GOD'S POLITICIAN by David Willey


John Paul at the Vatican
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 Mixed reviews for John Paul II from a veteran BBC Vatican correspondent. Willey spends almost no time on John Paul's rise, concentrating instead on the Pope's 13-year reign. The author allows that he's ``fascinated and appalled'' by John Paul's pontificate. The entrancement comes from watching the Pope juggle a hundred hot potatoes at once, most notably the demise of Communism, for which John Paul receives ample kudos. One welcome chapter outlines the state of religion (so-so to vigorous) in Eastern Europe. But the Church is strongest now in Africa and Latin America, and here the Pope gets mediocre-to-flunking grades. Some of the issues are merely curious (how should the Church respond to spear-dances at the altar during African masses?), but the bulk of Willey's beef with the Pope is substantive and political. John Paul, he argues, is inconsistent on the relation of religion and politics, entering the fray when it suits him (as in Poland) but condemning others who do the same (as in his criticism of liberation theology). Willey's biggest kvetch is with the Pope's handling of ``cafeteria Catholics'' (who ``pick and choose their beliefs as they please''). Here, Willey discerns a ``bulldozer papacy'' whose ``strong-arm methods'' have ``sacked'' the Church of unorthodox theologians and legitimate lay dissent. He also rejects papal condemnation of birth control, in vitro conception, and abortion. Church finances, women's rights, relations with other religions, and AIDS are also scrutinized. Willey's arguments have been made before, but he comes up with some wonderful anecdotes along the way (e.g., that the bullet with which Ali Agca shot the Pope has been woven into the gold crown worn by the Virgin's statue at Fatima). A competent riposte to the spate of recent pro-John Paul II books (e.g., George Weigel's The Final Revolution, p. 1247, and Richard John Neuhaus's Doing Well and Doing Good, p. 970). (Photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-08798-5
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1992