The Atlantic has a “flashbacks” feature, where the magazine highlights previous pieces. One of the more recent ones was a reflection on what the magazine had written about Pope John Paul II. Here’s the set-up:
Exactly two years following the death of Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church put forward its case for his beatification and canonization as a saint. Though John Paul was a controversial figure throughout his tenure–taking strong stands on divisive issues (inspiring some to hail him as a bulwark against degeneracy and others to repudiate him as a reactionary)–he was indisputably a force to be reckoned with. Three Atlantic articles about John Paul, one written early in his career, one in the mid-1990s, and the third several months before he died, offer insight into the man, his leadership style, and his far-reaching influence.
After excerpts from an early PJPII profile, we’re told:
It soon became clear, however, that despite his personal warmth and charisma, when it came to Church dogma he was stern and intractably conservative–reviving the doctrine of papal infallibility, and censuring Church officials he perceived to be excessively liberal.
Now, we’ve had a few recent examples of some pretty poor papal media coverage. But this shows the problem is not new. We’re supposed to believe that Pope John Paul II “revived” the doctrine of papal infallibility. Hunh? I mean, formally that dogma has a relatively recent vintage. It wasn’t that long ago that Lord Acton said, on the topic, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The teaching didn’t originate during the Vatican Council of the 1860s, although that’s when it was defined. But has this teaching changed at all since then? When did it die? What does it mean for Pope John Paul to have “revived” it? Was the teaching not the same when he assumed the papacy as when he died?
It’s also funny to note the language in the above excerpt. How are “charisma” and being “theologically conservative” at odds? It’s just interesting to see how the writer is unsettled or surprised that someone could retain church teaching “despite” being warm and charismatic.