Thomas P. Doyle
By David Yallop
New York, Carroll and Graf, Publishers, 2007  530 pages
Reviewed by Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D.
“Few papacies have inspired so many myths as the reign of Pope John Paul II.” 
The Power and the Glory, p. 152.

I was asked to review "The Power and the Glory" by David Yallop for a prominent independent Catholic publication. After completing a requested revision and shortening of the review, I heard nothing for weeks. Upon inquiry I was advised that it had been rejected because it was thought to be "biased." The review may well be biased but then most book reviews are. On the other hand this is a review of a book that is critical of the papacy of Pope John Paul II. The review is not critical of the criticism but is a positive assessment of a book that should be an integral part of any history of the Church under the late pope. TPD

            After reading the first chapter of this momentous, and at times shocking book, one is led to the conclusion that not only few papacies, but few popes have been surrounded by as much myth and misconception as Karol Wojtyla, priest, bishop, cardinal, pope and in the minds and emotions of many, saint.  Wojtyla’s life and 26 year papacy had already prompted devoted followers to begin calling him John Paul the Great within the first year after his death. 

            Even John Paul’s most ardent supporters, including those clamoring for his fast-track canonization, would have to agree that his life and reign as pope were not without significant controversy.  In spite of the massive superhuman aura surrounding him, critical studies of his papacy and his theology have come forth from reputed scholars.  Nothing however, comes close to the detailed and critical examination that David Yallop concluded and which resulted in this book.  The author’s widely acknowledged investigative skills are at their best in his fearless quest to discover the real Karl Wojtyla and the unvarnished truth about the Vatican that he shaped and dominated as Pope John Paul II.  Yallop devoted eight years to research, interviewing knowledgeable sources and probing deeply into the reality of the man and the papacy that dominated the Catholic Church for a quarter century.

            This book will shock and enrage the ardent supporters of the late pope yet one must honestly ask if the adulation and emotional attachment is actually for the carefully crafted larger than life image as opposed to the man himself.  David Yallop’s detailed study of just about every aspect of John Paul II’s personal and public life leave no other conclusion than that the adoring faithful were really enamored of an image and not reality.

            Even those who have been highly critical of the late Pope’s reign, characterized by some as “autocratic,” and of his apparent efforts to redefine the memory and spirit of Vatican Council II will be uncomfortably surprised at Yallop’s well researched and solidly supported de-mythologization of Karol Wojtyla’s early years in Poland, first under Nazi and later under Communist occupation.  He first flattens the notion, no doubt created by Vatican spin meisters, that young Karol was an active participant in Polish partisan activities to protect Jews from the Nazis.  No such thing according to Yallop’s research.  Instead, the future pope “actively attempted to persuade others to abandon violent resistance and trust in the power of prayer.” (P. 239).  Even more shocking are the results of the author’s interviews with several Jewish authorities who said straight out that there are no records of Wojtyla doing anything to protect or save Jews during World War II.

            Although it is widely believed that Pope John Paul II was the single most important force in the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no lack of serious foreign policy experts, historians and political scholars who would dispute such a claim.  Yallop’s chapter 3, A Very Polish Revolution puts the pope’s role in a much dimmer light, portraying him as highly cautious and retreating to reliance on prayer rather than decisive action.  If one takes this rendition of the late pope’s non-role in the demolition of Communism and mixes it with his tacit approval of military dictatorships in Argentina, Chile and El Salvador as well as his negative reaction to liberation theology, one can only wonder at the veracity of the claims that this man was a world class human rights advocate.

            Other reviewers of this book claim that the most “explosive” chapters present the author’s exhaustive research into the complex Vatican financial scandals and the papal and Vatican response to the clergy sexual abuse revelations that began in the U.S. and quickly became an international reality.   Although the two prominent financial sagas, the so-called Banco Ambrosiano debacle that began in the 70's and featured Roberto Calvi and Archbishop Paul Marcinkas as leading players, and the Martin Frankel insurance fraud of the 90's, are complex and difficult for the average person to follow, Yallop lays both out in clear and logical terms.  The theme throughout, which puts the pope in the middle of it all, is that money has a powerful way of blurring the line between integrity and greed for the denizens of the Vatican.

            While I admit to being perplexed by some of the complex details of the Vatican’s financial wheeling and dealing, the clergy sexual abuse phenomenon is something I am only too well aware of in painful detail.  People have reacted to the clergy abuse scandal, now in its third decade, with wonder, anger, rage, shock and disbelief.  A constant question has been why has the Pope done nothing to stop it?    The question is certainly valid given the harsh reality that Pope John Paul II knew in detail about what was happening in the United States from the outset of the first revelations in 1984 and 1985.  For eight years after the first explosion in 1984, the Pope said nothing.  Then in 1993 he issued the first of 12 public statements, all of which said about the same thing.  His theme was that clergy abuse was evil, the priests who did it were sinners, the poor bishops who had to put up with it were suffering and the victims needed prayer.  The papal master spin doctor, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, stated in 1994 that this was primarily an American problem and then parroted the papal line that western secularism, materialism and sensationalism had a lot to do with exaggerating the problem.  Within a year the Irish government fell because its leader had been implicated in the obstruction of justice in the notorious Brendan Smyth affair.  But much more explosive was the exposure of Hans Hermann Groer, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, as a sexual abuser turned prince of the church, in mid 1995.  This man had been appointed from nowhere by John Paul II in 1986, according to some, largely because of his promotion of Marian devotion.  The pope not only did nothing when the scandal first broke, but, according to Yallop’s research, was outraged at the Austrian bishops for failing to keep the lid on the terrible publicity.   In spite of it all the proof was conclusive and Groer was not only forced to resign but ordered not to perform any public functions as a cardinal or bishop. 

            Yallop’s chapter Beyond Belief, is a highly detailed and fact-intense short history of the clerical sex abuse problem and how it was handled during the reign of John Paul II.  The stories of clergy abuse and hierarchical cover-up abound so it is not necessary to repeat them here.  Suffice it to say that Yallop’s rendition of the multi-faceted and totally tragic sex abuse saga is not only factually correct but his reasons as to why the pope remained impotent are on target.  He best sums it up with a short sentence on the papal silence: “He brought with him... to the Vatican practices that he had embraced throughout his life as a priest.  They included an intense pathological hatred of any revelation that indicated the Catholic Church was not a perfect institution...  All dissent must be kept behind closed doors, whether of church politics, scandalous behavior or criminal activity.” (P. 314).  The clergy sex abuse scandal contains ample doses of all three and the late pope appears to have sacrificed open advocacy for living children in favor of tacit protection of a non-living structure.  He never publicly apologized to the countless victims and he consistently refused to ever meet with them.  Perhaps the most egregious of his responses to the scandal was the much-publicized short-circuiting of the canonical process investigating accusations made against the celebrated founder and superior general of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel-Degollado.  That disastrous intervention plus the rehabilitation of Bernard Law by making him Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica convinced abuse victims that the pope cared little for them and much for the Church’s hierarchical aristocracy.   Yallop’s description of the facts confirms this conviction.

            The Power and the Glory is a book that had to be written, not to support the mythological anti-papal or anti-Catholic forces, but because the Church and contemporary culture sorely need a reality check on the hagiographic forces that have gone out of control and threaten to seriously distort a vitally important chapter of modern-day history.  This book had to be written for the good of the Church as well.  John Paul II was well on the way to becoming a cult figure....far removed not only from historical reality but from the role of pope as pastoral father and not supreme emperor.  His memory and the good he did is much better served if remembered as it actually was and not through the lens of myth.  “His obituaries abound with myths, fantasies and disinformation" says Yallop. "The cult of personality which John Paul so reveled in focuses precisely on the man but at great cost to the faith."

            This book is about much more than Pope John Paul II.  It is about the grave scandals that have been so much a part of the contemporary Church.  It is about the thinly veiled political aspect of the Church that has confused earthly power with the propagation of the Word.  It is about the actions, inactions and questionable responses of the late pope and the Vatican bureaucracy he created to these scandals and to the socio-cultural forces at work in the modern world.  Finally, it is about a model of “Church” that has grown increasingly at odds with the vision of Vatican II or perhaps worse, it is about a model of “Church” that has always been there, yet reduced in recent times to lurking in the shadows, waiting to be once more empowered.

            We have seen in the era of John Paul II a dramatic rise in the power, influence and presence of the papacy, a rise described by its followers as a one approaching the peak of perfection of what papacy and Church ought to be.  Yet with this rise, propelled by John Paul, there came the need to deny, cover or convert anything that threatened his image of the Church as perfect society.  David Yallop may not have helped John Paul II’s cause for canonization, whether or not such a step is even relevant in today’s world.  But he surely has helped the People of God by reminding us that the center and focus can never be on any leader no matter how fascinating, dramatic or colorful.  It must always be grounded in the Church as People of God and not as Kingdom of the Few.