John Paul II’s Secret Fight for Tradition

When John Paul I was killed (and he was killed) people like me wanted a strong new Pope much like Pope Pius X.  The world was surprised by the election of John Paul II, and we wondered if he would be strong or weak.  Slowly he replaced all the people around him in the Vatican with people he knew well from Poland.  He said nothing and made no waves but silently made changes until he felt save from the many enemies in the Vatican.  Then, and only then did he clean up the Vatican Bank.

What faced him world wide was a huge majority of Catholic Bishops who had no respect for the authority of Rome and were quickly liberalizing the Church.  What to do?  Instead of confronting them as I wanted him to do, he chose to bypass them and go directly to the people first, and win them over. 

For this reason he became known as the “Traveling Pope”.  He wanted to win over the people first before fighting the liberal bishops.  For me and those like me, we saw him as weak against the bishops.  

However, each time Pope John Paul II visited the United States, his hard-line message of Catholic fealty grew a little sterner. In 1979, all of the papal fanfare obscured the realities of his papal conservatism. Onlookers were too busy watching the pope-mobile whiz to hear John Paul II's call for a return to pre-Vatican II Catholicism, cloaked in the rhetoric of adherence to the "spirit and essence" of the post-conciliar age.  I, also, did not see it.

By the time of his second visit in 1987, U.S. Catholics began to realize that their pontiff was less concerned with Episcopal Collegiality--a tradition which sees consultation and doctrinal inquiry as shared among the pope and body of bishops, which was reinforced by Vatican II--than with the assertion of his own authority.

The radical liberal bishops like Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, and Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee found themselves at loggerheads with the pope and his conservative supporters in the United States, who were bent upon what reactionary papal loyalists called the "Roman Restoration."

Several priests and bishops, including Hunthausen, became targets of critical and often vicious letter-writing campaigns, led by disaffected right-wing Catholics who voiced "concerns" about perceived leniencies on issues relating to sexuality, the sacraments, and the role of women in the church. Right-wing Catholic newsweeklies like The Wanderer continually assisted the Pope in a veritable holy war against unorthodoxies among the shepherds of the faithful.

Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. bishops had very publicly pronounced positions on social issues ranging from the threat of nuclear war to homelessness and the rapaciousness of free-market capitalism. These did not sit well with Rome or Washington, and the Curia zealously sought the silence of any cleric deemed to be too "progressive".

Vatican II made many bishops think that Councils of Bishops had power greater than the pope, which was not true. The council offered to give them passive freedom but not real authority.  That is why in time John Paul had to tell the American bishops that their council had no authority over any other bishop.

When John Paul II returned to the United States in August 1993, he was greeted by a stadium full of younger Americans reared on a steady diet of such Cold War Catholicism. And with the old Cold War officially over, the Catholic Church embarked on a new one--a struggle against the progressive tendencies within the American church and against the very project of modernity itself.

This was, in fact, the most intensive campaign against modernism, secularism, and liberalization launched by the church hierarchy since the papacies of Leo XIII and Pius X at the turn of the last century. Under the present pope, the 1990s are looking more and more like the 1890s--not so much "back to the future" as "ahead to the past."

 (If you want to know if your bishop or priest is with the Holy Father or against him, read Redemptionis Sacramentum and Clergy Obedience and then ask, does my parish and diocese obey this document.)

 This pope also packed the College of Cardinals with ideological soul mates--theological, political, and social conservatives more than happy to toe the Vatican line. And he made many bishops, elevating only those deemed pontifically correct. They, in turn, have transformed their respective diocesan newspapers into organs of official policy, often sacking editors with whom they disagreed.

Liberal Catholic editors and writers banded together to form an organization known as Catholics for a Free Press, devoted to their liberalism.

Catholic seminaries also became more conservative as Rome stresses a "return" to the fundamentals of the faith. In many areas, hard-line Thomists have won the day, ejecting texts written by the visionaries of Vatican II, among them the late German philosopher and theologian Karl Rahner.

And given the ever-increasing shortage of priests in the United States, the Vatican regarded North America as something akin to a missionary region. Younger priests from Eastern Europe (particularly the pope's own Poland) were called to serve in parishes throughout the United States, along with Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans trained in doctrinally conservative seminaries in their home nations.

On World Youth Day '93 was a massive event with over 150,000 registrants. Organizers had reserved every major venue in the city of Denver, including Mile High Stadium, the Colorado Convention Center, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. A papal mass attracted over 500,000 people cost millions of dollars.

The pope made a special point of appealing to the young, especially throughout Europe and Latin America, where teenagers and twenty-somethings pack stadiums for candlelight vigils, rallies, and papal masses. The Vatican links such papal tours to two multimillion-dollar projects called Evangelization 2000 and Lumen 2000, both designed to "give Jesus a 2000th birthday gift of a world more Christian than not," in the words of project director Father Tom Forrest.

The twin programs were aimed at keeping young Catholics Catholic--and in a manner consistent with the Vatican's vision of a "restored" church, beyond the modernizing taint of Vatican II.

Evangelization 2000 and Lumen 2000 served other functions as well, especially in Latin America, where Protestants had evangelized millions of former Catholics. The projects were meant to counter such inroads--and to keep liberation theologians in line, or conveniently silent.

Charismatics Snubbed by Pope

Colorado's World Youth Day is best understood in this global context and in light of these Vatican-sponsored projects. So while the pope reaching out to younger Catholics from a variety of U.S groups and organizations, he did not meet with representatives from Catholic Organizations for Renewal, an umbrella for some 30 progressive groups from across the country. In fact, the Vatican explicitly rejected a request from COR to meet with the pointed.

All this good did not make up for the fact that John Paul left in place the most liberal and offensive Cardinal, Mahony, of Los Angeles.  Now years later, we may see that also change, but I wait to see.

Will Los Angeles also get a Conservative/Traditional Cardinal?

Gomez, 58, will succeed Cardinal Roger Mahony in Los Angeles. All hope this is a continuation of the clean up started by Pope John Paul II because this large metropolitan and wealthy area is a reflection of the future of American Catholicism.

Born in northern Mexico, now an American citizen, Gomez is one of the millions of Latinos who will make up the majority of Catholics in the United States within the next 10 years.

He is a contradiction to me so far, because although he has Traditional values on the Liturgy, the faith, and morals, he might be too liberal for me when it comes to illegal immigration.

He is at once a conservative and a progressive: unyielding in his opposition to abortion and gay marriage, passionate in his advocacy for immigrants and the poor, confounding to those who try to wedge him into the traditional right-left political paradigm.

During his six-year tenure atop the San Antonio archdiocese, Gomez emerged as a leading advocate for doctrinal conformity, determined to stave off what he saw as creeping secularism in the church.

He denounced one Catholic university when it invited then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to campus, because she favored abortion rights, and another when it invited a Benedictine nun, because she had advocated the ordination of women. Under his reign, a local Catholic high school ended its relationship with an organization that raised money to fight breast cancer, because the same organization gave grants to Planned Parenthood. After a 17-year-old lay advisory commission created by his predecessor suggested that gay marriage might be a human rights issue under one reading of the church's teachings, Gomez disbanded the commission.

"The doors were closed for collaborative communication," Mary Moreno, one commission member, said in an interview Tuesday. "We just got a letter. And when things are done like that, it kind of leaves a sting."

Yet in Denver, where Gomez served as a bishop, he was the driving force behind the creation of Centro San Juan Diego, both a formation center for lay leaders and a social services center for immigrants. Roughly 30,000 adults visited the center last year to learn English and computer skills and obtain free legal advice to gain citizenship and fight deportation.

Gomez has marched for immigrants' rights and worked to bridge the complex cultural gap between long-established Mexican American communities and newly arrived immigrant communities from elsewhere in Latin America.

He is a leader of a church that, ideologically, "is kind of everywhere depending on what the issue is," said Father David Garcia, the former rector of San Antonio's storied San Fernando Cathedral and a longtime collaborator with Gomez. But Gomez has made it clear that he sees no contradictions. In a homily he delivered a few years ago, he said the Catholic faith should be lived "without excuses" -- which can often mean, he said, "defending the poor and the immigrant and the prisoner on death row."

"He is with the Latino community on all of these issues," said Centro San Juan Diego Executive Director Luis Soto. "He is a great man. He is a great priest. And we are very proud of him. . . . I think you are going to like him very much."

Indeed, many Los Angeles-area Catholics hailed the selection of Gomez.

Latinos are the fastest-growing segment among the 65 million Catholics in the United States and make up more than two-thirds of the 5 million Catholics in the Los Angeles archdiocese.

"I'm glad to hear that it's a Latino," Herrera said. "I'm very grateful for that."

Others, however, questioned whether Gomez's unwavering orthodoxy would be embraced in Los Angeles. In San Antonio, critics have alleged that he failed to address abuse allegations forthrightly and failed to hold accused clergymen accountable for their actions.

I pray to God that this Cardinal will not advocate hiding illegal immigrants (which is advocating sin) but instead will help the legal ones and work to help those who want to come here without breaking our laws.  I Pray to God that he will clean up the abuse in the Liturgy and the many abuses of doctrine all over the diocese.  We have prayed for many years to get rid of Ma-phony and we need a saint to replace him.