Surely, he is the most politically incorrect leader on earth. He calls abortion a sin against God and murder of the innocent. He calls homosexuality unnatural and immoral. He opposes all extra-marital sexual relations. He is old, stooped and suffering from Parkinson's, and slurs his words. He is decried by elites as a hopeless reactionary.
Yet he remains the most beloved leader on earth.
In Canada, Central America and Mexico, millions traveled miles to get a glimpse of him. Not even the president of the United States can draw crowds like this. National leaders who deplore all that he preaches find ways to be photographed beside him.
What explains the extraordinary attraction Pope John Paul II has, especially for the young?
It cannot be the novelty of a papal visit. For this papacy is 23 years old, and he is the most traveled pope in history. And he long ago lost the charismatic vigor of his early years.
Clearly, it must have to do with the saintliness of the man and the strength of his message, a message at war with what the secular world teaches about how to live. The young are seeking something this man has, and the world has not.
"How many divisions does the Pope have?" Stalin mocked, when FDR suggested Pius XII might be consulted on Europe's fate. And where is Stalin now? Where are his divisions? Gone to graveyards, every one.
"We're more popular than Jesus now," said John Lennon. And where are the Beatles now?
Yet the Church John Paul heads has lasted 2,000 years, through schism,
heresies and scandals far worse than what a few shameful priests have done to her in the United States.
Which leads one to believe that this crisis, too, shall pass, and the Pope is putting the scandal in its proper place. For this is not a scandal of orthodoxy or church law. It is a scandal that came about from a failure of bishops to maintain orthodoxy and heed church law. Why should devout Catholics listen to our latest reformers, the TV sackcloth-and-ashes crowd, when this scandal is the product of having listened to the old reformers?
Pope Paul VI warned after Vatican II that the smoke of hell had entered the vestibule of the church. Today's scandal is a result of a failure to follow Church teaching (and common sense) and keep homosexuals out of the seminaries, out of the priesthood and away from children.
The Boy Scouts resisted -- unfortunately, many bishops did not.
As the world has hated me, so also it will hate you, Christ said. But in America, too many bishops and cardinals were willing to yield to the demands of the world, because they could not endure being hated by the world. But John Paul II was not among them. Apparently, he never bothered reading The New York Times.
As in every scandal, enemies and opportunists have seized on this one to propagandize for their "reform" agenda: an end to celibacy, women priests, a "more tolerant" attitude toward homosexuality and abortion, a more "democratic" church.
But, again, it was not a too-rigorous adherence to orthodoxy that gave us this scandal, but the opposite -- laxity in following church law. And Catholics have before them a textbook example of what becomes of a traditional church that ends celibacy and ordains women and homosexuals: the Episcopal Church. Anyone want to follow that example?
Up in Boston, and now across America, a new group, Voice of the Faithful, has arisen. Says one of its leaders, James Post, "People are saying, 'We don't want to put money into a moral rat hole that is going to be siphoned off for legal feels, public relations, spin control for more secrecy and deceiving people.'"
Amen to that. Adds Voice Vice President Mary Calcaterra, "We are confident of the legitimate call the Spirit is sending to us."
But is Mary sure exactly which "Spirit"? There is another besides the Holy Spirit who might see in Catholic disillusionment an opportunity to undermine Faith and damage the Church.
During Vatican II, the secular press celebrated the dissenters who flocked to Rome to reform the Church. They succeeded, and did great damage, which can be measured today in reduced attendance at Sunday Mass and fewer vocations. Yet, the papacy, which they failed to reform, endures. And while the dissenters are now all dead and forgotten, this authoritative Pope yet inspires.
We do not need a more democratic Church. History's graveyards are full of those. The Church needs more brave orthodox bishops like the Bishop of Rome. Like the Marines, we need a few good men.