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April 1, 2005

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PAUL GIGOT: Instead of our usual closing segment, in view of developments in Rome, some thoughts about the Pope, John Paul II, a major historical figure. Bret, an unusual pope in that he, in addition to being a religious leader, he was a man of great political consequences in the twentieth century. How do you see the Pope's legacy?

BRET STEPHENS: I think the number one legacy is, he was responsible for the fall of Communism, or certainly helped it along its way. Timothy Garton Ash, the British historian, I think put it very well: No John Paul II, no solidarity. No solidarity, no Gorbachev. No Gorbachev, no end of the Cold War, no fall of the Soviet Union. And really when you trace the history of it, you really see how deeply involved the Pope was in bringing the Polish people back on its feet, feeding that movement through some very dark years in the 1980s after Jaruzelski imposed martial law in Poland and the system really clamped down.

And then also, bringing out characters like Gorbachev. If you'll remember, there was a very key meeting between Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev and John Paul II, which led to the spread of religious freedom throughout the Soviet Union, particularly with the Roman Catholic church in the Ukraine. And that had a kind of domino effect, which had very wide consequences for ending that system.

PAUL GIGOT: It's hard from the vantage point 30 years later to recall that when he was named Pope in 1978, that was before Margaret Thatcher, that was before Ronald Reagan, that was before Lech Walesa jumped over that wall in Gdansk in Poland and started the solidarity movement. Dan, he really was the catalyst for so much of that.

DAN HENNINGER: Yeah, and I think we can extend Bret's remark. The Pope has often been called conservative, and I think that level is really quite irrelevant in this case. This is a pope who lived wholly in the modern world and understood the modern world. He'd visited over 117 different nations, more than all other popes combined. And in every instance he would go and talk about primarily one thing, the inherent dignity of every single human being. It's a very classically liberal idea. And he extended that theme through everything he talked about, whether it was human rights, or abortion, or war. And you could disagree with it on any given case, but he always pressed that one idea everywhere he went. And really, if you stand back, the dignity of the individual is really the touchstone of the modern era.

PAUL GIGOT: Some great scenes to remember from his trips. In Nicaragua, when the Sandinistas were running it, holding his crucifix as the demonstrators were protesting the Sandinista. Communist protestors in Cuba where he made that famous trip, Fidel Castro in the front row and the people behind saying, "Freedom, freedom, freedom." David, he really did have this broad, ecumenical kind of broadening effect on what had been a Catholic church that looked Rome-centered. Has he re-opened the Catholic Church to the rest of the world?

DAVID HOPPE: I think he has, through his travel, as was mentioned. And he reached out to people of the Jewish faith, to the Eastern Orthodox church, and tried to -- he really brought so many people who otherwise would not have had a chance. And by the very fact that, obviously not through his own vote but being elected Pope, and moving that out of Italy, out of, if you will, the European central, he really has opened this up. If you look aroud the world, the cardinals he's named, like Cardinal Arinze, an African cardinal, who has traveled around the world, he has followed the model of John Paul II, he has opened up the church, and opened up the church in a way that people who are not of the Catholic faith, who, for a long time, were suspicious of the Catholic faith, they're no longer suspicious, they have a respect for the Catholic faith that John Paul brought

PAUL GIGOT: Dan, you're a Catholic, and your brother is, in fact, a Jesuit priest in Rome. What other effect do you think the pope had on the Catholic Church?

DANIEL HENNINGER: Well, I think he sustained and protected the integrity and internal intellectual coherence. People criticize him for having been a conservative on dogma. But the Pope was an intellectual, and when a lot of other institutions in our time have pretty much become wobbly in a way that you cannot identify any longer what they stand for, throughout his papacy the Pope maintained the integrity of his institution. And it's interesting to me that in his death, he has in some sort of admirable way sustained the integrity of the individual to choose to suffer, to see it through, and to sustain himself. And he has done it with just the most remarkable dignity, the last week.

PAUL GIGOT: In a way he understood that the core failing of Communism wasn't economic, it was moral and almost anthropological, because it misunderstood what human nature is, that you need to be able to have freedom to make moral choices. And Communism denied that, Bret.

BRET STEPHENS: Well, someone once said that Communism posed as an economic system, but its real objective was the destruction of morality. And this, I think, was in a sense John Paul's political contribution, saying you cannot have a politics that's stripped of morality. You cannot have a politics that's stripped of the most basic human yearnings and the higher human yearnings, for freedom, for dignity, for the possibility of change and redemption. And he was able to do that in sort of the heart of darkness.

If you remember what the world was like when he became Pope in 1978, the Prime Minister of Italy had just been killed, the Iranian revolution was coming upon us, there was an oil crisis, there was a sense of a world falling apart. And you had a Breshnev doctrine which said "once Communist, always Communist." And he stood up to that, and he said, "This is going to change." And in fact, it did change, in the space of about 10 years. Obviously, he wasn't the only one who did it. There were large forces at work. But I think it would be foolish to deny his place in history as someone who had a central role to play.

PAUL GIGOT: A providential figure. That's it for this edition of THE JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT. Thank you from all of us. We'll be back next week, and we hope you'll join us then.