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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In essence, the Pope and his critics are talking at cross-purposes, about different universes. His reaffirmations of the church's doctrines on sexual matters actually form a small part of his teachings, but they have drawn most of the attention of troubled Catholics and the Pope's critics in the West. The conviction is widespread that sexual morality and conduct are private concerns, strictly between individuals and their consciences. But who guides those consciences? the Pope would ask. Many population experts see a future tide of babies as a problem to be solved; the Pope sees these infants-in- waiting as precious lives, the gifts of God. The church's doctrine that condoms should not be used under any circumstances has provoked, in the age of AIDS, deep anger. Henri Tincq, who writes on religious subjects for Paris' Le Monde, sums up this reaction, "The church's refusal of condoms even for saving lives is absolutely incomprehensible. It disqualifies the church from having any role in the whole debate over AIDS." As heartless as John Paul's position may seem, it is consistent with his view of the world: the way to halt the effects of unsafe sexual practices is to stop the practices.

Those who will never agree with the Pope on birth control, abortion, homosexuality and so on may nonetheless have benefited from hearing him speak out. Says Father Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington: "He's the one keeping these issues alive, things people should reflect on morally. He can't force them to do things, but he provides a constant reminder that these are moral questions, not simply medical or economic ones."

John Paul has never stepped back from difficulties, and he looks forward to an arduous 1995 agenda. First up is a scheduled 10-day trip in January to Papua New Guinea, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, where the Archbishop of Manila is in open conflict with the country's Protestant President over population control. The Pope is also laying strategy for the 1995 U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing, which figures to be a replay of Cairo. In June, he plans to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church. John Paul has long spoken of mending the breach between the Roman and Eastern churches that became final in - 1054. The Berlin Wall, put up in 1961, came down 11 years into his papacy; undoing the effects of a millennium may take him a little longer.

The Man of the Year's ideas about what can be accomplished differ from those of most mortals. They are far grander, informed by a vision as vast as the human determination to bring them into being. After discovering the principle of the lever and the fulcrum in the 3rd century B.C., Archimedes wrote, "Give me where to stand, and I will move the earth." John Paul knows where he stands.

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