Appeared in Fall 1990, Vol. XVI, No. 3

“The problem with John Paul II is his ‘siege mentality’.” “Exactly,” comes the “liberal” response. “You see, he has been conditioned by the Polish experience where the Church was constantly under attack and so can’t appreciate the American tradition of freedom and dissent.” “Never,” say the “conservatives.” “The Holy Father is not conditioned by anything but is a brilliant man and, most importantly, the Vicar of Christ on earth.” To which, I say, in a sense, “A plague on both your houses.”
Pope John Paul II does have a “siege mentality,” in my opinion. And yes, he has been heavily influenced by his Polish experience (but not limited by it, as his detractors assert). And it seems to me that providence could not have offered the modern Church a more thoroughly modern pope to deal with the modern world. To say that he does not understand the situation of the Church in the United States is tantamount to saying that he never understood the situation of the Church in Poland. The environments in which the two Catholic communities have functioned have been very similar, even if the historical responses to those respective environments have been very different. I leave aside for the moment any reflection on the Church in Eastern Europe since last year.

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