active Pope as John Paul II - so many speeches, so many trips - twelve months is a long time. There is no significant issue on which he has not already taken a definite stand; after just one year the contours of this pontificate stand out in bold and unmistakable relief.

The intense activity of the Pope in Rome and, above all, his triumphal trips to Mexico, Poland, Ireland and the United States have presented him to world public opinion as an impressive champion of peace, of human rights, of social justice, but also of a strong church, as a man who knows how to satisfy the desire of the masses for a morally trustworthy leader - a rarity in today's world - in a manner both impressive and highly skilful from the public relations standpoint.


 We could continue in praise of this Pope, who seems, amazingly quickly, to have become the darling of the masses and the superstar of the media (something which has been lacking in politics for some time), already a sort of living cult figure for some Catholics, well nigh unto something like a new messiah for our time. Yet such a comparison makes some people draw back in hesitation. Can one visualize Jesus of Nazareth like this, whom, as everybody knows, the masses wanted to make a king and whose "vicar" also this Pope claims to be? Does the Pope really have the message of that one person behind him in everything which he so vehemently advocates in dogma and morals?


Measured against this standard, of course, anyone would fail. This is only meant to be an attempt at an interim appraisal, something which, to us, the Pope himself has provoked by his speeches and actions. Is it permitted, in particular is the Catholic theologian going to be allowed, instead of joining in the euphoric applause of so many people. to ask critical questions, questions which certainly millions of thinking people within and without the Catholic Church are also articulating or sensing? Indeed, for many traditional Catholics, criticism of the Pope, even when it comes out of a loyal commitment to that same Catholic Church, is less pardonable than blasphemy.


We, however, are of the opinion, reinforced by the request of so many in our church for a "clarifying word", that the Pope, this servant of the servants of God, has a right to a sympathetic, critical response from within his own church, a response which tries to reflect the voices of the many people who at the very most have the opportunity to express their views to members of their own family while sitting in front of the television set, but who hardly get a hearing in public. After all, Thomas Aquinas, who was certainly a very papal theologian, was not the only person to claim that correctio fraterna (fraternal critique) is a duty and a necessity, even vis a vis prelates of the church. We are convinced that John Paul II, who is certainly not lacking in Christian self-confidence, will be able to take unbiased note of such a correctio fraterna.


As is fitting for this fraternal critique, the criteria employed here will not be arbitrary and tailored especially for this Pope. On the contrary, what will serve as a basis will be a memorandum which an international group of authoritative theologians published after the death of Paul VI with a view to the coming papal election in numerous large newspapers and magazines under the title "The Pope We Need". We will, then, keep to that memorandum, in order thus to come to an interim appraisal, which is as differentiated as possible, namely an attempt at an interim appraisal and only an interim appraisal. It is a matter here of asking six questions and, totally following the outline of that text, of answering them with regard to Pope Wojtyla.


A Man Open to the World?

Following the memorandum one ought to say: Given all of the inevitable personal limitations, the Pope from Poland radiates humanity. He knows the world as it is, in its heights and in its depths, in its glory and in its misery, and he tries to affirm the good in it. With all due respect for the past and for tradition - he feels in an open and critical way at home in the contemporary world. But is he equally critical and open in his own church, in the ecclesiastical institu lion? Granted, he wants to be open for the signs of the times, but is he sufficiently familiar with the changing attitudes of people (and above all of younger women), especially concerning questions of faith and morality? Granted, he is able to speak credibly the language of people today. But does he sufficiently take seriously the fIndings of contemporary science? Given his pronounced humanity, has he really abandoned the outmoded curial style or, rather, has he not continued to exercise it all over the world in a different, more popular fashion?


A Spiritual Leader?

Measured against the memorandum, one must differentiate: This Pope brings trust to his encounters with others, both within and without the church, and he himself is supported by trust. He has courage and is able to encourage others, rather than merely scolding and admonishing. He does not want to be authoritarian, but nevertheless possesses real authority, not only a formalistic, official and institutional, but also a personal, objective and charismatic authority.

And yet, given all of his flexibility and intelligence, certain questions arise concerning this Pope's style of leadership, especially vis a vis his own church:

Does he not, particularly in those questions where probably the majority, even in the Catholic Church, is against him, issue decrees rather than give reasons, command rather than inspire, make lonely decisions in isolation rather than wrestle for common consensus in open dialogue? And this in such important questions as birth control, celibacy, divorce and the ordination of women.

Many Catholics and non-Catholics seriously doubt whether this Pope from a country with a totalitarian regime with a closed, authoritarian church (understandable for domestic reasons) will in all instances be a guarantor for freedom and openness in our Church.


An Authentic Pastor

 Here also the differences: This Pope considers himself primarily Bishop of Rome and, as such, as a universal pastor. No one could claim that he is only an administrator or a general secretary, a lawyer, a diplomat or a bureaucrat. No, the Pope wants to be a pastor in the service of human beings, a leader resolved not to rule but to serve. He wants to be open in kindness and simplicity to the needs of others in their search for faith, hope and love. And yet, in view of cheering masses and overcrowded audiences, is he truly free from all the personality cult of former Popes (e.g. Pius XII)?

Does he not pass strict verdicts in certain decisive questions affecting life and death, good and evil, and especially human sexuality (in such complex problems as pre-marital sex, abortion and homosexuality - "an unspeakable crime"), rather than give positive guidance free from anxiety? Do not many Catholics, and non-Catholics even more, already consider him to be, unfortunately, a doctrinaire defender of ancient bastions rather than - with all due respect for continuity in the church's life and teaching - a pastoral of preaching and practice in the church renewed by the liberating message of Jesus himself.


A True Fellow Bishop

In the light of the memorandum, which was based among other things on the Second Vatican Council, the following questions have to be asked: Given all his verbal assertions for collegiality, has not the Pope up to this time avoided the risk of collegiality sharing his power with other bishops (on the model of John XXIII and the demand of the Council)? Has he not presented himself less as a brother among brethren than as a monarch over his subjects (failure to listen and no genuine discussion, emphasis on hierarchy, magisterium, primacy, infallibility). Given his present style of governing, can one really expect true collegiality - even if he should raise the status of the Synod of Bishops (or of the College of Cardinals, which is in any case Roman) and should extend even some concrete competence to the episcopal conferences and the diocesan councils?

Must he not decisively give up the principle of centralism in the church, revise the system of nunciatures from its foundations and renew the Curia not only externally and organisationally but in the spirit of the Gospel? For all of this there is no indication to date. Has there yet been a single sign that he wants to grant leadership positions in his Curia not only to different nationalities but also to different mentalities, not only to the aged but also to the young, not only to men but also to women?


Is it not becoming increasingly clear even to non-specialists that this Pope from Poland, as his theological publications and exceedingly numerous official statements demonstrate, is not sufficiently familiar with recent developments in theology (criticial exogesis and history of dogma, recent developments in moral theology in North America or liberation theology in Latin America, without even mentioning protestant theology)? Does he not provide representation in the organs of the Roman Curia only for the traditionalist Roman theology as in the past, and does he not even approve of the inquisitorial persecution of other streams in contemporary Catholic theology, and this in spite of his call for human rights outside the church? One thinks of the inquisitorial proceedings against such theologians as Jacques Pohier in France, Edward Schillebeeck in Holland, Bernhard Hasler in Switzerland, against several well-known moral theologians in the United States - the libellous campaign against Latin American liberation theologians (allegedly all Marxist revolutionaries) of which he himself is the origin, he has never tried to stop.


An Ecumenical Mediator?

Also on this point certain questions arise from the memorandum which cannot be overlooked: Within and without the Catholic Church there is increasing doubt as to whether this Pope understands his Petrine office (on the model of John XXIII) as a primacy of service within Christianity, as an office to be renewed in the spirit of the Gospel and exercised with responsibility for Christian freedom (or rather, on the model of Pius XII, as a spiritual primacy of domination in the absolutistic Roman fashion).


Has he up until now promoted (in Rome and on his trips) - in spite of verbal support of ecumenism - dialogue and co-operation with the other Christian churches with theological and practical steps? Or, all things considered, has he not rather tried to curb ecumenical progress? While it is true that he has exercised his influence as a gathering force for the unity of the Catholic Church, has he really equally worked for the unity of the church within plurality? Has he not, instead of setting an example for a Christian readiness to change, emphasised anew the disciplinary and dogmatic obstacles on the part of Roman Catholicism, rather than removing them (primacy of jurisdiction, infallibility, Marianism, traditionalist marriage ethics)?


While he has allowed the co-operation with the World Council of Churches to continue, has he really promoted

this co-operation up until now? Given all his well-meaning words for the Jews (in New York outside the UN), has he taken seriously the spiritual. relationship between Christians and Jews also in a concrete way (mention of Auschwitz but not of the century long "Christian" anti-Semitism, also in Poland)? Perhaps by emphasizing the rights of the Palestinians (coupled with the failure to grant any diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel), he may have wanted to activate that which we share in common with Islam. But has he, with his style, really promoted the dialogue with other religions of the w6rld in a way that is both critical and self-critical?

A Genuine Christian?

According to the memorandum one cannot deny:

Given his limitations, his faults and his deficiencies, this Pope, who happily claims to be neither a saint nor a genius, wants to be a Christian in a genuine sense of the term, namely a person who in thought, word and deed is guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ himself as the decisive norm of his life. He tries to be a convincing herald of the good tidings of Christ, firmly rooted in a strong and tested faith and in unshakeable hope. He wants to preside over the church in an attitude of calm, patience and confidence, ever aware that the church is not a bureaucratic organization, not a business enterprise, not a political party, but rather the encompassing community of believers.


He wants to exercise his moral authority with objectivity, with personal commitment, and with a realistic sense of proportion, taking as his goal not only the promotion of interests of the church institutions but also the broadest realisation of the Christian message among all human beings. And he especially sees the commitment of his person and office for the repressed and underprivileged people of the world as his special duty and responsibility. N


Nevertheless it must not be added that many people within and without the Catholic Church ask: Does this

commitment towards the outside, the world, also correspond to a commitment towards the inside, the church, the ecclesiastical institution itself? Can a message to the world to change be credible if the Pope and the church themselves are not the first to change in their own practices, even, and especially, where they themselves are most challenged? Can the Pope and the church credibly speak to the conscience of today's people, if a self-critical examination of conscience on the part of the church and its leadership does not also simultaneously occur, with the irksome consequences that this might imply?


Is talk of a fundamental renewal of human society credible, when the doctrinal and practical reform of the church with respect to the head and the members does not also decisively continue and when irksome inquiries (as for example concerning the population explosion, birth control and ecclesiastical infallibility) are finally taken seriously and honestly responded to?


Is the commitment in the church to human rights in the world honest, when in the church itself at the same time human rights are not fully guaranteed, e.g. the right of priests to marry, as is guaranteed in the Gospel itself and in the old Catholic tradition; the right to leave the priesthood with official dispensation after a thorough examination of censcience (rather than the inhumane practice introduced by this Pope bureaucratically forbidding this dispensation); the right of theologians to freedom in their research and expression of opinion; the right of nuns to choose their own clothing; the ordination of women, as can certainly be justified by the Gospel for our contemporary situation; the personal responsibility of married couples for the conception and the number of their children?


Should it therefore not be allowed to ask the Vatican why it itself signed the Helsinki Accord, but has not yet signed the Human Rights Declaration of the European Council?


But that should be enough for now. Some people doubt whether this Pope, who expresses his opinions so energetically in public and who gives such simple answers to such complicated questions, is capable of change, of learning. We sincerely hope he is. The first year of his pontificate is over, but it has been only one year. Some doors are still open, and some others, prematurely shut, could be reopened. The redrafting of the memorandum, provoked by the Pope himself, is meant to be of help in this. It is a modest attempt at an interim appraisal as an inquiry and is in no way meant as a definitive judgement.


But after all we should affirm in our Catholic Church the words of a great predecessor of Pope John Paul II: "But if the truth causes scandal, then it is better that a scandal arise rather than that the truth be abandoned" (Gregory the great).

Hans Kung is the world's best known Catholic theologian and one of the most progressive and controversial figures in the Church. He has challenged the traditional Catholic stance on birth control, mixed marriages, papal infallibility and clerical celebacy. He was one of the prime movers in the Vatican Council, having been appointed special theological adviser to the Council by Pope John XXIII. His recent book, "On Being Christian", has been described as the most formidable work of theology in this century.