Date: Mon, 19 Jan 98 15:28:43 CST
From: “Dale Wharton” <1@dale.CAM.ORG>
Organization: anon
Subject: Pope Juan Pablo II, contra
Article: 25958

People of God: the struggle for world Catholicism (review)

Reviewed by Dale Wharton, March 1995

People of God: the struggle for world Catholicism
By Penny Lernoux, 1940–89
NYC: Penguin Books, 1990q
(reprint of Viking edition, 1989)
466 pp including notes, bibliographic references
index. ISBN 0 14 00.9816 X

VATICAN II, the gathering of 2000 bishops in a Second Vatican Council, spread across four years starting in 1962. It reawoke the church.

Catholics did not expect the elderly Italian pope, John XXIII, to call the Council. Meant to be a transitional figurehead, he appalled the Curia—the church's Roman court and central government. John XXIII acted during a historic shift of Catholicism from a West European institution to a global church. The Third World held 4/5 of humanity including 2/3 of all Christians. Poor as it was, it became a force in the world's largest religion, Catholicism. Pope John XXIII asked his hierarchs to “…reestablish the principle of shared authority with all the church's members…in the biblical phrase `People of God’—a community of believers moving forward with humanity…” (p 22).

Vatican II worked changes in Catholicism that loosened ties with the rich and powerful. It seemed God was again on the side of the poor. The church became a medium for redistribution and self-rule, as it had been at the beginning. The spirit “led the churches in second-century Rome to feed 20,000 of the city's poor, not as a political strategy but as a way of following the Word. Wealth was voluntarily shared in response to Christ's call to renounce riches” (p 7). In Vatican II's climate of renewal, the vernacular Mass replaced services in Latin. A place was found for local cultures and values, for discourse with other faiths, for an active laity, for political pluralism.

In 1978 the reawakening came to an end. Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow, became pope—the third since Vatican II. As John Paul II, the Restoration pope would name himself Universal Pastor of the Church. The Eurocentric dispensation resumed.

Rome did not trust national churches at its outposts in the New World. They had gained strength when Vatican II upheld bishops' conferences. Latin American bishops embraced liberation theology, base communities, a preferential option for the poor. Such collegiality Rome would not abide. North American bishops challenged government policies toward Central America, protested the US arms buildup, pressed for women's ordination, granted too many annulments! Discipline followed.

Is the Roman winter part of the worldwide resurgence of religious fundamentalism? Many see threats in changes to social, political, and economic traditions. Consider creationists, Islamic states, Zionism.

The book has 13 chapters in four parts: I Rome, II Latin America, III The United States, IV The World. Chapter 10, “The Religious International,” looks at four lay societies. All share the crusader's sense of mission. The oldest is the Knights of Malta (SMOM—Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and Malta). “Its 13,000 members include some of the world's most powerful figures, among them heads of state” (p 283). The order, founded 1100, is not to be confused with the Knights of Columbus, founded 1882.

“Like the Knights of Malta, the…Catholic movement Opus Dei [Work of God] has damaged its reputation by secretiveness and the sometimes scandalous behavior of its members” (p 302). “The Work” has 73,000 members in 87 countries (24,000 in Spain), largely from rising middle classes, including many professionals. In Italy, a nonsecret variant of Opus—Communion and Liberation (CL)—got recognition in 1982.

CL seeks to introduce worship into civil life (politics, schools, etc) and offer an exciting message to compete with Marxism. Papal support of CL underlay a rift in the 1987 Italian bishops' conference. “Just as John Paul took a different position on religious involvement in politics, depending on the country (no involvement in Latin America, active involvement in Italy and Poland), so he contradicted himself in regard to the bishops' authority” (p 337). In Brazil there had emerged in 1960 a fourth lay society: Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP).

“While it presents itself as an orthodox Catholic group that is strongly anticommunist…TFP is opposed by the Catholic leadership because of its beliefs and recruiting procedures” (p 338). Its funds come largely from landowners who equate agrarian reform with Marxism. Ready for the coming world revolution, TFP commandos wear a monk's habit, chain at the waist, and jackboots. TFP changes its name in some countries, as with Young Canadians for a Christian Civilization.

Author Penny Lernoux's career paralleled Philip Agee's. Both were born into White, comfortable, Catholic homes in prewar USA. Both excelled at university—Agee at Notre Dame, Lernoux at Southern California (she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, an honour for scholarship). Among their country's brightest youth, both set forth to battle communism. They flew to South America as foreign-duty officers in ideologic services: CIA (Agee) and United States Information Agency (Lernoux). Both, after years at their crafts, came to recognize that they were violating their own ideals and principles. Both resigned their commissions and wrote books. Agee exposed CIA as a secret police force whose job is to corrupt politicians and promote repression—to oblige US corporations. Lernoux investigated Latin America's poverty and the rise of fascism.

After three years with USIA in Bogota and Rio de Janeiro, Lernoux joined Copley News Service as chief of bureau in Caracas, 1964-7, then Buenos Aires, 1967–70. She returned to Bogota, married, and in 1974 began writing freelance. Her other books include CRY OF THE PEOPLE (1980) and IN BANKS WE TRUST (1984), both from (Anchor/)Doubleday. The present book succeeds at documenting the extent of John Paul II's crackdown on reforms. It contrasts “two different visions of faith: the church of Caesar, powerful and rich, and the church of Christ— loving, poor…” (p 1). Penny Lernoux died of cancer when she was 49.