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Failings emerge as pope's path to sainthood looms
VATICAN CITY, April 26 (AFP) Apr 26, 2011
He was a popular pope who helped revitalise the Catholic Church and drew crowds wherever he went but John Paul II, who is to be put on the path to sainthood on May 1, also had many critics.

The often embittered opponents of the late pope point in particular to his intransigence against the progressive wing of the Church and to the missionary zeal that blinded him to the scandal of sexual abuse in the clergy.

When he became pope in 1978 at 58 -- a relatively young age for a pontiff -- Karol Wojtyla had raised hopes in progressive circles that were still in the ascendancy after the overhaul of the Vatican II Council reforms in the 1960s.

It was believed that a modern and warm-hearted pope from the other side of the Iron Curtain could be open to the ideals of 1968 in the Church.

But John Paul quickly proved himself a staunch defender of doctrine.

Having lived through anti-religious oppression of the Communist regime in Poland, he feared any type of Marxist influence on the Church. He turned out to be imbued with conservative moral notions of the Polish heartland.

The first shock for progressives came in January 1979 when at a conference of Latin American bishops, John Paul spoke against the leftist "liberation theology" popular in the region and sidelined "red" bishops.

A chorus of criticism quickly gained volume against the new pope.

His coldness towards San Salvador's progressive bishop, Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 for his outspokenness, was particularly shocking.

He was said to have told Romero in 1979: "You have to make an effort to improve relations with the government in your country."

John Paul also sanctioned theologians who called for a reform of the Church and an easing of strict rules on sexual morality.

He advocated chastity and fidelity and refused any talk of contraception even as the AIDS epidemic in Africa exploded.

Dissident movements formed, such as "We Are Church", which said priests should be allowed to marry and support ordination of women.

In the years-long religious inquiry carried out by the Vatican as part of its procedure for awarding John Paul II "blessed" status -- a step from sainthood -- some theologians were highly critical.

French theologians criticised his "tenacious opposition to revise contradictory, limiting and impossible rules on sexual ethics."

They also condemned his "ignorance of the rise of concubinage in the clergy" and "a refusal to have a real debate on the condition of women in the Church."

Some of John Paul's critics came from the traditionalist side.

Bernard Fellay of the Saint Pius X Confraternity sees the pope as a sort of Antichrist for opening to other religions at a conference in Assisi in 1986.

He has said that the beatification is a "tsunami" against faith.

Wojtyla has also been criticised in recent years for failing to see the extent of child abusers in the priesthood and for not taking firmer measures when the scandal first began to break in the United States in 2000.

"John Paul II was trusting. He didn't monitor those who followed him. He was so concentrated on transmitting his message that he did not always govern the Church in the best way," said Marco Tosatti, an expert on the Vatican.

John Paul's long support for Austrian cardinal Hans-Hermann Groer, despite the accusations of paedophilia against him, was particularly glaring.

He was also criticised for not intervening early enough against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ movement, Marcial Maciel, a notorious abuser.

"When a new movement in the Church, like the Legionaries, is able to line up in front of the pope 80 zealous and loyal seminarists to be ordained priests, the pope could do nothing but applaud," a Church source told AFP.

The source said that John Paul failed to focus on the scandals for fear that they could be made up as part of a hate campaign by the Church's detractors.

Falsehoods and slander against the Church by the Communist regime in Poland after World War II, the source said, had left its mark on the young Wojtyla.

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