The Vatican and some American church leaders, such as the late New York Cardinal John O'Connor, suggested that Roman Catholic politicians might face excommunication if they did not conform to church teaching on abortion (a threat that never materialized). The pope replaced theologically squishy priests and bishops with those who believed as he did.
Perhaps the most famous "casualty" of his realignment was the forced retirement from Congress of the theologically and politically liberal Democrat Robert Drinan. The pope simply declared priests may not hold high public office, and Drinan's political career abruptly ended.
In Cuba, the pope tried applying the strategy he used in Poland. During a five-day visit in January, 1998, he did not once mention the Fidel Castro regime. Instead, he reintroduced Cubans to their own history from a Christian perspective. His goal, as in Poland, was to reconnect people with their authentic history and culture, which he believed had been stolen from them by Castro's communist regime. When Cuban communism falls, many will also credit this pope for giving it a push.
That applies not only to communist and other dictatorial regimes, but also to "free" people whose gods are materialism and pleasure, leading to insensitivity for the poor and needy.
The legacy of Pope John Paul II is assured. He was a man dedicated to political, economic and spiritual freedom for all. The shoes of this "fisherman" will be hard to fill.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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