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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Snubbed by Pope
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
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
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
"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
"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.
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.