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April 15, 2005

John Paul’s ‘mixed legacy’?

(Nota bene: Roman Catholicism is incidental to this issue. This is neither a defense nor a criticism of Roman Catholicism. What’s at issue here – whatever your faith, or lack thereof – is the hypocrisy of the Left in blatantly misrepresenting the positions of John Paul II.)

Amid the eulogies for the Roman Catholic Church’s beloved Pope John Paul II last week, liberals and their media talkingheads lost no time highlighting the conservative pontiff’s “mixed legacy.” To wit, Bill Clinton’s observation: “[John Paul II] centralized authority in the papacy again and enforced a very conservative theological doctrine. There will be debates about that. … He’s like all of us – he may have a mixed legacy.”

While much of the criticism is aimed at the Pope’s defense of marriage, advocacy against population control, and reinforcement of the prohibition against the ordination of women and homosexuals (read: his defense of Catholic doctrine), a good deal of the media’s displeasure also stems from his rejection of “liberation theology,” the Marxist movement that swept the Latin American Catholic Church in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Typical of the Leftmedia invective, NPR commentator Marcos McPeek Villatoro lovingly recalled liberation theology as “a brand of Christianity that stressed human rights and social reform … firing up Latin American Catholics who lived under the yoke of right-wing dictatorships. …[But John Paul II] soon silenced the Latin American theologians I so admired.” Villatoro continued, “Perhaps the clearest expression of John Paul’s distaste came when he visited Nicaragua in 1983. On the tarmac at Managua Airport, he wagged a reproving finger in the face of Ernesto Cardinal, who was a priest and a member of the leftist Sandinista government. Cardinal was at that moment kneeling on the tarmac to welcome this same Pope, the one who had spoken so passionately of the need for political change in Poland. Many people saw that incident on television, I saw it up close. … I confess, this is not the moment to revisit how I felt about the Pope back then. It is not the time to air old grievances or spark new division.”

But that is precisely what Villatoro did. His sarcasm was especially evident when, in his commentary’s conclusion, he quoted the prayer In Paradisum from the Old Catholic funeral mass: “May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who was once poor, may you have everlasting rest.”

Elsewhere, NPR noted, “While John Paul encouraged political change in his homeland and Eastern Europe, he was much harsher with Latin American priests who had embraced leftist-inspired liberation theology to combat social injustice. … One of his most difficult trips was to Nicaragua in 1983, where the revolutionary Sandinista leaders in power included five priests – whom John Paul promptly suspended. Raising his voice above hecklers in the crowd, the Pope lashed out against those he believed undermined the unity of the church.”

NPR’s Martin Kaste refers to liberation theology as “political activism” that “stressed human rights and economic reform” – not bald-faced Marxism. Brazilian Marxist and ex-priest Nevu Furrin, in an interview with Kaste, defended liberation theology, saying, “Jesus didn’t die of a fever…of a heart attack or old age. He was assassinated, the victim of a political conspiracy, and that realization is at the foundation of liberation theology. I think Christianity has always had a revolutionary perspective, since its origin, and it can’t live without revolution.” Furrin continued his harangue, “[The Vatican] criticized this aspect of liberation theology, but at the same time, the Pope supported the same kind of thing in his home, Poland, with the Solidarity Movement. Why couldn’t the Pope see the profound connection between the two movements?”

Why not indeed? The Polish Solidarity Movement, itself congealed by the Pope’s historic visit to Communist Poland in 1979, was an anti-Marxist, pro-democratic movement aimed at dislodging Poland from the Soviet-controlled Eastern bloc. The Solidarity Movement embodied the concepts of individual liberty, free enterprise, and self improvement. Liberation theology, on the other hand, embraces collectivization, the subordination of the individual in favor of the group, and the forced redistribution of wealth and property without fair compensation. Furthermore, Marxism is profoundly anti-religion, and all these “priests” knew it.

Solidarnosc, the Polish Solidarity Movement, was formalized as a workers’ union in 1980 and later as a political party, though its roots go back to the anti-Soviet Polish intelligentsia of the 1950s. Embarrassingly for the Soviets, Solidarity represented workers’ opposition to the Communists’ so-called “workers’ paradise” and powerfully demonstrated to the world that Poland had a working class, not a proletariat. In 1980, the Soviet Politburo named Solidarity – then ten million members strong – as a dangerous “anti-socialist movement” and ordered a violent crackdown against the movement, driving Solidarity underground.

On 31 August 1985, the fifth anniversary of Solidarity in Poland, President Ronald Reagan said of the movement, “Solidarity has not died, nor have the principles for which it came into existence become any less urgent in the minds of the Polish people. Despite all oppressive measures, provocations, imprisonment, police brutality, and even killings, this, the only free trade union in the entire Communist world, has continued its struggle by peaceful means to persuade its government to provide all elements of the society a role in shaping Poland’s destiny. Although Solidarity’s voice has been muted by being forced underground, its message – whether via underground radio, clandestine publications, public demonstrations, or by simple word of mouth – continues to be heard clearly throughout Poland and throughout the world, wherever there are people who value freedom.”

With the support of the Catholic Church, and under the leadership of Lech Walesa, Solidarity grew and continued to embody the most cogent and sustained opposition to the corruption and inefficiency of Communist Poland and proved key to the ultimate downfall of Polish Communism – and the entire Soviet bloc. Solidarity helped usher democracy into Poland. When elected Free Poland’s first president in 1990, Walesa oversaw Poland’s first free parliamentary elections in 1991 and orchestrated the slumping state-run economy’s transition to the free market.

Only in the eyes of the jaded Left could the Pope’s support of an anti-Marxist movement and his condemnation of a pro-Marxist movement be seen as contradictory, much less hypocritical. But a media either so ignorant or so unabashedly biased as to call his consistent opposition to Marxism hypocritical deserves neither credence nor respect. No matter one’s religion, or lack thereof, any clear thinker will stand in awe of this man who single-handedly did so much for the cause of liberty. The media, on the other hand, need only to look in the mirror to see hypocrisy. Forty years of fawning over Fidel Castro belies their incessant preaching on compassion for the oppressed and “disenfranchised” (to coin a term) of the world. What is extremely clear, then, is the media’s hypocrisy, not the Pope’s.

For the curious, what did the Pope really say when he “lashed out” at Ernesto Cardinal and those – including Marcos Villatoro – gathered in Nicaragua? “Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “keep in mind Christian unity can only be saved when each is capable of giving up on his own ideas, plans and commitments – even good ones – for the greater good of communion with the bishops, with the Pope and with the entire church.” How scathing. How condescending. How hypocritical.

Or, then again – how gentle, how appropriate, how utterly consistent.

And a final word on the Pope’s legacy: “[Without Pope John Paul II] there would be no end of Communism, or at least much later, and the end would have been bloody.” –Lech Walesa, former President of Poland and leader of the Solidarity Movement

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