Papacy: 1988-1994

W Pritchard. New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement. Editor: Polly Vedder. Gale, 2000.

Tenth Pontifical Year

Pope John Paul made four trips outside Italy in 1988. From 7-18 May he visited four countries in South America: Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay. He spoke frequently on themes of social justice, human rights, solidarity, and the common good. In Bolivia he lamented the temptation toward violence as a means of redressing structures that are considered unjust, and he urged action to stop drug-trafficking that “leads to the most terrible forms of servitude.” The government of Paraguay where President Alfredo Stroessner has been in power for thirty-four years attempted to cancel a scheduled speech to civic leaders in Asunción for fear that it turn into an anti-government demonstration. When the Vatican protested, the government relented. John Paul took the occasion to stress the importance of democracy and citizen participation in decision-making. While in that country Pope John Paul canonized the first Paraguayan saints, the native-born priests Roque Gonzalez and Alfonso Rodriguez, and Spanish-born John del Castillo. All three were Jesuit missionaries who were martyred because of their ministry among the indigenous people. Gonzalez and the others organized a network of Christian communities, “reductions,” that brought them into conflict with both the Indians and the Spanish colonists who saw them in terms of economic competition. During the canonization ceremonies the pope defended the work of the early missionaries in the region. During a trip to Austria, 23-27 June, John Paul visited the site of the former concentration camp at Mauthausen and later met with leaders in the Austrian Jewish community. The pope spent 10-19 September in Africa, making stops in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique with an unplanned detour through South Africa. He ended a three day visit to France 8-11 October with a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in which he recalled Europe’s “underlying religious and Christian fabric.”

Earlier, in January 1988 Pope John Paul II published an apostolic letter, Euntes in mundum universum, commemorating the millennium of the baptism of Vladimir the Great in 988 and the conversion to Christianity of the people of Kievan Rus. The pope took the occasion to make another plea for unity of the Churches of East and West as a means of breaking down the walls that divide people and hinder world peace. On the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, 14 February, John Paul issued Magnum baptismi donum, a special message to the Ukrainian Church, suppressed by the Soviet authorities. He pointed to the millennial observances as an ecumenical moment for dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox Christians. He emphasized that Eastern Rite Catholic Churches are not “an obstacle to full communion with our Orthodox brethren.” The pope sent a high-level delegation headed by Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, Vatican secretary of state, to the millennial observances celebrated by the Russian Orthodox in Moscow. The importance of the event, said Casaroli in a brief address in the Bolshoi Theater, has “not escaped the attention of public opinion” and expressed hope that “a new breath of wind will animate the entire relationship of the Soviet state with religion as a whole.” Casaroli was warmly received in the Kremlin when he delivered a six-page letter from Pope John Paul to Mikhail Gorbachev.

On 8 April Pope John Paul addressed a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which he expressed a desire for a continuation of efforts to heal the division brought about by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X. Pope Paul VI had suspended Lefebvre from priestly duties in 1976 because the archbishop rejected certain positions and reforms directed by Vatican II. In 1988 Lefebvre was threatening to ordain other bishops who would carry on his movement. Most of the pope’s letter to Cardinal Ratzinger is devoted to a discussion of conservative and progressive tendencies in the post-conciliar Church. On 5 May Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Lefebvre signed a protocol that was to be the basis of a reconciliation, but when Archbishop Lefebvre proceeded, in defiance of a formal canonical warning, John Paul excommunicated him. In the apostolic letter, Ecclesia Dei, of 2 July the pope described the unauthorized ordination as an act of disobedience, and a “schismatic act” that implied a rejection of the Roman primacy.

On the feast of the Assumption the pope brought to a close the Marian Year that had begun fourteen months earlier. It was the occasion of the apostolic letter on the dignity of and vocation of women, Mulieris dignitatem. He cast it in “the style and character of a meditation,” reflecting on the exploitation of women, marriage, motherhood, the value of religious consecration, virginity, the suffering of women, female gifts, and the ordination of women.

Pope John Paul named twenty-five new cardinals from seventeen countries. In the group who received the red hat on 28 June were American archbishops James A. Hickey of Washington and Edmund C. Szoka of Detroit. Father Hans Urs von Balthasar of Switzerland died 26 June, before the installation ceremonies.

Eleventh Pontifical Year

John Paul began his second decade as pope on 28 October 1988. In the eleventh year of his pontificate he was to return to Africa 28 April-6 May 1989 with stopovers in Madagascar, the French possession Reunion, Zambia, and Malawi. From 1-10 June he visited Scandinavia (Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden). John Paul spent 19-21 August in Spain, and 6-16 October in the Far East, visiting Korea, Indonesia, East Timor, and Maurilius. In Seoul, South Korea, he attended the closing ceremonies of the Forty-fourth International Eucharistic Congress.

At the end of January 1990 the Vatican released Pope John Paul’s Christifideles laici, his apostolic exhortation based on the 1987 Synod of Bishops that had as its theme “Vocation and Ministry of the Laity in the Church and the World 20 Years after the Second Vatican Council.” The pope rehearsed the synod’s discussion and noted, among other points, “the ministries and church services entrusted at present and in the future to the lay faithful, the growth and spread of new movements’ alongside other group forms of lay involvement, and the place and role of women both in the church and society.”

Women’s issues were a theme that ran through many of the pope’s discourses and speeches both in Rome and as he traveled around the world. The discussion took a new twist and complicated Anglican-Roman Catholic efforts at unity at the Lambeth Conference in July-August 1988. On 5 July 1988 the Church of England synod had voted to propose ordaining women as priests. The conference urged the various members of the churches of the Anglican communion to respect one another’s decisions to ordain women as bishops. It occasioned an exchange of letters from His Grace, Robert Runcie, archbishop of Canterbury, and Pope John Paul. In a letter dated 8 December 1988, the pope wrote that the ordination of women to the priesthood and “the right of individual provinces to proceed with the ordination of women to the episcopacy, appears to … effectively block the path to mutual recognition of ministries.” Later in the year when Runcie paid a visit to the Vatican 29 September-2 October, the archbishop and the pope issued a common declaration in which they reaffirmed their commitment to “the urgent quest for Christian unity,” acknowledging that the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood “prevents reconciliation between us even where there is otherwise progress toward agreement.”

At the end of August, John Paul recalled the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II that began with the Nazi invasion of Poland, 1 September 1939. He issued an apostolic letter that criticized Nazi paganism, Marxist dogma, and, in reference to hostility against Judaism, “every form of racism.” The letter echoed the message John Paul sent the day before, 26 August, to the Polish bishops. His reference to the massive extermination of the Jews, gas chambers, and racial hatred came at a time that the Polish Church was embroiled in a dispute over the continued existence of a Carmelite convent on the site of the former concentration camp at Auschwitz. The sisters had agreed to move in 1987, but as of 1989 they were still in place.

Twelfth Pontifical Year

John Paul made his sixth and seventh trips visits to Africa in 1990, bringing to ninety-seven the number of countries he visited to this point in his pontificate. He spent 25 January-1 February in Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Burkina Faso; 1-10 September in Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and the Ivory Coast. In between he travelled to Czechoslovakia, 21-22 April; Mexico and Curaçao, 6-13 May; and Malta, 25-27 May.

John Paul’s carefully orchestrated Ostpolitik gradually won concessions on freedom to practice religion in communist bloc countries. The pope found an ally in Mihail Gorbachev who visited the pope on 1 December 1989. As a result of the meeting, diplomatic ties were established between the Holy See and Moscow, and the Roman Catholic Church was permitted to function openly and establish hierarchies in various states of the Soviet Union.

From the beginning of his pontificate Pope John Paul took an interest in the identity and mission of Catholic universities. In 1985 the Congregation for Catholic Education initiated a series of consultations that, after several drafts, resulted in Ex corde ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution published by Pope John Paul at the end of September 1990. The constitution discusses among other issues, the mission of Catholic universities, their relationship to the magisterium and the local bishop. After several drafts and consultations, the constitution set down norms that became effective with the 1991 academic year. Earlier in the year, 26 June, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the approval of the pope issued the “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.”

Thirteenth Pontifical Year

In 1991 John Paul traveled to Portugal, to Poland twice, to Hungary, and to Brazil. The visit to Poland 1-9 June provided the pope an opportunity to meet with many bishops from Ukraine, Byelorussia, Lithuania, Moscow, and Kazakhstan as well as other European countries. It also had an ecumenical dimension that afforded the pope an opportunity for common prayer with Orthodox and with Lutherans. He also met with representatives of the Jewish community in Poland. His second trip to Poland in August was occasioned by the celebration of World Youth Day in Czeęstochowa. On his return he stopped over in Hungary. John Paul’s visit to Brazil 12-20 October was the fifty-third foreign trip of his pontificate.

John Paul’s intervention in international affairs moved on several fronts. Threats of war had caused him to make more than fifty appeals to government leaders to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Persian Gulf. In August 1990 he had condemned Iraq for invading Kuwait, and in January 1991 he criticized the UN for invading Iraq. From 4-6 March, less than a week after the cease-fire, John Paul arranged a summit meeting of Vatican officials and church leaders from countries most directly involved in the Persian Gulf War, seven Middle East patriarchs and eight heads of bishops’ conferences. Later the pope communicated the concerns for the region expressed by the participants to the UN secretary general. John Paul stressed the summit’s hope that interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Christians and Christians and Jews would contribute to the cause of peace.

With the disintegration of the Soviet empire, the pope envisioned new hopes for a Europe that could “rediscover its soul” and reunite around “human and Christian values.” Old antagonisms, however, cast a shadow over the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Europe held to examine the role of the Church in a changing Europe. Catholic bishops from Eastern and Western Europe gathered in Rome for this purpose 28 November-14 December 1991, and though they had been invited, the Orthodox Churches boycotted the meeting. The Orthodox in places such as Russia itself, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria felt threatened by evangelizing efforts and opposed returning church property confiscated under communist regimes to the Catholics.

John Paul issued his eighth and ninth encyclicals. Redemptoris missio, released 22 January 1991, carries the subtitle, “On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Activity.” Stressing the urgency of evangelization ad gentes, the encyclical also explores new frontiers for missionary activity in modern society and in traditional Christian areas that need to be re-evangelized. Centesimus annus, as the title suggests, was issued to mark the hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s ground-breaking social encyclical Rerum novarum. Like Leo’s classic work, Centesimus annus addresses “new things”: new forms of ownership, new technology, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, that are influencing today’s social order.

The pope inducted twenty-two new members into the College of Cardinals 28 June. They included the archbishops of Los Angeles and Philadelphia, Roger M. Mahony and Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

Fourteenth Pontifical Year

Despite surgery in July 1992 for a precancerous tumor and removal of his gall bladder, John Paul continued his travels. He spent 19-26 February in West Africa visiting Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea, and in June he returned for a week touring Angola, São Tome, and Principe. In October he made stopovers in Mexico and Belize en route to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic for a meeting of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM) in conjunction with the five hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Christianity on the island of Hispaniola.

Fifteenth Pontifical Year

Pope John Paul made his tenth trip to Africa, visiting Benin, Uganda, and Sudan during the week of 19-26 February. On 25 April he flew to Albania for a thirteen-hour visit, and attended the concluding ceremonies of the International Eucharistic Congress in Seville 13 June and stayed on in Spain until 17 June. While in Madrid he canonized a Spanish priest, Enrique de Osso y Cervello (1840-1896), known for his zeal in catechetical work. In August en route to the World Youth Day in Denver, the pontiff stopped in Jamaica and Mexico. In Mexico he was greeted by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and in Denver by President William Clinton. He spent the week of 4-10 September in the Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Less publicized were Pope John Paul’s travels within Italy. His onehundred-ninth pastoral visit to locales outside Rome took him to Sicily 8-10 May. He took the occasion of his third visit there to denounce the Mafia.

One of the most ambitious projects of Pope John Paul’s pontificate has been the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The French text was released 7 December 1992, was soon translated into Italian and Spanish, and almost immediately became a worldwide best-seller. The idea for a new catechism had been proposed by the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops that met in 1985 to mark the twentieth anniversary of Vatican II. The pope introduced the catechism, traced its history, and outlined its purpose in the apostolic constitution Fidei depositum that serves as a preface to the text that runs almost 600 pages in the American edition.

In his tenth encyclical, Veritatis splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”), John Paul reaffirms “the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always without exception intrinsically evil acts.” The foundations of moral theology, separated from faith, are, he says, “being undermined by certain present-day tendencies” that set freedom in opposition to truth.

Sixteenth Pontifical Year

In April 1994, John Paul underwent a hip replacement after a fall in his bath. Despite his physical pain, in September the pope flew to Zagreb, Croatia. He had planned also to visit Sarajevo, Bosnia, and pray for peace with Catholics, Moslems, and the Serb Orthodox, but a fresh outbreak of hosilities forced him to cancel it at the last moment.

John Paul continued to promote better Christian-Jewish relations. On 30 December 1993 Israel and the Holy See signed an agreement establishing full diplomatic relations. On 7 April 1994 the pope presided over a ceremony in the Vatican commemorating the those who had died in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising fifty years before.

Despite his failing health, the pope presided over two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. The first, a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, came about largely because of John Paul II’s direct intervention. It met in Rome 10 April-8 May 1994 and had as a general theme, “The Church in Africa and its Evangelizing Mission toward the Year 2000: You shall be my witnesses (Acts 1:8).” The second, a scheduled assembly of the synod now set for every three years, met 22-29 October. It had as its theme “The Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and in the World.”

In May Pope John Paul released an apostolic letter addressed to bishops, De sacerdotali ordinatione viris tantum reservanda (“On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone”). Although it was not presented as infallible teaching, the pope made it clear that according to “the constant and universal tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the magisterium in its more recent documents,” women cannot be ordained priests. Furthermore, the matter is no longer open to debate.

Seventeenth Pontifical Year

John Paul began the seventeenth year of his pontificate 28 October 1994 in frail health, but it did not deter him from travelling to Asia 12-21 January to celebrate World Youth Day in Manila. En route he stopped in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka. On 20 May he flew to Prague in the Czech Republic and made still another pilgrimage to Poland. In Olomouc, a town in the Czech Republic near the Polish border, John Paul presided a liturgy at which he canonized Jan Sarkander, a Catholic priest tortured to death by the Protestants in 1620. His sixty-fifth trip outside Italy took him to Belgium for an overnight trip. At a mass in the Koekelberg neighborhood of Brussels on 4 June he beatified Damien (Joseph) de Veuster, known as the “apostle of the lepers.”

Even as John Paul II showed increasing physical frailty, he continued to capture world headlines. Crossing the Threshold of Hope, a collection of essays that he wrote in response to questions posed by the Italian publisher Vittorio Messori, became an international bestseller late in 1994. He sharpened his critique of abortion, euthanasia, and other anti-family policies that he saw as symptomatic of a “culture of death.” His strong moral voice and high visibility around the world made John Paul Time magazine’s choice for “Man of the Year” in 1994.

A warning against the “culture of death” was a principal theme of John Paul’s eleventh encyclical, Evangelium vitae (“The Gospel of Life”). The encyclical reaffirms the value and inviolability of human life “in the light of present circumstances and attacks threatening it today.” The pope contrasts the “culture of death,” with the “culture of life,” implicit in the gospel message. Within months of Evangelium vitae, the pope published another encyclical, Ut unum sint (“That All May Be One”), that sought to re-energize efforts toward Christian unity. It identified five areas that need further study before a true consensus of faith can be reached: the relationship of Scripture and Tradition, the Eucharist, priestly ordination, the Church’s teaching authority, and the role of the Virgin Mary. In a bold stroke, John Paul II, acknowledging that the papal authority itself is an obstacle to unity, suggests that the Churches engage in open and fraternal dialogue on how that authority might be exercised in today’s world.

At the sixth consistory of the College of Cardinals held on 24 November 1994 Pope John Paul added thirty new members to the group. It was the largest single increment ever, and shifted the balance so that for the first time there were fewer cardinals from Europe than from the rest of the world. Among the countries represented by the new members were Albania, Belarus, and Bosnia. The list included four from North America: Archbishop Adam J. Maida of Detroit, Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore, Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal, and Archbishop Juan Sandoval Iñiguez of Guadalajara. Two priest-scholars, both over eighty, Yves Congar, OP, and Alois Grillmeier, SJ, were also named to the college.

Towards the Third Millennium

In the course of his long pontificate John Paul has gradually changed the composition of the Catholic hierarchy. All but a few of the cardinals of voting age, that is, younger than eighty years, have been named by him, and he has appointed most of the active bishops, including well over half the bishops in the United States. In the first fifteen years of his pontificate, he beatified 596 individuals and canonized 267 saints. Pope John Paul asserts that the Second Vatican Council has set the direction for his papacy. Vatican II inspired the interfaith meetings he has had with the world’s religious leaders, and the council plus his own war time experience in Poland is evidenced in the special warmth he has shown Jews. His public pronouncements and private correspondence give evidence that he envisions dramatic meetings with Orthodox and Protestant leaders and the healing of divisions within the Church. The pope from Eastern Europe gave priority in the first years of his pontificate to the struggle for human rights and religious freedom in Communist bloc countries. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire, in which he had a hand, John Paul has turned his attention more to the relativism, permissiveness, and consumerism of Western democracies. His frequent visits to Africa and his regular attendance at World Youth Days indicate where he sees the future of the Church. For all his warnings about the culture of death, John Paul always holds out hope. The pope celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday 18 May 1995. It is the age at which bishops are required to offer their resignations, but this pope sees it as his mission to lead, or if not lead, prepare the Church for the third millennium.