Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: Leadership: His Legacy to the Church; His Critics Called Him Ruthlessly Authoritarian, but Pope John Paul II Restored Authority and Moral Leadership to the Vatican. His Uncompromising Re-Statements of Roman Catholic Beliefs Were a Beacon to Millions

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), April 4, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: Leadership: His Legacy to the Church; His Critics Called Him Ruthlessly Authoritarian, but Pope John Paul II Restored Authority and Moral Leadership to the Vatican. His Uncompromising Re-Statements of Roman Catholic Beliefs Were a Beacon to Millions


JOHN PAUL II made the world-wide TV audience his congregation. No Pope had ever been more universally popular - and he used that popularity to strengthen his authority.

The religious leader who lived in the limelight also had an authoritarian side. During his papacy the ancient phrase 'Roma locuta, causa finita' (Rome has spoken, case closed) came to mean something again.

Hopes that a non-Italian Pope would open up the Church of Rome to the world were fulfilled. No previous Pope had stormed the world stage like the Polish actor-priest.

He restored authority and moral leadership to the Vatican. His uncompromising re-statements of Roman Catholic beliefs were a beacon to millions of the faithful in danger of losing their way. But John Paul II, the product of a lifelong crusade against Nazism and Communism in his homeland, was also described as 'the most ruthlessly authoritarian and centralising Pope of the modern era'.

Critics who wanted the church to compromise on birth control, divorce and women priests were disappointed. They interpreted his visits to far-flung Catholic communities as reminders that ultimate authority was his.

John Paul II saw himself as single-handedly holding together a world religion facing crisis on many fronts.

He saw as threats the calls for women priests and married priests, easier marriage annulments, sanctioned contraception, left-wing liberation theology in Latin America and native influences on belief and liturgy in Africa and Asia on matters such as dancing in the sanctuary and using goat's meat at communion.

In his 1992 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, the Pope argued that right is right and wrong is wrong. He surprised many with his hard line on euthanasia, contraception, artificial insemination, homosexual acts, masturbation, sex outwith marriage and abortion.

Even more startling was the crackdown on liberals in the church. Although he did not invoke papal infallibility, he ruled out dissent, stating: 'It is prohibited to everyone and in every case to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost.'

He insisted on 'the right of the faithful to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity'. In 1995, he issued Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life), a pronouncement against abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and the use of human embryos for medical research.He called it 'the culture of death'.

There was a crackdown on dissent. Liberal theologians were silenced and he was accused of downgrading the role of bishops.His appointments of new bishops and creation of cardinals was part of a programme to put conservatives in place who would hold to his authoritarian line after he was gone.

When Time magazine made him Man Of The Year, it said: 'In a year when so many people lamented the decline in moral values or made excuses for bad behaviour, Pope John Paul II forcefully set forth his vision of the good life and urged the world to follow it.'

It could also be the epitaph for the priest who became a crusader Pope. With the throne of St Peter now 'sede vacante' - an empty chair - the eyes of the world will be on Rome as his 265th successor is chosen.THE cardinals of the Roman Catholic church may be deciding on a spiritual leader, with divine assistance. But the election is as fraught as any political poll.

The electors will be 107 members of the Sacred College of Cardinals - John Paul II banned the over-80s - who are gathering from all over the globe for the centuries-old and secretive process.

One of the first acts after confirmation of the Pope's death was the breaking of his symbol of authority, the gold 'Fisherman's Ring' engraved with St Peter casting his net. The Pope's private apartments were sealed and all his papers and belongings placed under guard.

The body of Pope John Paul II will lie in what appears to be a humble coffin at St Peter's, past which mourners will file.

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Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: Leadership: His Legacy to the Church; His Critics Called Him Ruthlessly Authoritarian, but Pope John Paul II Restored Authority and Moral Leadership to the Vatican. His Uncompromising Re-Statements of Roman Catholic Beliefs Were a Beacon to Millions
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