frontline: pope john paul II - the millennial pope

pope with his arms raised
discussion:  john paul II's legacy...What will be his legacy for the Catholic Church and the world at large?


The Pope will be remembered for what he was and is - a reactionary trying to maintain and defend an institution which has caused more death and suffering throughout history than any other. His views on birth control in particular, and the manner in which he has used his influence in the Third World to proclaim these views, guarantee him a place amongst the most evil men alive on the planet today.

Future generations will shake their heads when they read about this 20th century figure who more properly belongs in and to the Dark Ages.

HB Mischling
cincinnati, oh


I've been meaning to write to you ever since I watched your program last Tuesday. On the question of legacy, unlike our politicians, I really don't think John Paul II even thinks about that. One of the things I think your program aptly portrayed is his commitment to the truth, and that is infinitely more important than what people might think about him!

The Pope takes his cues from Jesus Christ, who, like John Paul, has been criticized for his teachings and his steadfastness to the truth. Like many others I know, I believe he will come to be known as John Paul the Great, and that he eventually will be canonized. But even that doesn't matter--to him, or to us. What matters is his unwavering adherence to the Word of God, and his deep communion with Him.

The Pope is the embodiment of what a personal relationship with God can be--both trying and fruitful, but in the end, fruitfulness, abundance wins out. There are many who criticize his teaching on women, but I have to tell you, as a woman, I feel I have come to see a man who truly understands me for the first time, perhaps more so than many women I know. In general, I was very impressed by your production, which I think truly tried to present a balanced picture of the ruling pontiff. One disappointment I had, however, was that the section on women included no interviews with women who supported and had knowledge and understanding of the Church's teaching on women, people such as Susan Muto and Alice von Hildebrand, for example. No one even mentioned the Pope's 1988 apostolic letter, "On the Dignity and Vocation of Women," which is critical to his thinking and our growth in the Church. It also might have been nice to interview some of the Pope's biographers, like Tad Szulc and George Weigel. That said, I am very thankful for this program. It was a real undertaking, and I appreciate it.

Susan McInerney
washington, dc


Why are you publisihing almost nothing but paens to John Paul II? This is a man who, by his very attempt to suppress dissent, has stirred up a hornet's nest of dissent within the church. Surely, some of the dissenters must be writing you.

I know I did previously. But my message and others expressing similar dark views of this very human pope don't show up in your "discussion" group.

Michael Morad-McCoy
albuquerque, nm


He'll be remembered as the first pope to truly reach out personally and globally to his church members and to newcomers. ...he wasn't always as responsive to those in his church in the ways they felt they needed him to respond. Be that for good or for ill, he tried to respond how he thought best.

I think that he'll be remembered as the tough pope with the guts to say what he thought was right, whether that was fashionable or not.

st. louis, mo


The bishops who elect JPII's successor will most likely choose a pastoral leader rather than someone who has served in the Roman Curia. The bishops of most non-Slavic countries are concerned that decision-making has been withdrawn from local churches to the Vatican. John Paul's legacy will be short-lived, even though his barnstorming and his amazing vitality are genuinely loved by most of the world.

potomac, md


As a eighteen year old Polish-American teenager the Pope is the symbol of a new and promising future for the church.

Despite some of the controversial issues he has dealt with, I see him as the figure who freed my parent's homeland from Communism. He is the embodiment of all that is good, pure, and holy. He has made a profound impact on my life in every Pole, and people all around the world. May I say God Bless Him for all the goodness he has down for this world and the Catholic Church.

Margaret Bednarowicz
milwaukee, wn


As someone who has been drawn rather recently (and surprisedly) to worship within the Roman Catholic church recently, I would first say that I believe Pope John Paul II's most righteous and therefore enduring influence will be on the renewed emphasis on personal spiritual practice.

There seems little doubt that his priesthood has been based on an ability to combine a deep meditative appreciation of his creator with the work set before him as a singular and individual human being.

It was good to be informed about the details of his life, which have influenced his passions about the sanctity of LIFE in general and led him to embrace the Jewish community as brethren in the same God. something that has escaped his predecessor Popes almost entirely for 2000 years. It is spectacular to see mystic appreciation re-established, even as he uses his authority to finally expose and denounce ancient evil (anti-Semitism). Thank God that he played with Jewish boys in his childhood.

However, I remain very doubtful that he should himself be credited with a full appreciation of what he preaches. I speak foremost of his inability to recognize that the true enemy of the freedom which his beloved Poland was so long bereft, was not Communism per se, but Fascism.. which can surface in many.. even any type of governance. Even the church itself.

His failure to recognize the suffering of the peoples of South American as deeply akin to those of his fellow Poles.. and his failure to embrace the remote oppression as unconscionable represents a deep lapse in his role as World figure. With a bit of honest and open exchange, such a compassionate personality as his could have come to see a parallel of himself in Cardinal Romero. And he could have understood that Oscar Romero was no more able to embrace a government which systematically abused poor and, than he, Carol Woltyla would have been able to embrace a Nazis occupation as bishop of Krakow.

It's clear to me that this is a well meaning, devout man, and who accomplishes much by using the insights of his own life to inform his work as a priest. And he has made tremendous outreach into places which never before saw hide nor hair of the Pope. However, the isolation of the Vatican has not served him well. After all, he spends all his time enthroned and ensconced and isolated within artificial kingdom where he is revered without question.

I wish that he had been able to spend time talking with people who could inform him of other stories, other challenges.. If he had actually suspended judgment, listened to the Cardinal Romero.. gazed deep into photo images of murdered disappeared children.. . If he had spoken in Faith & compassion with the priests and sisters whose daily work was to minister to the abused.. Who knows what lives might have been saved if the Pope he had heard their stories before wagging two fingers and threatening reproach...

philadelphia, pa


This is a Pope who will be remember as both a saint and a pivotal person in history.

He, unlike most of the people discussing him on your show or elsewhere, sees only God's will to be done. What he does, teaches, and asks of us, is only what the Holy Spirit directs him to do, teach and ask.

While many will bemoan him for his "conservatism," if they truly would reflect that it is the SAME Holy Spirit the brought about the election of John XXIII, the calling of Vatican II and the election of JohnPaul II. Our Faith calls us to be bigger than our social/political ideals, and to view everything as God would, not as humans would.

It is this call to basic conversion, and JohnPaul's actually doing it, that make his legacy both personal and communal.

Brent Christen
minneapolis, mn


His legacy will be that he has brought Catholicism down to the basic precepts that the Church was established on.He stayed his course regardless whether it was popular with the public, or not.

An amusing story was told to me by a priest who serves in the Vatican. One day while the Pope and his aide Bishop Dziwisz were testing the P.A. system in the auditorium, they didn't realize that the microphone was on - the aide said "I think they can hear you now" the Pope answered: "It doesn't make any difference if they can hear me, they still don't listen".

John Wozny
steger, il


John Paul II's legacy is focusing the world on the fact that the central message of the Gospel is hope, hope that does not exist apart from the cross of Christ. From the first words of his pontificate -- "be not afraid" he has tirelessly carried the message of hope to a seemingly embittered and embattled world.

I disagree with the last words of your program that characterized him as a pessimist. His message -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- is the only basis for a true optimism. It is an optimism which acknowledges the very real problems of the world in which we live, but puts them into perspective by viewing them against the backdrop of the cross. How can the problems we face be any worse than the seemingly inevitable consequences one would expect to follow when a world created by a loving God murders their own Creator? Yet, God's love and mercy are so great that the worst thing one could ever imagine in a world of creatures is the very event that God uses as the way for the world to be restored to himself. The pope reminds us that all suffering is made redemptive and thus adds to the world's store of hope when it is united with the suffering of Christ on the cross. God has been very generous to bless us with a messenger who can so clearly see through the confusion of our times and so courageously repeat the good news to an often unreceptive world.

Martin Meyers
kansas city, missouri


John Paul II will be a saint of the Church. His whole life and presence among us has been a true blessing from God. singlehandedly he has reunited the Church.

He brought us out of chaos during the dark days after Vatican II. He alone has had the charisma and fortitude to hold fast to the teachings and Traditions of our faith and give us an anchor of belief. He is striving constantly to keep the Church from splintering into even more subgroups.

At the same time, he does all this with such an air of holiness and humility that one can't help but thank God for bringing him to us.

John Bush
tucson, az


Dear FRONTLINE, I beg to differ with one correspondant who said that Popes don't build libraries like the Presidents. Near here in Washington, DC a 60 million dollar Pope John Paul II Cultural Center is being built near Catholic University, to be opened in November 2000. It is being financed by wealthy, conservative Catholics.

I mourn the prospects for women in the Catholic Church, although I remain a Catholic, while trying to follow the teachings of Christ. Having worked as a missionary for years in Africa, and having seen first hand the plight of the women and young girls there, I am more convinced than ever that there is a crying need for women priests to minister to those who are not allowed by custom to be ministered to by a male.

I agree with you that John Paul II is great in many ways and has done great good in the Church, but I continue to wonder about the future of the priesthood, and deplore the fact that married men and women are barred from ministering to their brothers and sisters as priests in the Catholic Church.

Mary Anne Sonnenschein
silver spring, md


Pope John Paul II's everlasting legacy will be that he, along with the Catholic Church, confronted the evils of 20th century society whether people liked it or not.

He is a man who intimately knows God and brings that unshinkable faith to everything he does. he is a hero of our times because he brings the everlasting message of Christ's love to everyone. The final legacy for us was the last line of the film: If he is a true prophet and we ignore his life we are the tragic ones.

Robert Plumley
toledo, ohio


A wonderful and scholarly presentation with all the vital pros & cons. It was obviously much inspired as well as it was inspiring to absorb, study and reflect.

With his eyes closed in deep communion, he is able to see, hear and feel the real presence of the "invisible" God! Within the darkness of his lonely solitude, he is immersed within the Light Of Truth and Life. If one could look within his heart, mind and soul, the reality of the Alpha and the Omega can be found. It is the total abandonment of his self and the presence of the Divine Nature within him. His life has been our vivid example and necessary lesson for us to follow. What his character projects... is the very essence of God's life within him... and the indelible marks of divine holiness!

No, he is not God but as St. Paul has said, "It is no longer I who lives, but God who lives within me!" His voice IS the very voice of God... the Great Shepherd calling His lost sheep home! Come home, sinners! Come home!

Lewis Smith
rives junction, michigan


My first reaction in reading all of the messages before me is WOW - who else could elicit such unanimous support!

God Bless John Paul II for his faith, courage and committment to the Gospel and to the Body of Christ, the Church. What a contradiction he must be for so many Americans who only know leaders as poll driven politicians - what a breath of fresh air this holy man who has taken seriously the admonition of St. Paul to speak the truth whether in season or out of season!!

Chris Donoghue
quincy, ma


Pope John Paul II will undoubtedly bequeath a formidable and enduring legacy to the world, one that a successor Pope will find difficult to equal let lone surpass.

As a devout Muslim, I have the highest respect for this noble high priest. Indeed, he is considered controversial; however, his actions and rulings must be measured against the equally controversial issues he has been faced with throughout his papacy.

Finding the right balance between the forces striving for accommodation (on such issues as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, women in the priesthood, etc) and remaining faithful to Biblical teachings is a difficult and challenging undertaking, especially in light of the immense attitudinal changes at the end of the 2oth century.

John Paul II does what he believes in his heart to be right. In my view, this is not a weakness but a distinct mark of true faith and conviction.

Despite certain setbacks, I especially admire him for this powerful stand and statements on human rights. No other contemporary leader today has the credentials to project and wield the sword of moral authority as this honorable Pope.

Mohamad Yusuff
washington, dc


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