His Holiness John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope,
The Pope's latest, best-selling book is a collection of answers to questions posed by the Vatican friendly journalist Vittorio Messori, the author of The Ratzinger Report. Its short chapters make it much more manageable reading than the interminable documents usually published by the Pope himself. Yet, the personality of the Pope shines clearly through Messori's editing.
In reading a book about institutions one loves (in this case the Catholic Church and the Papacy) by one who seems to be damaging those institutions, the question of motive naturally arises. Does he understand what he is doing, or does he understand it all too well? Does he act out of ignorance or out of malice? While no one should discount the possibility of the latter, the book makes it seem that ignorance, or rather naivete is at fault.
Often what Pope John Paul writes is hard to disagree with directly. Instead of being wrong it is off the mark. Frequently one must disagree with his emphasis. That is to say, the quarrel is more with what he considers important than what he has to say about it; what he fails to say rather than what he does say. For example, he often mentions the good that is to be found in non-Catholic religions, while totally failing to comment on the bad effects they have on society or souls that they draw away from the true Faith.
Humanist existentialism underlies most of the Pope's thought. In recent years the University of Lublin has published some of his fairly technical writings describing this "Polish Existential Thomism." Existential Thomism, is, of course, a contradiction in terms, but the attempt is made to justify the contradiction in this book:
"And we find ourselves by now very close to Saint Thomas, but the path passes not so much through being and existence, as through people and their meeting each other, through the "I" and the "Thou.""
"Our faith is profoundly anthropological, rooted constitutively in coexistence, in the community of God's people, and in communion with the eternal "THOU."" (36)
The central error underlying Karol Wojtyla's thoughts and his pontificate is an uncritical enthusiasm for Vatican II. He boasts of his "particular fortune of being able to take part in the Council from the first day to the last - a special gift from God" (157-158). He speaks approvingly of "Pope John XXIII, who was moved by God to summon the Council" (146), failing to mention that the "summons" was a voice in his ear whispering "ecumenical council," and that Pope John failed to consider whether the voice's origin was divine, illusory, or diabolical. Even in retrospect, thirty years later, John Paul ignores the demonstrable damage done to the Church while holding up "the Council" as though it were the major font of Christian revelation.
The decimation of the religious orders is portrayed as an evolution to "movements made up for the most part of lay people who are married and have professions" (168).
The mass exit from the Church is described as a "qualitative renewal," and, naively, the Church in North and South America and Africa is said to be "growing with ever increasing vigor" (167). Certainly the Pope is not speaking of numbers in South America where the Protestant sects are awash in former Catholics, nor in North America where all beliefs are optional. African Catholicism may be increasing in numbers and vocations, but it looks less like Catholicism than even that of North America.
All is well, we are assured. "If the postconciliar Church has difficulties in the area of doctrine and discipline, these difficulties are not serious enough to present a threat of new divisions." (169) Perhaps it is better stated that one may be a Conciliar Catholic without believing in anything in particular, except, perhaps, the rejection of Catholic Tradition.
He speaks of a "new evangelization, which originated precisely at the Second Vatican Council" (160), being guided by the conciliar document Dignitatis human‘, which suggests that belief in the Catholic faith is secondary. It is never clear what this "evangelization" is, but he seems to say that it has no room for "restoration" or "proselytism"; and that is to be made up chiefly of young peoples' pilgrimages to famous shrines (115-116). Salvation through tourism!
He writes of "The Church want[ing] to preach the Gospel together with all who believe in Christ" (141)! He fails to say how this could be done. Could a Catholic and, say, a Methodist preach jointly without being laughed at by their listeners as they argued with each other? Or would they agree in advance not to mention their points of disagreement? Precious little would be left; and less yet after "all who believe in Christ" made their subtractions from this common "gospel."
We are to look to "the Jews as our elder brothers in the faith" (99), in spite of their rejection of Jesus Christ, the promised Messias. And we are urged to accept that the Moslems, "the believers in Allah, are especially close to us" (91). Except, of course, those Moslems who have the odd concept that there is such a thing as a "true religion" (94) and that everyone should believe it. The Pope thinks it is "simplistic" (102) to worry that there will soon be more Moslems than Catholics in the world. Perhaps it is his own simplistic grasp of history that is at fault, as he seems to ignore the thousand year death struggle between Christianity and Islam. John Sobieski, the great liberator of Poland from Moslem aggression, would have disagreed sharply with John Paul II's conception of Poland as a place of traditional tolerance (145, 154), having described his victory over the Moslems as God's cause and God's victory: "I came, I saw, and God conquered." The Pope's claim that "1596 marks the beginning of the history of the Eastern Church" (145) confirms his lack of historical precision.
The defense of the right to life is made almost exclusively in terms of human rights (204-210). God is an afterthought, mentioned only in describing a few modern Jewish philosophers. "Abortion [and] also contraception are ultimately bound up with the truth about man." (174) The Pope speaks of "responsible parenthood . . . the principal activity and primary commitment of these programs is to foster human love." (208-209) Lest anyone forget, before Vatican II the principal end of marriage was the procreation and education of children.
The Pope's defense of the unborn has always been impaired by his conception of religious liberty: "no one is to be restricted from acting in accordance with his own beliefs . . . within due limits." (Dignitatis human‘ #2) Thus politicians are able to appeal to Vatican II, in being "personally opposed to abortion but unable to force my views upon my constituents." It seems significant, then, that in quoting from this very same document (189-190) he omits the offending passage. Unfortunately, omission is not enough, for people will continue to find it for themselves; only repudiation will do.
Crossing the Threshold of Hope is peppered with suggestions of a man centered New World Religion. In the martyrs of Communism and Naziism we have "the foundation of a new world, a new Europe, and a new civilization." (177) The "distinction between the teaching Church and the learning Church" is blurred, as "each of the baptized participates, albeit at his own level, in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly mission of Christ." (175) "Man is the priest of all creation." (16 & 18) "The work of redemption is to elevate the work of creation to a new level. Creation is permeated with a redemptive sanctification, even a divinization." (22) "The Gospel . . . is a grand affirmation of the world and of man, because it is the revelation of the truth about God." (20) Apparently, the Pontiff's kingdom is of this world.
John Paul II momentarily laments the loss of preaching about "the last things -- death, judgement, heaven, hell, and purgatory," (179) but then goes off on the Council's emphasis on "an eschatology of the Church and the world." (181) He correctly rejects the notion that hell is only temporary (185) but leaves us wondering if God has ever sent anyone there. (186) He asks, "Isn't final punishment in some way necessary in order to reestablish moral equilibrium in the complex history of humanity?" but then suggests that perhaps Purgatory is enough.(186-7) Of course, the heresy of universal salvation is already enshrined in the falsified vernacular translations of the Novus Ordo's "institution narrative."
Contradicting the pseudo-conservatives who claim that it contains no new doctrine, the Pope speaks about the New Catechism as "indispensable, in order that all the richness of the teaching of the Church following the Second Vatican Council could be preserved in a new synthesis and be given a new direction."(164)
In just about anything that Pope John Paul II writes it is possible to take a moment's solace in an inevitable passage or two about the Blessed Virgin. Regrettably, the section at hand (212-215) reads more like a commercial for Vatican II. "The Second Vatican Council made great strides forward with regard both to Marian doctrine and devotion." -- a questionable statement indeed!
Crossing the Threshold of Hope begins and ends with reference to the admonition given by the Pope on October 22, 1978, the day of his installation. "Be not afraid," we are told (4, 218, 229). These words are found in sacred scripture, addressed to Mary by the angel, and by Christ to His disciples. In that sense they are a source of consolation, a sort of divine promise that God will always look after the needs of His faithful people. Yet in the context of John Paul II's man centered church they take on a more ominous tone; almost that of one trying to gain the confidence of a victim. We are indebted to John Paul II for putting down in fairly plain language (at least for him) so many of the reasons why we should indeed "Be Afraid!" of his new church.
NOTE: The numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in the English edition published by Knopf.