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Typically the Pope journeyed to places where his people face special danger or opportunities. In Latin America, it was the temptations of Marxism and revolution. The "guerrilla Jesus" is an illusion, he declared. In the United States, it was democracy, but with a materialistic culture and a church that strays from papal teachings. In Africa, the danger lay in the mixture of ancient tribal ways with Christianity, the hope in the fastest growing church anywhere. In Poland, Communist control. Some destinations symbolized the horrors that mankind visits upon itself: Hiroshima and Auschwitz.
From his first encyclical through his 1979 United Nations speech and dozens of other utterances, John Paul has laid out a consistent social philosophy. Though it has often been called "contradictory," its fundamental concept is the intrinsic and unique value of individual human life that derives its status from creation by God and redemption offered through Jesus Christ. "Man is not simply an instrument of production," he declared. "Man has social and familial obligations and he has a destiny beyond the grave."
At home in the Vatican, as the Roman Catholic Church's chief executive, John Paul has practiced what one prelate calls "vertical collegiality." To curb the church in The Netherlands for having followed practices forbidden in Rome, he summoned the Dutch bishops to the Vatican for an extraordinary synod and reproved them. Paul VI feared having the regular synod of bishops discuss the church's unpopular policy on birth control. Last fall John Paul brought the issue before the bishops and came away with an uncompromising doctrine strengthened by international endorsement.
John Paul is fully committed to the popularizing reforms of Vatican II, including Masses said in vernacular languages and the need for ecumenical advance. But he is disinclined to move one inch beyond them. He even wants nuns in distinctive garb and priests in collars again. This puts him in direct conflict with large numbers of priests and nuns, mostly in Western Europe and the U.S., who want the church to accept women priests, object to celibacy of the clergy, and demand the broadest possible freedom of opinion among theologians. Millions of everyday Catholics are anguished over the very hard line he has taken on birth control and divorce.
With John Paul lying in pain last week, criticism was muted. But before, it has often been forceful. There was talk of the return to an "imperial papacy," of "reaction" and references to "heresy hunts." But liberals within the church are divided, because they both need and very much admire John Paul as a strong advocate for the poor and oppressed.
In a celebrated 1979 broadside, the Pope's most celebrated critic, Theologian Hans Kung, questioned whether John Paul's human rights preachments could be "honest" as long as the Pope refused liberalization within the church. Two months later, the Vatican and Germany's bishops declared Kung no longer fit to teach theology on a Catholic faculty. That was only the harshest of several actions John Paul's Vatican has taken to