Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Culture of Life, the Pope and Freedom

In remembering the legacy of Pope John Paul II, Steve Hayward offers an excellent account of his contributions to the demise of Communism and hope for liberty. To his wonderful review, forgive me for adding some personal reflections that may help explain some of this Pope’s amazing powers in this regard.

In 1993 I travelled to Liechtenstein for a seminar sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute which was taught by Michael Novak, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, and George Weigel (the Pope’s biographer). There were also several of the Pope’s top theologians present as guest lecuturers. The idea was to bring together ten American students with 20 Eastern European students to help them come to grips with the ideas of democracy and capitalism. It is hard to say who helped whom. At that time (despite twelve years of Catholic "education") I didn’t know a papal encyclical from an encyclopedia and neither, by the way, did most of my American counterparts. Steeped as we were in the more conventional readings about liberty and natural rights, we were more than alittle astonished to meet all of these very bright Eastern European students who came to hold democracy and capitalism so dearly as a result of John Paul II’s teachings--particularly--with regard to his teachings about the dignity of human life. The dignity of human life is what calls upon all men to respect the natural and God-given rights of all men. Of course the culture of life would respect the ideas of democracy and capitalism! Unfortunately, democracy and capitialism have not always supported the culture of life.

Perhaps the selection of John Paul II as Pope was meant, not only to draw those nations of the former Communist bloc closer to democracy and respect for human rights, but also to draw those of us who live in nations that purport to support the principles of democracy to reflect upon the true meaning of our principles. Perhaps through his example we might all walk away from the culture of death that threatened us not only in the form of Communism--but continues to threaten us today in our own country and in the form of Islamo-facism. And perhaps, God-willing, this next Pope will be able to continue this one’s great and good work.

Discussions - 10 Comments


When I was in Rome with a school group, I got to watch an address the Pope gave on a day when he canonized a nun. There were huge crowds, and he spoke to us from his apartment window. I will never forget that. Even though I do not speak Italian, just seeing him that close and being part of an audience he addressed is like getting to hear Churchill or Cicero.

Julie, you should have told us the schools you attended.

I went to Villanova. And I don’t recall reading so much as a single encyclical in any of the required religious courses there.

Never before in the history of Catholicism have so many graduated from Catholic schools of higher education so clueless about the tenets of their faith. Ask a typical graduate of Villanova or Georgetown to list a few salient differences between Protestanism and his faith, and you’ll probably get a blank stare, and an ensuing period of embarassed silence.

We need a Pope who will ride herd on run amok orders, {the Jesuits come to mind}, and absolutely reform Catholic Universities. And those schools that resist, shut them down. Papal authority exists for a reason. Idly observing Catholic schools become breeding grounds of post-modernism is an abdication of papal responsibility. The charge placed upon the Petrine office was to "strengthen your brothers," not twiddle your thumbs while anti-Christian, pro-marxists completely take over Catholic higher education.

What the Church needs is a purge of the Left.


For the record, I did not attend a Catholic university. I’m a proud graduate of Ashland University and the Ashbrook program. I did, however, attend Catholic grammar school and high school--all twelve years of it. Not only did I not ever hear of an encyclical, I also had never heard of transubstantiation or the catechism until I was in graduate school and met a devout Catholic from the University of Dallas--a fine Catholic institution. I will not say that my Catholic education was bad in the sense of being wrong-headed or contrary to Catechism. We were not offered Liberation theology, for example. But apart from one or two priests that really captured our imaginations, the Catholic part of our education was very lightweight. It was offered, in the main, by well meaning but uninformed lay women. Mainly because of this experience, I have chosen to put my own children in a Christian rather than a Catholic school. At least they will read the Bible at this school. The rest will have to be learned at home, I guess. But then, that will give me a chance to learn what I should have learned 25 years ago.

It is too bad that John Paul II was unable to correct the problems in the American church or even address all of them but I know he felt a special affinity for our country. I think he felt like an exasperated parent with regard to American Catholics. He had so many other children who needed his more immediate attention and we--having the freedom he sought to impress on the minds of the rest of the world--should have been more obedient and grateful for our blessings. That is why I say there will be much work for the next Pope to do. God willing, we can help him.


We need a Primate, vested with plenary authority over all Orders, universities, schools and all things Catholic within the United States.

His task will be to restore the Catholic mental edge, against the prevailing mental softness of our culture.

He will do this by punishing and expelling doctrinal malfactors.
And simultaneously establishing the primacy of Catholic apologetics. The days of idiots graduating the foremost Catholic universities in the nation must come to a swift end.

Julie, what you enumerate as a failing of the pope to correct the American Church is a tall order, and one suited only for God. The Holy Father spoke countless words exhorting especially the Church’s own faithful on issues of orthodox morality and faith. If they did not follow his words, it is only in their own sin and desire to follow their own will rather than God’s. Also, the American bishops have a responsibility to put their own house in order.

Yes, Catholic colleges should do better. I graduated from Villanova myself over a decade ago, and at that time, if you were careful you could a decent Catholic education, but if you didn’t actively try to, then most likely you would not learn the fundamentals.

But, we also have to look at what we can do. Parents are still the primary educators; my parents were not happen with the catechesis we had received, so we spent a couple years at home going through a thorough catechesis.

The individual bishops are the ones who need to do much of the work; the Pope can’t be fully aware of what is happening in all the Catholic colleges in world, but a bishop should be able to know what is going on in his diocese.

Changes take time, but they are happening; some of the new bishops have clearly been inspired by John Paul II, such as Bishop Allen Vigneron, who has already given talks on the Theology of the Body, and is most definitely making changes.


Julie, if you were an AU student now, and were taking my history classes, you would’ve gotten most of what you missed! This is no more of a Catholic (capital-C) institution than it was when you attended, and I confess to being no more than a marginal Catholic myself, but I don’t see how one can have an adequate understanding of European history without learning the history of Holy Mother Church.

Tony, I did not mean to imply that the waywardness of the American Catholic Church is in any way the result of a failing of the Pope’s. I only lament that it was too bad that he could not address us more vigorously--whatever the reason. I plead ignorance about his reasons for not acting with more force against our wayward Bishops but do not impune his motives nor do I suggest that he should or could have done things differently than he did them. Ultimately, it is our own problem and the place it should be addressed is here. I agree. I tend to think that John Paul II did what he could with regard to us--and as a mother expects more from her older children, so he did of us. His was the more urgent calling of the fledgeling to answer.


I’m guessing from the description that you meant Michael Novak?


James, Yes, yes. Of course. Thanks for pointing out my brain freeze! I corrected it in the original.

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