|EDITORS' NOTE (May 21, 2003)|
When this page was first published, the opening section of it was incorrectly identified as being part of Eamon Duffy's interview. It was not. This wrongly attributed material is now appended to the end of this page, along with further information about this mistake. FRONTLINE deeply regrets this error and apologizes unreservedly to Professor Duffy.
Can you help us bring Wojtyla alive with a story about the future Pope?
...Shortly after he was elected...the Archbishop of Liverpool and a rather
gray, austere man who'd been a career cleric...told me at dinner that he was
absolutely entranced by the election of Wojtyla. And I said, "Why does he
impress you so much?" And he said they had sat together on the proprietary
commission for the bishops in the early 1970. And a number of meetings had
been in Rome in the winter and the weather was terrible. And...it was rather
austere, a meeting of people who didn't really know each other very well from
And the key figure was Wojtyla. And he would tramp into the meetings, always
just before they started, and on one occasion, he marched in (he walked all the
way from wherever it was in Rome he was staying), and his cassock and his feet
and his socks were sopping wet, skirted up his sock, took his shoes and socks
off, squeezed the water from the socks and hung them on the radiator and he
said, "Gentlemen, should we get down to business?" And they were just so
entranced by a bishop with balls. You know, a man who was rugged and the
energy and the lack of self importance. And so people suddenly felt here was
somebody who wasn't tired, somebody who had vigor who was absolutely sure of
himself. He could take his socks off in public.
Were there any other stories that this man told you about Wojtyla?
The job is clearly very isolating, very dehumanizing in all sorts of ways. And
a story told me by a friend of mine I think highlights that for me. He's a
theologian who was invited to act as an advisorat one of the
synods at the early 1980's. And the Pope at that time had a habit of inviting
some to supper so he could get to meet people, talk to them. So a dozen of
these young theologians were taken to the papal apartments for dinner and my
friend was lucky enough to sit next to the Pope. And it was for him an
extraordinarily tense and fraught occasion. So rather desperately trying to
find something striking to say to the Pope he said, "Holy Father, I love
poetry, and I've read all your verse. Have you written much poetry since you
became Pope?" And the Pope said, "I've written no poetry since I became Pope."
So my friend, rather running ahead of himself said, "Well, why is that Holy
Father?" And the Pope immediately froze, changed the subject, turned away to
the person on his other side. But about twenty minutes into the meal he turned
round to my friend, leaned over to him and said "no context." And at the end
of evening, as they were all taking their leave, my friend said, "Holy Father,
when I pray for you now, I'll pray for a poet without context." And the Pope
was extremely frozen about this He clearly felt he'd said more than he should
have said, shown a part of himself that he didn't really want to share with a
stranger and so he didn't respond to that.
But I do think it's a very revealing story. The whole submerging of his own
humanity in the office which, given the conception of the papacy he's
inherited, I think is required by the job... He's succumbed to this less than
other popes--you know, the famous business about the swimming pool, insisting
on having one built for him, insisting on having holidays, on going skiing.
But all the same, at the heart of it, where the poetry is written, no
Can you talk a little on that word "context," the homey details that are
missing from the Pope's life?
I think most priests have some sort of safety valve. They have families, not
necessarily their own, but they have people they go to, where they can take the
dog collar off, crash out, be vulnerable. I think the terrible thing about
being Pope is that you can't be vulnerable. You can't be uncertain, you can't
differ. The whole thing is constructed so that in the end, you're the one who
knows if you're faithful and it's a paradox because the biblical sources of all
this build fallability and doubt into the whole picture of Peter in the New
Testament. It is of somebody who blunders around, who's fatally weak at the
terrible moment, and yet the Lord says to him, you know, "When you are
confirmed, confirm your brethren."
The papacy is lived with a bit of that, "confirming your brethren," but the
notion that popes are people--vulnerable popes get bad reputations. Paul VI
was the vulnerable pope of this century. The man who offered publicly, visibly
and so people said, you know, "he was weak."
Can you tell us a few of the stories about these other popes, and what they
tell us about the enormous load of responsibility of the office?
The papacy's something you inherit, it carries with it a tradition, and the
tradition is defined by the last few people who've held it, the Pope's who've
made you bishop promoted you to being a cardinal, who've steered the council,
and for Wojtyla think the two key Popes are Pius XII whom he's become more and
more like and the circumstances of the last years of Pius XII have replicated
themselves in the last years of John Paul, a pope of great personal sanctity,
The Pope's self-image is to some extent borrowed from the papal tradition that
he inherits, and Wojtyla's popes are Pius XII, who made him a bishop, and who
set an extraordinarily magical image of the papacy. People called Pius XII
`Papa Angelicus.' And he presented an extraordinarily dramatic image of the
Pope as saint. He was always being photographed in prayer. He was given to
enormous public gestures, the hands. He had a very refined, austere Roman face.
And he imagined the papacy himself in these sorts of terms.
Paul VI told the story of when he was a Secretary of State, during the war, the
key man really in the Vatican, Pius XII would sometimes take him by night into
the crypt of Saint Peter's where all the tombs of the popes are. And rather
like taking one of the disciples into the Garden of Gesthemane, the young
Montini would be taken and would wait while the Pope prayed. It made an
enormous impact on Montini. Here was the successor of Saint Peter, praying by
the graves of all the other successors of Saint Peter, praying by Saint Peter's
And that immense image of continuity, of loneliness, of sacred office, is very
much the twentieth century understanding of the papacy. And it's a
comparatively recent one. People didn't feel like that about eighteenth century
popes. They didn't feel like that about popes in the seventeenth century. It's
something that's emerged over the last 150, 200 years, and which Pius XII
brought to a very high level of refinement. And this notion of the pope, almost
as a sort of icon of sanctity, is really a very new thing. It's a product of
the age of mass media. People didn't feel like that about popes in the
eighteenth century, or before. But now the Pope is a sort of holy picture. And
Pius XII is the great transmitter of this image.
It's something that Paul VI--who was a much more humble man, a much more
intelligent man, a much more open man-- nevertheless, he inherited that It
colored his papacy, and it's gone on to color this one. In some ways this
papacy is reenacting the last years of the papacy of Pius XII, a pope who had,
at the beginning of his pontificate, opened things up, a series of great
encyclicals, which had changed the liturgy, which had tried to breathe life
into Catholic theology, but by the end of his reign, a preoccupation with
Communism, a preoccupation with Orthodoxy, is freezing things up, making it
very tight and closed.
And we're seeing something like that in the last years of the present Pope. So
there's a sort of inheritance there. And it's heightened, too, by the
inheritance of Paul VI, because Paul the VI who projected a great image of the
Pope as the sufferer, suffering servant of God, like the figure in
Isaiah:53, who was reviled and rejected, and yet is the focus of God's action
in the world. And that, largely for...Paul VI, focused on the rejection of
Humanae Vitae, and his unpopularity as the pope who frustrated the Council--a
reputation he knew was unjust, and felt very deeply. And Wojtyla provided a
good deal of the rationale behind Humanae Vitae, he identifies very
strongly with it. It's not just Paul VI's encyclical, it's his.
And so that dimension of Paul VI's self-understanding, but transformed by a
much more robust and aggressive personality, much more defined personality--I
think that's another important element in this Pope's self -understanding.
You said the key to John Paul II's character is to understand the importance
of suffering to him. There's an amazing quote in Tad Szulc's biography of him
where he says, "I understand that I have to lead Christ's church into the third
millennium by prayer, by various programs. But I saw that this is not going to
be enough. She must be led by suffering. By sacrifice. The Pope has to be
attacked. The Pope has to suffer. So that every family may see that there is a
higher gospel, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared". Talk
a little about what you say is this key to understanding this man.
Suffering is crucial for understanding John Paul, both at a personal level, and
at a racial, ethnic, historical, and a theological level. His own personal
life is one of enormous personal deprivation: the loss of his mother, when he
was very young; the loss of his brother, who was perhaps the person he was
closest to in the world. Then when he was a very young man, and before he'd
really shaped his own life choices, the loss of his father, whose piety had
been crucial in shaping his own religion.
So he was a very austere man, from whom all human support has been stripped
away. And that's made him the very strong, self-reliant, and very lonely person
he is. But also, he sees that personal record of suffering, which of course was
exaggerated by the sufferings he endured as part of the suffering of the Polish
people in the war, his own jobs in the war were grim. But the Polish people for
200 years have been a victim-people, partitioned between Germany and Russia,
religiously oppressed, enslaved, abandoned by the world at the beginning of the
Second World War. And that experience of desolation, for him, is part and
parcel of the religious desolation of the East, a church which is the Church of
Silence, which was cut off from the West, which was actively enduring
persecution before the Communist era, from German Protestantism or from Russian
Orthodoxy, and then in the Communist period from atheistic Communism.
And he feels that has given the churches of the East a special vision, a
special access to the Gospel of the Crucified, whereas the West he sees as
soft, the churches of the West as having half sold-out to the material values
of the Enlightenment, of having adopted alien philosophies, of cultivating
forms of spirituality that are weak and soft and self-indulgent. He sees the
church of the West as rotted by self-indulgence, by prosperity; of having
softened, of having made compromising concessions to the culture, which the
churches of the East, because they've suffered, have not done.
So he sees there's an enormous contribution of intransigence, of focus, a
greater sense of essentials and priorities that comes from suffering. And so
his own experience, and if you like, his racial experience, his ethnic and ...
the sense of being an Easterner are very important to him.
But there's also a tradition, which dates from the nineteenth century which
sees the pope as the focus of all this. You can find it in writings about the
sufferings of Pius IX, attacked by the Italian state, the pope as the prisoner
of the Vatican, the pope as the butt of intellectual criticism in
Europe--people seeing this crazy old Italian denouncing the modern world, as
being a fool and a buffoon.
And so for this Pope, opposition is almost a sign of authenticity. So, of
course the Gospel will be opposed. People who are fixed on self-indulgence, on
sex, on material possessions, of course they will hate the Gospel, and of
course the spokesman for the Gospel will be treated as some sort of freak, as
being anti-modern, anti-life, anti-choice. But for him, choice is not about
letting yourself off hard things. It's about opting for the hard thing. That's
Can you give us a glimpse of the papacy at its most extreme, brash,
turbulent moments--which give us the clearest contrast with the institution of
The papacy was once a great world power, with armies, with war policies, with
an immense cultural impact Think of the Sistine Chapel roof. Think of Raphael.
Think of the whole centrality of the papacy in the great cultural enterprises
of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And at that stage, the papacy is a
player in world politics. It's a worldly power.
Its experience in the eighteenth century was of all that being stripped away.
The externals remained. The pope still lived surrounded by Renaissance
masterpieces, but increasingly both the Catholic and Protestant powers of
Europe marginalized the papacy. They think it's not important, they don't allow
it to have an impact on the making of peace treaties, the decision about going
to war, about economic morality. And the papacy was stripped of its impact in
By the end of the eighteenth century, you've got a weak pope who is literally
kidnapped by the French, taken off to die in France. People call Pius VI `The
Last Pope'. One of the most extraordinary things is the rebirth of the
institution in the nineteenth century, initially propped up by Protestant
governments like the British government, as a symbol of the ancien
regime, of political legitimacy, of the world that we have lost. But then
creating itself, almost as a sort of a counter-cultural institution, that
defies modernity, that defies liberty, fraternity, equality, that contrasts
decision-making by show of hands, to decision-making as the voice of God
mediated by his earthly spokesman. |
And so the papacy enters into this extraordinary fraught dialogue with the
modern world, in which in some sense it sees itself as the alternative to the
modern world. And in the nineteenth century almost anything can be drawn into
this. The Virgin Mary appears at Lourdes and Lourdes becomes the focus of
French monarchism. There's no obvious connection between an apparition of the
Virgin Mary and right-wing politics, but because it's all part of papal
Catholicism it can be drawn into this great struggle.
You build a great basilica in Montmartre in Paris--the Basilica of the Sacred
Heart--and it becomes the rallying point for right-wing elements in society.
It's the idea that somehow God is going to crush modern civilization with the
stones of the Vatican--it's a phrase that a famous nineteenth century
right-wing journalist used. And that's an extraordinarily dangerous
inheritance. At one level, it's a very important inheritance - Christianity
always is, to some extent, counter-cultural, or it loses itself. If it just
becomes bishops sprinkling holy water on submarines, then you're in deep
trouble. If it's simply endorsing the secular values of the world. But to
identify itself as against democracy, against new philosophies, that was a very
dangerous thing, but it got locked into that in the nineteenth century.
One of the things about John Paul is that he's a modern philosopher, he's an
existentialist who has studied Marxism, who doesn't see himself as a nineteenth
century figure, but has given a new meaning to the whole counter-cultural thing
because the struggle with Communism has enabled this nineteenth century
struggle against the French Revolution to take on a new and more obviously
Christian form. So he's absorbed all sorts of elements of modernity, and the
language of existentialist philosophy. He thinks of humanity as the `acting
individual'. The self is something that works and acts and is. There's a sort
of Promethean element in his notion of human nature, but it's also harnessed
into this counter-cultural repudiation of where he thinks the Enlightenment has
ultimately taken us, via Communism, to a form of Prometheanism that really does
try to steal fire from heaven, that makes Man the measure of everything. That
ultimately, he thinks, dissolves all real value.
In The Gospel of Life, perhaps his most powerful critique of modernity, what
he singles out is this vivid imagery--the culture of death, the earth as a vast
planet of tombs. Could you focus just a little on his critique which is
different in many ways? It takes the tradition of being counter to the culture,
but he has his own special sort of take on what's spiritually dangerous in
modern culture. What does he take from the past and what is singularly and
uniquely his, and his distress and anguish over our times?
For him, the center of all moral existence is human relationship and human
decision. Now he doesn't mean by that that you can make things, up, that you
can shape the moral universe you live in. What it means is that your integrity
comes from a chosen response to moral reality. And he thinks that all forms of
secular modernity, whether it's Liberal Capitalism, or whether it's Marxism,
substitute for human relationship and human freedom secular material
objectives...Whether it's the sovereignty of the State, the absolute, people
hypostatized so that all humanity is actually leeched out of the concept of the
people. He can understand the notion of `a people', but people in bulk for him
don't have much meaning. Because what matters is the individual choosing. And
so for him, human relationships, including the sexual relationship, are
He's often seen as a figure who's anti-life, anti-sex. He's actually enormously
in favor of human romantic relationship, of the male-female sexual thing. He's
probably the only pope in history who's actually written about the female
orgasm as a good thing. But for him, that's all within the context of a moral
universe where sexuality has an objective. And therefore you're not free to
shape it in the way that you might want to. But having seen Communism collapse,
he thinks that Liberal Capitalism is just as dehumanizing, that it substitutes
all sorts of material itches for true human choice.
And one sees those terrible pictures of his last visit to Poland, where he,
with tears streaming down his face, raged at the crowds because they'd freed
themselves from Communism and what had they done? They'd built sex-shops.
They'd got McDonalds. They were buying into the capitalist dream. And for him
this was a great betrayal of humanity. What he wanted was a civilization which
was based on people relating to each other, a simpler vision of life, which
didn't put things at the center but put people at the center.
I've always been struck when I read comments he makes--whether it's in
homilies or encyclicals or as early as those Latin lectures as well--he says,
`Materialism is as great a spiritual danger as Communism, totalitarianism.' Yet
this is a man who experienced the twin evils of totalitarianism. He experienced
Nazism and Communism, and gulags, and millions of people died.. So to be able
to equate the two, coming from his experience, is quite extraordinary.
Yes, and I think work is a key here. Communism identified the individual as a
worker. Capitalism identifies the individual as a consumer. John Paul can make
sense of man or woman as a worker because he believes not that work is an
affliction that has been imposed on us as the price of sin, but an ennobling
thing by which we shape the world. And so human beings' work is part of the
moral activity that makes them human. So that dimension of Communism, for him,
has resonances, he can sympathize, he knows what's going on, what's being said,
and he thinks that there's a dignity and nobility about talking about `the
workers'. He thinks there is no dignity or nobility in talking about `the
What, for you, is distinctive or original about this Pope's thought? Is what
he contributes something that's a deepening of the tradition that lies behind
him, or is it a departure from the tradition, something wholly original?
I think the most striking thing about him is his personalism. He himself, his
own type of existential philosophy lays emphasis on the individual choosing.
And that's signaled just in the way he writes. He's the first pope ever to
write encyclicals using the singular. Encyclicals came into existence early in
the eighteenth century when the popes were kings, and they used the royal `we'.
And that has carried all sorts of depersonalizing overtones. This thought is
not the thought of Leo XIII, or Pious XII, or Paul VI. It is the voice of a
Now John Paul II is very keen on people hearing the voice of the pope, but it's
his voice, Karol Wojtyla's voice, and so he says `I'. And that is a little
signal of something that runs right through his whole approach to the
institution. He's taken a very, in some ways, intractable, rigid
institution--he has not disturbed it enormously--but he's somehow transformed a
lot of the themes in it by bringing in his own experience. The whole renewal of
the defiant papacy against the world, but now in terms of the East, and the
experience of the Slav peoples. It's the same but it's not the same. The
enormous sense of personalism I think is probably the single most noticable
thing about his papacy.
Can you explain a little more about what personalism means?
Papal moral teaching over the last hundred years has generally worked from
general principles. They've gone for natural or Thomistic philosophy. So, in a
way, the pope sits down and reasons things out. He tells you what any rational
person ought to be able to find out for themselves, given revelation and
This Pope is not interested in that traditional way of doing things. His moral
teaching, for example, doesn't start from the natural law, although he does
believe there is a natural moral law, which all men of good will and women of
good will can find. For him there is an enormous Christocentric element. Human
beings, if they want to know about themselves, shouldn't look at human nature
in general, they should look at the figure of Jesus Christ, the supreme `acting
individual', and they must find that in themselves which is Christ-like. They
must behave, they must model themselves. Pilate's words to the crowd, "Behold a
man" is almost a theme of John Paul's theological thought. So he's not
emphasized general principles of human nature, but the revealed principles
which you see in Jesus Christ. And that's part of this personal emphasis which
Is there anything else about his thought that strikes you?
What's surprising about this man and what he offers us in terms of
thinking about good, evil, sin?
He's a philosopher, a professional philosopher, and he was a professor of
philosophy. And more than any pope before him, he's preoccupied with, on the
one hand the uniqueness of the Christian philosophical theological position--he
thinks that Christianity has something unique to offer the culture that nothing
else comes near. But he's also interested in some sort of conversation with the
culture. So, his encyclical on faith and reason takes up the themes of
Veritatis Splendor--the encyclical which insisted on the magnificence of the
truth, the objective nature of morals, to challenge modern philosophers and
say, `You've all become cowards, you're analyzing philosophical language but
you won't tell people what the meaning of life is".
And it's a peculiarity of his thought, that on one level there's this
massively, almost arrogant assertion of the uniqueness of the Christian
message, with the eagerness to hold a conversation with other faiths, with the
Jews, with Jewish thought. He's the first pope to have prayed in public with
representatives of other faith traditions like Hindus and so on. And he
believes that it's possible for Catholic Christians to talk fruitfully, and to
listen fruitfully, to other faiths. And yet, along with that goes this
extraordinary confidence that if you don't start with Christ, you're going to
end up with the wrong answer.
When people talk about this Pope, it ranges from a Gary Wills, who finds
this Pope a man of immense contradictions--which is one school of thought about
him--to a George Weigel, who says he's not full of contradictions, he's all of
a piece and if you read his work carefully, there is no division between the
social liberal and the doctrinal conservative. Or you get someone like the
historian Tony Judt who says he's a man of extremes. Where do you end up in
that debate, if at all?
I'd just say he's a complex man. He's the product, I think, of a religious
tradition that's quite mysterious to us. The week after his election, I was
giving a talk at Ealing Abbey, in London, where there's a big Polish community.
And after the talk was finished, an elderly Polish professor, who was an exile,
came up to talk to me. And I rapidly became convinced that this man was mad. I
said to him, "You must be very pleased to have had a Polish pope elected". And
he said, "More than pleased, the world is about to be changed". And I said,
"Yes?" And he said, "Oh, yes. It is prophesied that when there is a Polish
pope, Russian tyranny will fall, Communism will fall, and there will be a great
re-evangelisation of the Slav peoples, which will be led by Poland. And that is
a prelude to the end of the world". And I backed away from this man, I hastily
changed the subject. And, in 1989, I remembered all that...
And I think the Pope's own preoccupation with the Jubilee is part of the same
apocalyptic mentality. It's a Catholicism which broods on history. Partly
because the Polish people have suffered such historical reverses, and they've
had to concentrate, focus on the meaning of their own religion, over against
Orthodoxy, over against Protestantism, because they've been caught between
pincer movements. So religion is more than just religion. It's a key to who
they are, where the world is going, the nature of politics.
I think it's quite hard for us to imagine what it must be like to be a
thoroughly modern man, with an immense command of languages, quite widely
traveled, who reads a great deal, who's thought a great deal, and yet to emerge
from a type of Catholicism that seems light years away from modernity. And I
think that a lot of what is mysterious to us in his personality is explicable
in terms of his attempts to heal that gulf between the pre-modern world, mental
world, which nourished him, and the modern world, of which he really is quite a
What does his immense interest in and devotion to the Virgin Mary and his
belief that Fatima absolutely saved his life mean? Can you put that into
context for us?
I think there's too much tendency to attribute his devotion to the Virgin to
the fact that his mother died when he was very young. People think, "Ah, this
is a compensatory mechanism. It's all the femininity and softness that there
isn't in his own life, and isn't in his own personality, it's all projected."
But I think that's an analysis that's born of ignorance really, because you
only have to look at everybody else in Poland who was a priest in his
generation and they all feel like this, and they didn't all lose their mothers.
Marian devotion is very deeply embedded in Ultramontane papalist Catholicism,
and has been for centuries. The Virgin in the nineteenth century, apparitions
of the Virgin, play an enormous part in focusing Catholic loyalty, Catholic
identity, and also in offering a dimension of Christianity... If you've got a
very rigid, hierarchical, masculinely-dominated form of Christianity, the
tender, nurturing, feminine element in Christianity can only be rescued by some
sort of balancing act.
This I think was an enormous strength in nineteenth century Catholicism over
and against say nineteenth century Fundamentalist Evangelicalism - with which
it has a great deal in common in some respects - but where I think it has an
edge is in this feminine dimension.
EDITORS' NOTE (May 27,2003)|
What follows is the interview section wrongly attributed to Eamon Duffy. After being notified by Professor Duffy, FRONTLINE found that the videotape of the interview had been mislabeled and the words which follow, highlighted in grey, are those of Gerd Ludemann, a controversial German theologian and biblical scholar at Goettingen University, who rejects the Virgin Birth and Resurrection.
What does this Pope mean to you on a personal level? How does he relate to
your own journey?
When I see the Pope praying, I see a very pious, almost mystical person
praying, who seems to know that when we pray, we pray to a mystery. We know by
praying that things are open, not closed. And that attitude of meekness and of
honesty at the same time, knowing your own place in this universe excludes any
sort of dogmatism. So I think in such a Pope, in looking at his pictures, and
knowing at the same time what he does, I see a very impressive person in
And when I see my own journey of faith, that reminds me of a period in my life
when I also was excluding other people, knowing what God's will was, and
thinking that God has placed me where I am. I'm asking of myself, does this
Pope let any doubt in? Is he able to move beyond his house of the
Church...which he has built? Is he able to go back to his mystical roots
which move beyond any house that you're in, which gives you the openness and
makes you a member of this universe? Again, excluding any claim, any right to
say what is right and what is wrong except what matters is devout attitude
toward the mystery of life that we call God and thereby he misses the
opportunity of discovering that the mystery of life is even more beautiful than
the beauty of the Church. That life as such is beautiful and warm, and that we
don't need any mediator for example, like Jesus Christ, dying for our sins on
the cross. Life doesn't need that. But life doesn't claim as much because
life is over when you die.
The Pope, I think, is creating a supernatural world that is quite unnecessary.
He is a prisoner of his own dogmatic speculation. And I know that mysticism
and piety can grow out to a certain extent in a closed house, but there are
limits for that approach and the limits I have become aware where I learned
about things how they really are and not how we wished they are and here I must
come back to the resurrection of Jesus. You can't claim that Jesus rose from
the dead if he didn't, historically speaking. You cannot develop the world of
dreams. You have to go back to reality. But reality, as such, is not bad.
It's beautiful, once you allow yourself to look at it as it is.
And in my life, once I have discovered that I can call God beautiful, things
were much easier for me. The Bible doesn't allow us to call God beautiful.
It's a God-- a male god--who is strong, who's not beautiful. But once you
allow yourself to move away from it to see things as how they are, we are
living a different world, and I think that's what many people feel, including
many pastors, and that's where we will go. At least I hope.
But what about death? What do you say about that pastor who's going to the
funeral? You're on the ground dealing with people whose lives are filled with
struggle and pain and loss...
If I have known somebody, and if I am accompanying somebody until death, I
think the most important thing for me is to be there, not to talk about the
beyond and heaven and hell. But to be there ...people have been asked--who are
dying or shortly before death-- what matters to them? And most of them said,
"Have I loved somebody in my life, and do I have somebody who loves me?"
So I guess and I presume that it boils down to relationships between humans,
not so much about God and angels but relationships, mainly the question--"Have
we learned to love somebody and has somebody loved us? Have we had a
relationship without 'buts', but unconditional love?" I think that that's
probably what will help me and what I would expect...in others.
You're conceding that life without resurrection, dying without hope of
...Makes life even better, makes this earth a better place.
Perhaps you could go back to that wonderful image of the sparrow and the
banqueting hall, and the confusion and the loneliness of that sparrow--but
nonetheless, that is the mystery.
We really don't know where we come from. And we don't know where we go. And
sometimes I've been thinking, my life and our life is like a sparrow who, for
unknown reasons, flies through the window into a banqueting hall where people
are eating, where it is warm, where there's light. And he's in there looking
around, and after some time there's another window and he goes out again into
the dark, where it is cold. It's a little animal who, for some reason, got
into this banqueting hall, and after a short time, he's leaving it again into
the unknown. Not knowing where he's going.
We don't know where we go. What we do know is we will die. And I do know,
too, that Jesus will not come back during our lifetime. That's what I call the
mystery of life. And I think saying that there will be no resurrection for us
makes life richer, gets all our power back from heaven to this earth. And I
would even call heaven the power and love of this earth.
How has this dramatic journey that you have taken away from certainty, given
you a kind of interest and bafflement, but interest and engagement, in this
Pope whose journey is so different than yours? Has where your life has taken
you made you look at this Pope's certainty and mystery with even more interest
that you might otherwise have had?
I have taken a long journey from a devout believer to a skeptic. As a
theologian who almost died or became sick--then slowly recovering from these
terrible experiences of feeling bereft of everything, every hope, having given
up all the promises of the Christian faith, having given up resurrection and
eternal life. Then slowly becoming aware of the mystery of life and thereby
becoming the person who likes to live and who's proud to be on this earth and
who sees the beauty of this earth. No longer afraid of any punishment in the
future, but living a pretty happy life, and a curious life. I wake up every
morning wondering what I learn today.
So that's the attitude that I developed and looking at that Pope, I think his
piety impresses me and this relentless search, and this relentless attempt to
be influential--I also try to be influential to shape things on this earth.
But somehow he doesn't allow the very mystery of life to come into his life
because he's closing everything, through dogma, through claim, through
authority that he really doesn't have, that he just claims and wishes and
inherits from a tradition that is almost dead, and that needs reaffirmation.
So I think the Pope is banging against a wall, and cannot knock that wall down
because there's no way beyond that wall.
He has taken a journey that leads him to an end. It's like a street that has
no end and that is, I would say, the nature of Catholic doctrine--to claim and
not to seek. To close down and not to open up. And I'm glad that I have found
a way, or a way has been given to me to get out of that building of the Church
and move on to a universe which may be cold, but which has an enormous reach
and is endless and has enormous promise.
When you look at these enormous crowds coming out to greet the Pope, it's
hard to describe the Church as a dying institution. What is he tapping into?
These are educated people, non-educated people, poor people, rich people...
Well, many people are coming out for this Pope, educated and uneducated. And
they think that the Pope has a message to bring to them and he's representing,
I think, a holiness of truth and life and meaning that some of them may have
So the Pope is a living example of a hope which puts things together...a hope
for this world. They see everywhere destruction and they have a longing for
such a place, such a person, such an institution, and he promises them that he
is representing that hope, so he gives an impression, a very credible
impression that they can really rely on him and that church.
There are so many Protestant churches, but there's only one Catholic Church and
that Catholic Church is quite intact. There are no splits within the Catholic
Church--very few--and for some reason he has managed to keep it together, and
to make the Catholic Christianity even more attractive than it was fifty years
ago. So he has managed to include the modern world on the one hand but at the
same time sticking to old doctrine. If you look at his insistence not to allow
women to be priests, if you look at his insistence to keep the celibacy for
priests. So he can do anything and still he's very popular, still
What are the other longings he taps into that we all have?
He adores the Virgin Mary and thereby he gives for many women a role model and
since many women were raised by parents in a quite old fashioned way, in a sort
of regression, he brings in that option again, as a real option, if the life of
the various people was not so successful. So he's giving them an element of a
dream world that is very real in some women, I think.
And for the man he's showing them the tender, the beautiful, the devout woman
that is part of the Catholic church. So it's a very credible person, that
Mary, who helps both Catholic men and women to live a life, to live a life that
is not flling apart. And his adoration of the Virgin Mary comes also from his
Polish background. And the Mary cult, if I may call it the Mary cult, is still
spreading. She's appearing in Fatima and in Yugoslavia and elsewhere in the
United States. It's a mystery as such why this...cult is influential.
Obviously, ritiualistic Christianity doesn't pay enough attention to the needs
and emotions of people. And he finds a way to introduce to represent Catholic
Christianity as something that not only fulfills the needs of the reason, but
also especially the needs of emotion.
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