frontline: pope john paul II - the millennial pope

Interview with Eamon Duffy...He is a Vatican historian and professor at Cambridge University, and the author of The Stripping of the Altars and Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes.
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?

eamon duffy ...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. was rather austere, a meeting of people who didn't really know each other very well from different countries.

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 context.

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, visibly...

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 grave.

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 true freedom.

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 today?

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 the world.

He's actually enormously in favor of the male-female sexual 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. 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 enormously important.

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 consumers'.

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 pope.

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 reason.

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 for him...

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 master.

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 contradiction.

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 others.

You're conceding that life without resurrection, dying without hope of resurrection...

...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 lost.

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 appealing.

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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