Malaysiakini Letter

Late John Paul II rigid, Church inflexible

Aneel David Kannabhiran  |  Published:  |  Modified:

The late pope, John Paul II, was not in touch with today's reality. His unwavering stand on traditionalist Catholic dogmas may render his 26-year papacy a complete failure with regards to the following rights issues:

  • Gender equality specifically women's ordination.

  • Priestly celibacy the choice of priests to marry or for married laity to attain priesthood.
  • Single adults sexual rights an adult's choice to engage in sexual intimacy regardless of marital status.
  • Homosexuality the right to be accepted regardless of sexual orientation.
  • Family planning the use of contraceptives to maintain 'economically manageable' families.
  • Safe sex the right to protect oneself and prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.
  • John Paul's uncompromising and sometimes discriminatory stands on the above issues have at worst alienated Catholics and at least have caused many Catholics to simply ignore his pronouncements as that of a man out of touch with today's reality.

    Gender equality and women's ordination

    John Paul II reaffirmed the equal rights of women in society, but did not extend it to the ordination of women. He wrote in a 1994 Apostolic letter 'Ordinato Sacerdotalis' that 'the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women'.

    This was due to the Second Vatican Council's ontological proclamation in persona propria that a priest is truly working in the place of Christ and because Christ was a man, therefore 'natural resemblance' between Christ and the priest must exist through a man.

    He stated that the prohibition against the ordination of women 'is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful' because this doctrine is infallible.

    The Vatican II's ontological argument seems disrespectful of the advancement and empowerment of women in all spheres, especially in the late 20th century. In a recent survey of 254 American Catholics, 55 percent said they are in favour of women priests.

    The late pope further angered the feminists worldwide when he gave his blessings to the document 'On the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world", authored by the new pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

    The 37-page document accuses feminists of 'antagonism' and of creating a spirit of competition between men and women.

    Priestly celibacy

    John Paul II regarded 'the vow of celibacy as proof of a priest's inner maturity [and] the expression of his personal dignity'.

    He also stated that allowing priests to marry 'would not help to resolve the crisis of vocations to the priesthood'.

    There are however, many among the laity who have, over the years, expressed their desire to serve the Church at a pastoral level despite they being married. There have also been calls from clergy to make marriage or celibacy a matter of personal choice.

    Sixty-three percent of US Catholics are in favour of allowing priests to marry.

    Sexual rights of single adults

    John Paul II has urged single adults to remain chaste until marriage, citing St Paul's exhortation in 1 Cor.7:1-2 that one must be married in order to 'avoid fornication'. The late pope did not take into account that society in St Paul's time routinely married at the onset of puberty and it therefore was far easier to 'avoid fornication' then than it is now.

    With more than half of the world's youth (those between 16-34) engaging in pre-marital sex, according to the annual Durex Global Sex Study, and only 17 percent of American Catholics agreeing that they should obey the pope on such matters, the Vatican's disregard of an adult's right to personal choice seems outdated at best.


    The pope affirmed the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)'s teachings in his book Theology of the Body that homosexuality is an 'intrinsically disordered' condition.

    In his 1986 'on Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons', John Paul II wrote that homosexuals have a 'tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil (homosexual acts), thus the inclination (toward homosexuality) itself must be seen as an objective disorder'.

    John Paul II lobbied Western governments against treating gays equally under civil law and blocked a United Nations resolution which called for the equal treatment of persons regardless of sexual orientation.

    Despite it being compulsory for priests to take a vow of celibacy, the Church teaches that, 'Those affected by the perverse inclination to homosexuality should be excluded from religious vows and ordination," [Sacred Congregation for Religious, 1961].

    In 2002, John Paul II affirmed the above and stated that to preserve itself, the Church has to be much more careful not to let men with 'deviations in their affections' enter the priesthood.

    These discriminations have sparked widespread condemnation from within and without the Catholic Church.

    Contraception and family planning

    John Paul II has labelled contraceptives an 'abortifacient'.

    The pope believed that women must resist the temptation to use birth control, and instead, accept however many children God wants them to have. This, according to him, is in line with promoting 'a culture of life'.

    In Catholic-majority Philippines, this contention has driven a great many already poor families into abject poverty due to the number of children they continue producing.

    One has to wonder, what 'culture of life' this is when these children are put at risk of malnutrition, child labour and other forms of exploitation due to poverty.

    Catholics in Latin America, the region with the world's largest Catholic population (88.6 percent), are however disobeying the Vatican birth rates have fallen sharply there. A woman in Brazil had 2.3 children on average in 2004 compared with six children in 1960.

    Six out of 10 Malaysian women practise family planning, with 42 percent using 'modern methods', according to a study by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

    No condom use for Aids prevention

    'The Church's moral doctrine allows no exceptions (for condoms), even for people infected with Aids or for those who want to use condoms to prevent Aids,' declared the late pope at the 1988 International Congress of Moral Theologians held in Rome.

    This 'no exceptions' rule has greatly affected Africa, where Catholicism has seen an astounding 150 percent growth among its predominantly poverty-stricken population.

    'Where there are extreme forms of poverty, people rely on the Roman Catholic Church for handouts, and when those handouts come with the advice of not using condoms, then that has a very big impact,' said Nadira Omarjee, a researcher at People Opposing Women, a pressure group based in Johannesburg, South Africa in an interview with CNN.

    There are no statistics showing the number of Africa's 143 million Catholics who refuse to use condoms.

    An estimated 25.4 million Africans are living with HIV and approximately 3.1 million new infections occurred in 2004. Around two million African children under 15 are living with HIV and more than 12 million children have been orphaned by Aids.

    The African contender for the recent papacy, Nigeria's Cardinal Francis Arinze says the promotion of condoms has done nothing to halt the spread of AIDS and has instead encouraged promiscuity.

    Little hope in Pope Benedict XVI

    As it is one of the unwritten criteria of the College of Cardinals that every pontiff must be a conservative, it would be almost ludicrous to hope for any change in the Vatican's puritanical stance.

    This leaves the world's 1.1 billion Catholics with little choice but to either obey the laws like the flock of sheep they are expected to be, or transcend organised religion for a purer, less archaic from of spirituality.

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