John Paul II's Legacy

Assessing His Legacy

The death of John Paul II, and the outpouring of affection and admiration it has brought forth from every corner of the globe, has reminded all of us what a remarkable individual he was and what a singular institution the papacy is. Commonweal asked six commentators, representing four faith traditions, to make a preliminary assessment of the significance of the late pope’s life, thought, and ministry.

Notre Dame theologian Rev. Richard P. McBrien looks at the strengths of his papacy, namely in John Paul’s “foreign policy” (events outside the church) and its strides in ecumenism, and also its weaknesses, such as the pope’s “hard-line course of enforcement of doctrine and canonical discipline.”

Duke Divinity School theologian Stanley Hauerwas praises the pope’s Christological focus by comparing him to Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder.

Fairfield University theologian Nancy A. Dallavalle names the public face of the papacy as among John Paul’s gifts to the church, but also notes that “this popular acclaim did not always translate into popular conversion.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg highlights the pope’s resistance to communism, his validation of the Jewish covenant, and his emphasis on the “culture of life.”

In addition to these authors, University of Dayton theologian Terrence Tilley assesses how John Paul went about preserving the faith, and Orthodox writer Jim Forest recounts a telling personal meeting he had with the pope early in John Paul’s pontificate.

Published in the 2005-04-22 issue: 

Terrence W. Tilley is the Avery Dulles, SJ, Professor of Catholic Theology at Fordham University.

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