Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fr. Tom Doyle Reviews a Book On Pope John Paul II

Father Tom Doyle's review of a book on the papacy of Pope John Paul II was rejected by an "independent" Catholic publication, because "it was thought to be 'biased.'" It has been put up on the Internet at:

For those of us working and praying for reform and renewal of our Church, any criticism of ours towards the papacy, hierarchy, and political/governmental structure of the Church is deemed "biased" and, accordingly, dismissed. We use pop phrases occasionally to protest such infantile treatment by the oligarchy, when we let it be known that we are aware of the Curia's fundamental opinion of us as "The Laity , Those Who Pay, Pray and Obey." When they added, "Sit Up! Listen Up! Shut Up!" I replied, "Won't."

Most likely, any characterization of me before The Boston Globe unmasked the scandal which made public the greatest crisis the Roman Catholic Church has ever experienced – Martin Luther's Reformation was just the introduction – would have been, "Him? Oh! he's just one of those lapsed Catholics, whining." I was trying to be "spiritual" and definitely not "religious." Church attendance was sporadic. The news gave me the "excuse" I was looking for to leave the Church, which had, over my lifetime to that point, slowly become opposed to everything my heart was telling me about being "fully human, fully alive."But I couldn't do it.

The voice within kept saying, oh! so quietly, "You're into your 70s now. With your background, you could help a little." I floundered without foundering, looked in on the Alphabet Soup of The People of God: ARCC, CTA, VOTF, SNAP, TBOC. Got banned and barred from parish property, when using one of those acronyms, by an "old-fashioned" Bishop. Tried to go it alone. They were all good, but were not churches. I realized I could do little or nothing on my own, alone, just me, reaching out with a computer. I desperately needed a community in which to love and be loved, an assembly, a church. The RCC wouldn't let me back in, even though I entitled myself as "A Lapsed Agnostic" rather than "A Lapsed Catholic On the Way Back In."

Jean and I found a Church here in Longmont, CO -- gracefully? -- which allowed us to be who we are. And we knew we were home, no longer merely "spiritual" but also "religious." The religion was, and is, Catholicism. The only difference: the politics is different. I am no longer ashamed to answer the question, "Your Religion?" with hesitation, "Um, well, ah, Catholic." To the next, "Practicing Catholic?" I usually stumbled, "Well, um, Huh?" Now, it's, "We go to The Light of Christ Church, an Ecumenical Catholic Community." Interrogators are nonplussed.

The lawyer in me back in 2002 saw that the issue was not sex or abuse of children, not dogma or discipline, not catechism or apologetics, not even theology, but POWER. It was so at the beginning. It has always been so. It was so in 2002. It is so now. The issue is POWER, the absolute kind, which has nothing to do with religion, with spirituality, with Jesus. It is simply and horribly a predominant characteristic of being human – POLITICS. Those in power, of course, whether in State or Church, insist they are there only to serve, because they are the self-appointed elite, the hierarchy of Plato's Philosopher King and His Guardians, the hierarchy of Papal Primacy and Its Curia. It is never just one person. It is always the privileged few. The Oligarchy.

My feelings about John Paul II, from the very day he was elected in 1978, was that he was "on stage" so much of the time that the "real JP" could never be seen. He was a caricature in his own mind, and the papacy was his sandbox. He was not evil as bawdy popes might have been, with children and grandchildren robed as Cardinals. As power-lusting ones were in dividing up the world between Portugal and Spain by drawing a line on a map. As warlike ones who pumped up Crusades or stooped to slaughter those, like me, who asked questions and protested their abuse of power. But, John Paul II had the POWER and he abused it. And the Church is now falling apart from its own self-abuse, resumed by him, continued by Pope Benedict XVI.

Father Tom Doyle, a priest, canon lawyer, man I respect and admire and follow ever since January, 2002, has written a good, solid review of a book criticizing Karol Józef Wojtyla as a man and as a hierarch and as a pope. His review is worth reading with as open a mind as can be mustered up for the encounter. The review is at


The following is the review and comments, from: Voice from the Desert, May 11, 2008,

Top of Form

Tom Doyle Reviews Book on John Paul II and His Papacy

I received the following book review from Tom Doyle today, 5.10.2008, via email.

Tom asked to me to include the following note with the review:

I was asked to review "The Power and the Glory" by David Yallop for a prominent independent Catholic publication. After completing a requested revision and shortening of the review, I heard nothing for weeks. Upon inquiry I was advised that it had been rejected because it was thought to be "biased." The review may well be biased but then most book reviews are. On the other hand this is a review of a book that is critical of the papacy of Pope John Paul II. The review is not critical of the criticism but is a positive assessment of a book that should be an integral part of any history of the Church under the late pope. TPD

* * *


By David Yallop

New York, Carroll and Graf, Publishers, 2007

530 pages

Reviewed by Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D.

"Few papacies have inspired so many myths as the reign of Pope John Paul II." The Power and the Glory, p. 152.

After reading the first chapter of this momentous, and at times shocking book, one is led to the conclusion that not only few papacies, but few popes have been surrounded by as much myth and misconception as Karol Wojtyla, priest, bishop, cardinal, pope, and in the minds and emotions of many, saint. Wojtyla's life and 26 year papacy had already prompted devoted followers to begin calling him John Paul the Great within the first year after his death.

Even John Paul's most ardent supporters, including those clamoring for his fast-track canonization, would have to agree that his life and reign as pope were not without significant controversy. In spite of the massive superhuman aura surrounding him, critical studies of his papacy and his theology have come forth from reputed scholars. Nothing however, comes close to the detailed and critical examination that David Yallop concluded and which resulted in this book. The author's widely acknowledged investigative skills are at their best in his fearless quest to discover the real Karl Wojtyla and the unvarnished truth about the Vatican that he shaped and dominated as Pope John Paul II. Yallop devoted eight years to research, interviewing knowledgeable sources and probing deeply into the reality of the man and the papacy that dominated the Catholic Church for a quarter century.

This book will shock and enrage the ardent supporters of the late pope yet one must honestly ask if the adulation and emotional attachment is actually for the carefully crafted larger than life image as opposed to the man himself. David Yallop's detailed study of just about every aspect of John Paul II's personal and public life leave no other conclusion than that the adoring faithful were really enamored of an image and not reality.

Even those who have been highly critical of the late Pope's reign, characterized by some as "autocratic," and of his apparent efforts to redefine the memory and spirit of Vatican Council II will be uncomfortably surprised at Yallop's well researched and solidly supported de-mythologization of Karol Wojtyla's early years in Poland, first under Nazi and later under Communist occupation. He first flattens the notion, no doubt created by Vatican spin meisters, that young Karol was an active participant in Polish partisan activities to protect Jews from the Nazis. No such thing according to Yallop's research. Instead, the future pope "actively attempted to persuade others to abandon violent resistance and trust in the power of prayer." (P. 239). Even more shocking are the results of the author's interviews with several Jewish authorities who said straight out that there are no records of Wojtyla doing anything to protect or save Jews during World War II.

Although it is widely believed that Pope John Paul II was the single most important force in the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no lack of serious foreign policy experts, historians and political scholars who would dispute such a claim. Yallop's chapter 3, A Very Polish Revolution puts the pope's role in a much dimmer light, portraying him as highly cautious and retreating to reliance on prayer rather than decisive action. If one takes this rendition of the late pope's non-role in the demolition of Communism and mixes it with his tacit approval of military dictatorships in Argentina, Chile and El Salvador as well as his negative reaction to liberation theology, one can only wonder at the veracity of the claims that this man was a world class human rights advocate.

Other reviewers of this book claim that the most "explosive" chapters present the author's exhaustive research into the complex Vatican financial scandals and the papal and Vatican response to the clergy sexual abuse revelations that began in the U.S. and quickly became an international reality. Although the two prominent financial sagas, the so-called Banco Ambrosiano debacle that began in the 70's and featured Roberto Calvi and Archbishop Paul Marcinkas as leading players, and the Martin Frankel insurance fraud of the 90's, are complex and difficult for the average person to follow, Yallop lays both out in clear and logical terms. The theme throughout, which puts the pope in the middle of it all, is that money has a powerful way of blurring the line between integrity and greed for the denizens of the Vatican.

While I admit to being perplexed by some of the complex details of the Vatican's financial wheeling and dealing, the clergy sexual abuse phenomenon is something I am only too well aware of in painful detail. People have reacted to the clergy abuse scandal, now in its third decade, with wonder, anger, rage, shock and disbelief. A constant question has been why has the Pope done nothing to stop it? The question is certainly valid given the harsh reality that Pope John Paul II knew in detail about what was happening in the United States from the outset of the first revelations in 1984 and 1985. For eight years after the first explosion in 1984, the Pope said nothing. Then in 1993 he issued the first of 12 public statements, all of which said about the same thing. His theme was that clergy abuse was evil, the priests who did it were sinners, the poor bishops who had to put up with it were suffering and the victims needed prayer. The papal master spin doctor, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, stated in 1994 that this was primarily an American problem and then parroted the papal line that western secularism, materialism and sensationalism had a lot to do with exaggerating the problem. Within a year the Irish government fell because its leader had been implicated in the obstruction of justice in the notorious Brendan Smyth affair. But much more explosive was the exposure of Hans Hermann Groer, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, as a sexual abuser turned prince of the church, in mid 1995. This man had been appointed from nowhere by John Paul II in 1986, according to some, largely because of his promotion of Marian devotion. The pope not only did nothing when the scandal first broke, but, according to Yallop's research, was outraged at the Austrian bishops for failing to keep the lid on the terrible publicity. In spite of it all the proof was conclusive and Groer was not only forced to resign but ordered not to perform any public functions as a cardinal or bishop.

Yallop's chapter Beyond Belief, is a highly detailed and fact-intense short history of the clerical sex abuse problem and how it was handled during the reign of John Paul II. The stories of clergy abuse and hierarchical cover-up abound so it is not necessary to repeat them here. Suffice it to say that Yallop's rendition of the multi-faceted and totally tragic sex abuse saga is not only factually correct but his reasons as to why the pope remained impotent are on target. He best sums it up with a short sentence on the papal silence: "He brought with him… to the Vatican
practices that he had embraced throughout his life as a priest. They included an intense pathological hatred of any revelation that indicated the Catholic Church was not a perfect institution… All dissent must be kept behind closed doors, whether of church politics, scandalous behavior or criminal activity." (P. 314). The clergy sex abuse scandal contains ample doses of all three and the late pope appears to have sacrificed open advocacy for living children in favor of tacit protection of a non-living structure. He never publicly apologized to the countless victims and he consistently refused to ever meet with them. Perhaps the most egregious of his responses to the scandal was the much-publicized short-circuiting of the canonical process investigating accusations made against the celebrated founder and superior general of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel-Degollado. That disastrous intervention plus the rehabilitation of Bernard Law by making him Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica convinced abuse victims that the pope cared little for them and much for the Church's hierarchical aristocracy. Yallop's description of the facts confirms this conviction.

The Power and the Glory is a book that had to be written, not to support the mythological anti-papal or anti-Catholic forces, but because the Church and contemporary culture sorely need a reality check on the hagiographic forces that have gone out of control and threaten to seriously distort a vitally important chapter of modern-day history. This book had to be written for the good of the Church as well. John Paul II was well on the way to becoming a cult figure….far removed not only from historical reality but from the role of pope as pastoral father and not supreme emperor. His memory and the good he did is much better served if remembered as it actually was and not through the lens of myth. "His obituaries abound with myths, fantasies and dis-information" says Yallop. "The cult of personality which John Paul so reveled in focuses precisely on the man but at great cost to the faith."

This book is about much more than Pope John Paul II. It is about the grave scandals that have been so much a part of the contemporary Church. It is about the thinly veiled political aspect of the Church that has confused earthly power with the propagation of the Word. It is about the actions, inactions and questionable responses of the late pope and the Vatican bureaucracy he created to these scandals and to the socio-cultural forces at work in the modern world. Finally, it is about a model of "Church" that has grown increasingly at odds with the vision of Vatican II or perhaps worse, it is about a model of "Church" that has always been there, yet reduced in recent times to lurking in the shadows, waiting to be once more empowered.

We have seen in the era of John Paul II a dramatic rise in the power, influence and presence of the papacy, a rise described by its followers as a one approaching the peak of perfection of what papacy and Church ought to be. Yet with this rise, propelled by John Paul, there came the need to deny, cover or convert anything that threatened his image of the Church as perfect society. David Yallop may not have helped John Paul II's cause for canonization, whether or not such a step is even relevant in today's world. But he surely has helped the People of God by reminding us that the center and focus can never be on any leader no matter how fascinating, dramatic or colorful. It must always be grounded in the Church as People of God and not as Kingdom of the Few.


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3 Responses to "Tom Doyle Reviews Book on John Paul II and His Papacy"

  1. The Doyle review of David Yallop's new book is a lightsome breakthrough for serious religious people. Finally there is an informed book on John Paul II, and it will help us to place him properly in the history of religion: a man who seriously crippled the Church and misguided millions into superstition, sexism, and a cult of his shallow egocentric personality.

  2. Carolyn Disco Says:
    May 11, 2008 at 2:00 am

    It is more than disappointing that an independent Catholic publication declined to run this review (and we all suspect which one). Tom Doyle as always has written perceptively, and certainly with the expertise to do so.

    I recall a PBS documentary on JPII that also noted the pope did nothing to help the Jews. If memory serves, the film reported the pope indicating that himself.

    And the notion of the church as a perfect society was reflected in JPII's various apologies, conditional in nature: any deficiencies were the fault of certain of the church's sons and daughters, never the church per se.

    David Gibson noted in his book, "The Coming Catholic Church," that such "distancing language can appear so couched and diplomatic that it fuels the very resentments it was designed to assuage." p 117

    There was a fascinating Australian radio broadcast right after JPII died of an interview with Peter Hebblethwaite, noted Vatican expert, before Hebblethwaite himself died in 1994. The interview on The Religion Report was done with the stipulation it not be aired until after JPII's died.

    William Johnson, another historian, was also questioned on the same program. His analysis of the pope's style of governance is incredible reading.
    I highly recommend the full interviews as a corollary to Tom's review, and still available at .


    Stephen Crittenden: You say that there's actually a disconnect between the Pope's collective achievement and what you call a blind spot that this Pope had at a personal level, and you talk about acts of personal cruelty.

    William Johnston: Well I call it a blind spot; I think that's a kind way, it may have been deliberate. The example I was told from an eye witness when the American bishops had one of their joint visits to the Pope in the early '90s, he greeted each of them individually as they stood in a circle.

    Stephen Crittenden: By name?

    William Johnston: By name, he knew their names, their diocese and something about them. He went around the circle and charmed all of them. There was one man he wished to punish and each of the three times he came to that man, he was overheard to lean into him and say, 'And what's your name? What's your diocese?' He did that three times. Now that kind of humiliation among one's peers smacks of Soviet governmental technique, and I think it was obviously deliberate, it's cruel, it's even vindictive and it's now coming to light.

    Another one that I find troubling is there are 4,000 bishops, 3,000 have been appointed by the recent pontiff, and when one thinks that many of those 3,000 appointees involved passing over highly able priests who in the normal run of things would have become bishop. So I like to think that probably 2,500 more than capable potential bishops, who did not get the nod.

    Stephen Crittenden: In other words there's been a kind of cruelty to talented people who've been passed over.

    William Johnston: Exactly. They've been excluded, they're not acknowledged, we don't know who they are, we can just imagine they're there. Their careers have been blighted, if you will, and I regard that as a mistreatment as well as a dreadful personnel policy, it's not the way to run an organisation.

    Stephen Crittenden: And not blighted because of disloyalty, a lot of people have kind of put their heads down and remained silent and put up with it.

    William Johnston: But you see, that again is the Eastern European technique, where, as Peter Hebblethwaite put it, you humiliate a few stars as a warning to the others, and the others then withdraw their dissent and go private. It's a technique of achieving conformity by punishing only a few exemplary figures. It works extremely well, and I would suggest the Pope saw how well it worked in Poland, and he just borrowed the technique and used it in his organisation, because it's an effective technique.
    Peter Hebblethwaite: … But that you see, became one of the great theories that was used to justify the pontificate, which was that Paul VI in his charming simplicity and goodness was altogether too weak, and irresolute, and he didn't knock down his theologians. 'Now we're going to do the job properly and you'll see how it should be done', with the consequences that we know.

    Very early on in the pontificate, somebody said something that was absolutely prophetic, that four theologians would be chosen for the axe, as it were, each in a different field and each representing a different interest. One on Christology, Doctrine of Christ, it was Edward Schillebeeckx , the Flemish Dominican; in Ecclesiology, Doctrine of the Church, it was Hans Küng, in Germany. Liberation theology was Leonardo Boff, a Franciscan from Brazil and then the fourth was Charles Curran as a moral theologian in the United States, who lost his licence to teach. So these were kind of symbolic errors as it were, or even that was the most interesting thing, that errors were not found in these people, or not necessarily found, they were condemned for their opinions, and that was something new in the church, you shouldn't condemn people for their opinions. You can condemn them for their errors if you demonstrate they have perpetrated errors.

    Stephen Crittenden: The late Peter Hebblethwaite.

  3. Edward Hartmann Says:
    May 11, 2008 at 11:27 am

    This church is still in crisis. The last thing we need is another Pope cannonized. So may I suggest the following to the Princes as they sit around after dinner with a glass of scotch at the Vatican. How about searching for a married couple to cannonize, perhaps a couple that actually slept in the same bed and (God forbid) enjoyed God's gift of sexual intimacy. Imagine what an impact this would have on our church. But I forgot that the elephant is still in the room.



1 comment:

Virginia said...

Actually there is a married couple being canonized in Spain. Their nine children joined the priesthood & church leity. So..there ya go!