On April 2, after long sufferings perfectly played out across the media, Karol Wojtyla, also known as the Pope, passed away. The media made an enormous spectacle of his death, allowing thousands to mourn and helping the Catholic Church enter a second spring – even if this may be only for a short period of time.
In an effort to break through the fog and mist surrounding this staged mass mourning, we can allow ourselves a look back at the life and work of the departed Pope.
The official remembrances of the Pope’s life and work paints a picture of a “shining light”, who may have perhaps had one or two dark sides. He will, however, not only enter the history books as the first Slavic Pontifex maximus, but rather also as the most important Pope in modern times, as one who made an important contribution to world peace, who untiringly aided the poor and oppressed, and who listened to youth. He was a superstar, a virtuoso, a “father who you could lean on”.
Thus we will let the facts speak for themselves, so that we can form our own opinion independently from stereotypes and the Catholic propaganda-programmes seen on both private and state televisions channels.
A Pope is made
The Catholic Church has at its disposal a veritable arsenal of nice fairy tales. Naturally, a fairy tale about the election of the Pope cannot be missing from this selection. Dozens of Cardinals therefore meet in the Vatican for this election, waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, who after a while, breathes the name of the new Pope into the heads of the majority of the princes of the church who then are required to elect him.
As materialists, however, we strongly believe that concrete and tangible material interests are decisive in the choice of head of state in the Vatican as well. When Karol Wojtyla was presented as the new “father” of the Catholic fold on October 16, 1978, it was not only internal Church interests that were crucial. Two ultra-reactionary sects in the Catholic Church with good relations with the Vatican, Opus Dei and the Knights of Malta, tight-knit, closed organizations that have existed for decades and with which the CIA maintained well-cared for connections during the Cold War, were also decisive in the elections.
The Knights of Malta and Opus Dei organized Wojtyla’s election campaign, after he, among the possible papal candidates, came closest to the CIA's declared criteria for a new Pope.
In 1976 this tactic was unsuccessful, and it was Mr. Luciani who, an advocate of the Second Vatican Council and of a rather moderate line and policy, was chosen as Pope (John Paul I). When he, under mysterious circumstances that remain unexplained to this day, passed away after a short time in office (33 days), the way was opened for the Polish Cardinal. From the very first day, Wojtyla was to define Vatican policy in the interests of US imperialism.
With Wojtyla, a pope of a new type had arrived in the Vatican. He stood for a conservative counter-offensive. It is no coincidence that he arrived at the top of the Catholic Church at more or less the same time as Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher initiated a rightwing conservative turn in the US and the UK. Wojtyla was the religious defensive flank for their neo-liberalism.
Wojtyla the anti-Communist
Karol Wojtyla’s career was shaped by the clash of the strong Catholic Church in Poland against the “communist regime”. Wojtyla was a fanatical anti-communist during his lifetime. The defence of "religious freedom" always stood at the centre of his work. Religious freedom was for him the most important human right, because only religion could aid the acceptance of the traditional moral code. Where the state infringed upon these god-given lex naturalis (natural laws), such as the liberalization of abortion laws, the introduction of sexual education in schools, and only on these questions (as opposed to the questions of attacks on the poor and the working class for example), is it the duty of the Church to get involved in political life.
Wojtyla's conception of man denied social conditions. The social rights of people were therefore, at best, of secondary importance. Where these rights are trodden under foot under capitalism, the Church, who is only concerned with the salvation of the soul, can simply close its eyes and sink itself in prayer for the poor sheep of the fold. Wojtyla considered communism to be the total negation of the lex naturalis. He consequently saw his central task in the struggle against the “evil empire”, located in the Soviet Union. This image would later be thankfully taken on by his friend Ronald Reagan.
With his trip to Poland in 1979, John Paul II was due to make an important contribution to the struggle against communism. The trip had a clear political task, namely the strengthening of Catholicism, which was always a political factor in Poland, and thus indirectly the destabilization of “communist” Poland.
It was thus hardly surprising, that the ultra-catholic powers at the head of the Solidarnosc trade union movement consciously made the portrait of the Pope the symbol of their opposition during the strike wave of 1980. Another interesting detail: the strike wave in the 1970s and the early 1980s in Poland were lead independently of Solidarnosc. With the help of networks of the Catholic Church and the financial support of the Reagan administration, the ultra-reactionary leadership of Solidarnosc succeeded in taking over the leadership of the strike movement and steering it along a pro-capitalist course. Lech Walesa jumped over the wall of the striking Danzig dockyards in August 1980 and assumed the public leadership of the strike. This was nothing less than a (successful) Putsch against the actual leadership of the strike, which had nothing to do with Solidarnosc. Walesa and his then father confessor form until this very day the right fringe of the Catholic camp in Poland and have been involved in various mafia-esque businesses. The sermons of the Pope for “a new, united, Christian Europe must also be seen in this context. Austria’s Chancellor Schüssel even openly admitted that the Pope’s vespers on Europe during his first visit to Vienna in 1983 were an influential model and had a great effect on conservative politicians such as himself and provided an ideological veneer for the European politics of the Christian democrats (i.e. Eastern expansion). Christianity was to be the corner-stone of European culture and in the future would need to become a model in the process of European unification. The crimes of the Christian church throughout European history would be deliberately swept under the carpet. The world was supposed to adapt itself to the European (i.e. Christian) character. The assumption was therefore, that Eastern Europe would free itself from the clutches of the atheist communists. These conceptions fit naturally very well into the school of thought of reactionary politicians such as ex-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl or the ÖVP reactionary Andreas Khol, who serve the Christian banner, in order to be able to make European imperialism a world power.
Wojtyla and Latin America
It is hardly surprising that the Conquistadores served the Pope quite well as models for this new Europe. The Conquistadors had some 500 years ago come to South America with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other to do “missionary work”. The old saying “the sword and the iron rod are the best teachers”, is now blessed, as in the case of the “Brazilian Apostle” Jose de Anchieta.
Since at least the Cuban Revolution, the “backyard of the US” has become a center of revolution. This very continent, where the heads of the church and the ruling classes defend the ruling order in cozy unity, became agitated upon John Paul II’s assumption of office. Here, the revolutionary processes were also reflected in the Catholic Church. So-called “Liberation Theology” understood itself as a part of the revolutionary movement.
John Paul II, therefore, saw the cleansing of the Latin American church from this “Marxist cancer” as one of his most important tasks. On his first foreign visit to Mexico he asserted: “It stands in contradiction to the thought of the Church to believe that Jesus was politically engaged against the rule of the Romans and struggled against the powerful, and to say that he may even have been involved in a class struggle.” What advice did the Pope give the exploited and those deprived of their rights in Latin America? Lie down and pray for the salvation of your soul, but not for the establishment of paradise on earth ...
Naturally he also addressed the question of “social justice” in this context. The Church must raise its voice when the rich become richer, and poor become poorer. However, the redistribution of social wealth was not the key to the solution but rather a return to the “principles of ethics”. Amen and God bless!
These statements of the Pope gave the right wing across all of Latin America a boost and Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean military dictator who in 1988 received a friendly visit from the Pope, praised them emphatically. The Pope then legitimized the military junta in Brazil. Indeed he wanted to stand at the head of “the Church of the poor”, but that did not necessarily mean that the Church served “to cause tension and the outbreak of fighting between people”. Social change could only come from those in power, and the poor should kindly forget about the class struggle. Emancipation, according to the Pope, could only be obtained by each person through belief in God. Emancipation had nothing to do with a transformation of society.
Where Catholics were a part of the left, they were strongly put in their place by John Paul II – such as the grass roots communities in Nicaragua supported by the Sandinistas. The liberation theologian and Minister of Culture in the revolutionary government of Nicaragua, Ernesto Cardenal, kneeling before John Paul II, was publicly warned by the Pope with a raised finger. Bishop Romero, who openly denounced the role of US imperialism in El Salvador, was quoted by the Pope in Rome and sharply criticized. When Romero fell victim to a politically motivated murder, the Pope admonished more or less openly the adherents of the liberation movement in the ranks of the Catholic Church to take up political abstention. In Eastern Europe however, politically active clerics were quickly raised through the ranks of holy martyrs.
Another stone in his Marxism-Destruction-Tour was his several day's stay in Cuba in 1998. Although this trip was a failure from the point of view of the counter-revolution, it is repeatedly remembered today as a shining moment. A few additional remarks: the Cuban clergy is traditionally so rightwing that is has no mass following, even though the country is, on paper, predominantly Catholic. Nevertheless 500,000 people came to the Pope’s mass, and according to a German Bishop, the atmosphere was “electrifying”. This is hardly surprising, since the mobilization for the mass took place through the structures of the Communist Party. The Catholic Church would not have been able to mobilize a tenth of the people for this absurd spectacle in Havana. The branding of the “culture of death” in Cuba, where contraceptives are free and abortions are a part of the everyday (without parental consent after the age of 16), clearly fell here upon infertile soil. The papal demand for the opening up of the country and the opening up of the world to Cuba corresponded to Cuba’s political orientation towards the late 1990s, which was looking for investment and a way to break through the political and economic blockade.
Thus this chess move was stalled in the first stages. The Vatican did indeed attest to an improvement regarding religious freedom, which must be assessed as a Pyrrhic victory in view of the empty churches. A supplying of material to the attempted ideological counterrevolutions was set forward by the conservative Spanish government under Aznar. They wanted to distribute aid and other goods through the Cuban Caritas, in order to give the Catholic Church in Cuba better ammunition for their counter-revolutionary work. This was rejected by the Cuban government and led to serious diplomatic disagreements, which then began the present ice age in diplomatic relations between the EU and Cuba. In a concluding conversation with Castro, the Archbishop of Boston brought up the following point on the differences between Communism and the Catholic Church: “You chase after a Utopia (that life could be better for people on earth), however we act in the knowledge, that after death, our saviour was resurrected”. Well then ...
In advance of all of his visits to Latin America, the Pope always met with high ranking US politicians, where the public appearances of the Pope were obviously well planned and coordinated. Under John Paul II the Church played the role as defender of the ruling order and the maintenance of exploitation and oppression. And the Pope made it understood that he was conscious of the fact that Marxism was the most important opponent.
The Pope of peace
Again and again, the Pope spoke out for peace in his public addresses. In the background of the Cold War, the views of the Pope were always clearly in favour of the West, where he saw the stronghold of liberty, and it was necessary to defend this liberty against the totalitarian East. His slogan was, “Maintain liberty, and you maintain peace!”. In the newspapers of the Vatican, one could easily find articles supporting the armaments policy of imperialism against the Soviet Union. He also legitimized the policies of the West in various appearances before NATO-soldiers. John Paul II declared deterrence through the use of nuclear weapons morally justifiable, with which he of course meant only the “good” nuclear weapons of the West.
His “pacifism” received apparent injuries, when he, during the course of the nationalist conflict in the 1990s, took a clear position in favour of the (Catholic) Croatians, and thus gave, alongside German and Austrian imperialism, important external support to the Croatian nationalists, which was a significant contribution to the break-up of Yugoslavia and to the wave of military clashes in the Balkans.
In the run-up to the war in Iraq, object his defenders, the Pope took a definite stand against the war. Apart from the fact that the Vatican was pursuing its own interests regarding the Catholic minority in Iraq, hoping to build up its influence in the Arab world through a pacifist position (in which he was so successful, that the Taliban lamented his death). It must be clearly said, that the Pope’s opposition to the war, aside from a few prayers, had nothing really concrete to offer.
The war’s true origins, namely concrete imperialist interests, he deliberately refused to name. Everything was reduced to a question of ethics, to which everyone had to answer individually. The Pope was given more importance in the bourgeois media than he actually had, in order to curtail the radicalization of the anti-war movement and to shift the balance of power in favour of more moderate, pacifist forces.
Against the desire of the flesh
As noncommittal as John Paul II remained regarding the questions of peace and disarmament, he was every bit as clear when it came to his favourite topic.
From the beginning of his term, one topic was constantly at the center of his papal interests: sexuality. Not so very much his own (we, at least, know very little about that), but the sexuality of his fold, who, in these unholy times, are constantly affronted with the realms of the devil and who sin in sexual affairs. The world of the late 20th century was seen as the very Sodom and Gomorra.
At the heart of his campaign for a Catholic sexual morality was his struggle against the “scourge of abortion, artificial contraception and pre-marital relations” (Peru, 1984). “Sexual promiscuity, like the drug craze, destroys the lives of millions of people” (London, 1982). This, according to the words of the “Holy Father”.
And so the “Pope of the Youth”, as we can hear on ORF (Austrian TV), had nothing left but the call to chastity and “untouched purity”. He became a guardian and protector of all crusaders against “shamelessness and indecency”, who want to relegate any form of sexuality to marital bedrooms and with that did not shy away from censorship and violent encroachments on cinemas, nude establishments, etc.
We should live pure, only in marriage is fertility allowed free rein. Sex, that does not lead to the bearing of children, stops being an “act of love” and is therefore a work of the devil. He who holds himself to this is holy....
The right to abortion was until the very end, a painful thorn in John Paul II’s side. From the “Holy Throne” he lead the struggle of reactionary anti-abortionists world-wide for more than 25 years. “The first right of the human being is the right to life” – and this from the head of a church that has accepted, and not too seldom practiced, the death penalty for centuries, church, that gave its blessing to mass murders on the battle fields for centuries! Not once did the Pope find it a bit too silly to declare abortions “this unspeakable crime against human life” as bearing the same threat to humanity as “the power of nuclear weapons” (Vancouver, 1984). Regarding the question of abortion, the Vatican under Wojtyla ran about hand in hand with the right-conservative politicians of the likes of Ronald Reagan.
Karol Wojtyla was an extremely political Pope, who knew which side he had to be on. In his work it is clear, exactly which reactionary role the Church, in this concrete case the Catholic Church, plays in this society. His vision of the world and of people categorically rejected any kind of change, unless it touched upon the religious moral code. In practice, this serves to cement the ruling relations, because it is the perpetuation of their privilege and positions of power that will always be more important to them than eternal salvation.
The balance of the Pope is, from the view of the ruling classes, without doubt a success. He will, therefore, also be granted entry into their history books. However those, who work towards building a paradise on earth, will shed no tear over the Pope.