5 JUNE 1982, Page 21


Cashing in on the Pope

Paul Johnson

Pope John Paul II Norman St John Stevas (Faber £4.95) •

Introducing John Paul II Peter Hebble- thwaite (Fount Paperbacks £1.50)

Love and Responsibility Karol Wojtyla (Fount £1.95)

The Pope's visit has provoked a flood of souvenir volumes. As the author of one I must declare an interest and also confess that, faced with the ever- growing volume of words seeking to explain this remarkable pontiff, I turn increasingly to the photographs, which often tell us so Much more. Pope John Paul gazing into a cell at Auschwitz; comforting a sick child in the Philippines; praying with a pathetic group of Amazonian Indians; cheering up a harassed-looking mother; emerging from the Rome hospital, frail and grey, ebullience gone but spirit stronger than ever. Photographs combine to make what is Perhaps the most important point about John Paul. For institutional reasons it is very rare for a priest with long pastoral ex- perience to become pope. Even John XXIII, who undoubtedly had great pastoral gifts, had never been given the chance, until he was old, to exercise them. Popes tend to 'F ecclesiastical lawyers, bureaucrats, diplomats, politicians. John Paul II is the great exception. He has had a more varied and sustained pastoral career than almost any of his predecessors; and it shows. In photographic terms, Lord Longford's biography is the most lavish and satisfying of these pope books, and the text is full of quirky felicities. I like his suggestion that the Pope should have shut up Hans Ming With Attlee's famous rebuke to Harold Laski: 'A period of silence on your part would be welcome'. Interesting, too, is the comparison of the Pope with Ernest Bevin, a more fruitful one than appears at first glance, despite John Paul's intense intellec- tualism, My complaint is that, since this is a!1 'official biography', Lord Longford's views do not emerge more often. By con- trast, Norman St John Stevas — whom I recall making a sensational appearance as Pius IX at a fancy dress ball some years ago --- often pops up in his account. 'I was able to greet the Archbishop, offering words of welcome ... I was able to tell the Holy Father how welcome he would be ... I was fortunate to be able to intercept the P• °Pe • .. I went off to discuss the whole issue with my friend Cardinal Suenens . • .

recall a visit I paid to the Patriarch ... in a memorandum which I left with the Pope ...' This is a good-humoured, if rather Normocentric, appreciation, again embellished with excellent photographs.

For a more critical account, the reader can turn to Peter Hebblethwaite's: well- informed, at a journalistic level, but oddly blind to the spiritual side of John Paul's personality. The best introduction to the Pope as man and priest is Mary Craig's up- dated biography, very full on the family background and the Pope's work in Cracow.

Mrs Craig rightly draws attention to the Pope's response to human suffering, which is perhaps the most important single ele- ment in his ministry. This aspect is dealt with at length in Dr Frank Lake's book. He is an Anglican psychiatrist who, 20 years ago, founded the Clinical Theological Association, which has trained many thousands of men and women from a varie- ty of churches in the principles and practice of pastoral counselling. He reminds us of the large overlap between the work of doc- tors and clergy. Christ's ministry was one of healing as well as teaching. The Gospels are full of stories about His care for the sick, not least the mentally disturbed. In the past we have tended to see these episodes in terms of 'miracles' rather than therapy, as though Christ's object in making spec- tacular cures was simply to astound the people and persuade them that a man who could say 'take up thy bed and walk' — and be obeyed — must be speaking the truth when he told them things about the future life which were less easily 'proved'. But an alternative reading shows Christ moved by compassion and a profound understanding of pain and anguish. He did not distinguish between teaching the well and healing the sick because the truth He incarnated was curative as well as illuminating — a point made by the story of the woman who touch- ed the hem of His garment. The Apostles and other early evangelists also worked among the sick and we still speak of a Christian 'cure of souls'. Until the develop- ment of a scientific medical profession and welfare services, conscientious Christian pastors probably knew more about the ailments of ordinary people than most doc- tors. Even today many forms of ill-health which cannot be treated by surgery or drugs, because they spring from a distur- bance in the psyche rather than strictly physical causes, are as likely to yield to spiritual as to secular ministration. The confessional long preceded the psychiatrist's couch. A large proportion of the millions who crowd doctors' surgeries, and who are sent away with pills, go there because they lack the faith and practice of a religion which is itself curative.

Dr Lake understands all this very well. His great merit is to perceive the magnitude of John Paul Il's contribution, as an im- aginative and creative pastoralist, to the practice of curative religion. Anyone who has studied John Paul's career is aware of his capacity to sympathise with people under stress. The Family Institute he created in Cracow was an important ele- ment in his pastoral experience. From his many doctor friends, he selected to direct it one who had been the victim of beastly ex- periments in the dreadful camp for women the Nazis set up at Ravensbruck. The In- stitute dealt not only with the medical aspects of family distress, such as the burden of endless pregnancies, miscar- riages, the menopause, impotence, physical incompatibility, VD, but broken marriages, poverty, wife-beating, alcoholism, il- legitimacy and chronic illness. Some of the fruits of such experience were gathered in his survey of sexuality and marriage, Love and Responsibility, now updated and reissued in paperback. John Paul called it 'the result of an incessant confrontation of doctrine with life'. It may well be the best thing of its kind ever written by a senior Roman Catholic clergyman. When John Paul, as Pope, pronounces on such subjects as contraception, abortion, divorce or celibacy, it is fair to disagree with him but no one can truthfully claim he does not know what he is talking about. On the con- trary: he knows only too well.

Dr Lake analyses many of John Paul's writings in the light of his healing work. He places a new construction on his pheno- menology, especially his major treatise, The Acting Person, a difficult text which Dr Lake helps to bring to life. He relates this to his poetry and to his second, highly original, encyclical, Dives in Misericordia. Dr Lake, like the Pope, is a well-read man, with a gift for turning abstractions into human faces. His book is by no means a eulogium. He is critical of some aspects of John Paul's pontificate, especially his tendency to invoke the magisterium when putting disorderly theologians and wet bishops in their places. He is disappointed by John Paul's unwillingness to give much priority to reunion with Protestant chur- ches. All this is understandable from Dr Lake's viewpoint — that of an Anglican who passionately desires intercommunion.

From a papal perspective, however, it looks different. John Paul inherited a church which was in danger of disintegra- tion. He came from a country whose na- tional church, thanks to its traditionalism under persecution, was still in great heart.

John Paul, as Dr Lake says, is a healing pope, but one who rests the healing process on security in faith and the stable Christian family. Both were threatened by the erosion

of the principle of authority within the church, of which the magisterium is the ex-

pression. He has now successfully reasserted that principle, to the discontent of a handful of radicals but with the ap- proval, so far as I can judge, of the majori- ty of ordinary Roman Catholics. How one wishes that the leaders of the Anglican com- munity had the power and the will to carry through a similar restoration! Nothing but evil could come from negotiating a union between two sick congregations, neither of which stood for anything in particular. The truth is that John Paul has given back to Roman Catholicism its distinguishing characteristic, hierarchical discipline, upon which its health essentially depends. In that sense, too, he is a healing pope.