An excellent summary of what is going on currently in the world and the Vatican’s relationship to it, by George Weigel.
Cracow — Perhaps it’s because I’ve been living in the city John Paul II called “my beloved Cracow” for the past two and a half weeks, but it does strike me (and not only me) that the contemporary Vatican seems to have forgotten some crucial lessons from the teaching and diplomacy of the saint who came to Rome from Cracow and became the most consequential pope of the second half of the second millennium.
Let’s begin with the diplomacy — or, to put it better, with the Bishop of Rome as the Catholic Church’s leading public witness.
John Paul II’s first pastoral pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 is rightly regarded as one of the key turning points of the Cold War, because it ignited the revolution of conscience that made possible the Revolution of 1989 in its unique form. But many here in Cracow also carry vivid memories of John Paul’s second pastoral visit to his native land, in 1983, which took place under very difficult circumstances. Martial law was still in force; the Polish state, under General Wojciech Jaruzelski, continued to act like an occupying army, stifling Polish civil society; the bright hopes of Solidarity, a movement of national renewal as well as a trade union, seemed dust and ashes.
When John Paul II arrived in Poland on June 16, 1983, he did not embrace General Jaruzelski or other Polish state authorities; rather, during the opening ceremonies he looked down, sorrow and concern inscribed on his expressive face. An elderly woman, seeing him like that, said, “You see? He understands. He is sad.” When John Paul met Jaruzelski one on one, those outside the room said later that they could hear fists being pounded on the desk between the two men; John Paul reportedly opened the conversation by saying, “I have the impression that this country is one vast concentration camp” — a reference to the Polish experience under Nazi occupation that cut very deeply indeed.
Then there were the papal visits to Chile in 1987 and Paraguay in 1988: two culturally Catholic countries beset by military dictatorships. The confrontations with General Augusto Pinochet and General Alfredo Stroessner took place behind closed doors. But less than two years after the papal visit, Pinochet agreed to a plebiscite in which his people voted him out of power. Events moved even faster in Paraguay as Stroessner, the world’s longest-lived dictator at the time, lost power in 1989 after a 35-year rule. Those democratic transitions, like all such affairs, were complicated in their causation. But it surely made a difference that John Paul II did not concede the inevitability of authoritarian rule (insisting to Pinochet that his people had a right to their liberties, even if they misused them). And perhaps more to the point, he acted in such a way as to give heart and new hope to the democratic opposition in both Chile and Paraguay.
And then there was Cuba in 1998. Far too shrewd to get into a public brawl with that rhetorical volcano, Fidel Castro, John Paul instead adapted the tack he had taken in Poland in 1979. After the normal courtesies, he ignored the Cuban regime and its claims to embody justice and tried to give back to the people of Cuba their culture, which the Castro regime had brutalized, and their authentic history, which the Castro regime had rewritten. The most striking example of this was John Paul II’s address at the University of Havana, where, with Fidel Castro in the audience, he reminded the representatives of Cuban intellectual and cultural life that it was the island’s historical Catholic faith that had forged “Cubans” out of a striking admixture of native peoples, Spaniards, and Africans. And it was that same Catholic faith, he continued, that had inspired many of the liberators of Cuba (including the heroic Father Félix Varela, whose example would inspire a post-papal-visit human-rights initiative on the island prison) to throw off the shackles of colonialism.
This substantively robust but tactically deft approach to dictatorships of the Left and Right was an implicit challenge to the diplomacy of Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, architect of the Ostpolitik of the Vatican from the mid 1960s until 1978, when John Paul was elected. Casaroli was often dubbed the “Kissinger of the Vatican” by the world media. In fact, he was far more the Willy Brandt of the Vatican: He believed that the Cold War division of Europe was as permanent a fixture of world politics as anything ever is; he hoped that a more accommodating approach by both the Church and NATO to the Soviet Union and the Communist regimes of the Warsaw Pact would facilitate a process of “convergence” in which a slowly liberalizing East and an increasingly social-democratic West would draw closer over time; and he expected that, through such a long process of political-economic evolution, the Wall would eventually come down.
Cardinal Casaroli had highly developed diplomatic skills and a lot of contacts behind the old Iron Curtain. Moreover, he embodied a tradition of Vatican diplomacy in which the Holy See imagined itself as the honest broker among the powers of Europe; at times, it sometimes seemed as if Casaroli imagined himself a 20th-century Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, the skillful papal diplomatic agent at the Congress of Vienna. But John Paul II, who knew Communism and Communists a lot better than Casaroli did, wasn’t buying the Casaroli Project, and he wasn’t about to let Casaroli circumscribe his own papal field of action.
Retrieved July 14, 2015 from http://eppc.org/publications/has-the-vatican-already-forgotten-the-lessons-of-john-paul-ii/