by Ted Lipien
published by O Books £14.99
Reviewed by Elizabeth Price
This book is a fount of revelation of John Paul II’s theories on feminism, the ordination of women, the USA and contraception and abortion, not merely this, it brings alive the reality that this man is an ordinary human being driven in his thinking by his own childhood, background, national culture, the fast-held opinions of a few friends etc, rather than some sort of supernatural inspiration of the Holy Spirit given him through Papal office. In other words this book suggests his teaching could/should be considered fallible and human rather than divinely inspired, and ought therefore to be treated as, in some cases, erroneous and in need of reform!
The blurb on its back cover describes Ted Lipien as a former director of the Polish Service of the Voice of America, and a journalist with more than thirty years of reporting and writing about politics, society, women’s issues, and the Catholic Church in Poland . He is also an avid researcher of the internet, giving various website references on almost every page, attractively boxed.
Every page of this superbly written book is of interest, but particularly informative is Lipien’s analysis headed WW II Genetic Killings – Key to understanding Wojtyla’s Pro-Life Stands. “His acquaintance with women imprisoned in the Nazi camps, sterilization and euthanasia were particularly disturbing to John Paul II.”. He formed a close friendship with one of these ex-prisoners, a doctor/psychiatrist Wanda Póltawska, (Lipien describes her experiences). With her Wojtyla discussed human sexuality, leading to his inclusion in his book Love and Responsibility, mention of the female orgasm, which to my mind (having read that book) has given some commentators on it, a false impression of his degree of understanding of marital love. Both he and Wanda believed contraception leads to abortion. Lipien provides some very convincing statistics to prove the contrary which Wojtyla stubbornly rejected. Together he and Wanda coined the phrases “The Culture of Death” and “The Contraceptive Mentality”. It also emerges from the book that Paul VI consulted Wojtyla before publishing Humanae Vitae; Lipien suggests that some of it was written by Wanda. He also tells us that Wojtyla ordered all his priests to question their penitents about their use of contraception and to withhold absolution and ban from Communion those refusing to reject its use. He set up groups of lay advisors to teach NFP, and gives website references for organizations such as Marriage Encounter which descend directly from these efforts. On p.298 there is this revealing sentence “What made this method (NFP) acceptable in Wojytla’s and Dr. Póltawska’s view was its less than full reliability, thus leaving open the possibility of conception.”
Lipien’s research is equally copious on the question of the ordination of women. He reports conservative and liberal arguments about women priests, including too the treatment of Fr.Tissa Balasuriya , stating that it was significant that the first theologian since the Second Vatican Council to be excommunicated for doctrinal disagreement was a Third World priest. He mentions too the existence of We Are Church and its protests in Europe . Feminism and the USA , Lipien shows, were anathema to John Paul II because he never understood or was prepared to listen and discuss their views on issues which clashed with his own firmly entrenched thinking.
For me the only flaw in the whole book is Lipien’s omission of the influence on Wojtyla of theology of Augustine (the unnamed source of inspiration for The Theology of the Body) about the effect of original sin on human sexuality (the unruly phallus), although he documents massively Wojtyla’s views on the danger of lust and the need for the intervention of the clergy to control the behaviour of married couples.
Since I bought it in October, I have been unable to stop dipping into what is the best, most even handed, thorough analytical biography I have ever read. Admirers, or no, of John Paul II, all thinking Catholics should treat themselves to it as a Christmas present.
Elizabeth Price is Chairman of Movement for a Married Clergy, Vice Chairman of Catholics for a Changing Church and is the author of their pamphlet Seeing Sin Where None Is