Page 3, 27th October 1978

27th October 1978
Page 3
Page 3, 27th October 1978 — The man with the biggest in-tray in the world

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Locations: Rome, Milan, Vienna, Naples, Florence


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The man with the biggest in-tray in the world

The Pope must now get down to business after the celebrations. Our editor, Richard Dowden, reports from Rome on the difficulties he will face. •

ON MONDAY MORNING Pope John Paul II will sit down to work. It will be a terrifying bewildering and lonely moment for him. The statesmen, cardinals and journalists will have gone home. The Polish pilgrims will be returning to Poland.

While Rome continues its unholy bustle around him he will have to face the transition from being the world's most famous Pole to a world leader about whom the world knows little but expects much. The immense joy in Rome and throughout the rest of the world when he was elected was justified. Now the celebrations are over and he is the man with the biggest in-tray in the world.

Pope Paul's death marked the end of an era. His predecessor Pope John XXIII, had brought life to the papacy. The world's imagination was caught by a man who could tell jokes, speak out on world issues and call a General Council of the Church.

History will have to decide what he achieved himself and what was inevitable, but he found the Church like a great river which was silting up. Its channels did not reach the great new areas which had been opened up in the Southern Hemisphere. New areas of thought, culture .and communication demanded a new approach by the Church to the modern world.

Pope Paul inherited the rebuilding in full swing and had to contend with all the arguments about the new plan. His hesitancy may have prevented the Church from splitting in half, but he was faithful to the last.

His appeals for justice and peace, a redistribution of the world's resources and an end to the arms race were Christ-like in their passion and pathetic powerlessness. Yet this unhappy Pope who had been on the front bench of world affairs for longer than any other leader, never lost the respect of an impatient world.

Pope John Paul I changed everything. He put an end to the sad face of the papcy and did more for religion with one smile than all the Vatican traditions and diplomacy had achieved in ages. His meteoric pontificate, ending suddenly and tragically made all things possible.

The cardinals knew this, and that was why when they came to elect his successor there was a mood of depression because there wasn't another Albino Luciani among them. But there was no go ing back. Pope John Paul I had cut the tape. The new course of the river was already set.

On the first day of the conclave two Italian cardinals, Benchi and Sin, fought out the progressive, conservative battle which ended without result. On the Monday the picture is not clear, but what has been gleaned from a remark here, a suggestion there, is that there were five or six new candidates.

Cardinal Hume and Cardinal Lorscheider were among them, the others were Ursi of Naples and Columbo of Milan, but the one who gained steadily throughout the day was Wojtyla.

Cardinal Konig of Vienna must have cleared the idea that a Pope from the Eastern bloc would be all right, and the Germans, Spanish and Americans — led by Cardinal Krol, a Pole followed The initial hesitancy as the world grappled with the idea of a Polish Pope did not last long. Since them hardly a world of dissent has been heard, except for one Rome taxi-driver who bawled the Italian equivalent of "Wogs out" at Bishop Alan Clark.

Some memoir one day may reveal the expressions on the faces of the Polish government and Leonid Brezhnev when they heard the news, but for the moment the Polish Government rides the tide and the USSR keeps quiet.

The rest was joy bordering on euphoria, but expectations ride on the back of euphoria. Every one should pause to ask not whether Karol Wojtyla is the man everyone says he is but whether any man is capable of bearing the huge burden of expectation he now carries.

The new Pope is comparatively young, strong and fit. He has interests outside the Church, he skis, climbs, canoes, plays ping-pong — or at least he did. He is extremely intelligent and speaks six languages. He is a scholar in his own right who has written consistently on philosophy, ethics and theology.

In April this year he chaired one of his regular symposia for intellectuals. This one was on "Contemporary philosophy and the future of metaphysics." He liked to chair these symposias and give a talk at the beginning and end.

Through his love of the intellectural world, he has kept in close contact with the student movement in Poland. There cannot be many countries where the champion of the dissident atheist student group is the local cardinal, At the same time he has excellent working class credentials; not only the son of a worker but one who has worked himself in a manual job and kept in touch with the people. He used to have a "surgery" at his Archbishops residence in Krakow where anyone could bring their problems to him and discuss them.

He fought for those workers who were arrested in the food price troubles in the early 1970s and earlier this year attacked the system which led to mothers and fathers never meeting because one of them was always at work.

He is a very strong man; you can see it in his face. At the Press reception last week he showed the papal aides he wasn't going to be hustled, and took 47 minutes to walk the length of the Hall of benedictions. The last man to try to talk to journalists individually was Pope John, and he was quickly removed by the aides.

Last Saturday was more like the bishops' party after the parish. Confirmation that the Pope's formal reception for journalists. Using "I" instead of "We" (though the latter still appears on Vatican Press handouts), he talks of "them" telling him to use French in his address. He also said he would give a Press conference "when they let me."

He has already turned down politely but flatly a cardinals invitation to visit the Philippines next year, and by thoroughly examining each of the 22 top department chiefs in the Curia he has shown them who will be boss.

But his sterness and decisiveness is not the crude exercise of the power of office. Mgr Peter Coglan, who has served on committees with him, says he is a great listener but will give great, long deliveries putting the topic under dicussion in its full philosophical and theological perspective with great precision of language.

His strength has again come through in his relations with the State in Poland. It seems that the Government secretly asked the Vatican if Cardinal Wyszinski could stay on after the retirement age of 75.

It has been suggested that they were frigntened or Wojtyla taking over because he could argue Marxism with them and because his greater flexibility of approach meant he could make greater demands and get them.

He extended the Church's care beyond the rights of the church and those of the Christian cornmunity and demanded greater freedom for all those in his area who were being oppressed. At the same time he accepted the reality of the Communist regime.

It is difficult to discern what his policies will be in future. He has already said in his talk to the diplomats that his Polish roots matter little now but the question is whether he can outgrow the diminishing aspects of the Polish experience. Some people have suggested that he will see the world in terms of the Polish situation — a great clash between religion and communism, and the answer to the massive monolithic authoritarian State is to build up a massive monolithic authoritarian Church.

This reading of his personality is not correct. His approach is pragmatic and existential, and he frequently uses words like liberation and solidarity which have come to be associated with

Marxism. He is no cold warrior.

In his own diocese he has put the people first. He speaks of the priesthood of all the people and insists that Bishops and Priests are there only to serve the people. He has attacked the idea that the Church should be a "moralising and monopolising" Church.

He has set up a centre for liturgy and a synod as well as a pastoral council. The synod is an attempt to work out a new pastoral scheme and it is fed by some 500 small groups of 10 to 15 people who meet regularly and discuss and criticise proposals put by the synod.

It is envisaged that these groups, which are mostly lay, will continue after the synod has finished its work.

At the international level, as a member or the secretariat for the

bishops' synod, he is a firm supporter of "collegiality," a word mentioned some five times in his first address to the cardinals. But what this means is not yet clear.

We can see it means a great personal friendship and warmth towards the cardinals and a determination to keep in close touch with them. he has also spoken of the synod being an important instrument of church government. But does this mean that at the next synod he will take his place in the discussion chamber and remove his papal hat and simply be the Bishop of Rome?

Does it mean that he will devolve power to the Episcopal Conferences so that from now on it will be the bishops of England and Wales who will decide whether or not the Tridentine Mass may be said or the Third Rite of Penance can be used at any time?

Can he allow bishops to decide not only on questions of pastoral practice but also of doctrine? For example, will intercommunion be allowed in England and Wales but not in Northern Ireland?

Secondly, what effect will collegiality have at a local level? Will Fr O'Boyle feel obliged to run his parish with a college of elders (or youngers) in imitation of the Pope, and if he doesn't will his bishop be empowered or motivated to twist his arm? Where will pluralism end and chaos begin, and who is to decide?

The impression Pope John Paul II has given so far is that he will end the Vatican practice of issuing guillotine-like certainties unsubstantiated by any logic or theology. There will be genuine openness and dialogue, but there will also be decision underpinned with considered reasons.

Those who challenge the Church on women priests will not be barred from the ring because the club just doesn't allow women in and never has done, they will be honked on the head by hefty tome of theology.

Finally, the question everyone asks is what are the political implications of this appointment. Despite their denials it seems impossible that the cardinals did not weigh these up at the conclave. The Press had ruled out a Pope from a big power block, and it was wonderful to see the Church establishment acting more radically than outsiders considered possible.

The effect in Poland so far is that one of Wojtyla's main demands has been met, at least temporarily. His own inauguration was shown on television, the first ever full-length Mass to be shown. It will undoubtedly strengthen the position of Christians in the Socialist countries, but who will call the shots?

Will the Pope negotiate directly with the governments or leave it to the people on the spot, giving them only moral support? What help can he' give to the Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Romanians, Latvians and the Catholics in Czechoslovakia and Hungary? Or will he sacrifice them for good relations with he Soviet Union itself?

Some people are seeing Wojtyla as a great anti Communist crusader but this is not his style. fie accepts the reality of the Communist regimes but demands basic freedoms for the people and for individuals. He sees the situation as a complex one between Church and State, god and Caesar. He is not, he said last week in the business of changing governments, but reminded the diplomats that good relations did not necessarily mean approval.

It seems likely that he will be able to see the parallels between Poland and the Right-wing regimes in Latin America, South Africa and the Philippines, where the church is facing greater and greater pressure. The degree of totalitarianism may vary, the aims of the governments may vary but the techniques of oppression are very similar.

My guess is that the Churches in Latin America will receive the same if not greater support from Pope John Paul 11 as they did from Pope Paul.

In Italy he is facing the historic compromise between Catholicism and Communism. A Polish journalist who knows Wojtyla well says he would be sceptical about Euro-Communism. If he hands over negotiations with the Cornmunist Party to Cardinal Benchi of Florence, he needs hardly worry that the Church is going to give up easily.

His lack of experience and the sheer weight of the job will demand that he delegates and shares responsibility. We do not want a messianic leader, now do we want the Pope to become like the Dalai Lama. Pope John Paul II has made us two promises. Can he pick a team which will make the Curia and the Church fulfill them?

The first promise is his insistence that the People of God come first — as in Lumen Gentium. The priests and bishops are there to serve the people and help them find salvation by developing those gifts implanted in them.

The second is the remarkable passage at the end of his first address when he said that he did not know what his pontificate would contain or where humanity would go as it entered the 21st century. He was open to whatever it would bring.

This is the pilgrim Church not the Castle Church, it is a Church on the move which is open to the world and not frightened of it. It exists to serve the world and give it a glimpse of God, the sign of hope for all those who hold or would like to believe that man is more than the earth.

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