A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


John Paul II said what now?

Last Monday, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Vatican ambassador to the United States, reminded the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that Pope Francis prefers shepherds who smell like the sheep, not ermine. The speech was remarkable for its directness. "[Francis] wants 'pastoral' bishops," Vigano told the USCCB, who were preparing to vote for their next president, "not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology." What's more, Vigano cited a text well loved by liberal Catholics, Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975): "It is primarily by her conduct and by her life that the church will evangelize the world, in other words by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus — the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity."

That Vigano chose to lean on Evangelii Nuntiandi is even more interesting because of its history. The document was written in response to the synod of bishops on evangelization, and it conceives of the church not only as teacher but also as learner:

The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love.

In advance of next year's synod, Pope Francis has asked the world's bishops to ask their parishioners about a range of issues, including gay marriage and contraception, and report back. He wants to know where his people are. "For the church," Paul VI wrote, "evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new." Sound familiar? (For more of Pope Francis's commentary on the missionary character of the church, and the kinds of bishops required to carry it out, see his recent message to Guadalupe pilgrims: "The attitude of the true shepherd is not that of a courtier or of a mere functionary, focusing principally on discipline, rules and organizational mechanisms.")

Most of Vigano's speech reads like a rearticulation of Pope Francis's call for Christians not to get trapped in the sacristy. But about two-thirds of the way in, it gets weird. Vigano drops in an apocalyptic  passage attributed to John Paul II, in which the late pope warns that "we are now facing the final confrontation between the church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist." Sounds scary. Vigano claims John Paul delivered those remarks in a 1976 speech at a Eucharistic congress in Philadelphia. But that address doesn't contain those words.

Run a search on the passage and you'll find it all over (often conservative) Catholic websites. George Weigel refers to it in his biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope: "These remarks are cited on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, November 9, 1978, and attributed to Wojtyla's 'last speech in the U.S. in September 1976, as quoted in the New York City News (an interim strike newspaper).'" Sure enough, that's where it appeared.

From August 10 to November 5, 1978, a strike shut down New York City's three major newspapers. I can't find the New York City News edition that first quoted the speech. Nor can I find the rest of the speech. Just this excerpt. In some places it's mistakenly identified as part of Wojtyla's '76 talk in Philadelphia. Others say it's from a speech he gave to the U.S. bishops. Vigano claims John Paul adapted the comments from the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, who "greatly influenced [John Paul's] spirituality." But I searched that text for key terms in the passage and came up with nothing. Stranger still, Vigano's version of the text is slightly different. He adds "courageously" to the last sentence of the first paragraph. Was he working with a different text? Where did he get it? And why does Wojtyla refer to "our nation"? Is he talking about the Polish church? The United States?

So what gives? Why did the nuncio go fishing for a thinly sourced John Paul II quote that's so out of keeping with the rest of his address? For the sake of the appearance of continuity? Because he knows how many U.S. bishops were appointed by John Paul? I'm at a loss. How about you?

(Update: See John Hittinger's comment below for some good intel. The hive mind at work.)

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Most of Vigano's speech reads like a rearticulation of Pope Francis's call for Christians not to get trapped in the sacristy. But about two-thirds of the way in, it gets weird.

Grant - appreciate your research into this question of the Cardinal Wojtyla citation, and I look forward to whatever additional info gets unearthed about it.

Regarding your characterization of Vigano's speech which I've pasted here: I do think there is a certain unity to his speech, such that the reference to the passage attributed to Wjotyla is not necessarily an unexpected detour.  I'd outline Vigano's main points like this:

  • The church's mission is to proclaim the Gospel to the people
  • The church does this most effectively when it's leaders are pastoral, meeting the people where they are, listening to them, and leading lives of holiness and simplicity
  • In order to fulfill this mission, the church must take care to be good and faithful stewards of the Good News, and proclaim the Gospel in its integrity
  • Fulling this mission is more important than ever, because there are powerful strands of evil in the world that would seek to prevent the Good News from being proclaimed.  Many people do not fully appreciate what is at stake.

The only part of the apocalyptic excerpt cited by Viganó that appears to come from St. Faustina's diary is the phrase "within the plans of divine Providence" in #693.  She recounts there a visit of the Archbishop of Vilnius to the convent.  She had a chance to speak with him about her work of mercy and he was favorably disposed to it.  He told her, "Sister, be completely at peace, if this is within the plans of providence, it will come about..." The context is quite different than the one in the putative quotation from John Paul II.

If you really want to trace it, then Christopher Hagerdorn, son of the Hagerdon who was editor of the New York City News, probably has a copy of that newspaper.

I am intrigued.

I have to wonder what will happen to the exclusive interview of Pope Francis with [The] Commonweal in fifty years. So many memorable quotes in that interview! I wonder if Pope John Paul II gave a similar interview to the New York City News?

Re: “Vigano drops in an apocalyptic passage attributed to John Paul II, in which the late pope warns that "we are now facing the final confrontation between the church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist." Sounds scary.  Vigano claims John Paul delivered those remarks in a 1976 speech at a Eucharistic congress in Philadelphia. But that address doesn't contain those words.”

            It is possible Pope John Paul II made the statement soon after the Eucharistic Congress.  See: “Heralds of the Second Coming: Our Lady, the Divine Mercy, and the Popes of the Marian Era from Blessed Pius IX to Benedict XVI” (p. 96). Angelico Press. Kindle Edition: 

“At the conclusion of a trip to the United States of America in 1976, the Polish Cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, spoke in similar terms: We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think the wide circle of the American society or the wide circle of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the Anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the Anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence; it is a trial which the whole Church, and the Polish Church in particular, must take up. 3”

            Footnote 3 cites  “Vincent P. Miceli, The Antichrist (Harrison, NY: Roman Catholic Books, 1981), 5.”

Those comments were made by Cardinal Wojtyla in August 1976, I believe at Orchard Lake Michigan,  at the spiritual and academic center for Polonia, St Cyril and Methodius Seminary. Wojtyla visited in in 1969 and 1976. I was academic dean at Orchard Lake 2001--2003. A group of us viisted Krakow in 2002 and CArdinal Franciszek Macharski spoke glowingly about Orchard Lake. I found an account of Wojtyla's 1976 visit in For God, Country and Polonia: One Hundred Years of Orchard Lake Schools, by Frank Renkiewicz, p. 146. Here is the quote:

We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. . . . We all realize it is not an easy matter, and a great deal of it depends upon the outcome on the Vistula. I think that Polonia is perhaps the most aware of it, and it seems to me that other layers of American society are less enlightened in this respect and simply eliminate the problem from their sphere of interests. Polonia, which shares Poland's sentiments, feels the significance of the confrontation going on at the banks of the Vistula. It is a trial of not only our nation and Church, but in a sense a test of two thousand years culture and Christian civilization with all of its consequences for human dignity, human rights and the rights of nations. As the number of people who understand the importance of this confrontation increase in Poland and America, we can look with greater trust towards the outcome of this confrontation. The Church has gone through many trials, as has the Polish nation, and has emerged victorious even though at a cost of great sacrifice.

The notes cites this source: Kosciuszko Foundation Newsletter 31:2 (1976-19770, PP. 11-12

see a blog entry I did on this

I never checked to the Eucharistic congress speech and assumed Weigel's quote was simply because he made the same speech twice or variations of the same speech. But it must have been a special speech to the Polish Americans in Orchard Lake.


I am glad that you are contiunuing this story.  I attended the Eucharistic Congress but did not hear Cardianal Wpjtyla's  address. I probably could have since my best friend was on the staff of the mayor (Frank Rizzo), and was involved in the planning of the Congress. (She did get me a ticket to Grace Kelly's address on the Family.0

I found some information on a Google search.

"Before becoming pope in 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla visited the United States twice. In 1969 he traveled to 12 cities in 12 days. He spent six weeks in the United States in 1976, visiting 13 cities, lecturing at universities and attending the 41st International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia."

He certainly knew a good deal about the U.S.dioceses and bishops. Apparently, he visited all the major dioceses in the U.S. even those on the west coast. He also gave an adress at Harvard.

Cardinal Wojtyla had come to the U.S. during August of 1976, accompanied by 21 other bishops and archbishops from Poland, to participate in the 41st Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. They then toured various Polish-centric parishes throughout the States.’s-dedicates-chapel-to-blessed-john-paul-ii-.aspx

Can it be that the bishops who accompanied him are the ones referred to by some as the hearers of this speech?

I am surprised that many bishops would be permitted to leave Communist Poland.

I am not perplexed by what is reported to be Karol Wojtyla/JP II's comments in the late 1970s. It was not out of kilter with his worldview on a host of issues ranging from Western society, women, and human sexuality.

Some of his speeches at the beginning of his pontificate did include positive comments about America society, but in later years there was a marked decline in the warmth of the pope's messages to Americans. He blamed abortions and many other social ills on moral relativism and consumerism of affluent Western nations, where he believed almost everything was for sale, including human life...a disturbingly incomplete view of these socities.

His opinions on women were equally perplexing. It reflected a view that women were "different but equal" (with men) but emphasized the superiority of women's supportive roles as wives, mothers and nuns. He believed that feminism and exterior emancipation "split" the personalities of women, especially those with professional training and asperations. It was his view that the Western feminist culture devalued the work of mothers and made women who want to be full-time wives and mothers feel ignorant and deficient. This was also an incomplete view of Western society and feminism. 





Perhaps one of the admonitions Francis should give is for any Catholic officials refrain from  making  predictions about the end of the world. Isn'tt it enough that these predictions have been constantly wrong throughout history? Even the Apostle  and others of his time got this wrong. 

"We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the Anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the Anti-Gospel." I too found this a little disconcerting. I have harped for years on my assessment that the fruit of the antigospel is not casual antagonism to gospel values, but people actually bailing on the Church. The single verifiable antigospel event of this century is the cover-up of sexual predators. This isn't just Boston, Ireland, or Poland. It has been and will be a worldwide hemorrhage if the bishops do not address it honestly and with humility and contrition. As for crazy sexual expressions on tv and video game violence, these things we can deal with--we can offer clear alternatives to empty and cheap passions.

Having pulled off the masterful coup of an interview with Pope Francis, surely it would be child's play for Commonweal to gain an interview with his Nuncio.

Money question: "Eccellenza, what is the source of your now infamous "quote" from the late, soon-to-be-canonized Pontiff; and what was your intent in using it in your address?

Assai semplice. Or am I missing something?


predictions about the end of the world. Isn'tt it enough that these predictions have been constantly wrong throughout history?

But Bill, such predictions are bound to be wrong throughout history except the last time they will be made!

So, let me see if I have this right ... some here on this blog stream are surprised that JP2 was an apocalyptist?  Even from a distance it should not have been that hard for folks to see the expansive self-perception of our Polish brother of fond memory.

Don't the Sancto Subito crowd believe that JP2's flights of narcissistic fantasy as being the Slavic savior of the church are the stuff of legend, perhaps even qualifying as one of the soon-to-be-sainted pope' required three miracles?

Come on, people ... this is the stuff of myth-making in action right before our eyes.  This is one of the few things that the church is still good at anymore.

I believe the real import of the message from the chasened curial gofer Vigano - who had to go into external exile as US nuncio - the real message to American bishops is that the Vatican now that we have a Jesuit pope is under new management.

American hierarchs are now going to have to recalibrate their obsequiousness in their climb up the ladder.   New behaviors on the part of the formerly omnipotent and nearly infallible hierarchs will have to be re-learned, for many, it will be for the first time:  humility, justice, poor in spirit.  

It's certainly hard to teach old dogs new tricks.  Maybe Vigano was just attempting to motivate his brother bishops with a little end-times imagery in the spirit of scripture where Peter quoted the prophet Joel:  

And it shall be in the last days ... that I will pour forth of my spirit on all [human]kind; and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." 

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld:  You go into reform and renewal with the hierarchs you have; and not the hierarchs you might want to have at a later time.

God bless him, Papa Francesco has his work cut-out for himself.

John Hittinger's comment from 11/19 seems to provide the original context of Cardinal Wojtyla's quote.  Its ground seems to be the tensions between Communist authorities and political dissidents that were taking place in Poland in the 1970s.  It seems the future pope intuited a resonance from that specific, concrete human situation to a spiritual/apocalyptic reality that is vaster in its cosmic scope and meaning.

If that is so, then Viganó in turn seems to be suggesting that the current situation in the US (what that situation is, isn't specified) resonates with that same spiritual/apocalyptic reality.  



What exactly is this thread trying to resolve?  Is there an achievable outcome?

"What exactly is this thread trying to resolve?  Is there an achievable outcome?"

This statment of JPII was quoted in a major address of the papal nuncio to the US. bishops.

We are trying to get the source of Vigano's quote. Surely, someone knows.

Presumably Vigano knows. Ask him whence and why?

"I would like to call your attention to the words the then-Cardinal Wojtyla is reported to have given in an address during the Eucharistic Congress in 1976 for the Bicentennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of independence. it seems to be so profoundly prophetic."

Vigano said that "the then-Cardinal Wojtyla is reported to have given... ."

Maybe Vigano does not know precisely the source.  Maybe he has speech writers!

But the when of the quote is less important to me than the why of the quote.

Maybe Vigano does not know precisely the source. 

I agree that's entirely possible.  Sometimes, quotes or passages take on a life of their own, and tend to circulate apart from whatever the original context of it was.  That could be the case here.  



I have to admit that I am lost as to the significance of using Cardinal Wojtyla's statement. If we assume that it is correct, then what is the point? That he is exaggering reality, being too mystical and apolcalyptic? What do people think was Vigano's objective in using this quote? To freighten the bishops into action? I admit it was a strange use of Cardinal Wojtyla/JP II's so-called quotation, but then again, I am usually perplexed by both papal and Vatican pronouncements. In this case, I am still uncertain as to Pope Francis's objectives and intentions. I am cautiously hopeful because his statements have an undertone of possible reform of both the authoritative ecclesial structure and some teachings about marial ethics. Time will tell. 



MIchael - there is a rather common point of view that the American bishops are massively aligned with the old, culture-warrior way of doing business, while Francis is espousing a new, fresh approach.  To the extent that is true, it would seem to be incumbent on the American bishops to step off the old train and board the new train.

The speech, with its reference to Evangelii Nuntiandi, starts out in a way that would seem to confirm that point of view.  But just as the symphony seems to working its way toward a fine resolution, without warning it introduces this new apocalyptic theme.  It comes as a bit of a jolt.   The John Paul passage would seem to support and confirm the culture-warrior stance.  


A bit more on how a passage can be lifted out of its original context and put to unforeseen uses: this sentence, attributed to Cardinal George, has been quoted by a number of writers and speakers:

"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square."

The origin of that quote has also proven to be difficult to track down.  This blog post claims to report the original context.



Thanks, I appreciate your comments but fully understood the issue you are making. I did not read into the quote by JP II as something dramatically opposed to what Vignano was saying. It was "ambigously relevant/rrelevant" with the emphasis on ambiguous. Clearly, I agree with your point that the quote does support the culture-warrior philosophy, but there was no link to the idea that bishops need to "get out of their houses and into the streets to meet the people and proclaim the Good News" and not be consumed with small minded rules and norms. 

This is precisely why I said that I am not certain of Pope Francis' intentions and goals. Based on his comments, he appears to be a progressive, a welcomed one. On the other hand, his comments appear to say that he does not intend to change any teaching. Calling a Synod on the Family in 2014 and 2015, and asking for input from everyone is a great first step. However, the structure of the questionaire and the method to ascertain accurate responses in a timeframe of about 8 weeks (all results due to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by December 31st), is replete with major problems. Some bishops (e.g., Chaput) posted the qusetionaire online for parishioners to respond). Other bishops have not made any decision about how to secure the answers as we speak (e.g. my parish priest has heard nothing yet from his bishop).

Perhaps, this will all come together and be successful, but I have my doubts since the questions are written as though they are directed at priests, not parishioners. Also, the answers are to be hand-written onto the questionaire. Collecting, interpreting and summarizing such answers will be a monumental task...all by December 31st. 

What would not be acceptable would be an inaccurate reflection on the opinion, attitudes and practices of Catholics on family issues under consideration.



If the use of apocalyptic language by Popes or Vatican ambassadors concerns some people, shouldn't they be looking into why Pope Francis alluded to the apocalyptic novel "The Lord of the World"?   This is not the first time he has referenced this work.  

See, it’s the smarminess in the “go fishing,” the “thinly sourced,” the “It gets weird” that’s so off putting, no?  Why is it so easy to assume that those with whom we disagree must be motivated so superficially as to feel the need to shoe-horn in language merely “for the sake of the appearance of continuity”?

Is it not possible that the nuncio deliberately cited a text well loved by liberal Catholics precisely because it’s liberal Catholics that he feels need most to hear that the Church begins by evangelizing herself?   That, yes, even liberal editors must learn, as well as teach?

Or I am just getting weird?  Or am I asking too many questions?

Perhaps the anti-church referred to is a church of ideological, political bishops.

It is clear that the papacy of JP II was a papacy of obedience to rules and norms. During the period 1978-2005 the focus was on sexual ethics which consumed his papacy. No priest who whispered for a re-thinking about any Church teaching would ever become a bishop.

Equally important, the primacy of conscience, as explicated in Dignitatis humanae, was redefined by JP iI in his encyclica Vertitatis Spendor as obedience to the Magisterium because the Magisterium only teaches the truth and Catholics should be ability to discern the truth. In other words, your conscience is right if it agrees with the Magisterium. Otherwise, it is misguided and distorted by a diabolical a cancer inflecting Catholics by a secular culture obsessed with individualism, relativism and consumerism.

There was no tolerance for anyone who disagreed with the philosophy and theology of JP II. In fact, in 1989 the CDF with JP II's blessing, issued an expanded Creed, required by those who accept ordination or an office in the church. It added 3 paragraphs to the Nicene-Constantinopolitian Creed in substance saying "I believe all this is divinely revealed even if not in the Creed", and "I embrace and hold all that the church has definitively taught", and again "I adhere with religious respect or submission, obsequium, to official proclamations even if they were not intended to be definitive". I ask: Does this new profession of faith serve the cause of unity or does it stifle legitimate thoeological discourse in disagreement?

Why is anyone surprised that the current hierarchy is replete with idealogical, political bishops of a certain persuasion?





Dignitatis humanae teaches that the state should respect the sacred right of every individual to act according to his or her conscience.  Consequently, Catholics are under no obligation to theoretically support the creation of a Catholic confessional state as long as it becomes politically feasible.  This teaching greatly helped the ecumenical movement.  Dignitatis humanae is about the relationship between church and state, not the relationship between the individual's conscience and the Church's teaching magisterium.  Obviously, a person's conscience can be objectively wrong.  That doesn't mean that the definitive teachings of the Church's magisterium can be objectively wrong, and Dignitatis Humanae certainly does not say that these teachings are fallible.  Blessed John Paul II did not "redefine" any concepts in "Dignitatis humanae".

As a seminarian, I was present at the ’76 Eucharistic Congress and remember no such statement by the then Karol Cardinal Wojtyła.  I may have been distracted at the moment he said it, but I think I would have remembered such a startling statement.  This said, in his ’76 Lenten reflections to Paul VI and the papal staff, he did make a parallel statement about this time possibly being the moment of the revelation of the man of iniquity and, thus, the final confrontation between the Truth and the lie, the Gospel and the anti-gospel, the Christ and the antichrist, etc.  The retreat was published as Sign of Contradicition under the authorship of Karol Wojtyła.  The relevant material is found in the first section, pp. 31, 34-35. 

Here are a few quoted below, and they are startling: 

We may be “experiencing the highest level of tension between the Word and the anti-word in the whole of human history.”  ….. "We may now be wondering if this is the last lap along that way of denial which started out from around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. To us, who know the whole bible from Genesis to revelation, no stretch of that route can come as a surprise. We accept with trepidation but also with hope the inspired words of the Apostle Paul, "Let no man deceive you in any way, because first it is necessary for the rebellion to come, and for the man of sin, the son of perdition to reveal himself" (2 Thess 2,3)

According to Wojtyła , “ that way of denial,” which begins with taking the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil evolves to an eventual denial of God (the human person is the only god) and finally to denying even Satan (the human person’s being  only real demon).

It is quite dramatically similar to another quote he made in the 1976 Lenten sermons before Paul VI (today found in the book Sign of Contradiction, Seabury Press, NY, 1979 p.35) ---SH

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment