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Who Is “Ideologically Schizophrenic,” The Pope or Today’s Liberals?


By Wilton Wynn | April 1996
Wilton Wynn was Time magazine's Bureau Chief in Rome, specializing in Vatican affairs and logging around 150,000 miles flying with John Paul II on his international trips. He has lived in Rome for most of the past three decades, and covered John Paul II ever since he was elected Pope. He did the reporting for 10 Time cover stories on John Paul, and came out of retirement in December 1994 to work on the issue of Time featuring John Paul as Man of the Year. He is also author of Keepers of the Keys (1988), about the three popes he has covered as a journalist.

When I became a Catholic at the age of 67, I was a political liberal in the Franklin Roosevelt tradition. Nine years later, I still am.

If anything, my Catholic experience has strengthened my liberal ideals, which have been freshly stimulated by the social message of Pope John Paul II. His teaching seems to fit right into my liberal background: I was a child of the Great Depression, and I will never forget how the New Deal saved my impoverished family from starvation in that dismal period. By 1948 I was serving on the committee in my Congressional District supporting Henry Wallace for President as candidate of the leftist Progressive Party. In 1972 Democrats Abroad offered me the chairmanship of its committee in Italy, to support the presidential candidacy of the ultra-liberal George McGovern, and I would have accepted except for a conflict of interest. I am still an active member of Democrats Abroad. It has surprised some fellow liberals that, with my political orientation, I could be such an enthusiast for the present Pope. Yet to me it is a totally consistent position.

It is not that I am trying to pin the “liberal” label on this Pope; his teachings transcend political ideologies. But I am saying that liberals can find not only a vast area of agreement but also a badly needed sense of direction in John Paul’s social message.

Admittedly, I often am disturbed that so many liberals — usually blinded by rage at the Holy Father’s stand on abortion and women’s ordination — consider John Paul their ideological enemy. I have heard them call him an “archconservative,” a “reactionary,” a “misogynist,” and even a “fundamentalist.” And this about the one who enunciates liberal ideals as forcefully and courageously as any public figure of our time.

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