- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

From combined dispatches

Many liberal Catholics who opposed John Paul II during his papacy have continued to condemn the late pope for his staunch traditional positions against contraception, abortion and female clergy.

Joy Barnes, head of the Women’s Ordination Conference, a Catholic group that supports the ordination of female priests, said, “The church took significant steps backward in the struggle for women’s equality” under John Paul.

Linda Pieczynski, a spokeswoman for the liberal Catholic group Call to Action, blamed John Paul for having “created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, particularly among theologians and liberal Catholics who would have liked freer discussion, particularly on issues of human sexuality.”

Those views were echoed yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” by former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

“There are a lot of people who feel that rules with respect to women should have changed a long time ago,” the Democrat said. “And the church does have the capacity to change. It always has when it felt it necessary. But it takes a long time. There’s a lot of impatience with some Catholics.”

The Rev. Andrew Greeley, an outspoken critic of the Catholic hierarchy, accused John Paul of “repression” of dissent within the church, which he called “one of the great blunders in Catholic history.”

“He tried to stabilize [the church] by resorting to the old techniques of repression,” Father Greeley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But it didn’t work, and it destabilized the church even more, and it polarized it.”

Chester Gillis, a Georgetown University theology professor, said that under John Paul, a disconnect emerged among American Catholics as they chose cultural principles over obedience to the pope.

“If they have friends who are gay and they think they’re very good people, they judge that as more weighty than the pope’s voice,” Mr. Gillis said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

One liberal Catholic group We Are Church, issued a statement on John Paul’s death declaring: “The direction in which he took the church internally was very distressing for those who had hopes for real reform.”

Similar criticism was heard from dissident Catholics in other countries. In France, a left-wing group called We Are Also the Church accused the late pope of befriending dictatorships and colluding in economic and social oppression. In addition to “supporting, even giving his blessing to, Latin American dictatorships,” the group said, John Paul “was completely out of touch with changes in values and in philosophical and scientific conceptions of life.”

Liberal Catholics say they will continue to push for change under the next pope.

“The role of women, women’s ordination, the issue of priestly celibacy, the whole theology of sexuality, the place of gays at the table, have not undergone any progressive understanding under [John Pauls] reign,” Ms. Pieczynski said. “That is still left open. People have not stopped talking about those issues despite the pope’s best efforts to put an end to all of the talk about the church possibly changing its stance.”

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