Pope John Paul II, whose indomitable will and uncompromising belief in human dignity helped bring down communism in Eastern Europe and reshaped Christianity's relationship to Judaism, died today. He was 84.
The Polish-born John Paul, indisputably the most influential pope of the 20th century, died in his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square after suffering heart failure and septic shock during treatment for an infection, the Vatican said.
The announcement came from papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls and was distributed to journalists via e-mail.
"The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. (11:37 a.m. PST) in his private apartment. All the procedures outlined in the apostolic Constitution 'Universi Dominici Gregis' that was written by John Paul II on Feb. 22, 1996, have been put in motion."
A Mass was scheduled for St. Peter's Square for Sunday morning.
The pope died after suffering heart and kidney failure following two hospitalizations in as many months. Just hours earlier, the Vatican said he was in "very serious" condition but had responded to members of the papal household.
The pope underwent two hospitalizations within the last month. Breathing problems forced him to undergo surgery Feb. 24 to insert a tube in his throat to aid breathing.
His health declined dramatically over the last week, worsening after he developed a high fever from a urinary tract infection. On Friday, the Vatican said the pope's breathing had turned shallow and his kidneys further deteriorated. He had received the sacrament commonly known as the last rites Thursday evening.
Through it all, the pope chose to project his gradual incapacitation as a final Christian message of redemption through suffering. For the first time since his papacy began in 1978, he was absent from Easter rituals, which began on Palm Sunday. On Easter Sunday, he appeared before thousands of pilgrims and struggled to speak, but ultimately failed.
The first non-Italian elected pope in 456 years, John Paul energized the papacy through much of his reign, traveling as evangelist and champion of religious freedom even as he imposed a rigorous moral discipline and more centralized authority on his sometimes rebellious 1-billion-member church.
In his 26-year papacy, John Paul made 104 trips outside Italy to 129 nations, going as a pastor to countries such as Brazil, where Catholics are the majority, and Japan, where they are a minority.
He preached along the equator and inside the Arctic Circle. He preached on sere Andean mountaintops and on lush tropical islands, in famous European cathedrals and in bullet-pocked African country churches. And he preached amid the wreckage of fratricidal wars in Sarajevo and Beirut.
On his travels to Poland, it was his unflinching support for the Solidarity trade union movement that helped embolden first his homeland and then half the European continent to topple communist regimes.
A witness to the Holocaust as a young man, John Paul led the Roman Catholic Church on a pilgrimage of repentance and reconciliation with Jews, culminating in the establishment of diplomatic relations with the state of Israel.
In his final years, he made a crowning pilgrimage to the Holy Land and became the first Roman Catholic leader in nearly 1,300 years to visit Greece, trying to bridge the centuries-old theological divide with Eastern Orthodoxy.
By 2003, John Paul's journeys had been scaled back, but he continued to press on. His final trip was in August 2004, returning to France to visit the miracle shrine of Lourdes. It was a poignant backdrop for the frail and ailing pontiff. Surrounded by other sufferers, many seeking miracle cures, he struggled to read his sermon and was heard to whisper to an aide in Polish, "Help me." After a drink of water, he said softly, "I must finish." And finish the speech he did.
John Paul, ever mindful of his own mortality, increasingly spoke retrospectively about his life as a priest. "After almost 60 years of priesthood," he told 12,000 cheering youths last summer in Switzerland, "it is beautiful to be able to spend yourself until the end for the cause of the reign of God."
In that cause, John Paul confronted dictators of the political left and right, coaxed U.S. presidents on foreign policy issues such as Cuba and Iraq, reached out to the elderly and reined in theologians, priests and nuns who strayed from his view of Catholic orthodoxy. He wrote more encyclicals and put more individuals on the road to sainthood than any pope in history.
He apologized to Jews, women, Orthodox Christians and others for his church's failings and sins against them throughout history. He apologized to Muslims for the Crusades, which ravaged the Holy Land from the 11th through the 13th centuries.
He acknowledged that Galileo was wrongly censured in 1633 by the Inquisition for asserting that Earth is not the center of the universe. He said Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, proposed in the 19th century, was credible.
For the impoverished masses in the nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America that he so assiduously visited, John Paul was often a revolutionary icon demanding social justice: jobs, respect for human dignity, a decent standard of living, education and healthcare.
But despite his political activism in his native Poland, John Paul discouraged his priests and bishops from aligning the church with any political ideology, particularly Marxism.
He was uneasy when Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila helped lead a popular and nonviolent revolt that toppled Ferdinand Marcos as president of the Philippines. He was adamant in demanding that Father Ernesto Cardenal leave his post as minister of culture in the then-Marxist-leaning Sandinista government in Nicaragua. He closed the door on "liberation theology" and the "popular church" that at times aligned itself with political revolution in the name of defending the poor.
Human freedom and dignity, he insisted, were grounded in deep faith and personal conversion.
In the wealthy First World, particularly in Europe and North America, John Paul was often a singer more prized for the sound of his voice than the content of his song. His uncompromising positions on issues of morality, particularly those touching on sex and gender, were a constant irritant to Catholic liberals, even as they applauded his commitment to social justice and his developing and, finally, uncompromising opposition to capital punishment.
He said no to women in the priesthood, no to married priests, no to sexual intimacy outside a traditional marriage. He saw no reason to relax church teachings on homosexuality, gay marriage, divorce, contraception, abortion and euthanasia.
And, though initially hesitant to become involved in the sexual abuse scandal that shook the church, he ultimately took a forceful position on ridding the priesthood of sexual abusers.
He appointed conservative bishops, muted the voice of national bishops' conferences around the world, reasserted centralized authority in Rome and drew a theological line in the sand separating the roles of laity and the priests.
"He'll be hailed as a great pope because of the length of his term, the extent of his travels, the depth of his knowledge," Father Andrew Greeley, an author and commentator on the church, told The Times in an interview. "On the other hand, it has to be said that he was a pope who thought you could deal with the confusion after the Second Vatican Council — the inevitable, necessary confusion of growth and change — by putting a lid on it, by clamping down, by tightening things up, by appointing rigid and not very bright bishops. This didn't work. It was the wrong strategy applied by a great man."
For the people living under communism in Eastern Europe, John Paul was a beacon, then a savior, then a hectoring figure. Time and again he reproved those who swapped Marxism for materialism, which he found as godless as communism in undermining human dignity. He had hoped Eastern Europe would pull Western Europe back to its Christian roots and was dismayed when the opposite happened.
His was a vision of a church militant — "a church in battle with evil, with the 'culture of death,' with consumerism, secularism and, in the past, communism," said Father Thomas Reese, a Vatican watcher and editor of the Jesuit magazine America.
John Paul's pronouncements could have unmistakable political and social consequences. He saw anything that impeded human dignity — including oppressive political and economic systems, as well as undisciplined personal freedom — as opposed to God's purposes and an obstacle to individual fulfillment.
"Nowadays it is sometimes held, though wrongly, that freedom is an end in itself, that each human being is free when he makes use of freedom as he wishes, and that this must be our aim in the lives of individuals and societies," he wrote in 1979. "In reality, freedom is a great gift only when we know how to use it consciously for everything that is our true good."
In the search for truth and meaning, John Paul made the repeated exhortation of Jesus — "Be not afraid!" — his own rallying cry for the faithful around the world.
But for all his weighty pronouncements, closely reasoned encyclicals and undoubted effect on church and state, he will be remembered by most for the charisma and the indelible images he left behind while in his prime: kneeling to kiss the ground on his arrival in countries around the world; clasping the corrugated hands of an aging Mother Teresa of Calcutta shortly before she died in 1997; sitting in a jail cell talking to his would-be assassin.
In the Holy Land, he was a solitary figure praying quietly before the ancient stones of Jerusalem's Western Wall.
At outdoor Masses around the world, he was an icon of faith with the charisma of a pop star. His ivory and gold vestments flapping, his silvery hair tossing in the wind, he lifted his hand in panoramic benediction over hundreds of thousands of believers.
"John Paul II! We love you!" a section of young people shouted at Denver's Mile High Stadium during World Youth Day in 1993. Not to be outdone, the next section of youths took up the refrain, but louder. On it went, each group in turn trying to outshout the others. Finally the pope, breaking into a huge grin, shouted back in accented English, "John Paul loves you!" His words set off yet another delirious round of youthful adoration.
In Mexico, they serenaded him under his window late into the night. In his native land, they sang a Polish folk song: "One hundred years, one hundred years, may you live one hundred years."
He nearly didn't live past his first brush with death in 1981, when would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca opened fire on him as he rode in an open jeep in St. Peter's Square. Gravely wounded in the abdomen and bleeding internally, John Paul lost consciousness shortly after arriving at Gemelli Polyclinic. His longtime trusted aide, then-Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, administered the last rites. John Paul spent 55 days in the hospital, and surgeons said that had one of the bullets strayed so much as a fraction of an inch, the pope would have died in St. Peter's Square.
In 1992, surgeons removed an orange-sized tumor from his colon and said it was benign. Then came accelerating decline, exemplified by a dislocated shoulder and a broken leg from falls five months apart in the mid-1990s.
In the early years, the world watched a pope of great physical vigor and endurance — a hiker, a skier, an indefatigable traveler.
In his final years, people became accustomed to the sight of the pope stooped by age and walking with a cane. His face by then only hinted at his once vigorous countenance. His words were slurred. His hand visibly trembled from Parkinson's disease. As the disease progressed toward the end of his life, the pontiff could no longer walk, even with the cane. Papal aides bore John Paul wherever he went.
It was the pope's unbending will that kept him traveling, though the journeys decreased in number. In his view, his physical limitations were not only part of his ministry and duty, but bespoke redemptive suffering.
Despite failing health, he pressed on to the Holy Land, and, in May 2001, to Greece, Syria and Malta on a physically taxing pilgrimage to retrace the steps of Paul, the missionary apostle.
In Athens he stood at the Areopagus, the hill where Paul preached. In Damascus, Syria, he became the first pope to enter a mosque. He walked near the old city gate that Paul entered after his conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus.
Traveling in a spirit of prayer, he said, "gives us a vivid sense of a God who has gone before us and leads us on."
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Karol Wojtyla's journey began in Wadowice, about 25 miles southwest of Krakow in southern Poland, where he was born on May 18, 1920.
His father, also Karol, was a master tailor and a recruiting officer for the 12th Infantry Regiment of the Polish army. His mother was Emilia Kaczorowska, the convent-educated daughter of a packsaddle maker.
Young Karol grew up in simplicity, sometimes poverty, in a town shared by Catholics and Jews. The family lived in a second-floor apartment owned by a Jewish family. Nearby was St. Mary's, an eclectic 11-altar church with a bulbous black dome.
As a youth, Wojtyla swam in the Skawa River and was a devoted soccer goalie who often stopped to pray on his way home from school.
In 1929, just before he turned 9, his mother died of a heart and kidney ailment. He made his first Holy Communion the month she died. Three years later, his older brother, Edmund, a hospital intern, died of scarlet fever, contracted from a patient.
After his mother's death, Wojtyla would wake up at night to find his father on his knees, praying before the image of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.
When Wojtyla was 18, he moved to Krakow with his father to study at Jagiellonian University.
In summer 1939, Wojtyla completed military training with the Academic Legion. Two months later, on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and tanks reached Krakow five days later. The university was closed, and 184 professors were arrested and deported to a Nazi concentration camp.
Wojtyla continued his studies secretly and began underground activities, including performing in and writing plays steeped in Polish nationalism. Then, in February 1941, his father died. By the time he was 21, he had lost his entire family.
The confluence of personal tragedy, his father's Catholic piety, and the influence of a remarkable Catholic layman would put Wojtyla on the road to the priesthood.
Shortly before his father's death, Wojtyla was drawn into religious life by a lay mystic, Jan Tyranowski. As the Nazis began arresting and deporting priests, Tyranowski organized and led the Living Rosary, a clandestine group of devout young Catholics. Wojtyla became one of its group leaders.
It was Tyranowski who introduced Wojtyla to the writings of St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish theologian and mystic. St. John's idea of the "dark night of the soul" held that hardship, doubt and suffering purged the soul so that it could be filled by divine knowledge.
The asceticism of St. John of the Cross profoundly influenced Wojtyla's embrace of redemptive suffering. Like St. John himself and Poland's martyred St. Stanislaw, Wojtyla saw a kind of martyrdom in his own life. He took to heart the spiritual lessons he found in the sufferings of others and his own personal losses.
"His family tragedies inevitably shaped Wojtyla's character as a man and priest. He speaks of them often in private, especially of his poignant loneliness when his father died," Tad Szulc wrote in his biography of the pope.
During the Nazi occupation, Wojtyla joined other Polish patriots in the "Rhapsodic Theater," which presented underground plays, including two that he wrote in 1940. They were performed in private homes to avoid the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police. His friends thought he was destined to become a great actor.
Wojtyla at that point had no thought of the priesthood. "I was completely absorbed by a passion for literature, especially for dramatic literature and for the theater," he recalled. But, as biographer Darcy O'Brien observed, his love of the dramatic was not a passing phase, but a portal.
The war, the occupation of Poland by the Nazis and the sight of Jewish friends and neighbors forced from their homes to concentration camps moved Wojtyla to reconsider his future as an actor.
"To this day," he wrote in "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" (1995), "Auschwitz does not cease to admonish, reminding us that anti-Semitism is a great sin against humanity, that all racial hatred inevitably leads to the trampling of human dignity."
He began studying for the priesthood in a clandestine seminary in 1942 while keeping his job at a chemical plant to avoid raising Nazi suspicions. He also worked as a laborer in a rock quarry.
In 1944, the Gestapo made sweeps through the city, arresting young men, including seminarians, but Wojtyla avoided arrest. Later, a classmate was executed, and Wojtyla's name appeared on a Nazi death list.
He eluded capture and continued his studies. He was ordained a priest, but did not join a specific order, on Nov. 1, 1946.
At first, Wojtyla hoped to join the Carmelite Fathers, a religious order inspired by St. John of the Cross, whose monks go barefoot or wear sandals in keeping with Jesus' instruction not to burden themselves with possessions as they minister to others.
But his bishop sent him to Rome for graduate studies at the Pontifical Angelicum University, where Wojtyla earned a doctorate in ethics in 1948. He returned to Poland as a parish priest and began to write in earnest — poems, several books and more than 100 scholarly, reflective and philosophic articles.
Wojtyla was unalterably devoted to God. Like his mentor, Tyranowski, and St. John of the Cross, his ecstatic meditation on the mystical "other" could carry him to a contemplative shore.
Decades later, he was still treading that shore as pope. Confidants and guests invited to join him in his private chapel in the Vatican reported that he became so focused in prayer that conscious thought seemed to recede, like a wave on a sandy beach, returning only as sighs and groans.
"He experiences God very, very intensely in prayer," said Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. "It's very simple. Very, very profound."
Wojtyla earned a doctorate in theology from Jagiellonian University in 1948. He taught moral theology at the church's seminary in Krakow in 1953, and became a professor of ethics and chairman of the philosophy department at Catholic University in Lublin in 1954.
In 1959, shortly after he was ordained auxiliary bishop of Krakow, he was named to the Polish Academy of Sciences in recognition of his work in philosophy. In 1964, he became archbishop of Krakow. In 1967, Pope Paul VI made Wojtyla, then 47, a cardinal.
Wojtyla quickly earned a reputation within the highest circles of his church as a thinker and philosopher who stood up to communism and integrated traditional teachings with modernity. He was a major participant in the Second Vatican Council — joining in debates about religious freedom, modernity and liturgical reform — which aimed to bring the church into the modern world.
As archbishop of Krakow, Wojtyla had named a commission in 1966 to look at the issue of human sexuality, based in large part on his own pastoral experience counseling young people and couples. His commission's findings, which drew on modern clinical insights while preserving a Catholic moral framework, laid the groundwork for Humanae Vitae, the controversial encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968 that banned artificial birth control.
Then in 1976, Wojtyla was invited to deliver what would be a much-hailed series of Lenten lectures on Christian humanism and God's love before the pope and ranking members of the Roman Curia.
As a Cardinal, he also participated in the August 1978 conclave to choose a successor to Pope Paul VI. He was, therefore, no stranger to his fellow cardinals, who less than two months later gathered again in the Sistine Chapel again beneath Michelangelo's fresco of "The Last Judgment" to elect a successor to John Paul I after his sudden death.
Just after dusk on Oct. 16, 1978, reportedly on the eighth ballot after a deadlock between two principal Italian candidates, the 58-year-old Wojtyla became the youngest pope in more than 120 years and the first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI of the Netherlands was elected in 1522.
Wojtyla vowed early in his papacy never to "remain a prisoner."
"I want to go to everybody ... from the nomads of the steppes to the monks and nuns in their convents. . . . I want to cross the threshold of every home." The world watched a new pope who was vigorous and an indefatigable traveler.
John Paul was a polyglot who never met a language he didn't want to speak, gamely grappling in his authoritative monotone with tongues as diverse as Urdu, Finnish and Quechua.
He captivated virtually every crowd he addressed on his visits to 129 countries. He made seven trips to the United States, the first a tour in 1979 on which he delivered 76 speeches.
He visited Los Angeles 1987, Denver in 1993 for World Youth Day observances and St. Louis in 1999, his final trip to the U.S. While in Missouri, he intervened with Gov. Mel Carnahan to save the life of a murderer condemned to death.
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At the end of one of his trips abroad, a taxing 11-day visit to the Philippines and Japan in 1981, he chose a return route over the North Pole. Most of his entourage and the press accompanying him went to sleep, assuming he had done the same.
They were awakened when he intoned a blessing as the plane flew over the pole. He had worked the entire night, hand-writing his messages for the next audience and his next Sunday noontime prayer for pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.
At the Vatican, before his health began to decline, he was a workaholic of unswerving conviction and unflagging intensity.
"He is almost physically incapable of wasting a minute. Yet I have never seen him anguished or tense," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls once noted.
The pope would invite a wide array of people to lunch, and fall without mercy on gloppy desserts fashioned by the Polish nuns who cooked for him. And he always found time for old friends from Poland, relishing their company at meals and inviting them to 7 a.m. Mass in his private chapel.
These visits were brief respites from the burden of the papacy in which admiration for the pope was not always matched by adherence to the church's teachings.
In the United States, and even in heavily Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain, the faithful hailed their pope but often ignored his teachings, particularly on issues of sexuality.
"Papal labors reap bitterness. He speaks, the people applaud. It is a church joyfully celebrated, not a church that is heeded," senior Vatican analyst Domenico Del Rio observed in the 1990s.
But there were times, too, when the pope surprised even those in the West, as when he issued an apostolic letter to women in June 1995 affirming their equality in marriage and the workplace and in intellectual achievements. He called for equal pay for equal work and lamented that too often women were valued more for their looks than their intelligence, skills and sensitivity. He apologized for any role the church might have played throughout history in marginalizing women.
Yet he believed that moral theology permitted no leeway in spheres where religious belief and changing cultural imperatives clashed. Although he allowed girls to participate as altar servers, he spelled out in 1994 his opposition to the ordination of women. Four years later, he warned that theologians and others in authority who persisted in calling for women's ordination risked a "just penalty."
In October 1999, when he wrote a personal and poignant letter to the elderly speaking of his own mortality, John Paul again condemned euthanasia as "intrinsically evil" regardless of well-meaning motives.
Most famously, he repeatedly attacked abortion, even as barriers to the procedure crumbled in one traditionally Catholic nation after another.
"Abortion and euthanasia are . . . thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize," he wrote in a 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life. In his memoir "Memory and Identity," released in late March, he went to far as to compare abortion to the Holocaust.
But he also displeased some conservatives who sided with him on abortion and euthanasia. They bristled at his edict against the death penalty, his apologies for historic wrongs by the church, his willingness to embark on interfaith dialogue, even his assent to altar girls.
His vision of the church as a disciplined army combating the evils of the world left little room for internal dissent. In the pope's view, "debates and divisions within the church weaken it" in the battles against its foes, said Jesuit magazine editor Reese.
John Paul suppressed Marxist variations of liberation theology pursued by many leftist priests in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. True liberation in the Christian context, he said, was not to be found in revolutionary politics but in freedom from sin and communion with God. To be right with each other and with God, he argued, would promote "solidarity" among the people and lead to democratic freedoms.
He appointed conservative bishops and cardinals who shared his views.
"I think Rome broke the spirit of the church in Latin America by imposing many conservative bishops," said Father Thomas Rausch, a professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Many of those bishops, Rausch said, were members of Opus Dei, a conservative lay order that has its own priests and answers directly to the pope. It staunchly upholds church teachings and is unquestioning in its support of the pontiff.
In 1989, more than 400 European theologians signed the Cologne Declaration, complaining that John Paul was appointing conservative bishops without respecting the wishes of local churches; that he was denying liberal theologians the right to teach; and that he was "overstepping" his proper competence in the field of doctrinal teaching.
John Paul responded sharply, insisting that there could be no room in the church for an alternative teaching authority.
Hans Kung, a liberal Swiss theologian, became an early symbol of the pope's insistence on obedience. Kung's teachings challenged the doctrine of papal infallibility, which the Vatican had proclaimed in 1870. The Vatican responded by prohibiting Kung from teaching as a Catholic theologian.
"This pope has been a disaster for our church," Kung said later. "There's charm there, but he has a closed mind."
John Paul also firmly challenged French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who refused to acknowledge the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Lefebvre and his traditionalist followers were marched out of the church in 1988 after Lefebvre ordained four traditionalist bishops, which the Vatican flatly called "a schismatic act."
But John Paul more often directed his discipline against the church's liberals. In 1981, wielding the full power of his office, he humbled the politically active Jesuits, the largest and most influential order of priests.
Chiding them for their spiritual "deficiencies," he abruptly imposed his own delegates to run the order from 1981 to 1983. Before he finally permitted the Jesuits to elect their own leader, he admonished them to quit "confusing the tasks proper to priests with those that are proper to lay people."
In the United States, the pope's orders forced one of the nation's most prominent liberal voices, Father Robert Drinan of Massachusetts, to relinquish his seat in Congress. Later, Father Charles Curran, then a Catholic University professor in Washington who questioned church doctrine on homosexuality and contraception, was prohibited from teaching.
Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, viewed as a liberal on issues of human sexuality, was relieved of most of his authority in 1986, a controversial move that divided American Catholics, both lay and clergy.
The pope underscored the point again in August 2003, when he signed a statement that said, "Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law."
John Paul closed loopholes in canon law to silence dissenters and reined in national bishops conferences. In 1998, for example, he declared that unless conference pronouncements were approved by a unanimous vote or had his approval, Catholics were not obliged to follow them.
Critics worried that the edict would prevent the nation's bishops from speaking out on pressing national issues as they had in 1983 and 1986 when they issued landmark pastoral letters opposing nuclear war and economic injustice.
When the American church faced the greatest crisis in its history, the sexual abuse of minors by priests and bishops, John Paul was slow in responding forcefully.
There had been warnings about an impending crisis at least as early as 1985. In 1993, when he arrived in Denver for World Youth Day, John Paul was moved to call the still-gathering storm a "scandal."
But it wasn't until January 2002 that the enormity of the situation began to unfold when a Boston judge ordered the Catholic archdiocese to publicly release internal church documents about abusive priests. The reaction resulted in efforts by state legislatures to strengthen laws against sexual abuse and criminal investigations across the United States. Since 1950, there have been 11,750 allegations of sexual abuse involving 5,148 priests and deacons.
Bishops came under fire for protecting abusive priests and, in some cases, transferring them from parish to parish and state to state, where they molested again.
As the scandal grew in magnitude, John Paul summoned American cardinals to an extraordinary closed-door meeting in Vatican City in April 2002. Days later, he declared that there was "no place in the priesthood and or religious life for those who would harm the young." He called such abuse an "appalling sin" and a civil crime.
Two months later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting in Dallas, adopted a mandatory "zero tolerance" program to weed out any priest or deacon who had ever sexually abused a minor. After the Vatican made changes to the new policy to protect the legal rights of priests, it became church law in the U.S.
The scandal forced the resignation of Bernard Law, who was the most senior and possibly the most powerful cardinal in the United States, as archbishop of Boston. John Paul replaced him with Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, who agreed to pay $85 million to settle civil suits brought on behalf of more than 550 alleged victims and their parents. Law later was given a job in the Vatican. Several other bishops were also forced to resign or retire early in connection with the scandal.
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John Paul also saw disappointment in other areas, particularly ecumenical relations with Eastern Orthodox churches. Throughout his papacy, he reached with conviction and determination toward Orthodoxy. As history's first Slavic pope, he was in a good position to help bring about a reconciliation between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy, whose relations have yet to fully recover from their tumultuous 11th century schism.
The pope called the two great branches of Christianity the faith's "lungs." The church universal, he said, needed both. There are an estimated 300 million members of Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches.
The split was fueled in large part by Rome's historic claim of papal supremacy and infallibility, but also differences in how otherwise common creeds are expressed.
John Paul's repeated overtures reopened dialogue. In 1995, he issued a groundbreaking encyclical that said that the pope must remain supreme, but he was willing to talk about how he should exercise that authority.
In his trip to Greece in 2001, he apologized to Orthodox Christians for the "disastrous" sacking in 1204 of Constantinople, now Istanbul, which was the center of Eastern Orthodoxy.
But ancient differences were complicated by contemporary events. As religious freedom returned to formerly communist countries, Orthodox churches, which had suffered through government suppression and persecution, became fearful and resentful of what appeared to be efforts by outside churches to proselytize. The naming of a Catholic bishop for Russia was met with outrage and suspicion from the Russian Orthodox hierarchy. The Vatican argued that native Catholics in Russia needed the ministry of Catholic priests and bishops.
But the Russian Orthodox Church would have none of it, and John Paul's dream of one day visiting Russia was never to be realized.
Still, John Paul never gave up hope. As recently as June, he met in the Vatican with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the "first among equals" of Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, and said that Roman Catholics were irrevocably committed to mending the historic rupture. But he said, "The road is certainly not easy or without obstacles."
On his travels, John Paul made it a point to meet with leaders of other churches and faiths. He invited Sikhs, mullahs, rabbis, African animists, Buddhists and leaders of other belief systems to Assisi, Italy, in 1986, not to "pray together" but to "be together to pray" on behalf of world peace.
On May 29, 1982, during a visit to Britain, John Paul prayed with Anglicans in a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral, the center of world Anglicanism — a move toward closing a rift that opened during the reign of Henry VIII four centuries earlier.
But the decision to ordain women as priests by some self-governing churches in the 77-million member worldwide Anglican Communion — including the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Church of England — set back hopes for reunion with Rome. When the Episcopal Church in 2003 ordained as bishop of New Hampshire an openly gay priest who admitted to living in a committed same sex relationship with another man, ecumenical efforts were thrown in still more doubt.
The Vatican did reach an understanding with Lutherans on the nature of grace, the issue that precipitated the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther. Lutherans had always held that individuals were saved by God's grace alone. Catholics agreed, but had also emphasized good works. With deft language, they agreed that though one is saved by God's grace alone, good works followed and should be evident in the lives of believers.
Such accomplishments helped lay a foundation for an ecumenical reconciliation, but one that would not occur in John Paul's lifetime.
John Paul had better success on the world stage.
Not for centuries had a Roman pontiff played such a consistently prominent role in affairs of state. Historians had to go back to the 13th century to find a comparison: Pope Innocent III, who forced King Philip of France to take back his wife, and placed England under interdict when King John refused to accept the archbishop of Canterbury.
From the beginning of his papacy, when he mediated a boundary dispute between Argentina and Chile, John Paul was determined to engage the church in the world of high-stakes politics.
The church played a key role in the "people power" revolt that toppled the 20-year rule of Ferdinand E. Marcos as president of the Philippines in 1986. That was in large part because of exhortations and excoriations in public speeches by the archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin. Some in the Vatican first tried to silence him, but John Paul ultimately refused to rein in the cardinal, particularly after millions of Filipinos took to the streets in support of Corazon Aquino, who would become president.
He dispatched Vatican diplomats to United Nations conferences in Cairo to join Islamic states in opposing a legal abortion and contraception for women in developing countries.
Despite American uneasiness, John Paul traveled to Cuba in January 1998 in a trip that loosened Fidel Castro's iron grip on religious freedom even as the pontiff decried the "oppressive" U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
He was outspoken in his opposition to the U.S. plan to lead an invasion of Iraq in 2003, calling the policy "illegal and unjust." He dispatched a personal envoy to make his case directly with President Bush, but the war began two weeks later on March 20.
His greatest triumph, however, was the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Although John Paul insisted that he was no more than an instrument of God's will and that "the tree was already rotten — I just gave it a good shake and the rotten apples fell," history seemed likely to assign him more influence.
He was too modest. Polish nationalism had always been interwoven with the Catholic faith, and John Paul's public and behind-the-scenes support of Lech Walesa, leader of the banned trade union movement known as Solidarity, shook the communist regime and gave popular discontent a powerful voice.
"If there's one single person who can be credited with change in Central and Eastern Europe, it's the pope," said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In an interview, Albright said that the massive crowds that greeted John Paul in 1979 on his first papal visit to Poland broke the isolation of individuals that was key to sustaining communist rule. For the first time, she said, people realized "how many of each other there were."
In face-to-face encounters with communist leaders of Poland during visits home in 1979, 1983 and 1987, the pope upheld the right of Poles to form independent unions and demanded that the government live up to its agreements with Solidarity.
More than once he used the term "solidarity" in encyclicals and other statements to express an ideal for human relationships. For many, his frequent use of the word was a not-so-subtle endorsement of the developing opposition movement in Poland.
Walesa, the shipyard electrician who later became president of a democratic Poland, would say on a visit to Rome after the fall of the Berlin Wall that without John Paul, there would have been no Solidarity. And many believe that without Solidarity, communism would not have disintegrated.
But John Paul would come to feel betrayed as the post-communist Poland quickly adopted Western materialistic ways. "Man cannot relinquish himself or the place in the visible world that belongs to him; he cannot become the slave of things," he declared.
Few but his closest friends could have guessed that the former Karol Wojtyla would also set in motion events that would upend nearly 2,000 years of enmity between Catholics and Jews.
There had long been a saying among Polish Jews: "Poles drink anti-Semitism with their mother's milk." But, as a boy, Wojtyla went to school with Jews, some of whom would become lifelong friends. Boyhood friends recalled that their young Catholic friend would slip into the synagogue in Wadowice to listen to the cantor.
As a new pope, Wojtyla was the first to visit the Great Synagogue of Rome, where he addressed the congregants as "elder brothers in the faith." He was the first to visit a former Nazi death camp, the first to institute an annual Holocaust remembrance day at the Vatican.
It was under his leadership that the catechism — the basic teachings Roman Catholics are expected to know before they are confirmed — was rewritten to eliminate any suggestion of anti-Semitism.
In 1994, in an event that combined international diplomacy with a profound theological message, John Paul established formal relations with Israel.
Politically, it was a belated acknowledgment of the reality of the Jewish state, established in 1949. But theologically, it put a final seal on the renunciation of the historic contention — never seriously questioned until after World War II — that all Jews were forever doomed to wander without a homeland because of their supposed role in the crucifixion of Jesus.
"He will be remembered as the pope who changed the attitude of the church toward the Jews in a fundamental way after the Holocaust," said Yossi Beilin, who as Israel's deputy foreign minister led the behind-the-scenes negotiations.
From John Paul's perspective, Jesus was the son of God, but as a man he was also "a son of Israel." Judaism and Christianity, he said, were connected by a common heritage.
"The encounter between Catholics and Jews is not a meeting of two ancient religions, each going its own way," John Paul told representatives of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in 1984. "A mysterious spiritual link m brings us close together, in Abraham and through Abraham, in God, who chose Israel and brought forth the church from Israel."
Significant tensions still arose between the church and Jews, as in 1982, when he greeted Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the first time, and in 1987, when he received Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who had been accused of complicity in Nazi-era war crimes. When John Paul came to Los Angeles several months later, three prominent rabbis boycotted an interfaith ceremony because of the Waldheim visit to the Vatican.
There were other concerns, such as the sensitive issue of Carmelite nuns who in 1984 opened a convent bordering the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp in Poland.
At Auschwitz in 1979, he had called the camp "the Golgotha of the modern world." But the allusion to the hill on which Jesus was crucified appalled many Jewish groups who saw the remarks as an attempt to Christianize Auschwitz, where about 1.5 million of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust were killed.
Catholics were shocked by the vehement protests of Jewish groups around the world. The convent was vacated in 1998 on John Paul's orders.
Another furor erupted when John Paul placed Edith Stein, a Jew who became a Carmelite nun and died at Auschwitz, on the road to sainthood. The Nazis killed her because she was a Jew, not a Catholic nun. But as far as John Paul was concerned, she was a Christian martyr and, even more, a thinker whose conversion to mystical Catholicism was a milestone in the legitimization of Catholicism as a respectable intellectual movement in central Europe.
Many Jews were also disappointed in March 1998 when the Vatican, after a decade of preparation, issued a statement of repentance for the "errors" of Roman Catholics who failed to help Jews during the Nazi slaughter.
Titled "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," the statement unequivocally condemned anti-Semitism and past Christian persecution and violence against Jews. But it also defended Pius XII, the pope during the rise of fascism in Europe and during World War II, who some have accused of remaining silent during the Holocaust.
Faced with worldwide protests, the Vatican delayed plans to beatify Pius XII, a step on the road to sainthood. But in a move that many found no less galling, John Paul beatified Pius IX, who was pope from 1846 to 1878. Pius IX is remembered by Catholics for proclaiming the doctrine of papal infallibility, but he is remembered by Jews for having confined their ancestors to a walled ghetto in Rome, stripping them of property and calling them "dogs." He also adopted a 6-year-old boy whom papal guards had abducted from his Italian Jewish parents and raised him to be a priest.
Despite the tensions, Jewish leaders from Los Angeles to Israel said that John Paul had done more to mend relations between the two faiths than all his predecessors.
Writing in the fall 2000 issue of Reform Judaism magazine, Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino said, "It is nothing less than heroic for any faith group to examine its darker side. How often in history, if ever, have the leaders of any faith publicly confessed its believers' transgressions and urged them to engage in agonizing reappraisal of its words and deeds toward the people of another faith?"
Although he had become visibly weakened by age and disease, John Paul made what may have been the most momentous journey of a papacy filled with immense events — a journey to the Holy Land in March 2000 that followed a historic trip a month earlier to Egypt and Mount Sinai. It was a journey of faith and reconciliation to a land where great faiths and religious passions intersect.
He went to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. He stood on a spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee where tradition holds that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.
He prayed alone for 25 minutes in Jerusalem at the traditional site of the Last Supper, where Jesus is believed to have broken bread with his disciples before the crucifixion. Then John Paul, in a liturgical reenactment of the Last Supper, became the first priest since 1583 to say Mass at the holy site.
The visit — and a subsequent trip to Greece, Syria and Malta to retrace the steps of the Apostle Paul — was the culmination of a dream from the day his papacy began. The pope had been determined to walk where the apostles had walked in the birthplaces of beliefs that had shaped the world as they had shaped Karol Wojtyla.
It would be the capstone of a lifelong spiritual journey, one that would bring him from the banks of the River Skawa near Wadowice, to the land of the River Jordan.
"To go in a spirit of prayer from one place to another, from one city to another, helps us not only to live our life as a journey," John Paul wrote after his trip to Jerusalem. It "also gives us a vivid sense of a God who has gone before us and leads us on, who himself set out on man's path, a God who does not look down on us from on high, but who became our traveling companion."Copyright © 2015, CT Now