(E) Karol Jozef Wojtyla Jr. Pope John Paul II 1920 - 2005
Pope John Paul II, spiritual leader of Roman Catholic Church, dies
BY DAVID O'REILLY
Posted on Sat, Apr. 02, 2005
Knight Ridder Newspapers
(KRT) - Pope John Paul II, 84, spiritual leader of the world's one billion Roman Catholics for a quarter of a century, died Saturday.
Firmly conservative in matters of morality and theology, yet passionately progressive on behalf of the poor, immigrants and world peace, John Paul was an uncompromising moral voice and a giant on the world stage.
Even as ill health visibly overtook him, he carried his message around the world - slowed, but never stopped, by bullets, a tumor, a broken hip, arthritis, Parkinson's disease and advancing age.
As he took on such controversial topics as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, communist oppression and capitalist greed, John Paul found himself allied with differing factions of the secular world. But it was the issues that varied, not his stance: All his positions were grounded in his unwavering belief in the worth and dignity of every human life.
The pontiff's failing health had become an acute public concern in recent years as he grew visibly weaker and struggled at times to walk and speak.
Yet images of John Paul in his prime, stepping off airplanes, kissing the ground of each new nation he visited, or stretching his arms out to cheering crowds in cities as diverse as Manila, Dublin, Sao Paolo and Philadelphia are an indelible part of his legacy.
In 103 pontifical journeys around the globe, including four official visits to the United States, John Paul earned a reputation as the most evangelical pope in the 2,000-year history of Christianity.
He also declared a record 476 people to be saints of the Catholic Church, including Philadelphia's St. Katharine Drexel, foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, in 2000.
The intense national pride John Paul's 1979 visit aroused in his native Poland is credited with hastening the collapse of communism there and across Eastern Europe. He reached out to other faiths: He paid the first papal visit to a synagogue, concelebrated the first papal Mass with an Orthodox patriarch, and promoted reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and major Protestant and Orthodox denominations.
At the same time, however, he challenged trends of the secular world. From the very start of his papacy he warned that a pleasure-seeking, materialistic "culture of death" was eroding Western European and North American cultures, as evidenced by their embracing of extramarital sex, birth control, drugs, abortion, euthanasia and divorce.
He also suppressed liberal dissent within the church, once dismissed Buddhism as an "atheistic" religion, irked the Orthodox Church by seeking a larger Catholic presence in postcommunist Russia, steadfastly opposed the ordination of women, and proposed in a 1995 encyclical that all denominations recognize the pope as supreme bishop of Christianity.
In the final stage of John Paul's pontificate, the church in the United States was rocked by scandal involving sexual abuse by priests and complaints that the Vatican had done too little to address the problem. In June 2002, the Holy See approved an unprecedented set of rules spelling out how American bishops should respond to cases of clergy sex abuse.
Many Catholics in Western Europe and North America chose to disregard his strict moral teachings, especially on matters of sexuality.
Because of his firm stances, John Paul II leaves behind a Roman Catholic Church far more assertive on faith and morals than the institution he inherited. His clarity "strengthened the foundations" of the church for the next century, according to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Philadelphia's retired archbishop.
Agree with him or disagree, John Paul was impossible to ignore.
"When you do the reckoning of the 20th century, his will be one of the top five or 10 names, along with the likes of Gandhi and Roosevelt and Churchill," said Martin Marty, a prominent Protestant lecturer and historian of Christianity.
Whether the church continues along the path that John Paul pointed it, or embarks in new directions depends on the 135 elector cardinals now preparing to converge on Rome.
Their first order of business will be papal funeral. Then, in about two weeks, the cardinals will gather under Michelangelo's great ceiling mural in the Sistine Chapel, where they will begin casting ballots for John Paul's successor in a manner little changed in nearly 1,000 years.
And they will announce the result just as John Paul's was announced 25 years ago.
On Oct. 16, 1978, at 6:18 p.m., puffs of white smoke erupted from a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel.
Far below, in St. Peter's Square, 200,000 people cheered as Cardinal Pericle Felici of the College of Cardinals, appeared at a balcony. "Habemus Papam!" he declared in Latin - "We have a pope!"
The crowd roared once more.
Then Felici announced the new pope's identity: "Cardinale Karolum Wojtyla."
The roaring paused.
"Voy-teeya?" That wasn't Italian. The crowd stood dumbfounded until someone recognized the name. "Il Polacco!" a voice cried. "The Pole!"
The words zigzagged through the crowd like lightning, and then turned into a cacophony as all grasped their stunning implication: The archbishop of Krakow had been named the first non-Italian pope in 455 years."
As the crowd cheered, the 58-year-old Pope stepped to the balcony.
"I was afraid to receive this nomination," he said, "but I did it in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and in the total confidence in His mother, the most holy Madonna."
In the square and around the world, millions listened and wondered: Who IS this Cardinal Karol Wojtyla?
Journalists scrambled for details: The new pope was 5-foot-10 and weighed 175 pounds. He did not smoke. He drank wine with meals and liked to ski, kayak and climb mountains.
He was fluent in French, English, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Latin and German, and wrote his own speeches longhand.
During World War II he had done factory labor, and he had dated before entering the priesthood. There was even talk (never confirmed) that he had once been engaged. He was a playwright, a poet, a philosopher and an accomplished actor.
What these charming details failed to convey, however, was the iron that Karol Wojtyla was made of - iron forged by his experiences as a seminarian, priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal in occupied Poland.
Persecuted first by the Nazis during World War II and by a communist government afterward, the Polish church had responded with toughness. Demanding rigorous obedience from its members, the Catholic hierarchy renounced the material atheism of communism and distanced itself from the Kremlin-backed government for its repressions, executions and abuse.
Within that confrontational context no one within the Polish church - clergy or laity - dared to challenge the authority of the prelates.
And this model of the Polish church as an unyielding bulwark against secular materialism would serve as Karol Wojtyla's model for the worldwide Catholic Church.
About 15 years before he became pope, for example, he led the opposition when the reform-minded Second Vatican Council considered adopting a new vision of the church as a "community of equals" in which laity, clergy and hierarchy seek consensus. The archbishop of Krakow dismissed the "community of equals" model, arguing persuasively that in "a perfect society" the laity take direction from the clergy, the clergy from the prelates, and the prelates from the pope.
That vision of the church as a hierarchically disciplined moral voice would become the hallmark of his papacy.
It was not a universally popular position. French theologian Marie-Dominique Chenu, one of the architects of Vatican II, grumbled that John Paul harked back to the "prototype of the church as an absolute monarchy."
And Chicago sociologist William McReady described John Paul as a "peasant intellectual" who "understands the life of a peasant, but he doesn't understand urbanized, pluralistic societies."
George Weigel, John Paul's official biographer, scoffs at such glib characterizations.
"To read the pontificate of Pope John Paul through the political lens of `liberalism' and `conservatism' is to miss the radical character of the Pope's approach to the papacy," Weigel wrote in 1995.
The pontiff's "distinctively contemporary enunciation of Christian dogma, and his bold departures in papal diplomacy ... will reshape Catholicism's world role well into the third millennium of Christian history."
"Strip away the caricatures," Weigel declared, and history will judge John Paul II a "Christian radical" deserving of the title "Pope John Paul the Great."
Karol Jozef Wojtyla Jr. was born on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, 30 miles outside Krakow.
His family's modest home was religious, even by the devoutly Catholic standards of rural Poland. Biographer Tad Szulc wrote that the apartment had a font of holy water at the front door and a small altar in the parlor; Karol Wojtyla Sr. and his wife, Emilia Kaczorowska Wojtyla, read to their two sons from the Bible in the evenings.
Emilia Wojtyla was sickly, and began suffering an undiagnosed paralysis when Karol - nicknamed "Lolek" - was about 5. She died when he was 8. His older brother, Edmund, a physician, died in a scarlet-fever epidemic when Karol was 12.
That left Karol alone with his father, a reserved and devout man who was a lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian army. After Edmund's death, his father quit the army and lived on a meager pension, close to poverty.
Despite its modest size and rural setting, Wadowice was an intellectual center boasting three public libraries, two theaters, and well-regarded secondary schools. About a fourth of Wadowice's 7,000 residents were Jewish.
Young Karol excelled at the local boys' school, where, starting at age 10, he took eight years of Latin and five years of Greek, and participated in dramatics and athletics. He sometimes played goalie for the Jewish soccer team - an unusual gesture in those days.
During adolescence he professed no interest in joining the priesthood, but he was something of a straight arrow, according to Szulc, who reports that his school chums avoided using coarse language in his presence. At age 16, he organized a youth group that pledged to go a year without using tobacco or alcohol.
He graduated first in his class of 44, and in 1938 enrolled on full scholarship in Jagiellonian University, a Catholic college in Krakow. There he studied literature, acted in student dramas, and participated in poetry readings.
And he might have become an actor or playwright except that his life - and all life in Poland - turned upside down when Hitler's army invaded the nation in September 1939.
"The nobility, priesthood, and Jews must be liquidated," declared Reinhard Heydrich, who had been appointed Nazi governor of the region. The cathedral and seminary were closed at the end of October. A month later, Jagiellonian University was closed; 186 professors were deported to concentration camps.
Wojtyla was sent to do hard labor in a stone quarry. Later, he was assigned to a chemical factory.
It was during these turbulent times that Wojtyla encountered the ardently spiritual Jan Tyranowski, a gruff, self-educated Krakow tailor who lectured passionately about mysticism and spoke of his own experiences of divine presence. The two became close friends, and Wojtyla would later credit Tyranowski for helping to turn him to religious life.
That move began in earnest after his father's sudden death from a heart attack in February 1941. Karol was 21. "I never felt so alone," he said years later.
Tyranowski's company and fervent spirituality filled that void, and in the months that followed "I gradually became aware of my true path," he told a group of seminarians two decades later.
"My priestly vocation took shape ... like an inner fact of unquestionable and absolute clarity. The following year, in the autumn, I knew that I was called."
He presented himself to a Carmelite monastery in November 1942, only to be turned away. The monastery was not accepting candidates during the war, the Rev. Josef Prus told him.
There is a legend that Prus declined with the prophetic words "Ad majora natus es" - "You are born for higher things." But Szulc, who interviewed the pontiff in 1994, reported that Prus simply encouraged him to reapply "after the war."
Wojtyla did not wait, instead presenting himself to Krakow's archbishop, Adam Stefan Sapieha, for seminary training. Soon he began to study for the priesthood in secret locations around the city.
After the great Warsaw uprising of Aug. 1, 1944, the Nazis rounded up 8,000 young men in Krakow but failed to discover Wojtyla, who was kneeling at prayer in the basement of his boarding house. Afterward, Archbishop Sapieha concealed Wojtyla and six other seminarians in his residence. In November of that year, Wojtyla took tonsure, the symbolic haircutting that marked his formal entry into religious life.
By the time Soviet troops liberated Poland from the Germans in January 1945, the Nazis had exterminated - along with three million Polish Jews and three million other Poles - 2,000 members of the country's Catholic clergy.
The Soviet occupiers proved slightly more tolerant of religion than the Nazis had been. The cathedral reopened and Archbishop Sapieha ordained Father Wojtyla on Nov. 1, 1946. Eager to rebuild the church intellectually, the archbishop sent this promising young priest to the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelicum, in Rome.
That the archbishop's young protege was "destined for higher things" today is self-evident.
In 1946, however, neither the old archbishop nor the 26-year-old priest could have imagined just how high or fast he would soar. Father Wojtyla would become bishop at 38, archbishop at 44, cardinal at 47, and supreme pontiff of the world's largest religious denomination at 58 - the youngest pope in 132 years.
Like most Christian denominations, the Roman Catholic Church in the 1940s was untroubled by today's fractious debates over sexual morality or the authority of the hierarchy. Most Catholics - and virtually all in the Catholic clergy - shared the 19th-century English Cardinal John Henry Newman's view of the Roman church as "God's oracle." While in Rome, Father Wojtyla studied under the eminent French Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, an uncompromising traditionalist - he is said to have disdained telephones as too modern - who reinforced the young priest's conservatism.
For his doctoral dissertation, Father Wojtyla chose to study the 16th-century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, a favorite of his old friend Tyranowski's. Although enchanted by John's luminous advice for those seeking union with the divine (it was John who coined the phrase "dark night of the soul"), Father Wojtyla's dissertation faulted John for failing to posit an objective basis for morality.
Father Wojtyla's critique offers an early example of the future pope's lifelong insistence that certain acts are morally wrong for all humans, regardless of culture or tradition.
Upon his return to Poland, he was assigned to a parish but continued his academic career. In 1951, Sapieha - by now a cardinal - urged him to earn a second doctorate so that he could become a university teacher.
This time his thesis was on the 20th-century German philosopher Max Scheler, who believed that just as the mind can intuitively recognize certain mathematical truths, it can intuitively recognize certain moral truths, such as the categorical evil of murder.
Such a view appealed to Father Wojtyla, who, as a professor of ethics, later as a prelate, and ultimately in the role of moral arbiter for one-sixth of the world's population, would decry moral relativism, insisting there were knowable moral truths binding on all human beings.
In 1957, Father Wojtyla was named a professor of ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin. In 1958, he was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Krakow. After Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak's death in 1962, he was named vicar capitular in charge of the archdiocese - a post he held until becoming archbishop two years later.
The year 1962 also marked the start of Vatican II. During the three years of that council, the young prelate began to shape one of the most controversial church teachings of this century: that the use of artificial contraception is a grave sin.
In a series of lectures in Krakow, he argued that contraception closes sexual intercourse to the divine creation of life, and degrades women by turning them into sex objects.
His views profoundly influenced Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," which declared artificial birth control a mortal sin.
Paul had presented Archbishop Wojtyla with the red cap of a cardinal on May 29, 1967.
Also elevated that day was Wojtyla's good friend John Krol, archbishop of Philadelphia, who in later years took special pride that his gold, cross-shaped cardinal's ring matched that of the Pope.
Cardinal Wojtyla made two trips to the United States. The first, in 1969, included his first helicopter trip - a flight with Cardinal Krol from Philadelphia to Doylestown's Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. He returned in 1976 for the International Eucharistic Congress at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Logan Circle.
By then he was an intimate of Pope Paul, who had assigned him to direct three of the Holy See's most prestigious congregations, approximately equivalent to cabinet-level departments.
His growing reputation as a "papabile" - a contender in the discreet competition to be the next pontiff - was enhanced in 1976 when he was invited to the Vatican to deliver a series of Lenten lectures before Pope Paul and the papal household.
Paul even encouraged him to deliver the lectures in Italian, not Latin, to show the other cardinals how well he fit in.
"We are in a lively battle for the dignity of man," Cardinal Wojtyla declared. Secular society was promoting self-indulgence, he said, and pressuring the church's hierarchy to relax its traditional moral norms.
But the church and pope are called upon to contradict such trends, Cardinal Wojtyla insisted: "It is the task of the church, of the Holy See, of all pastors to fight on the side of man - often against men themselves!"
His words may have been an exhortation to the aged and ailing Paul. Intellectual, progressive, and anxious to implement the reforms of Vatican II, Paul provided hesitant and uncertain leadership for the church at a time when the West was going through a cultural revolution.
European and American students were in the vanguard of change. Many laughed at taboos against premarital sex, experimented with drugs, demonstrated against their governments. Some urged armed revolt. In Latin America, priests and nuns preached "liberation theology" and made public stands against totalitarian regimes.
Cardinal Wojtyla was clearly prepared to take on the unruly forces of the era - and the Lenten lectures might have been a way of informing other cardinals what kind of pope he could be if elected.
When Paul VI died on Aug. 6, 1978, the cardinals chose the progressive, intellectual Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice, Italy, who took the name John Paul I. Only 33 days into his papacy, the church was stunned by John Paul I's death of apparent heart failure. The College of Cardinals had to convene once again.
This time, on the eighth ballot, the cardinals elected Karol Wojtyla.
As the first Slavic pontiff in church history, he briefly considered taking the papal name Stanislas, after the patron saint of Poland. Instead, however, he chose to honor the 45 Italian popes who came before him, specifically his three immediate predecessors: John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul. He became John Paul II.
He declined coronation, opting instead for the less formal ceremony of installation at a pontifical Mass. He was installed as the 263rd Bishop of Rome in ceremonies in St. Peter's Square on Oct. 22, 1978.
The new pontiff would not be content to play chief bureaucrat of Vatican City, as so many of his predecessors had.
Instead, he would be pope to the world: an evangelist who traveled the globe proclaiming the "indelible truth" of the church's teachings.
"The church needed direction" in the late 1970s, according to retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, a leading church liberal, and the cardinals were looking for "somebody energetic, somebody who could make decisions, somebody who would bring a little more discipline in the ranks." They found that commanding leader in John Paul II.
From the first, he called on bishops to adhere to church teachings and discipline. He admonished clergy members not to get involved in politics, reminded them of their obligations of chastity, and insisted they wear their habits in public "to remind you of your commitment, which sharply contrasts with the spirit of the world."
On his first papal trip outside Rome, to Assisi on Nov. 5, he told the cheering crowds that the church "speaks with my voice."
Then, when Cardinal Jean Villot, the Vatican's secretary of state, asked the new pontiff if he might allow the national bishops' conferences to elect a permanent synod to serve as a papal cabinet, John Paul declined. "The Pope will remain supreme and sole legislator," he replied.
He wasted no time in staking out his position. In his first year as pope, he revitalized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the Vatican's watchdog panel on dogma - which began cracking down on Catholic theologians who deviated too far from church teachings.
In the most celebrated case, the Congregation in 1979 barred the Rev. Hans Kung - a liberal Dutch professor who had challenged the notion of papal infallibility - from teaching at pontifical Catholic universities.
"The present Pope suppresses problems instead of solving them," Kung complained, and he instantly became a martyr in the eyes of liberal Catholic intellectuals. But theologians who valued their jobs took it as a warning to toe the Vatican line, at least in public.
John Paul used his first papal trip abroad, to Central America in January 1979, to make it plain he disapproved of "liberation theology," the belief that the church had a moral obligation to engage politically in the struggle for economic and political justice for the poor. The Marxist-tinged dogma had particular appeal among clergy opposed to the right-wing (and at least nominally Catholic) dictatorships of Latin America.
John Paul was unambiguously opposed. "The church cannot approve of this idea of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary," he declared.
Yet only months later, the Pope himself would help launch a revolution.
On June 2, 1979, over the strenuous objections of the Kremlin and the communist leadership in Poland, Karol Wojtyla returned to his homeland as pontiff.
It was the eve of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit. A million Poles greeted him in Warsaw's Victory Square, where a giant cross had been erected. He celebrated Mass and, at the close of his homily, spoke words that lit a fire in the hearts of his countrymen:
"Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and renew the face of the Earth," he said, adding with a sweeping gesture, "of THIS Earth." He used the Polish word "ziemen," meaning "land" or "country - and told them again and again, "Be not afraid!"
What might sound like a trifling difference in emphasis to English-speakers was a cry of defiance that every Pole recognized. "He was beseeching the Holy Spirit to liberate Poland," observed British journalist Peter Hebblethwaite.
The communist government was not amused. The cross in Victory Square was dismantled before nightfall, but the Polish people seemed never again to be so cowed. Within a year, thousands of workers defied the government by staging massive strikes and creating a trade union, Solidarity.
As the Solidarity movement grew in strength, it had strong backing within the Vatican and the U.S. government. The support was probably not unconnected. In their 1996 biography, "His Holiness, journalists Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi wrote that "the Reagan administration maintained an intelligence shuttle at the highest level between the White House and the Pope," with Cardinal Krol of Philadelphia serving as "intermediary between the White House, Poland, and the Vatican."
When, in 1989, Poles broke the communist monopoly on power by electing a Solidarity Party government, John Paul II was given significant credit for hastening the triumph.
"The tree was rotten," he would say. "All I did was shake it."
This former actor and playwright knew the power of theater. His celebrated foreign visits became dramatically staged affairs designed to thrill the faithful and affirm papal primacy.
Upon his arrival at an airport, he would kiss the ground of each new nation he visited. Government leaders - often visibly awed - would greet him. Local cardinals, archbishops and bishops, in chasubles and miters, would follow him in entourage as he visited shrines, cathedrals and seminaries, and concelebrate Mass with him. It became customary for the diocesan bishop to publicly proclaim at length his devotion and obedience.
In October 1979, he made his first papal visit to the United States.
Of the six cities he visited, one was Philadelphia, the archdiocese of his old friend Cardinal Krol. It was a spectacular event. Thousands of people lined his route from the airport. As sun broke through a day of clouds, a crowd that police estimated at one million saw him celebrate Mass outdoors, before a shining white altar in Logan Circle.
The homily he delivered that day - after an introduction that honored Philadelphia as the birthplace of U.S. independence and a cradle of liberty and freedom - highlighted themes he was rapidly defining as hallmarks of his papacy:
"Human-Christian values," he said, "are strengthened when power and authority are exercised in full respect for all the fundamental rights of the human person, whose dignity is the dignity of one created in the image and likeness of God. ...
"Freedom can ... never be construed without relation to the truth as revealed by Jesus Christ and proposed by His church, nor can it be seen as a pretext for moral anarchy. ...
"Divine law is the sole standard of human liberty."
He spoke in English, as he spoke in the local language to so many foreign audiences. The spectacle was exhilarating. The Pope, not yet 60, was commanding; the crowds were rapt.
The U.S. visit, which included an address to the United Nations, was just one trip in a jam-packed schedule of work, travel - and, indeed, exuberant fun. The athleticism and vigor of this young pontiff were unlike anything modern Vatican-watchers had seen. "How many popes since St. Peter have skied?" he would ask with a grin, and then glide down the slopes in his parka as photographers scampered to keep up.
The answer? One.
The Polish toast "Stolat" "_ "May you live 100 years" - sometimes seemed in his case a prediction.
But on May 13, 1981, a Turk, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot John Paul twice in St. Peter's Square, nearly ending his vibrant papacy in its 31st month. One of the bullets struck his hand. The other went through his torso, barely missing his heart, and ripped into his intestine. Doctors feared fatal peritonitis, but his recovery was swift.
There was dark talk that Agca had been in the pay of the Bulgarian secret police and that the assassination plot had been masterminded by the Soviet KGB, though no convincing evidence has ever emerged.
Although he never knew for sure who wanted him dead, the Pope never doubted who saved his life: He forever gave credit to the "special protection" of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "One hand fired," he said later, "and another hand guided the bullet."
He eventually had the bullet removed from his body set into the crown of Mary at the Portuguese shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, and donated the bloodied sash to the Polish shrine of Our Lady of Jasna Gora.
He wore a bulletproof vest after the shooting, and henceforth toured the crowds in a bulletproof "Popemobile." But he often left its window open - evidence, perhaps, of his surrender to divine will.
Who could have blamed John Paul if he afterward had shuttered himself within the Vatican's garden walls, as his predecessors had done for a century?
Instead, after the assassination attempt, he seemed to loom larger than ever. With breathtaking vigor, he resumed his evangelism, his assertion of papal authority, and his clarification of moral teaching. The 1980s became his decade.
Within the church, he continued to dominate the hierarchy, appointing like-minded conservatives to important offices and quelling liberal dissent. Inside and outside the Vatican walls he continued to fight communism, a battle that culminated in the collapse of Kremlin rule in Eastern Europe in 1989.
As years went by, he was perhaps most famous in the secular Western world for his uncompromising stance on issues of marriage, sex and sexuality. He never deviated from the church's traditional teachings on sex and marriage - but he repeated them with an emphasis that had not been heard since before the days of Vatican II.
He believed it was contrary to God's law for anyone - Catholic or otherwise - to engage in birth control, abortion, homosexuality, in-vitro fertilization, masturbation, artificial insemination or sterilization. Intercourse between married partners, with no barrier to pregnancy and childbirth, was the only permissible sexual act in his eyes.
"I don't think there was any uncertainty regarding what the teaching of the church was before the election of John Paul II," said Archbishop John Patrick Foley, a prelate of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who heads the Vatican's communications office.
"I think there was uncertainty on the part of many in "perceiving what the teachings of the Church was. ... I think the Holy Father has made it clear where the limits are."
His teachings earned him a reputation as a stern moralizer, especially in North America and Western Europe. But those close to him understood that his moral certitude emanated from a deep spirituality: Since his early friendship with Jan Tyranowski, a powerful vein of mysticism had run through his faith.
Aides told of finding him lying on the marble floor of his chapel, his arms stretched in the shape of a cross, groaning at prayer. Sometimes, in the middle of a meeting, he would suddenly close his eyes in silent prayer - not as if he chose to pray, but as if prayer somehow took possession of him.
Armed by this inner religiosity, he stood firmly behind the church's traditional bans on remarriage after divorce. He rejected all talk of allowing priests to marry. And he adamantly opposed the ordination of women.
In his sixth encyclical, the 1987 "Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer)", he wrote at length of Mary's special status in the church. His assertion that only the male apostles, not Mary, were instructed to spread the faith - and that women are, therefore, excluded from the priesthood - stirred one of the principal controversies of his pontificate.
He affirmed the ban again in a 1994 pastoral letter, "Sacerdotalis Ordinatio," in which he declared: "Christ chose only men as his Apostles, and the Church has imitated Christ in its constant practice of choosing only men.
"I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that all the faithful are definitively bound by this judgment."
That assertion, and the Vatican's attempt to thwart a U.N. initiative on population control in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994, provoked so much outcry that he took pains to explain that he indeed endorsed education and careers for women.
"Women have a full right to become actively involved in all areas of public life," he declared in a 1995 letter to the United Nations. But, he noted, "equality of dignity does not mean `sameness with men.'
"It is necessary to counter the misconception that the role of motherhood is oppressive to women, that a commitment to her family, particularly to her children, prevents a woman from reaching personal fulfillment. ..."
Some observers have speculated that his devotion to motherhood, and to Christ's mother, sprang from the death of his own mother when he was 8. Still, his views of women were received coolly by most feminists.
"John Paul always sees women in their biological dimension; either as mothers or as virgins who must follow the model of the Madonna," complained Ida Magli, an Italian anthropologist.
"It's always the way they relate to their body: Either they make children or they abstain from sexual intercourse. Wojtyla never sees women as persons in the same way he sees a male as a person. I think that deep in his heart he fears the rebellion of women."
John Paul's dealings with other religions also stirred public emotions. In 1986, he became the first pontiff ever to visit a Jewish synagogue, the ancient Synagogue of Rome. In 1994, he ignored his own secretary of state and established full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the government of Israel. In January 2002, the Vatican published a document that said Christians should respect the Jewish belief that the Messiah has not yet come.
But there were many areas of strong disagreement with Jewish leaders. In 1987 and 1988, he received former U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, then the president of Austria, despite widely credited allegations that Waldheim had ordered the roundup of Jews in his native Austria during World War II. In 1994 John Paul quietly conferred on Waldheim a papal knighthood, though by that time the Austrian was something of an international pariah. The Pope never explained his reasons publicly.
Jews also complained about his handling of a decade-long controversy over the presence of a cross and convent outside the site of the former Auschwitz concentration camp. Eventually, the Pope ordered the convent to move.
And in 1989, he angered Jews when he remarked that "the history of the Old Testament shows many instances of Israel's infidelity to God," who sent prophets to "call them to conversion, to warn them of their hardness of heart, and to foretell a new covenant still to come."
Although he never addressed the alleged failure of Pope Pius XII to publicly denounce - and possibly thwart - the Nazi Holocaust, the pontiff apologized in a special Year 2000 Mass of Forgiveness "for the sins committed ... against the people of the Covenant" and later prayed at the Holocaust Memorial and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
In 1994, he offended Buddhists in his popular book, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," in which he called Buddhism an "atheistic system" - in other words, not a religion. When Buddhist leaders around the world protested, and those in Sri Lanka threatened to boycott the pontiff's forthcoming visit, the Vatican issued an apology.
No one ever accused him of failing to speak his mind. The complexity of his teachings made it impossible to categorize him simply as a conservative or a liberal.
He was a lifelong opponent of communism, for example, which did not stop him from finding fault with its opposite. He cautioned repeatedly against the materialism, hedonism and exploitation that are the dark side of capitalism. In 1991, two years after the Berlin Wall fell, he issued an encyclical warning against a "radical capitalistic ideology" and calling for a capitalism that cared less about profits and consumer goods and more about its responsibilities to the poor.
"Western countries ... run the risk of seeing this collapse as a one-sided victory of their own economic system, and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system," the Pope wrote in "Centesimus Annus."
These were themes he echoed in his visit to the United States in 1995. In his homilies and speeches, he reminded audiences that the power and wealth that many Americans enjoy carry with them "heavy responsibilities."
"Use it well, America!" he exhorted a crowd of 50,000 in Baltimore. "Be an example of justice and civic virtue, freedom fulfilled in goodness, at home and abroad! ... Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like but in having the right to do what we ought."
His voice was strong, but the extraordinary energy he had expended throughout his pontificate and the physical assaults he had suffered seemed to have taken their toll. After undergoing surgery to remove a benign intestinal tumor in 1992, and breaking his thigh in 1994, he slowed what had been a superhuman pace.
A persistent hand tremor and slurred speech raised questions about whether he was suffering a neurological disorder such as Parkinson's disease.
Steely beneath his infirmities, John Paul continued to travel and hold public audiences. Though more and more public tasks were delegated to his assistants, he was determined to carry on rather than resign.
© 2003, The Philadelphia Inquirer.