Voice of America (VOA) Interview with Ted Lipien, author of Wojtyla’s Women: How Women, History and Polish Traditions Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church
INTRO: The head of the Roman Catholic Church Pope Benedict XVI is paying his first visit to the US April 15-20. What message might he bring to American Catholics? Will the conservative pope heed the call of liberal American Catholics, who advocate more freedom, an end to priest celibacy, and women in the priesthood? To shed light on some of these questions, VOA’s Ivana Kuhar recently spoke with Ted Lipien – a Vatican observer and author of an upcoming book on the late pope John Paul II.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: In a few days, we will witness the first visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the US. How different is the Catholic Church in the United States now, as compared to the time of the first visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979?
Ted Lipien: Indeed, pope Benedict XVI will be coming to a much different and much more conservative American Catholic Church than Pope John Paul II when he made his first historic visit to the US in 1979. The American Catholic Church has become much more conservative, largely due to Pope John Paul II, and, of course Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Ratzinger was Pope John Paul II’s primary advisor and associate. So, he also is responsible for this trend.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: Studies and statistics show that many liberal Catholics have left the Catholic Church in the US. Why are liberal Catholics leaving the church?
Ted Lipien: Well, it’s widely assumed that they left because they disagreed with many of the positions that Pope John Paul II took on such issues as abortion, birth control, women priests, gay marriages and a general democracy within the Church. So, about one third of Americans who were raised Catholic had left the Church. This is unique because no other major religion or church has lost such a large proportion of its followers. Now, when I say that the Catholic Church is more conservative in the United States, it is still, I think, more liberal than some of the conservative movements within the Catholic Church in Europe.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: In what respect?
Ted Lipien: For example, the conservative wing of the Catholic Church in the US is not highly nationalistic or xenophobic. Conservative Catholics in the US do not express anti-immigrant sentiments, as you will hear from some of the Catholic conservative groups in countries like Poland, or in some of the other countries in Europe.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: Do you think that Americans essentially expect Pope Benedict XVI to continue with the same message as Pope John Paul II?
Ted Lipien: Now, I don’t think that American Catholics expect Benedict XVI to offer any major changes within the Church – they simply expect that he will continue the conservative positions on issues that John Paul II took, and in fact he may be even more conservative than John Paul II.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: What is the main difference between the two pontiffs?
Ted Lipien: John Paul II, when he assumed his papacy, was much younger. He was a former actor. He communicated with gestures, rather than words. There was an excitement about his election and his papacy. Benedict XVI is in fact in some ways more conservative than John Paul II. He will continue all of the major policies of John Paul II. But, I think John Paul II was more careful, more conciliatory to other religions, more open toward the Third World. He saw the future of the Catholic Church in the Third World. It’s really hard to tell where Benedict XVI sees the future of the Catholic Church – whether he sees it in Western Europe and in the US, or whether he thinks that Catholicism will bloom in the Third World and will continue to decline in Western Europe.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: What about Benedict’s view on priest celibacy and on women priesthood? Is Benedict’s view different than John Paul IIs?
Ted Lipien: Not at all. In fact, if anything, I think Cardinal Ratzinger was responsible to some degree for some of John Paul II’s strong pronouncements on these issues. So, don’t expect women priests, do not expect gay marriages, and do not expect changes in the Church’s position on birth control and abortion under Benedict XVI.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: Are American Catholics asking for changes? Are they expecting any changes?
Ted Lipien: Well, those who have still remained within the Church, yes. There was a survey done in 1996, in which American Catholics were asked what they expect from a new pope. And anywhere from 65-70 percent said they are in favor of women priests, that they are in favor of more democracy within the Church, and they are in favor of married priests.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: Does the Catholic Church have an answer for declining number of priests and nuns?
Ted Lipien: For example, in 1965, there were about 180 thousand nuns in the US. In 2005, there were only about 70 thousand. At the same time, the Catholic Church in the US has grown since then, largely due to immigration. But I don’t think that John Paul II, when he was alive, or Cardinal Ratzinger then and now, really thought that changing positions on these issues was the right answer. They would not change them, certainly not on abortion. Benedict XVI will probably not change the Church’s position on birth control. They would not want the Church to be in favor of abortion, of birth control or of radical feminism. I think they were willing to accept a smaller church, perhaps a church that is more conservative, and is dominated by Catholic churches in the developing world, although these churches are also changing as the result of globalization and media coverage. So, who knows what the future will bring.
Ivana Kuhar, VOA: Mr. Lipien, thank you for your time and insight.
Ted Lipien: My pleasure, Ivana.
Ted Lipien is the author of Wojtyla’s Women: How Women, History and Polish Traditions Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church. It will be published by O-Books in June 2008, http://www.o-books.com/ .
Ted Lipien ’s email address is: email@example.com . For radio, TV, Internet and print media interviews with the author, please call: 415-793-1642. For more information about Ted Lipien and his book on Pope John Paul II, please visit: www.TedLipien.com
This interview is in public domain and can be republished without additional permission.