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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

John Paul II is not a conservative


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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- In Rome on October 16, 1978, Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became John Paul II, the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years.

Since then, he has traveled nearly three-quarter-of-a-million miles to more than 125 countries. He defied precedent by visiting both a Jewish synagogue and a Muslim mosque. But assessments of the man and his papacy are sadly one-dimensional and overly ideological.

Most conservatives proudly and happily claim the pontiff as one of their own, while too many liberals -- upset by some doctrinal disagreement such as the Pope's total opposition to the ordination of women -- overlook the legacy of the quarter-century commitment to social justice.

Many conservatives first cherished John Paul II's muscular anti-communism on display when he basically warned the communist bosses of his native land not to even think about trying to dismantle Solidarity, with its brave trade unionists.

The Polish communists heeded his warning, and the Pope became a central force and figure in the liberation of Eastern Europe. Add to that John Paul II's consistent and outspoken opposition to abortion and "radical" departures, such as the ordination of women, and you can understand the relationship.

What liberals -- more than a few of whom while possibly agreeing with the Pope on abortion dissent from the Pope's teaching on birth control -- fail to appreciate is that John Paul II's record on human rights, workers rights, the environment, the poor and more is truly remarkable.

This Pope strenuously opposed the 2003 war against Iraq. He made dozens of personal appeals and launched serious diplomatic efforts. His words were unmistakable: "War cannot be decided upon ... except as the very last option and in accordance with strict conditions." Cold comfort there for the Bomb Baghdad crowd.

John Paul II may well qualify as the most prominent opponent of communism. But he is also one of the most relentless challengers to a policy of unrestrained capitalism. Wherever he has traveled, he has visited always with the poor, who are not just a demographic subset but sisters and brothers who are hungry, vulnerable, alone and afraid.

He told a standing-room-only crowd at Yankee Stadium: "You must never be content to leave just the crumbs of the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table."

Racism? The Pope is unequivocal. "Racism is a sin that constitutes a serious offense against God." The environment? To protect the environment is for each of us a moral obligation. "Lack of due respect for nature" threatens world peace just as much as injustice or the arms race.

Unflinching in his opposition to abortion and euthanasia, this Pope has also strongly opposed capital punishment, which for some reason conservatives tend to overlook.

In St. Louis, where he successfully implored the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan to commute a prisoner's death sentence, he used these words: "To choose life involves rejecting every form of violence; the violence of poverty and hunger; the violence of armed conflict; the violence of drug trafficking; the violence of racism."

He has led his church in public repentance for its many sins both in teaching and liturgy over centuries against the Jewish people. He has made enormous progress in Catholic-Jewish relations, yet he remains constant in his advocacy for the creation of a Palestinian state.

He has called for the priority of labor over capital, for the right of workers to join a union and for a society that "demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied."

John Paul II is both a liberal and a conservative, but he is much more interesting and important than either seems to understand.


Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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