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What Would John Paul II Have Said?
Forty-one years ago today, the cardinal archbishop of Cracow, Karol Wojtyła, was elected Bishop of Rome, the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian pope in four hundred fifty-five years. He brought to the papacy an abundance of supernatural as well as natural gifts, and the two worked together to give him a uniquely prescient view of what Vatican II had called, in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the “signs of the times.” His analysis of those signs and his times was always the by-product of prayer. But it was also the result of the wide-ranging consultations he conducted, often over meals, throughout his pontificate. He knew what he didn’t know, and he eagerly sought the company of men and women—including many who were not clerics—to help him fill the gaps in his knowledge.
One of the tell-tale signs of the historical ignorance that distorts the view of younger Catholics of a traditionalist bent is their claim that John Paul II is, somehow, passé, old hat, yesterday’s news: that looking to his social doctrine for insight into 21st-century contentions is akin (as one recently put it) to those Republicans who think everything would be just fine if only Ronald Reagan, or at least his policies, were somehow reincarnated.
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That is to do scant justice to the richness of John Paul II’s thought or its continuing salience. Of course the situation of the West today is not what it was in the decades immediately following the Cold War. But does that mean that the John Paul II template for thinking about social, cultural, economic, and political challenges is useless? That’s a rather queer view of “tradition” to come from self-identified traditionalists. John Paul’s insistence on the centrality of a vibrant...
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