April 04, 2005

A modern-age pope, to a point

The Washington Post

By Hanna Rosin
The Washington Post

So much was expected of Karol Wojtyla when he became pope in 1978. Here, for the first time, was a pontiff plucked not from the Vatican's inner chambers but a man of the world. He was not Italian; he skied, he kayaked, he acted in dramas. His fellow clerics compared him to John Wayne.

His faith, too, seemed tested. He had lost his mother early, lived in the shadow of Auschwitz, performed forced labor in a limestone quarry. "Do Not Be Afraid" was his motto at his inauguration.

So even before his first papal pronouncement, he was granted a place in history as the Roman Catholic Church's first modern pope, charged with leading the centuries-old institution into the next millennium the "new springtime of Christianity," as he called it. ...

In the pews here, he faced a laity star-struck but not especially loyal. Very few Catholic Americans agree with the pope's teaching that even sex within marriage should have procreation in mind.

His inflexibility on this question, coupled with his unwillingness to deliver a strong rebuke of the U.S. bishops involved in the sex-abuse scandals, meant "the credibility of the church on sexual matters was diminished or destroyed," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Each time an encyclical was anticipated, many Catholics, especially in the U.S., waited for a shift in policy. And each time they were disappointed, as the pope reinforced church orthodoxy on the role of women, sexual ethics, homosexuality.

Posted by kshaw at April 4, 2005 11:44 AM