THE MAN WHO LEADS THE CHURCH: An Assessment of Pope John Paul II by John--Ed. Whale
Kirkus Star

THE MAN WHO LEADS THE CHURCH: An Assessment of Pope John Paul II

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A team of British journalists (including veteran Vaticanologist Peter Hebblethwaite) follows the breathless trajectory of John Paul IFs first year, praising his warmth, intelligence, and robust humanity, but damning his conservatism. This is a thoughtful piece of reportage, the best on papa Wojtyla to date. Like most liberal Catholics, its five authors are distressed by what the pope has been saying about birth control, priestly celibacy, dissenting theologians, ordination of women, etc., but they review his career with objectivity and restraint. Hebblethwaite, for instance, gives John Paul's poetry and philosophical writing a sympathetic presentation, despite their evident mediocrity. But the pope's various crackdowns (trying, like Paul VI, to force the genie of Vatican II back into the bottle) come in for pointed criticism. When the pope attacks contraception in Mexico (where the population is doubling every ten years) or divorce in Ireland (where abandoned wives are cruelly ignored by the law) or married priests in America (where seminaries are practically empty), he's made to look like a narrow-minded, heavy-handed schoolmaster shouting at his increasingly unmanageable pupils. The key to this acrimonious no-win situation is almost certainly the pontiff's intense Polishness: the most Catholic country in the world, whose people treasure the Church as a symbol of ethnic integrity and political freedom, provides a skewed perspective for judging (and leading) the rest of the faithful. ""Immobilism,"" as Whale & Company observe, is a logical attitude for a hounded and constantly betrayed people, but as papal policy it may well prove catastrophic. A cogent, well-informed, unsettling document.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row