Wojtyla Lectures Reveal He Saw Communism as Based in Misunderstanding

By Luxmoore, Jonathan | National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Wojtyla Lectures Reveal He Saw Communism as Based in Misunderstanding


Luxmoore, Jonathan, National Catholic Reporter


In any assessment of Pope John Paul II's 21 years at the head of the church, his role in communism's collapse is a dominant theme.

How he pulled it off, though, is a question awaiting convincing answers.

Now a new theory is afoot, drawn from a seemingly forgotten collection, never published, of Polish-language lectures. They are signed with Wojtyla's name and were printed as a samizdat underground edition in the early 1950s. It was titled "Catholic Social Ethics."

Previously, the nearest anyone got to a general theory was that the Polish pope understood his opponents well enough to outdazzle their ideology with Christian truth.

But it's a theory that hadn't gained universal acceptance.

Former associates from Krakow insist that Karol Wojtyla never studied Marxist classics; that he picked up his arguments secondhand from Catholic handbooks. They maintain that his reliance on biased sources explains the pope's hostility to everything linked with Marxism, from Polish communism to the liberation theology that he so vociferously opposed in Latin America.

"Catholic Social Ethics" runs to 336 dense pages. Just a few dozen copies were printed, on cheap, thin paper. The text isn't available at Catholic seminary or university libraries in Poland. But it throws important light on John Paul II's personal political views.

The few surviving copies of "Catholic Social Ethics" are jealously guarded. A rare surviving copy was obtained by NCR from Romuald Kukolowicz, a former assistant to Poland's Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981).

Although it contains sections on Personalism, Liberalism and Individualism, as well as "Totalism" and "Solidarism," the bulk of the text is written as a response to Marxism. Wojtyla stated his aim clearly. The text, he wrote, wasn't a "total criticism" of Marxist philosophy, but an analysis of how it had used or misused "ethical categories."

"In the contemporary communist movement, the church sees and acknowledges an expression of largely ethical goals," Wojtyla wrote. He noted that Pope Pius XI had acknowledged that Marxism stemmed from criticism of capitalism and protest against capitalism's exploitation of human work. Pius XI had added that such criticism was undoubtedly" `the part of the truth' which Marxism contains."

When these words were printed, Stalinist rule was at its height, and dozens of Polish priests and bishops were in jail. A 1949 Vatican decree had barred church members from any dealings with communists, "who show themselves, in teaching and actions, to be enemies of God, true religion and the church of Christ."

But Karol Wojtyla was noted among students as an unusual lecturer.

Ordained in 1946, he'd studied in Rome, where he'd gained insight into Pius XII's dilemmas as he confronted Eastern Europe's newly installed communist regimes. He'd also visited "worker-priests" in France and Belgium, observing their attempts to rebuild a church presence among secularized industrial communities.

Class struggle is the starting point for Wojtyla's analysis. Such struggle, he said, is "an evil" that may be justifiable to ensure a "just distribution of goods."

Catholicism cannot accept, though, "primacy of economics" or materialism as philosophical principles, he wrote. The ability to "choose spiritual goodness" testifies to the "spiritual nature of the human will."

"In a well-organized society, orientated to the common good, class conflicts are solved peacefully through reforms," Wojtyla wrote. "But states that base their order on individualistic liberalism are not such societies. So when an exploited class fails to receive in a peaceful way the share of the common good to which it has a right, it has to follow a different path."

If Marxism regards class struggle as a means of liberation, the "sacred duty of the proletariat," Catholicism views it differently. …

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