Wojtyla's Women: How Women, History and Polish Traditions Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic ChurchTed Lipien’s new book, Wojtyla’s Women: How They Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church, published this month by the UK publisher O-Books and available on Amazon, reveals for the first time the role of remarkable women in the life of Karol Wojtyla and their impact on his papacy and the Catholic Church. The book also explores John Paul II’s views on feminism, gender roles, love, sex, abortion, and contraception in the context of unprecedented threats against  human dignity during his lifetime, from pre-World War II anti-Semitism to the Holocaust, Nazi medical experiments on women prisoners,  and communist dictatorship.

The book shows how John Paul II, the most charismatic and influential Pope in centuries, reshaped many facets of Catholic thought. Yet, as Ted Lipien demonstrates, Church policy on women during John Paul II’s papacy remained deeply resistant to popular modern ideas on gender roles. Wojtyla’s Women explores John Paul II’s views on women, marriage, family and sexual ethics from both feminist and conservative Christian perspectives. Previously untapped sources reveal the influence of his upbringing in Poland at the outset of the Twentieth Century, a time when deeply rooted traditions collided with rapid social change and new ideas, against a backdrop of war, genocide, and political oppression. As the book reveals, Polish women were a remarkable and unexpected influence on John Paul’s understanding of gender issues and the Catholic Church’s theology. They were also the main force behind his advancement of “New Feminism” as an alternative to radical and Marxist feminism in the West and in the communist world.

The future Pope John Paul II told Polish Catholics before becoming pope that “the affairs of the Kingdom of God” cannot be left only to women and that “social advancement of women has in it a little bit of truth but also a great deal of error.” But while he could not reach an understanding with liberal Western women because of vast differences in how he and they were shaped by culture and history, Karol Wojtyla nevertheless supported many ideas embraced by secular feminists and broke with many misogynist Christian traditions.

“Wojtyla’s Women” also analyzes the considerable impact of John Paul II’s views and papacy on the abortion debate in the United States. Ted Lipien points out that John Paul II would have been appalled but not surprised that the majority of U.S. presidential contenders in 2008 have been pro-choice, including the majority of those who are Roman Catholic (Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Rudolph Giuliani, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson are all pro-choice; only Sam Brownback and Alan Keyes are pro-life.). Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain are Protestant Christians. Both Obama and Clinton are strongly pro-choice, while McCain is pro-life.  John Paul II would have been disappointed that abortion has not become a major campaign issue in 2008.

Ted Lipien’s book also reveals Pope John Paul II’s deep mistrust of Western liberalism and his condemnation of the United States as  “a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption.” John Paul II doubted that the emergence of the United States at the end of the Cold War as the only superpower was good for the rest of the world and he strongly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Ted Lipien also reveals in his book how the KGB and the Polish communist security service recruited spies among John Paul II closest friends and how they tried to manipulate media coverage of his papacy.

Ted Lipien is a former director of the Polish Service of the Voice of America and a journalist with more than 30 years of reporting and writing about politics, society, women’s issues, and the Catholic Church in Poland. He lives in San Francisco. www.tedlipien.com

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