cover image Pope John Paul II.: The Biography

Pope John Paul II.: The Biography

Tad Szulc. Scribner Book Company, $27 (542pp) ISBN 978-0-684-80416-3

New York Times reporter Szulc has traveled extensively with Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, and was granted an interview with him in 1994. Not an authorized biography, this detached yet sympathetic life story provides an extraordinarily candid portrait of the Polish pontiff and a timely inside look at the Church's internal crisis. While conceding that John Paul II's conservative positions on birth control, abortion, priestly celibacy, the exclusion of women from the priesthood, divorce and homosexuality have alienated vast numbers of the faithful, Szulc observes that he has made the Vatican an active participant and a major player in world affairs. And he commends the pope as a champion of religious freedom, an apostle of social justice (especially in the Third World), a friend to the Jewish people and a cogent critic of capitalist consumerism and greed. . A man of notable kindness, steely stamina and uncompromising consistency in his fundamental views, Wojtyla, born in 1920, is a prolific poet and playwright fluent in six languages. He's a contemplative mystic molded by personal tragedies-his mother died when he was eight, and he lost the rest of his family, his father and brother, before age 22. A penniless rock-quarry worker during the German wartime occupation of Poland, he acted in a Polish underground theater group. Ordained in 1946, Father Wojtyla became an influential professor of ethics and a moral philosopher, pursuing a ``strategy of confrontation and compromise'' with the communist authorities, whose wrath he incurred for his outspoken stance on behalf of the rights of the Church and of his fellow Poles. Brimming with revelations, this biography shows that the Polish communist regime committed a ``fatal error'' by backing his elevation to archbishop in 1963. Szulc also unveils a triangular network of secret diplomacy among John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev and Polish dictator Wojciech Jaruzelski during the 1980s, which he credits with expediting the demise of Communist Party rule in Poland. Both admirers and critics of John Paul II will find much new material here in support of their views. 180,000 first printing.(Apr.)