One thing is sure about Pope Francis. His public relations strategies are simply impeccable. He starts a Twitter account, and suddenly becomes a mastermind of dialogue with the young generation. He makes a vague comment about Donald Trump not being Christian, and goes viral as the major defender of the oppressed. He shyly asks for unity during his trip to Cuba, and is called the historic peace-builder.
Despite the impression you may just have gotten, I am not trying to criticize Pope Francis. I want to put his actions in context. In 1985, Pope John Paul II initialized the World Youth Day, a religious gathering bringing together millions of young Christians from all over the world. He was the first Pope in history to enter a synagogue, the first one to kiss the Qur’an, the first one to convoke the leaders of one hundred and sixty world religions to pray together for peace — an initiative for which some Catholic extremists consigned him to hell. His speech on the Victory Square in Warsaw in 1979 unlocked social potential so powerful that the historians till this day point to him as one of the main contributors to the fall of communism in Poland and the entire Eastern Block.
In spite of the consequentiality of his pontificate, John Paul II is now hardly ever mentioned in the media. The only Pope we hear about is Francis. You may naturally suggest that the main reason behind this situation is that, to put things simply, Pope Francis is still alive while John Paul II is already dead. And you would be right, to a certain extent. Personally, nevertheless, I tend to believe that the also cause lays somewhere else. It is easily observable that John Paul II used to assume a stance far more conservative than Pope Francis on various social issues, such as the use of contraception. To evoke just one of the examples — in 1983, John Paul II reasoned that through contraception couples “assume the qualification not of being cooperators in God’s creative power, but the ultimate depositories of the source of human life. In this perspective, contraception is to be judged so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified.” Pope Francis, by contrast, as a response to the recent epidemic of the Zika virus, claimed that “contraceptives or condoms, in cases of particular emergency and gravity, can be the object of a serious discernment of conscience.”
Pope Francis has an unsettling inclination to dilute a very clear biblical message, moving towards what is called a ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ interpretation of the Scriptures. From my perspective, Pope Francis far too often resembles a bashful child rather than a religious leader in his telling people what they want to hear, rather what they should hear—an attitude John Paul II has always strongly opposed. In times when the Church’s moral authority is weaker than ever, he tries to lure new followers not by persuading them of the rightfulness of the current teachings but by loosening of the demanding ethical standards. Apparently, in the world of supposedly free speech and open discussion, these views are far more welcome than others.
Maybe I am just being biased — I am Polish, after all, just like John Paul II–and old-fashionedly conservative. Maybe I fail to correct for the fact that Pope Francis is much older than John Paul II was upon his election. Or maybe I just want to call for moderation in accolades granted to a pontificate that, in my opinion, has not yet shown any sign of real greatness.