MAN OF THE CENTURY: The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II by Jonathan Kwitny

MAN OF THE CENTURY: The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Stereotyped by admirers and critics alike, Pope John Paul II finds in former Wall Street Journal reporter Kwitny (Acceptable Risks, 1992, etc.) a biographer who takes his full measure. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was already a formidable intellect, mystic, and Polish patriot when he made the surprising ascent from his archdiocese of Krakow to Rome in 1978. Kwitny reveals, for what seems to be the first time, how Wojtyla's Catholic School Ethics (1953) anticipated methods of nonviolent protest used by Martin Luther King Jr. a few years later; how he nurtured many of the intellectuals who later formed Solidarity; and how he secretly ordained priests who would serve elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain. Just as important, Wojtyla pressed the regime to adhere to promises of noninterference with the Church and protection of human rights. As pope he has also denounced dictators and Mafia chieftains in their own territories; owned up to past Church mistakes in alienating scientists, other Christian churches, and Jews; and called for a democratic welfare state that would avoid the worst extremes of both communism and capitalism. Yet Kwitny notes that these actions have been overlooked because of the Western media's fixation on his opposition to birth control and abortion, the pope's sensitive position as head of a worldwide organization, and self-serving claims by Reagan administration officials to have undermined communism. In particular, Kwitny argues that the ""Holy Alliance"" between Reagan and the pope to save Solidarity--postulated in Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi's recent His Holiness (not reviewed) and Peter Schweizer's Victory (1994)--steals credit from John Paul and the Poles themselves. While not by any means uncritical of the pontiff (scoring his crackdown on Church dissenters and the lack of concern for finances and clerical anguish over celibacy that allowed scandals to erupt), Kwitny offers a strong, convincing argument for him as one of the century's great proponents of nonviolence and freedom.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 800pp
Publisher: Henry Holt