Karol Wojtyla, aka John Paul II, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, has gone to his eternal reward and left behind a badly polarized Church.
Wojtyla ascended the barque of Peter in 1978, 13 years after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) entered into a serious dialogue with modernity. Unambiguously, Vatican II proclaimed that "the hopes and griefs and the anxieties of this age, especially [of] those who are poor and afflicted - these are the joys and hopes of the followers of Christ."
An extraordinary outpouring of energy infused the laity as they embraced the new concept of Church as "the people of God" rather than a monarchical institution governed by an autocratic pope and a clerical caste.
A new humility was observed. As long as it was part of history, the Church could not be static. Changes were on the horizon, so the Church must be "semper reformanda," always in the process of reforming itself. This moment came to a grinding halt with the elevation of Wojtyla to the papacy.
The new Pope had been formed in very static Church. The Polish Church needed to speak as a monolith against the Soviet empire. It brooked no dissent, fiercely maintaining its autocratic, hierarchical and clerical caste. This was the womb from which Wojtyla sprang. Unfortunately, it was this same background that would severely limit his effectiveness as Pope.
In a postmodern world full of cynicism and ennui, a world of cheap hucksters and financial bottom-feeders, a post-9/11 world of deep insecurity and an environmental doomsday world of natural disasters, people saw in John Paul II a beacon of strength and compassion.
Wherever his travels took him, he raised high the faces of the poor and those on the margins. While George Bush was flipping record numbers of switches on death row in Texas, John Paul II redefined Catholic teaching and formally rejected capital punishment. He rejected both Gulf Wars and the bombing of Afghanistan.
He rejected the market as the ultimate arbiter of modern life, since "it cannot speak to human needs or the environment." This was the radical face that John Paul II turned to the world. Sadly, the dialogue he sustained with the world he could not sustain with his own Church.
He almost fulfilled the prediction of the great 19th-century Cardinal John Henry Newman, who said of long-lived papacies, "It is an anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one contradict him, does not know facts and does cruel things without meaning it."
Catholic theology insists that fellow bishops are not agents of the pope, not branch plant managers of a centralized authority. They are supposed to be pastoral leaders in their own right, more like brothers than servants.
This type of collegiality promised by Vatican II was brutally curtailed under this papacy. Even before the Pope's funeral, bishops were openly calling for a reinstatement of this collaborative approach.
To insure that Rome's "one-note samba" would be played out everywhere, John Paul II ran roughshod over local dioceses and appointed his loyal soldiers, who owed their advancement to their agreement with him on women priests and married priests, gays, celibacy and "pelvic orthodoxy."
Maybe worse than this, the Pope marginalized those theologians who dared to disagree with him. Learned men, experts in their field, whose role was to discern the activity of God in the world today, were hunted down and fired. An intellectual chill descended on the Church as prophetic voices were silenced.
As a result of the late Pope's obsession with celibacy, the Church today lacks priests in half the world's parishes, and we are once again tragically reminded of the absence of female voices. The worst example of the effects of the imposition of these "grey men" universally regarded as mediocre leaders was the child sex abuse scandal in the U.S. Papal loyalists defended the institution rather than the victims, causing the greatest crisis of credibility.
Catholics are proud of John Paul II. But it is not disloyalty to say that this Church of ours is still in need of deep conversion, one which would honour the gifts of all its members. The crippling clericalism must be replaced at virtually every level of the Church.