Taking example from John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI did not scold Americans during his first pontifical visit to the United States.Â Just like John Paul II, heÂ was alsoÂ concerned about his public image. Vatican diplomats have admitted as muchÂ in theirÂ pre-trip media interviews when they suggested thatÂ the popeÂ will try to present a moderate tone during his AmericanÂ visit.Â More likely than not, however,Â what Americans heard fromÂ Benedict XVIÂ and whatÂ he really thinks aboutÂ the American society andÂ Â liberal American Catholics,Â are two different things.
When doing research for my book on the role of women in Karol WojtyÅ‚a’s life, I came acrossÂ convincing evidence that prior to his historic firstÂ visit to the United States in 1979,Â John Paul actually wanted to be very honest andÂ blunt inÂ Â telling Americans what heÂ really thought about theirÂ liberal views on such issues as abortion, contraception, and feminism.
Dr. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish-American professor of philosophy who had been WojtyÅ‚aâ€™s close friend and translated into English his book The Acting Person, shared with me her unique insights about the preparations for his 1979Â visit. This philosopher-phenomenologist told me that at the outset of his papacy, John Paul IIâ€™s conservative Polish friends fed him a lot of misinformation about America. She claimed, however,Â thatÂ sheÂ had beenÂ able to get him to modify some of his views.
Indeed, some of John Paul IIâ€™s first papal speeches did include positive comments about the American society, but in later years I saw a marked decline in the warmth of the popeâ€™s messages to Americans. More and more they began to reflect his exasperation with America, its liberal values and its growing influence around the world.
American women in particular, including Catholic nuns, publicly challenged many of John Paul IIâ€™s assumptions and expectations. While they were not able to change his views to any significant degree, their challenge prompted him to pay more attention to womenâ€™s issues and to develop the theology behind new Catholic feminism.
Before John Paulâ€™s first papal trip to the United States in 1979, Dr. Tymieniecka visited him at Castel Gandolfo and discussed with him his proposed speeches. Some ofÂ the speechesÂ may have been drafted in part by Dr. Wanda PÃ³Å‚tawska, a Polish psychiatrist andÂ a victim of Nazi medical experiments.Â She had been WojtyÅ‚aâ€™s scientific advisor on birth control and had helped him convince Pope Paul VI to issue his 1968 anti-contraception encyclical Humanae vitae. The encyclical,Â for which Cardinal WojtyÅ‚a and Dr. PÃ³Å‚tawskaÂ provided Pope Paul VI withÂ supportive research,Â drove millions of women and menÂ away from the church.
Dr. Tymieniecka told me in 2007 that she did not review the texts of papal speeches prior to his 1979 visitÂ but held discussions with John Paul II about what kind of messagesÂ might resonate wellÂ with Americans. She confirmed that his initial ideas, which his conservative Polish friends had suggested, were way off the mark as far as the realities of life in the United States were concerned. But she said that she had managed to talkÂ him into making drastic changes in his speeches to Americans and was gratified to hear that he had taken her advice.
Dr. Tymieniecka takes partial credit for some of John Paul IIâ€™s first words on the American soil after his arrival in Boston on October 1, 1979. He said that he came â€œwith sentiments of friendship, reverence and esteemâ€ and â€œas one who already knows you and loves you.â€ According to her, these words hadÂ set the tone for his first apostolic visit to the United States.Â ButÂ the visit could have been much different ifÂ he hadÂ accepted the advice of his conservative Polish friends.Â
Dr. Tymieniecka told me that while John Paul IIâ€™s initial views about America may have been uninformed, she said that this was quite normal at that time for any person living in communist Poland. She also told me that she not only had persuadedÂ him to adopt a more moderate tone in speaking to Americans during his first visit but that in subsequent years his opinions of Americans, American society and the American Catholic Church became drastically more positive.Â
However, my own analysis of John Paul IIâ€™s later speeches to Americans shows a definite trend toward a much more critical attitude. He told American bishops in 1999 that that America was â€œa continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption,â€ and he saw Americans as beingÂ deeply unhappy despite their material wealth, an observationÂ for which there is little support.Â
Although he will try to hide it, Benedict XVI also does not have a very high opinion of the American society and the liberal wing of the American Catholic Church. In a 1984 interview, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI)Â suggested that being rich is a measure of oneâ€™s worth in North America and â€œthe values and style of life proposed by [American] Catholics appear more than ever as a scandal.â€
Father Charles E. Curran, who was accused of being too liberal and was fired from his teaching position as a Catholic theologian by the Catholic University of America on orders from John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, believes the previous popeÂ took â€œseveral major strides backwardâ€ on issues of human sexuality and the rights of women.
ButÂ determined to continueÂ the conservative line established byÂ his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI believes that giving in to the demands of liberal Catholics on such issues as abortion, contraception, women-priests and gay marriages would ultimately destroy the Catholic Church and fatally undermine the respect for life and basic morality. Benedict XVI prefers the Church to become smaller and more conservative rather than allow liberal American and West EuropeanÂ Catholics impose theirÂ liberal values on the rest of the world. During his visit to the U.S., however, heÂ did notÂ make anyÂ strong critical comments about American liberalism.
Ted Lipien is the author of Wojtylaâ€™s Women: How Women, History and Polish Traditions Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church. It will be published by O-Books in June 2008, http://www.o-books.com/ .
Ted Lipien â€™s email address is: email@example.com. For radio, TV, Internet and print media interviews with the author, please call: 415-793-1642. For more information about Ted Lipien and his book on Pope John Paul II, please visit: www.TedLipien.com