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Pope John Paul II, Secularization, Democracy, Religious Pluralism

Europe has become an increasingly secularized continent. Religion and church don?t play nearly the same political, social, or familial roles that they used to and this has had a profound influence on the state of European culture today. This didn't sit well with Pope John Paul II and he worked hard to find ways to reverse the trend, though not with much success.

Papal condemnations of secularization can be traced back at least to 1870 when Italy took control of the Papal States.

Pope Pius X declared:?God has been driven out of public life by the separation of Church and state.? Following pontiffs have varied in their attitudes somewhat, but none have expressed very positive feelings about the decline of religious influences on European society.

John Paul?s vision of Europe was highly religious, Christian, and Catholic. What was important to him were the pilgrimage routes, the shrines, and the Catholic churches. Even Protestant Christian figures of the past like Luther and Calvin were of little interest to him, so secular philosophers and politicians hardly held his attention. Secular writers may have been called upon to support Catholic teachings, but certainly not to challenge or question them.

Part of John Paul?s complaint with the secularization was the way in which secular institutions have appropriated the ?European? label. His conception of Europe simply didn't include things like the European Commission or the European Parliament. His conception of Europe wasn't divided by ethnicity or national boundaries, but it was separated by religion.

Closely connected to complaints about secularization are complaints about religious pluralism. Catholic tradition has tended to include religious pluralism and freedom of conscience with the heresy of ?indifferentism.? Catholicism condemns indifference towards religious and moral truth, which is understandable, but that condemnation has usually included religious pluralism as well. According to many Catholic thinkers, only an indifferent society would allow people the right to choose religious or moral falsehood.

Pope John Paul II frequently described moral positions contrary to Catholic doctrine as being part of a ?culture of death? and encouraged conservative Catholic writers to follow his own confrontational style. There was little to no effort to engage in open dialogue with Catholics who would dissent from some Catholic social teachings, despite the fact that many of the same conservative Catholics are all too happy to dissent from the Vatican on things like the invasion of Iraq.

Peter Hebblethwaite writes:
  • ?There is in the pope no privatization of Christian faith, hope, or charity. He wants them all to be embodied in the structures of society, and this is the primary task of lay people. But the reverse of this particular medal is that making an impact on society also means refusing the distinction between law and morality. It means in practice that the pope has no use for pluralism, and that he would ideally like legislation to reflect Catholic moral teaching whether Catholics are in the majority or not. So ?bringing the second evangelization to European society? really means mobilizing people, especially young people, for a series of moral campaigns.?

Rallying Catholic youth was the only means by which John Paul has tried to promote the evangelization of Europe. He also made every effort to improve the discipline of the Catholic Church generally, overriding the traditional autonomy of local parishes and bishoprics in favor of top-down management that exercises greater control over faith, ritual, and thought.

Pope John Paul II appointed very conservative bishops, even when faithful Catholics opposed him vociferously. He placed stringent curbs on what theologians can teach and still call themselves Catholic. John Paul proclaimed his adherence to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, but few if any of his actions are in line with the liberal rhetoric.

In order to combat the secularization of European society, he first fought against liberalization and secularization within the church itself. He seemed to believe that his church would need to be more tightly controlled in order to meet the challenges posed by secularization. This wasn't an unreasonable position to take, but it was hard on Catholics who didn't appreciate being whipped into line.

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