John Paul II : Empire of the Spirit

In a time of moral confusion, John Paul II is resolute about his ideals and eager to impose them on a world that often differs with him

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The secular response to the tawdriness of contemporary life was not uplifting; it largely amounted to a mingy, mean spirited vindictiveness, a searching for scapegoats. Many interpreted the Republican sweep in the November elections as a sign that voters were as mad as hell and ready for old-fashioned verities. That seemed to be the view of incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called for a constitutional amendment allowing voluntary school prayer in public schools. He also suggested it might be a good idea to fill orphanages with the children of welfare mothers.

John Paul was personally affected by the turmoil of 1994. He could not make planned visits to Beirut and Sarajevo because enmities on the ground were too volatile. Rwanda dealt him particular grief: an estimated 85% of Rwandans are Christians, and more than 60% of those Roman Catholics. Some priests were accessories to massacre. The new faith was unable to overcome tribal conflict.

But when circumstances allowed him to act, John Paul did so decisively. His major goals have been to clarify church doctrine -- believers may experience doubt but should be spared confusion -- and to reach out to the world, seek contacts with other faiths and proclaim to all the sanctity of the individual, body and soul.

He made advances on all of these fronts in 1994. The Catechism of the Catholic Church appeared in English translation, the first such comprehensive document issued since the 16th century. It clearly summarizes all the essential beliefs and moral tenets of the church. Some Catholics believe it will be the most enduring landmark of John Paul's papacy. In June, John Paul oversaw the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel, ending a tense standoff that had existed ever since 1948.

In May the Pope released an apostolic letter in which he set to rest, for the foreseeable future, the question of the ordination of women. His answer, in brief, was no. The document disappointed and outraged many Catholic women and men; even some sympathetic to the Pope felt that his peremptory tone, his strict argument from precedent, i.e., that Christ appointed only males as his Apostles, represented a missed opportunity to teach, to explain an exclusionary policy that contemporary believers find outmoded or beyond understanding.

The high or the low point of the Pope's year, depending on who did the reporting, came in September. The U.N. population conference convened in Cairo, with representatives from 185 nations and the Holy See in attendance. On the table was a 113-page plan calling on governments to commit $17 billion annually by the year 2000 to curb global population growth. About 90% of the draft document had been approved in advance by the participants, but the remaining 10% contained some bombshells John Paul had seen coming. The most explosive was Paragraph 8.25, which owed its inclusion in part to a March 16 directive from the Clinton Administration to all U.S. embassies; it stated that "the United States believes access to safe, legal and voluntary abortion is a fundamental right of all women" and insisted the Cairo conference endorse that policy.

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