Criticism of Pope John Paul II

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Pope John Paul II was criticised, amongst other things,[1] for lack of any response to sex abuse of children in the Catholic Church.

Opus Dei and Legion of Christ controversies[edit]

John Paul II was criticised for his support of the Opus Dei prelature and the 2002 canonisation of its founder, Josemaría Escrivá, whom he called the saint of ordinary life.[2][3]

Legion of Christ[edit]

John Paul II has been criticised for hindering[4][5][6] the investigation into the charges of sexual immorality leveled against Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. This is despite the fact that Maciel was already under investigation by the Vatican in 1956 for drug addiction when he established the Legionaries in Ireland. At the time the Vatican had removed him as superior of the Legionaries and was investigating allegations that he abused morphine.[7]

Allegations about Maciel began resurfacing in the 1980s but were consistently ignored by the Vatican hierarchy, which approved bylaws for the group that effectively banned internal criticism of Maciel and allowed a personality cult to flourish around him. He was eventually found to have molested many seminarians and abused children he had fathered with different women despite his vows of chastity. Campaigners accuse John Paul II more generally of putting the interests of the Catholic Church above all and turning a blind eye to child sex abuse allegations.[8][9]

Birth control and gender roles[edit]

John Paul II's defense of teachings of the Catholic Church regarding gender roles, sexuality, euthanasia, artificial contraception and abortion came under criticism. Some Christian feminists challenged views of his on the role of women in society, including the ordination of women. However, John Paul was being consistent with Catholic teaching.

The legacy of Pope John Paul II is vibrant and extraordinary, yet painfully inconsistent. The contradiction in his legacy lies in his teaching and actions on the dignity of women. John Paul II called for women to be included as decision makers in secular governments. However, when it came to bringing women into the decision making bodies of his church, he slammed the door in our faces, barring us from ordination and locking the door by stating the discussion about women’s ordination is closed.

—  Aisha Taylor (Women's Ordination Conference 2005)[10]

Problems with Traditionalists[edit]

In addition to all the criticism from those demanding modernisation, traditionalist Catholics sometimes denounced him as well. These issues included demanding a return to the Tridentine Mass[11] and repudiation of the reforms instituted after the Second Vatican Council, such as the use of the vernacular language in the formerly Latin Roman Rite Mass, ecumenism, and the principle of religious liberty. He was also accused by these critics for allowing and appointing liberal bishops in their sees and thus silently promoting Modernism, which was firmly condemned as the "synthesis of all heresies" by his predecessor Pope Pius X. In 1988, the controversial traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X (1970), was excommunicated under John Paul II because of the unapproved ordination of four bishops, which was called by the Holy See a "schismatic act".

The World Day of Prayer for Peace,[12] with a meeting in Assisi, Italy, in 1986, in which the Pope prayed only with the Christians,[13] was heavily criticised as giving the impression that syncretism and indifferentism were openly embraced by the Papal Magisterium. When a second 'Day of Prayer for Peace in the World'[14] was held, in 2002, it was condemned as confusing the laity and compromising to "false religions". Likewise criticised were his kissing[15] of the Qur'an in Damascus, Syria, on one of his travels on 6 May 2001. His call for religious freedom was not always supported; bishops like Antônio de Castro Mayer promoted religious tolerance, but at the same time rejected the Vatican II principle of religious liberty as being liberalist and already condemned by Pope Pius IX in his Syllabus errorum (1864) and at the First Vatican Council.[citation needed]

Some Catholics opposed his beatification and canonization for the above reasons.[16]

Religion and AIDS[edit]

John Paul's position against artificial birth control, including the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV,[17] was harshly criticised by doctors and AIDS activists, who said that it led to countless deaths and millions of AIDS orphans.[18] However, some experts have questioned the efficacy of condom distribution. Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies: "We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.[19] James Shelton, of the US Agency for International Development, said that one of the ten damaging myths about the fight against AIDS is that condoms are the answer. "Condoms alone have limited impact in generalised epidemics [as in Africa]," Shelton wrote.[20] Critics have also claimed that large families are caused by lack of contraception and exacerbate Third World poverty and problems such as street children in South America. The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development published a paper stating, "Any strategy that enables a person to move from a higher-risk towards the lower end of the continuum, [we] believe, is a valid risk reduction strategy."[21]

Child sex abuse scandals[edit]

John Paul II was also criticised by members of the abuse victims' group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), for failing to respond appropriately to the sex abuse crisis.[9] In 2002, he wrote that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young".[22][23] The Church instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees[24] and, because a significant majority of victims were teenage boys, disallowing ordination of men with "deep–seated homosexual tendencies".[25][26] They now require dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty.[24][27] In 2008, the Church asserted that the scandal was a very serious problem and estimated that it was "probably caused by 'no more than 1 percent'" (or 5,000) of the over 500,000 Catholic priests worldwide.[28][29]

In addition to cases of abuse, much of the scandal has focused around members of the Catholic hierarchy who did not report abuse allegations to the civil authorities. In many cases they reassigned those accused to other locations where they continued to have contact with minors.[30] In defending their actions, some bishops and psychiatrists contended that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling.[31][32] Members of the church hierarchy have argued that media coverage has been excessive.[33] In response to the widening scandal, Pope John Paul II emphasised the spiritual nature of the offenses. He declared in 2001 that "a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue by a cleric with a minor under 18 years of age is to be considered a grave sin, or delictum gravius."[34] With the approval of the Vatican, the hierarchy of the church in the United States said that it instituted reforms to prevent future abuse including requiring background checks for Church employees and volunteers, while opposing extensions of the statutes of limitations in sex abuse cases.[35]


He was criticised for recentralising power back to the Vatican following what some viewed as a decentralisation by Pope John XXIII. As such he was regarded by some as a strict authoritarian. Conversely, he was also criticised for spending far too much time preparing for and undertaking foreign travel. The frequency of his trips, it was said, not only undermined the "specialness" of papal visits, but took him away from important business at the Vatican and allowed the Church, administratively speaking, to drift. Especially in South America, he was criticised for conservative bias in his appointments of bishops; with an unusually long reign of over 25 years, the majority of bishops in place at his death had been appointed by him.

Opposition to his beatification[edit]

Some Catholic theologians disagreed with the call for beatification of Pope John Paul II. Eleven dissident theologians, including Jesuit professor Jose Maria Castillo and Italian theologian Giovanni Franzoni raised seven points, including his stance against contraception and the ordination of women as well as the Church scandals that presented "facts which according to their consciences and convictions should be an obstacle to beatification".[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BBC - Religion & Ethics - John Paul II". 2006,2009 by BBC. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  2. ^ Martin, S.J., James (25 February 1995). "Opus Dei in the United States". 2009 America Press Inc. 106 West 56th St., New York, N.Y. 10019. Archived from the original on 16 January 2009. Retrieved 10 January 2009.
  3. ^ "St. Josemaría Escriva de Balaguer". Catholic Online. Retrieved 27 November 2006.
  4. ^ "Cardinal Sin". 11 March 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  5. ^ "My dad, a priest, sexually abused me, man claims in lawsuit". Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Legion of Christ documents: Who was Father Marcial Maciel?". Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  7. ^ "Two popes to be canonised 'did nothing' about Maciel allegations". Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  8. ^ "Vatican dismisses criticism of John Paul II". Agence France-Presse. 22 April 2014. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014 – via Yahoo News.
  9. ^ a b "Pope John Paul II was 'no saint but a man who covered up sin'". Daily Telegraph. 25 April 2014.
  10. ^ Taylor, Aisha (4 April 2005). "Young Catholic Feminists Compare Legacy of MLK and John Paul II". Women's Ordination Conference. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  11. ^ Hewitt, Hugh (6 April 2005). "Criticizing John Paul II : Yet another thing the mainstream press does not understand about the Catholic Church". Weekly Standard. Archived from the original on 26 April 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2009.
  12. ^ "Address to the representatives of the Christian Churches and ecclesial communities and of the world religions". Vatican archives. 1986,2009 Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 27 October 1986. Archived from the original on 27 December 2008. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
  13. ^ "Address to the representatives of the other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities". 1986,2009 Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 27 October 1986. Archived from the original on 17 April 2009. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
  14. ^ "Day of Prayer for Peace in the World". Vatican archives. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 24 January 2002. Archived from the original on 15 May 2009. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
  15. ^ "John Paul II kisses the Koran (Qu'ran) at the Vatican". FIDES News Service. Tradition in Action, In. 14 May 1999. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
  16. ^ Michael J. Matt (21 March 2011). "A Statement of Reservations Concerning the Impending Beatification of Pope John Paul II". The Remnant. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
  17. ^ "Catholic Church to Ease Ban on Condom Use". 2006, 2009 Deutsche Welle. 24 April 2006. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
  18. ^ "Top Catholics Question Condom Ban". 2005, 2009 International Herald Tribune. 16 April 2005. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
  19. ^ Jean Lopez, Kathryn (19 March 2009). "From Saint Peter's Square to Harvard Square". National Review. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  20. ^ "The Pope is right about the AIDS epidemic in Africa after all". Archived from the original on 11 May 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  21. ^ Williams, Daniel (23 January 2005). "Pope Rejects Condoms As a Counter to AIDS". 2005, 2009 Washington Post Foreign Service. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
  22. ^ "Pope says no place in church for paedophile priests". Irish Times. 24 April 2002.
  23. ^ Walsh, John Paul II: A Light for the World (2003), p. 62
  24. ^ a b United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2005). "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 8 October 2007.
  25. ^ Pope Benedict XVI (2005). "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders". Vatican. Archived from the original on 25 February 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  26. ^ Filteau, Jerry (2004). "Report says clergy sexual abuse brought 'smoke of Satan' into church". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on 26 June 2004. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  27. ^ "Scandals in the church: The Bishops' Decisions; The Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People". The New York Times. 15 June 2002. Retrieved 12 February 2008.
  28. ^ Owen, Richard (7 January 2008). "Pope calls for continuous prayer to rid priesthood of paedophilia". Times Online UK edition. London: Times Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 31 March 2008.
  29. ^ Terry, Karen; et al. (2004). "John Jay Report". John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Retrieved 9 February 2008.
  30. ^ Bruni, p.336
  31. ^ Plante, Thomas: A Perspective on Clergy Sexual Abuse, San Jose Mercury News, 24 March 2002 (updated online version)
  32. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (2 April 2009). "Early Alarm for Church on Abusers in the Clergy". Retrieved 26 April 2017 – via
  33. ^ Butt, Riazat; Asthana, Anushka (28 September 2009). "Sex abuse rife in other religions, says Vatican (with examples from USA)". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 October 2009.
  34. ^ Gallagher, Delia. "Vatican Study on Sex Abuse". Zenit. Archived from the original on 16 March 2012.
  35. ^ Vitello, Paul (4 June 2009). "Bishop Avidly Opposes Bill Extending Time to File Child-Abuse Suits". The New York Times.
  36. ^ "Dissident theologians participate in the canonisation process of Pope John Paul II". Catholic News Agency. 6 December 2005. Retrieved 21 January 2017.