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January 19, 2007



The gravity of the matter is based on the harm done

I suppose you could define 'harm' in such a way as to cover every case, but used in the commonly understood manner it is a very poor absolute criteria to determine graveness.

If I worship a golden calf in the privacy of my own room, what harm have I done? If you say I am harming my chances of eternal beatitude, then your criteria becomes meaningless and circular.

The same could be said of a multitude of other sins that have no impact on anyone except oneself such as masturbation, which incidentally the vast majority of those professionally trained in the medical and psychological fields consider 'healthy' behavior. But as Catholics we know this to be gravely immoral in all cases.


Sin is damaging to the heart/psyche. We're responsible for bringing our best selves out into the world. We relate to others and to God in accordance with what is in our hearts--our very being, as untainted by sin as we can be. Nobody's perfect, but if what's in your heart is insolence instead of repentance and love for yourself, fellow man and God, that is going to alter and color your experiences. So it's not meaningless or circular. We can't pretend that our actions, even private ones, don't cumulatively affect our very being and how we relate to others.

That's the reason you'd never leave your young kids with a babysitter who you knew masturbated to child porn "in the privacy of his own home, but never hurt anybody". Even if there were a way to guarantee he wouldn't physically harm your children in a way that can be proven to the courts, you wouldn't want someone whose heart is colored with the unrepentant entertaining of lustful/abusive thoughts towards children, being with your children. His experiences with children are colored by the ugliness in his heart. He's also entertained, and thus encouraged the perverted thoughts, rather than bringing them under control. The more we think we can sin in private without consequence, the more we're just fooling ourselves and playing with fire. We're supposed to purify ourselves, not encourage weakness and sin in our hearts to grow.

The whole victimless crime idea is a sham; it ignores the heart/psyche and our responsibility to ourselves and to others to treat ourselves as people with dignity. Yes, dignity. The devil would love for you to grossly underestimate your own God-given dignity! It makes his work much easier when we do.

Joy Schoenberger

Aren't we supposed to confess venial, as well as mortal sin? Good Catholics are probably in a state of grace as their norm, with mortal sin the exception. However, we are called to partake of the Sacrament of Penance regularly. How does this jive with your advice to scrupulous and non-scrupulous persons?

Tim J.

"If I worship a golden calf in the privacy of my own room, what harm have I done? "

Well, the problem is you have worshiped simply nothing, and in doing so you have acted out a lie. You have deceived yourself, which harms you. You have also perverted the worship you owe to the true God, which is unjust.

If you look at the Old Testament, idol worship is not proscribed because it harms others, but because - in a way - it robs the worshiper. It takes his piety, energy and devotion and gives him nothing in return. It also is an affront to God, cutting against the grain of the universe He created. It "harms" God, by way of insult (though God can't be harmed in the same sense that we can).

Anything that harms you (like sin) harms everyone. We are all here together, and when you weaken yourself, you rob the rest of us of the help we might have received from you.

If a man spends his time in empty and mindless pursuits, always looking to be entertained and never trying to grow, then right in the spot where the world needed a wise man there will be just another useless twit. That hurts everyone, most especially those closest to the useless twit.


The harm done in worshipping the golden calf is infinite, because you have given the honors due to God alone to something that is not-God, and denied God what should be His.
"Harm" is not simply "harm to other people."

Dan Hunter

Everyone with a well formed concscience knows when he has committed a mortal sin.
God bless you


If I worship a golden calf in the privacy of my own room, what harm have I done? If you say I am harming my chances of eternal beatitude, then your criteria becomes meaningless and circular.

As others have indicated, you gravely harm yourself by turning your will away from its true end.

Germain Grisez offers an interesting analysis of the moral theology of mortal sin in The Way of the Lord Jesus (you can read a popular abridged account in Fulfillment in Christ). My sense is that, like Jimmy, Grisez tends toward the "Everything bad is grave matter except as mitigated by paucity of matter" view. (I guess "parvity of matter" and "paucity of matter" are interchangeable terms?)


...in some cases there is a parvity (smallness) of matter that keeps it from being grave

Tell that to a homeless person who, because of the three strikes law, was sent to prison due to the fact he was accused of stealing crumbs in order to survive.

Jimmy Akin

I would reject the characterization of my view as "Everything is mortal sin except as mitigated by paucity of matter."

This is a formulation that is likely to lead to scrupulosity and doesn't do justice to the difference in kind between venial and mortal sin that St. Thomas makes explicit (and that is required by traditional Catholic theology).

What I would say is that sin in any particular species *can become* grave matter if it is carried to a sufficient extreme.


There is a lot of difference of opinion here. I am inclined to beleive that mortal sin can be avoided by any person who has made a real effort to pursue holiness. For example, impure thoughts are pretty hard to avoid. Masturbation is not if you make an real effort. There is a line that has been crossed to sin with your body. That physical act has spiritual consequences. That makes sense.


For example, impure thoughts are pretty hard to avoid.

But such impure thoughts only become a sin if you act on them.

For example, if you see a hot half-naked lady cross your screen on television (which, these days, unfortunately, don't seem to be a rare occasion), if an impure thought were to cross your mind, that can't be helped.

After all, you are ONLY human.

However, if you DWELL on these thoughts and actually ACT on them, then IT BECOMES A SIN.


Esau, that's flat wrong.

Deliberate indulgence in impure thoughts is a mortal sin. This is the teaching of the Church. Jesus tells us this when he warns that imagining adultery is just as bad as doing it.

That's not to say that impure thoughts can come unbidden into the mind. Or that we can engage in them through habit, which may reduce the subjective blame.

I remember years ago being struck by a passage from the diaries of Blessed Pope John XXIII in which he said (roughly), "I thank God for the fact that I have never in my life deliberately entertained an impure thought."

My reaction was: "Golly! Saint!"

And apparently I was right.


I think that Esau would agree that deliberately indulging in impure thoughts would consitute an action.



Perhaps you are right. But "DWELL and ACT" seemed to me to imply something more than just "DWELL".

I see that perhaps Esau was simply saying that to "dwell" MEANS to "act". I guess he can clear that up!


I guess you'd have to have adequate knowledge that the matter was grave for it to be a mortal sin? If I steal the dollar of a man whom I think is a millionaire, but he's actually a very poor person, I haven't committed a mortal sin.

I tend towards scrupulosity if I'm not careful, and I know I've tended to conflate in my mind the deliberate-consent part and the grave-matter part. That *any* sin that I commit, in which I have full knowledge of the fact that it's a sin, *and* sufficient time to reflect on it before committing it, I have tended to regard as potentially mortal. An example of the kind of thing I'm thinking about: being rude to sales clerks.


I think that Esau would agree that deliberately indulging in impure thoughts would consitute an action.

Thank you, bill912.

I think that's what I meant by my saying:

...if you DWELL on these thoughts and actually ACT on them, then IT BECOMES A SIN.


I see that perhaps Esau was simply saying that to "dwell" MEANS to "act". I guess he can clear that up!

Look, Jeff, don't tell me that if you actually looked at a picture at a half-naked or naked lady (or perhaps a man in your case -- I don't know -- whichever peaks your sexual interest), and an impure thought, which automatically popped up AND you took NO deliberate part in prompting (e.g., you were just watching TV), actually crossed your mind, that this would be considered a sin.

The fact of the matter is that such thoughts may pop up as a normal part of the human condition (though, if it was a picture of a man that peaked your personal sexual interest, I would not call that normal).

However, if you PURPOSEFULLY DWELL on these thoughts and ACT on them (e.g., as bill912 put it -- deliberately indulging in impure thoughts), then IT BECOMES A SIN.


But "DWELL and ACT" seemed to me to imply something more than just "DWELL".

By the way, Jeff, the reason why I made it a point to specifically include the word DWELL is because of the fact that some folks out there become so OVERLY SCRUPULOUS that they tend to beat themselves to death (sometimes both physically as well as mentally) just because of the mere fact that they innocently suffered an occasion where an impure thought crossed their mind when, in fact, they DID NOT deliberately provoke its prompting.


What does dwell mean? How long does one need to think about something impure before you are dwelling?

You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart

Is there a difference between adultery in the heart and adultery in the body? I would say so. The physical act is important. I don't think Jesus was denying that. He was simpy saying avoiding the physical act is not the goal. The goal is to be perfect as Mt 5:48 says. That does not mean everything short of perfection is mortal sin.

The Catechism talks about the ten commandments. That seems right here. The physical acts of sex or masturbation are mortal. Covetting a woman who is out of bounds is mortal. Covet is a more than a passing thought. It is hard to define but you kind of know when you are doing it.

The thinking that puts virtually every sin into the mortal area really leads back to protestant thinking. Confession becomes impossible because sin is mortal unavoidable even for a while. Mortal sins are serious acts that destroy your faith. We know they are mortal from experience as well. When someone stops going to mass regularly it kill their relationship with God. Same if they decide to sleep with their girlfriend. We all know people who have done these things. We know they are mortal because we can see the damage they do. Many of us have not just seen it in others but experienced it ourselves.


Isn't "mortal" sin really defined as "that sin which ruptures the bond between God and ourselves?"

So the gravity, etc., is really more of a guideline, I would guess, and the dividing line might differ from sinner to sinner. Would one have to have full foreknowledge "what I am about to do is going to fully rupture the bond between God and myself?"

Is it even possible for a person who does not believe in hell to commit a mortal sin? Some of the saints say so, and that disbelief in hell is a major reason why people wind up there.


What does dwell mean? How long does one need to think about something impure before you are dwelling?

You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart


Are you telling me then that every single time that you happen to see a picture whether it's on television (e.g., a commercial) or in a magazine (e.g., an ad), and something of an impure thought just happened to cross your mind, you would actually consider such an instance a mortal sin???

The very fact that Jesus specifically said looking lustfully meant that the onlooker was PURPOSEFULLY dwelling on impure thoughts about the woman and DELIBERATELY acting out such lustful intentions in his mind.

However, again, if a person were to suffer an occasion where an impure thought simply crossed his mind without his not having INTENTIONALLY provoked it (such as in the case of watching television and there happened to be a commercial that featured some hot female model in a bikini or in an intimate Victoria Secret outfit), I wouldn't say that person sinned UNLESS that person started to DWELL on these thoughts (DELIBERATELY lingering on lascivious notions and graphic sexual images concerning the female model -- start actually treating them as an object) and ACT out on them (be it mentally or physically in the case of masturbation).

Tim J.

Dwelling on an impure thought, to me, would mean that;

1) You consciously realize that you are having an impure thought

2) You choose to keep the thought going, to indulge it, to enjoy it.

"Choosing" is an action. That choice constitutes "acting" on the impure thought, even if the act is not physical.


Thanks, Tim J.!


No, I was going the opposite direction. I was trying to argue that thoughts in themselves would not be mortal. I guess I botched the communication badly. My thinking was that sin when it is full grown results in death( in James I think). The idea was that venial sin is not full grown. It is when you stop somewhere on the slippery slope and decide to go back. When you let impure thoughts get to their logical climax you get masturbation or sex. If you don't go there you have at some level chosen to limit the seriousness of your sin. You are still letting God's word have sway. So that sin does not become full grown and does not lead to death.

Tim J.

But, Randy, that seems to be exactly what Jesus was addressing when he gave His teaching on adultery.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."


I look at it like this: When my conscience sez, "uh-oh, you shouldn't be lookin' at this," I am, as it were on the point of decision for or against sin.

John Henry

For a sin to be mortal, which of the following two choices does the "full knowledge" have to be?

1) Knowledge that it is sin? Or

2) Knowledge that it is grave sin?

I.e., would it be mortal if I knew it was a sin, but didn't know it was grave matter (and it actually was)?

The upshot of this question is: what if a once-saved-always-saved Protestant committed a grave sin, but doesn't believe in any kind of sin that will separate the believer from Christ (i.e., doesn't believe in grave matter)? Does that sin separate him from Christ? Can a Protestant in such a situation ever commit a mortal sin?


You don't have to have knowledge of sin. It is possible for you to be guilty of mortal sin even if you didn't know it was sin. That is if you failed to take reasonable action to see if the act was sinful. The classic example is the moving of the Ark of the Covenant. They didn't bother to check how they were supposed to move it so they didn't know what they did was sinful. Still Oza was struck dead because of it. Does God strike people dead for venial sins?

The concept is called invincible ignorance. Just plain ignorance is not enough. So, yes, people can commit mortal sin without knowing it. Protestants can commit mortal sin. Can they be restored without a sacramental confession? I don't know. My gut tells me that when a protestant answers an altar call or visits a pastors study then God will provide what is missing.


We also have the responsibility to avoid things/situations/persons that are 'occasions of sin' to us. For example, TV viewing may lead to an overwhelming temptation to impurity for SOME folks--so these people probably should avoid TV completely. We all have to pray for wisdom and discernment, regarding what things/situations/persons we should AVOID for the good of our soul.


But, Randy, that seems to be exactly what Jesus was addressing when he gave His teaching on adultery.

My post must have been just awful. I thought I made some arguments why Jesus could not be defining mortal sin in the sermon on the mount. The call to be perfect would include all sin as mortal and therefore deny the existence of venial sin. I don't think that is Catholic. Jesus can equate the nature of 2 sins without equating the gravity. He is saying we need to go far beyond what the Jewish law required and strive for true holiness. It is a call to hate ALL sin. That is the danger in defining mortal and venial sin. People think they just have to worry about the mortal stuff. Jesus rejects that. His kingdom is about complete holiness.


We also have the responsibility to avoid things/situations/persons that are 'occasions of sin' to us.

Okay, TrueFaith.

The next time a person who's OVERLY SCRUPULOUS approaches me, I'll just tell them to avoid ANYTHING AND ANY PLACE where a hot babe may appear out of the blue, such as the beach, athletic events, certain social gathering places like restaurants, coffee houses, maybe even museums, art galleries and, just to be safe, perhaps they should avoid their workplace as well; heck, why not tell that person to stay inside, never mind going out and just lock themselves up inside their homes since a hot babe could pop up from almost anywhere for that matter (she just might be jogging down your street, for all you know) and, thus, ALL places might prove to be an occasion for sin.

Don't meant to sound flippant -- the point being is that you cannot avoid human nature. You can't prevent such thoughts from arising suddenly, out of the blue; that's how our human biology works -- that's how it was intended to work. It's totally natural given the human condition.

However, you can actually CHOOSE TO NOT DWELL on such thoughts (e.g., should they arise, simply CHOOSE to FOCUS on other things) AND NOT ACT on these impure thoughts, such as engaging in them on a mental level (e.g., indulging in them) and/or on the physical (e.g., masturbation).

Tim J.

Well, I certainly agree that Jesus was not teaching against the idea of sin being venial and mortal.

But I'm pretty sure the idea that one could not sin mortally in one's thoughts would be foreign to Catholic teaching through the ages.

Looking lustfully at a woman is sinful. If one knows this, and looks at her lustfully anyway, then one has deliberately chosen to sin. This may not "harm" the woman in the commonly understood sense of the word (though it could be argued that it does), but at minimum it certainly does harm to the one looking.

Depending on the nature of the thoughts (acknowledging beauty is not the same as actively fantasizing about stuff) these thoughts could certainly constitute grave matter.


Practically, I agree with you. I think you should avoid lustful thoughts. I think you should confess them. I just don't think you should worry you are going to go to hell if you have an unconfessed lustful thought. The USCCB document on communion talks about indulging in pornography. That might be a point as well that is crosses into mortal sin. I just think that if a brief sexual fantasy is a mortal sin then there is no such thing as venial sin.


If I steal the dollar of a man whom I think is a millionaire, but he's actually a very poor person, I haven't committed a mortal sin.

Only if you made reasonable efforts ascertain that he was a millionaire. That is, if you acted with invincible ignorance. ("Invincible" does not, in this context, mean entirely unconquerable; it means the effort to find it out would be unreasonable under the circumstances.)

Indeed, if you noticed his tattered clothing and said to yourself, he really doesn't need this money because he's not taking advantage of his millions -- if you deliberately kept yourself from finding out by convincing yourself of it -- you may be more guilty because your ignorance is affected and shows hardness of heart.


Is it a mortal sin to consecrate a known Communist as Bishop of Krakow?

Just wondering......


Sorry-Meant Bishop of Warsaw

One would think that consecrating a Man who collaborated with those that profess the state is God is a mortal sin

I wonder why, with Spirit Daily and other Catholic news cycles at least mentioning this and other issues of the day why this has not made the blogosphere?

David B.


Please neuter this ranting, illogical, hateful, ignorant, judgemental, uncharitable, Non-catholic, Hobby Horse who apprently wants to waste his life on detraction and calumney!!!!!!!!!!!


My comment regarding the need for one to avoid 'occasions of sin', is not intended for those who suffer from 'scruples'--these folks should have a regular confessor/director--someone who can guide them with wisdom and discernment, knowing the 'particulars' of their situation. My thoughts are for the average guy or gal who have a particular sin that causes them alot of 'grief'--doing some honest soul searching, identifying situations that may lead to that particular sin--and avoiding them. This was advice given to me at one time in confession, and has blessed me--so I pass it on.

Dr. Eric


The former communists have made their way around the Catholic blogosphere for the past week now. Where have you been?


David David David...Seems like one cant answer a simple question

There is a Bishop on one side who says the Pope knew very clearly that he was a former Communist and then the Pope who denies it-So I am just saying someone is obviously lying -either a Bishop or a Pope and is it not a mortal sin to knowingly collaborate with a Godless socialistic government and for the Vicar of Christ to overlook this, as well as JPII the commy fighter who knew about up to 40 clergy who did such

No hate I am just asking a question that really seemed to un nerve you!!!

Mary Kay

John, no one is unnerved by you. Most likely, they're simply ignoring you.

David B.


I'm not "un(sic) nerve(d)" by your question. Secondly, I didn't attempt to address your question, since once before I said I wouldn't try to get you to engage in a rational discussion. If you think that either pope Benedict or the late JP2 is/was a communist sympathizer, that's your own affair. However, I must warn you that willingness to believe evil of someone who has not given a good reason to doubt his character IS, indeed, sinful.

Dan E.

Don't mean to throw a wrench in the discussion, and maybe this has been covered elsewhere, but I have a question I need help with:

I have been in an ongoing discussion with members of my family about the sinful nature of the actions of "radical" Muslims. I understand that for an action to be a mortal sin, the action must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense and it must be committed with deliberate and complete consent. It also must be a grave matter. From my perspective, an individual who hijacks an airliner and slams it into a building killing hundreds of innocent civilians, or steps onto a bus and blows himself up in the hopes of killing everyone on the bus, is committing murder, a mortal sin. However, the other side of the argument states that the "radical" Muslim does not believe that what he is doing is wrong; in fact he believes he is commanded by Allah to commit the action, thus ruling out one of the defining characteristics of mortal sin.
To take the argument to the extreme: is it possible that the teaching of the Catholic Church is that a person who follows the heresy of Islam and deliberately kills a person who is a follower of Christ because of that person's Christianity could be accepted into Heaven? Consider that the killer's final acts are the killing of the Christian and his own suicide, both in the name of a false religion.


Dan E,

It is not impossible to push the idea of ignorance that far. I do think that by the time they hihacked the plane they were invincibly ignorant. The question becomes how did they get there. Did they follow God as well as they could without the grace of the word and sacraments? If so, it is theoretically possible they can be saved. The reality is that such a malformed conscience would not be the expected product of seeking God honestly. We just can't judge them because we don't know their hearts.

David B.

And when the 9/11 hijackers paid for a stripper prior to be suicides, was THAT invincible ignorance? Nuh-uh.



Thanks for the generous spirit in which you offered the advice you gave.

That, of course, was kind and Christian of you.

However, in consideration of those persons who suffer from such scruples, I just wanted to urge some caution in the matter especially to such a one like these.

God Bless.


Is it a mortal sin for someone to say unwarranted evil things about Jesus, to demonize Jesus and despise Him with such incredible hate???

Just Wondering...

Luke 10:16 He that heareth you heareth me: and he that despiseth you despiseth me: and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.


NBC News Appreciation
A towering figure in the history of the church and the world

Stephen Weeke is an NBC News correspondent based in Rome.

Rome Bureau Chief
NBC News
Updated: 2:26 p.m. PT April 2, 2005

VATICAN CITY - Those born in the last quarter of the 20th century might be forgiven for thinking that the papacy and Poland go hand in hand or that the pope has always been a man at home among common people and intent on spreading the Catholic word around the globe in person. Older people, however, know John Paul II was anything but typical. Even in his last years — shaking from Parkinson's disease and moving slowly through a millennial pilgrimage to the Holy Land — it was clear he was a pope like no other.

John Paul II lectured dictators and democrats with equal vigor, inspired millions to uphold human dignity and, in the eyes of many historians, helped bring about the collapse of communist rule in Europe.

His unique physical presence and charm were striking in his early days as pope. Gifted with a tremendous affinity for language and an engaging manner, this pope forever changed the image of what a pontiff should be and what the leader of the "Mother church" can accomplish, both spiritually and politically. To his last days, John Paul strove to reconcile the church with other faiths and to heal the centuries-old schism within Christianity itself by encouraging a strong ecumenical movement around the globe.

For more than two decades beginning in 1978, he reigned as the supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church, as its "pontiff," from the Latin word "pontifex" — "keeper of the bridge." Indeed, his papacy bridged a span of history that ran from the dark days of the Cold War to the collapse of Soviet-backed communism in 1989 and into the new "globalism" of the 21st century. Typically, John Paul II refused to be satisfied with his contribution to communism's demise. He turned his attention to a new challenge: the ever-widening gap between the developed and the underdeveloped worlds.

A Polish pontiff
Coming after 450 years of Italian popes, the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow on the evening of Oct. 16, 1978, broke tradition and stunned those who considered themselves experts on the Vatican. The public in St. Peter's Square that evening was so stunned by the announcement of this foreign name that it fell silent.

Still, when Karol Wojtyla stepped out onto the balcony in St. Peter's, his smile and the joy in his voice charmed both the Roman and the global television audiences. He made a joke about his accented Italian, and the world embraced him in an instant. He brought with him the excitement of an evolutionary change, and soon his Slavic features and his dramatic flair for the public stage seemed as papal as his vestments.

A life of struggle
The man who would be pope lived a childhood marked by the loss of his mother at the age of 8, a strict upbringing by a conservative, impoverished father and then the double traumas of Nazi occupation and the postwar communist takeover.

The young Karol Wojtyla became a devout, scholarly and determined young man. Studying in a secret seminary banned by the Nazis, he became a priest, surprising most of his school friends, who expected him to pursue a life in theater, something he showed a great affinity for as a young man.

His faith was a deeply intellectual one: He studied philosophy, and those who knew him as a young seminarian say he would have preferred to live a monastic life. But his superiors recognized in him an ability to touch people and attract them and pressed him into a life of religious outreach.

Karol Wojtyla's Poland was liberated by Stalin's armies, but the church found itself little better off under communism than it had been under the Third Reich. While the church was tolerated in postwar Poland to a much greater extent than in many other Soviet satellite states, being a member of the clergy automatically qualified one as a potential "counterrevolutionary."

As Karol Wojtyla rose through the ranks of the church, to bishop, then archbishop and cardinal, he struggled constantly with a repressive regime for more religious freedom, earning him a reputation as a thoughtful dissident who attracted intellectuals, writers, workers and others unhappy with the government.

Taking on the communists
The alliances he forged during his rise through the Polish church helped feed a small rebellion in a Gdansk shipyard in the 1970s that ultimately would prove the first ripple in the tidal wave that would sweep Soviet-inspired communism from Poland and then from all of Europe. Solidarity, the movement founded by the shipyard's workers, became a symbol of peaceful resistance behind the Iron Curtain.

The future pope — by now Cardinal Wojtyla — supported the movement from its inception. In 1978, at a time when Solidarity's struggles were getting more and more attention in the Western press, the election of a Polish pope sent political shock waves through the Kremlin and raised awareness in the White House that the Roman Catholic Church might be an ally in its own effort to roll back Soviet domination.

On the road
The new pope immediately set out to bring his word directly to the faithful, undertaking a politically sensitive trip to Mexico within months of his election. During that trip, a milestone in the relationship between the Church and a Mexican state that had been anti-clerical for decades, the world got its first glimpse of the missionary style John Paul II would adopt. He spoke about moral truth and economic justice, gave stirring speeches, spoke occasionally in Spanish and then, diving into a crowd to shake hands and hold babies, he emerged wearing a sombrero. All Mexico was enthralled.

Many see his first visit to his Polish homeland, in June 1979, as a significant moment in the collapse of communism. Despite government efforts to play down his visit by limiting crowds and broadcasts, John Paul managed to galvanize Poles with his carefully worded denunciations of the regime. Many who later played key roles in the overthrow of communism there said his words gave average Poles the strength to face down repression. In effect, he put the Vatican's stamp of approval on Solidarity.

The assassination attempt
Though never proven, it's been suggested by analysts that a subsequent attempt on John Paul's life was directly connected to the Soviet Union's fear of the pope. The assassination attempt in St. Peter's Square in May 1981 failed, but the right-wing Turkish gunman who shot the pontiff later suggested he had been paid to do it by the Bulgarian and Soviet secret services. At Mehmet Ali Agca's trial, however, involvement by East bloc intelligence agencies was never proven.

The pope survived the serious wound to his intestine and would later place the bullet that nearly killed him in the crown of the statue of the Virgin at Fatima in Portugal, saying he survived because the day he was shot was May 13, the anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima. In 1986, in a private meeting in Agca's prison cell, John Paul forgave his assailant.

Dogged on doctrine
The pope continued his jet-age evangelism in far-flung corners of the world, carrying a message of social and economic change but religious conservatism. He stood resolutely against contraception, homosexuality, abortion and women in the priesthood. Despite hope in some liberal wings of the church, John Paul never relented on these basic precepts and, in fact, moved to further cement them as church doctrine.

This unique mix of progressive political views and doctrinaire faith sometimes created friction around the world. His fierce anti-communism, for instance, put him at odds with the church in Latin America, which was experiencing a rebirth in the 1980s through the popularity of a school of thought known as "liberation theology," which argued that the church should ally itself with the poor and aid the cause of ousting the oligarchs and landowning families who traditionally dominated the region. His strict adherence to traditional doctrine also caused problems in the United States and Western Europe, where a more liberal interpretation of Catholicism had taken hold. John Paul occasionally chided those who treated aspects of Catholicism as optional, though a full showdown with America's more liberal bishops never came.

‘The people’s pope’
None of these conflicts hampered John Paul's transformation into the first celebrity pope. The most photographed man of our time, John Paul appeared in Australia holding a koala bear, with painted tribal warriors in Papua New Guinea and even in a handmade white leather papal cassock with fringe in front of a Native American teepee in Canada.

In France, on one of his first trips, the local media came up with a phrase that summed up the paradox of his appeal: "The people love the singer, but they don't like the song."

From the Americas to Africa, crowds of millions attended large open-air masses to wave maniacally at the smiling pontiff in his popemobile while privately rejecting his message on sexual morality.

In his final years his strong will was put to the test by his own body. It betrayed him with the onset of Parkinson's disease — making his left hand tremble constantly and stiffening the facial muscles on his right side, giving him a stony, stern expression so removed from that of the jocular man he had been in his prime.

Still, he undertook difficult visits to Cuba and to the Holy Land and attempted several times without success to win approval for a visit to the ancient Iraqi city of Ur, the Biblical birthplace of the prophet Abraham.

His Cuban visit in 1998 helped persuade the island's communist leader, Fidel Castro, to allow more religious freedom. As he had in Poland, the pope spoke out against communism's repression of individual liberty. But Cuban society, unlike Poland, remained a web of state control despite the pope's efforts.

At the end of the century, John Paul fulfilled a lifelong dream by celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ — the Great Jubilee, in Vatican parlance — in Jerusalem.
The visit punctuated a long effort led by John Paul to repair relations not only with the many splintered sects of Christianity, but also with Judaism and Islam. Having broken a taboo in 1986 by making the first-ever visit by a pope to a synagogue — in this case, Rome's main synagogue — John Paul extended his ties to Judaism by meeting with the religion's top officials. He also conferred with Jerusalem's chief mufti, Islam's senior cleric in the city. And, as always, the pope waded into the political arena, prodding Palestinians and Israelis to make peace.

His death does not leave the world surprised, because it's been expected for a long time. But it does leave a moral void on the global stage that will take a strong man to fill. Because in this world, friends and foes agree, John Paul II was a superstar.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive© 2007 MSNBC Interactive
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3276587/

John Paul II and Communism
A subtle push from Rome bears fruit in Gdansk
By Andrew Nagorski

Updated: 2:24 p.m. PT April 2, 2005
NEW YORK - In the early 1960s, Zenon Kliszko, the chief ideologist of the Polish Communist Party, vetoed seven candidates put forward by the Roman Catholic Church to be bishops. The party ideologist reasoned that Karol Wojtyla, who had expressed little interest in mundane politics, could be manipulated easily. This has to rank as one of the most monumental miscalculations of the 20th century.

It was still the dark days of the Cold War, and the Polish government had the power to block such appointments. Kliszko warned he would continue vetoing candidates until he got the name he wanted.

Wojtyla, who, with the Polish Communist Party's approval, was installed as archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and was elected pope 14 years later, helped unleash the forces that brought about the fall of communism. He never overtly espoused any particular political agenda, but he lived his life according to the famous saying of the 19th century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid: "A man is born on this planet to give testimony to truth." As a bishop and then as pope, Wojtyla kept urging his countrymen and everyone else to "live in truth." Nothing could be more subversive in a communist system based on lies. His credo proved to be a highly contagious idea picked up and expanded upon by dissidents like Adam Michnik in Poland and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. The result was the flourishing of an alternative culture, including a vigorous underground press and eventually the birth of the free trade union movement Solidarity.

In his support of human rights, Wojtyla always assigned top priority to the struggle for religious freedom. He repeatedly sought to help the "silent churches," the persecuted in places like the Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and China. Sometimes, this meant bolstering underground churches, which secretly ordained priests; sometimes, it meant dispatching Polish priests, pretending to be ordinary travelers, to the Soviet Union, where they would celebrate masses in private houses. But most of the challenge was neither secretive nor conspiratorial. By talking about justice, morality and Europe's common "spiritual genealogy," Wojtyla undermined the communist system and the rationale for keeping the continent divided.

In 1979, when John Paul II was planning his first trip to his homeland after his election to the papacy, many communists had begun to realize how badly they had misread him. Soviet ruler Leonid Brezhnev warned the Polish leaders that he would "only cause trouble." A secret set of instructions sent out to teachers in Polish schools called the pope "our enemy." Later, when he barely survived the assassination attempt by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, there were charges -- never proven -- that the Kremlin had ordered the hit. Poles saw Wojtyla's survival as a miracle. But the bigger miracle was yet to come when, inspired by his bold example, they reclaimed control of their country -- and triggered a peaceful revolution that transformed Europe and the world.

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.Andrew Nagorski is a former Newsweek bureau chief in Warsaw, Poland.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3276657/

Taking shelter in Christ
Surviving Nazism and communism forged pope's resolve

By Matthew Bunson
Special to MSNBC.com
Updated: 2:24 p.m. PT April 2, 2005

Christ at the center of all things was a theme to which John Paul II returned until the very end of his life and which served as his unceasing prayer for the church and the world. On Oct. 22, 1978, only a few days after his election as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II called upon the world: "Be not afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ. To his saving power upon the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid."

In his first major papal document, “Redemptor Hominis” ("The Savior of Man"), John Paul wrote, "Our spirit is set in one direction; the only direction for our intellect, will and heart is toward Christ our Redeemer."

This Christocentric theology had profound ramifications for the Catholic Church in the modern world as it presented humanity not in isolation from God but reaching its fullness through God's Son. By proclaiming that human dignity can be seen only in the light of Christ, John Paul II challenged modern thinking and oriented the church to defend the human person against the great threats posed to true freedom and dignity by the political and philosophical systems of the 20th century.

Karol Wojtyla had witnessed first-hand two of those dehumanizing movements, Nazism and communism. He emerged from those experiences refined and resolute that the church offered the only antidote to a spiritually arid age. John Paul saw the church not in a static defensive posture but in fidelity to the call of the Gospel to preach to all nations. As one of the most active members of the Second Vatican Council, the pope knew that the council had mandated a dialogue with the modern world. In the long conversation of his reign, he spoke for the church and apologized for the past errors of its members, pleaded for the reunion of the splintered Christian family.

He also called for unity in Christ for all, even if the world seemed unwilling or unprepared to listen. To the frustration of Western secular humanists, he rejected anew abortion, contraception and euthanasia. In the face of moral relativism, he confirmed church doctrine on both natural law and absolute moral norms as integral to the development of the authentic person. At the same time he confounded social conservatives by his opposition to the death penalty, and in his social teachings he brought the church squarely into the arena of economic development, social justice, the rights of workers, a "radical capitalistic ideology" and rampant consumerism. Beneath this oft-criticized stern and unyielding face of the pontiff's teachings, however, was a genuine optimism rooted in the Gospel.

In every instance of his teachings, he returned the church to Christ as the model for humanity, the restoration of the dignity intended by God, and the triumph over fear and sin. As he wrote in his book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”: "The power of Christ's Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear." John Paul II preached freedom for the world — not the ephemeral freedom of material possessions and moral license of modern culture, but the liberating horizon of acknowledging the sovereignty of God. Of this liberation, the pope declared, "To accept the Gospel's demands means to affirm all of our humanity, to see it in the beauty desired by God, while at the same time recognizing, in light of the power of God Himself, our weaknesses: 'What is impossible for men is possible for God.' (Luke 18:27)."

© 2007 MSNBC InteractiveMatthew Bunson is editor of the Catholic newspaper Our Sunday Visitor.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3276684/

Book: John Paul Mulled Quitting Early
Pope’s ex-aide also writes of alleged Russia plot in assassination attempt

Updated: 8:09 a.m. PT Jan 22, 2007
ROME - The late Pope John Paul II seriously considered resigning in 2000 because of his poor health and also mulled changing church law so that popes would bow out at age 80 instead of ruling for life, his ex-secretary says in a new book.

The disclosures were contained in memoirs by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s private secretary for nearly four decades.

In “A Life with Karol” to be released by Italy’s Rizzoli publishers on Wednesday, Dziwisz also writes he is convinced the Soviet Union was behind the 1981 assassination attempt on the Polish pope because he was a threat to its power.

Dziwisz recalled how Pope John Paul felt in the year 2000, when, with his health fading, he led the one billion-member Church into the new millennium.

‘He had to submit himself’
He says the pope called a meeting of his closest advisers, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

“He came to the conclusion that he had to submit himself to God’s will, that is, to remain (in office) as long as God wanted,” Dziwisz writes.

John Paul, the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, “asked himself ... if even the pope should resign from the post at age 80,” the same age at which cardinals are no longer allowed to enter a conclave to elect a new pontiff.

Dziwisz also disclosed that as his health declined, John Paul set up “a specific procedure to hand in his resignation in case he would not be able to carry out his ministry as pope to the end.”

The words by Dziwisz, who was like a son to the pope, were the clearest statement yet that John Paul had indeed considered resigning as Parkinson’s disease and other ailments took their toll, affecting his speech and ability to walk.

The last pope to resign willingly was Celestine V, who stepped down in 1294. Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415 when more than one pope was reigning at the same time.

‘Kremlin hated the pope’
In another part of the book Dziwisz recalls May 13, 1981, the day Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope while his open jeep was being driven through St Peter’s Square at the start of a weekly general audience.

“Agca was a perfect killer,” writes Dziwisz, who was riding in the jeep with the pope at the time. “He was sent by those who thought the pope was dangerous, inconvenient, by those who feared him ...”

Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the assassination attempt.

At the time of the shooting, events in the pope’s Polish homeland were starting a domino effect which was eventually to lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

The pope was a staunch supporter of Poland’s Solidarity union and most historians agree he played a vital role in events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Allegations against the KGB
“How could one not have thought of the communist world (being behind the plot) ... you have to take into consideration all the elements of that scenario: the election of a pope hated by the Kremlin, his first trip back to his homeland (as pope in 1979), the explosion of the Solidarity union (in 1980).”

“Doesn’t everything lead in that direction? Don’t the paths, even if they are different, lead to the KGB?”

Last year, a report by an Italian parliamentary investigative commission said the leaders of the former Soviet Union were behind the plot and that Agca, a Turk now serving life in prison in his native country, did not act alone.

In a chapter called “The Last Hours,” Dziwisz recalls John Paul’s final moments of life on April 2, 2005, at the end of a 10-year battle with a host of ailments.

“It was 9:27 p.m. We noticed that the Holy Father stopped breathing ... some people stopped the hands of their watches at that hour.”

Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12370494/

“I think we shall keep discovering how much the Holy Father worked for us and struggled for us. He spoke to us through his illness and through his suffering served to the very end ... (Without him) there would be no end of communism or at least much later and the end would have been bloody.”

— Former Polish President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

“By combating the falsehoods of communism and proclaiming the true dignity of the individual, his was the moral force behind victory in the Cold War.”

— Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

'Scarborough Country' for April 4

SCARBOROUGH: All right, Chris Matthews, thanks so much for that report from Vatican City. We greatly appreciate it.

Now, with the passing of Pope John Paul II coming as it does, just nine months after former President Reagan, we are seeing the official end of the 21st century. That‘s what Paul Kengor, author of “God and Ronald Reagan,” writes in today‘s “National Review.” He‘s here with us now tonight live. Also with us is a presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Doris, let me begin with you.

You know, the pope helped to free an entire continent, helped to unify, by what he did in the early 1980s, helped to unify Germany in the late 1980s. And yet, as he dies, as we‘re celebrating his life tonight, the church that he presided over still very much divided. Is that a job that‘s too large for one man to do, to unify a billion Catholics worldwide?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I would say yes, an easy answer to that.

But I think, you know, we have to give him an extraordinary credit. When you think about the 20th century, which Paul has written about, there‘s two transforming events, World War II and then the Cold War. And the pope had a shaping event in both of those...

And then, obviously, the fact that the pope came on the scene at the same time as Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev. You know, the world is so lucky sometimes when people come together, like FDR and Churchill during World War II. And those three people at a time helped to bring about the fall of communism. So, I think Paul is right when he says there‘s this 20th century—these were the two transforming events. And this pope was central to both of them.

David B.


.....Wrong thread?

I remember years ago being struck by a passage from the diaries of Blessed Pope John XXIII in which he said (roughly), "I thank God for the fact that I have never in my life deliberately entertained an impure thought."

My reaction was: "Golly! Saint!"

Hmmm, my reaction is "I wonder whether he is telling the whole truth there".

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