Written by Michael Matt | Editor
There’s no getting around the fact that the perplexing and even scandalous pontificate of Pope Francis has caused the late Pope John Paul II to emerge as the Rock of Gibraltarian Catholic orthodoxy. But does this reflect how things actually were back in the day, or is it more a case of comparative wishful thinking?
My recently departed mother always admonished her children against speaking ill of the dead, and I have no wish to break that rule, especially with respect to dead popes. In point of fact, John Paul did defend the family and speak out for the unborn like no one else did at the time. But let’s not get carried away—he was the Pope, for heaven’s sake. It’s to be expected that the Holy Father would frown upon the idea of murdering babies in their mothers’ wombs. One can only hope the bar of orthodoxy isn’t buried quite that deep.
But let’s be honest: there were a few problems with the pontificate of Pope John Paul the…Great. In fact, Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Cause of Saints, assured the press back in April of 2011 that John Paul THE GREAT’s personal holiness—and NOT his pontificate—was the reason he was to be canonized:
Pope John Paul II is being beatified not because of his impact on history or on the Catholic Church [emphasis added], but because of the way he lived the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love… [Cindy Wooten, “John Paul II being beatified for holiness, not his papacy, speakers say,” Catholic News Service, 1 April 2011].
That’s nice, but now, when confronted with Francis, even Pope John Paul’s pontificate seems Sarto-esque.
I suppose this is natural, to some extent. When we look at pop music from the 1980s, for example, we can’t quite imagine what our parents were so worried about. Compared to Miley and Beyoncé of 2016, Journey and Petty of 1984 were daily communicants. But comparisons are odious, as my grandmother used to say, and yesterday’s liberals are today’s conservatives — whether it be in culture, politics or even the Church. We’re on a Christophobic continuum, and what came before wasn’t necessarily better so much as it was earlier—before the frog’s bath water had begun to boil.
Look at JFK compared to Obama (sorry, there really isn’t any comparison, is there?). Obama is the champion of mothers who want to kill their babies, and dudes that want to get married to each other. JFK maybe had a thing for the ladies, yes, but Obama he was not. And compared to President Hillary Clinton, JFK will seem like Charlemagne.
The trouble is, things are just really, REALLY bad right now—so bad, in fact, that most of us are ready (and maybe even wanting) to wax rhapsodic about the “good ol’ days” when Ronald Reagan was in the White House, Margaret Thatcher was in 10 Downing Street, and Pope John Paul THE GREAT was in the Vatican.
But these were good ol’ days only in comparison to the demonic madness we have now. And, perhaps more importantly, those “good ol’ days” were paving the way for the days to come, whether we want to admit it or not.
Was John Paul truly a great champion of orthodoxy? If so, why did Remnant columnist and Oxford historian, Dr. John Rao, refer to his pontificate as “the worst in history”?
Why was Archbishop Lefebvre induced to consecrate four bishops without papal mandate in 1988 out of an almost desperate response to Pope John Paul’s defining moment—the colossal scandal that was the Assisi Prayer Meeting for Peace?
My own father took his nine children and defected from the Roman Rite and into the Eastern Catholic Rite during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Why? Because under the Great One the liturgical revolution reached its unholy zenith.
And let’s not forget under whose watch the most horrific clerical sex scandal in history took place.
So what’s going on here? First and foremost, again, it’s part of the Pope Francis Effect. Compared to Francis, Pope John Paul II is St. Pius X. But, lest we lose touch with the objective reality of how things really were back in the day, let’s take a quick look back…
Here’s short article I wrote in April of 2001 that perhaps will provide a little reminder of how things really were. I don’t mean to gratuitously run down the late Pope John Paul, whose soul my children and I remember in our prayers every night. But I do hope it will prompt some constructive conversation about what’s really been going on, how Francis did not emerge from a vacuum, and how essential it is for us to keep the context of this revolution in the Church in mind so that we can more effectively fight against it.
Francis isn’t the cause of anything—he is an effect. And the devils we confront today are the very same ones St. Pius X was trying to drive out of the Church sixty years before the close of the Second Vatican Council. MJM
Question: Which of Karl Malden’s many films did the great method actor consider his personal favorite? Patton? Pollyanna? A Streetcar Named Desire?
In fact, it was none of these. Rather it was a 1956 film directed by Hollywood heavyweight Elia Kazan, called Baby Doll. In the film, Malden plays a seedy character whose young and voluptuous wife—Baby Doll— (played by actress Carroll Baker) denies him the marital privilege.
At the time, there were few Hollywood directors bigger than the highly-acclaimed Kazan. The screenplay for Baby Doll was based on a play by the renowned playwright, Tennessee Williams. Lead actor Karl Malden’s star had long since been on the rise, especially since he’d created such a sensation just two years earlier in his stirring portrayal of a Catholic priest in On the Waterfront. And as for Carroll Baker, well she was only Hollywood’s newest sex symbol who, in 1956, was the talk of Tinsel Town.
Everything about the film Baby Doll, then, screamed blockbuster.
Why, then, did so few people see it at the time?
The answer is simple: When the movie was released, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Francis Spellman, condemned Baby Doll in no uncertain terms. In fact, he issued a statement which made it perfectly clear that, as far as the Church was concerned, seeing that movie would constitute a mortal sin.
That was the end of Baby Doll. Despite its world class director and marquis actors, the film that would have given Marny a run for its money fell into virtual obscurity. It received a negative review from the mighty Catholic Church, and in those days nothing in popular culture could survive that.
John Lennon’s Apology
During the course of a 1966 interview with journalist Maureen Cleave, Beatles front man, John Lennon, made the following comments:
Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and it will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them who’s twisting it that ruins it for me.
In the wake of these comments, several prominent Catholic churchmen spoke out against the negative influence of John Lennon and the Beatles. The Archdiocese of Seattle, for example, published a statement in the September 14, 1966 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in which they denounced the influence of the “drug-sex-rock-squalor culture” and its most prominent spokesman at the time. Shortly thereafter, L’Osservatore Romano condemned John Lennon’s statement, insisting that “some subjects must not be dealt with profanely, even in the world of the beatniks.” The Vatican demanded an apology from John Lennon—perhaps the most famous rock star in the world at the time.
This resulted in such a backlash against the Beatles that angry mobs protested the Fab Four where ever they toured. Public burnings of Beatles records become commonplace across the United States. By November of 1966, the pressure brought on by the disapproving Catholic Church was too much even for the Beatles: at a press conference in Chicago, John Lennon yielded to the Vatican’s demand and issued a public apology. Even as late as 1966, popular entertainers—no matter how prominent—could not withstand the righteous wrath of the Catholic Church.
The Fading Church
That was then.
In 2001, things are a little different. It’s safe to say that today no one in the entertainment industry seriously cares what the Catholic Church says about anything. The great moral voice of the ages has become a scandal-ridden laughing stock. Where Catholic popes once stood against the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known—and won! —the Vatican now grows increasingly irrelevant, even failing to mount any kind of serious impasse to the salacious pop music and motion picture industries.
Like some reincarnated Gandhi wrapped in the bed sheet of social uplift, the Church issues its little suggestions on war and peace, hunger and poverty, dignity and human rights—but who’s listening. Pope John Paul apologizes for the past “sins” of the Church so many times and in so many ways that one can hardly blame the world for concluding that the Church should be summarily dismissed in the present, just as she was obeyed in the past when even according to the Pope she was guilty of all sorts of atrocities all along.
Thank God for Vatican II! The great council threw open the window to the modern world; it shushed those voices of doom and gloom; it ended medieval triumphalism; it made the pope a “man of the people” rather than a ruling monarch; it dumbed-down the Mass to such an extent that only dumb-dumbs could actually relate to it; it transformed the Church into a “sensitive Christian community” where rules and discipline were swapped for “tolerance” and “healing”.
Yes, Vatican II did all that and so much more. And now look at the Church! Ain’t she somthin’! More importantly, perhaps, look at the world. It’s spinning out of control because it’s been stripped of its moral compass. If the world is a ship lost at sea, then Vatican II was the storm that extinguished the lamp in the lighthouse that is the Church. And now that that ship has gone aground, it thinks nothing of legalizing the murder of babies inside the womb, teaching ten-year-olds how to masturbate, peddling porn inside living rooms and libraries, legislating sex education, and even denouncing absolute truth as a form of terrorism. Deprived of a strong Catholic force against evil, the world is becoming possessed.
Before Vatican II, even Hollywood couldn’t deny that the Catholic Church was the arch nemesis of evil. In the movies, for example, there was only one religion that was ever depicted as having the power to drive out evil spirits. It was always Catholic priests who were summoned to the bedsides of the possessed.
Even for the world in the mid-twentieth century, then, the Church was still the exorcist which, with an army of priests at her beck and call, had the power to send the world’s demons hurling over the cliffs. Entertainment giants like Kazan and Lennon had to stand down at the command of the Roman Catholic Church.
But, again, that was then. The ultimate exorcist has silenced her own voice over the past forty years. Instead of driving out demons, she’s raised a flag of truce in order to dialogue with her ancient enemies. She no longer rules; she refuses to discipline.
And where is Peter at through all this? He’s traveling the world, but he too refuses to exorcise the demons from it; perhaps he no longer remembers how. He seems to have lost his sense of direction. Vatican II’s number one champion can’t even maintain order in the Church, much less exorcise evil spirits from the world. Pope John Paul’s stalling pontificate is all that stands between the world and chaos, and while his desperate admirers try to call him “great”, history may well paint a more realistic picture of the pope who oversaw the greatest scandals in Church history, and yet more often than not disciplined those who resisted Vatican II and defended Catholic tradition.
The demons that rule our world will not be driven out by the safe niceties for which Pope John Paul has become famous—respect the sanctity of life; honor the dignity of the human person; proclaim the benefits of “coming to Christ.” Clearly, the world is no longer listening. His grand ecumenical gestures have worn thin and serve no apparent purpose other than to display the Church’s growing irrelevancy and loss of identity.
One would think that now, when outright evil is clearly triumphing throughout the whole world, the Pope might want to dust off the anathema rather than make plans to “reform” the Eastern Rite liturgy as was recently announced.
When children cannot easily preserve their innocence even so far as the fifth year of life on this earth, it’s a safe bet that more world youth days are not going to prove to be the answer. And when the Catholic priesthood becomes so scandal-ridden that parents can no longer trust the men in Roman collars with those same 5-year-olds, it really seems high time for the Pope to admit that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council have brought on the greatest disaster in Church history.
Will Pope John Paul—like Blessed Pius IX before him—recognize the folly of his liberalism, and restore the Church?
Please, God, let it be soon…before it’s too late.