John Paul II: An Assessment
John Paul’s resilience was exemplary.
He saw first-hand the Nazi occupation of his beloved
Even as he discerned evil in the world-at-large when other appeared not to, John Paul was just as quick to discern sin in the “heart-at-small” as he confessed the arrears of sin in himself and repented it. No one questioned his outpouring to the priest he named his confessor and through whom he sought to hear the Word of pardon from the crucified. No one regarded as poor taste, or worse, poor theatre, his protracted periods of lying prostrate, face-down, when he deplored the innermost shame and guilt he never attempted to deny.
Yet while he knew the church to consist of penitent sinners, he was always aware that the powers of death will never prevail against the church (Matthew ) not because of the church’s inherent virtue (he had no illusions here) but because of God’s promise and patience. God has pledged himself to the people who are his “peculiar treasure”. (Exodus 19:5 KJV) Only by grace, yet assuredly by grace, the church remains a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” – and all of this precisely for the purpose of declaring the truth and mercy of the God who still calls us out of darkness and into his marvellous light. (1st Peter 2:9) Trusting God’s faithfulness to God’s own promises, John Paul exhibited a patience that always found him diligent in his work with an appropriate urgency, yet never frenzied or frantic. He rooted himself in the church, that ship that could ride out the worst storms of sin, treachery and disgrace.
Disgrace trumpeted itself during his tenure.
The sex-scandals involving priests, all of whom were sworn to celibacy,
became increasingly notorious as clergy betrayal and exploitation of children
surface first in Newfoundland, was heard of in many venues (including aboriginal
schools in Canada’s north), and came to most concentrated attention in
No less movingly he recognized victims of a
different sort with a different history; namely Jewish people.
As a pole he was singularly equipped in this regard, for
A learned theologian and philosopher (see his encyclical, “Faith and Reason”), he had additional gifts that erudite people frequently lack. One such gift was an ability to handle the media. Never gullible concerning the “power of the press” and its capacity for misrepresentation, John Paul knew that his “management” skill concerning the print and electronic vehicles was an opportunity for him to commend gospel, kingdom, church and papal office.
His ability to relate to young people was a similar
gift. Whenever he spoke, wherever he
appeared, young people “fell” for him. No
one can forget the aged man winsomely attracting and addressing young people in
Yet there is “another side” to John Paul that has to be noted. Whereas Pope John XXIII had spoken of Protestants as “separated brethren”, John Paul never acknowledged us to be brothers of any sort. He never recognized us as part of the body of Christ.
While his stand against homosexual behaviour and abortion was encouraging, his intransigence on the ordination of women was not.
While Protestants of orthodox conviction uphold the virginal conception of Jesus, John Paul’s Mariology threatened the sole, saving sufficiency of Jesus.
Worst of all, his Millennial Indulgence,
promulgated in 2000, recalled the occasion of the Sixteenth Century Reformation
God is to be praised for the witness of the late Pope John Paul II, even as Protestants will invoke that gospel whose purity alone can – and will – fashion the church, the Bride of Christ, whose splendour is ultimately “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:27)