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Pope John Paul II

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The Legacy of Pope John Paul II

By The Associated Press -- Pope John Paul II, 1920 -- 2005

During his papacy, Pope John Paul II has taken a conservative stance on social issues and on Church doctrine. He has played a large role on the international stage, and he has worked to improve relations with other faiths. Here is a look at important themes of his papacy.

Church Doctrine

The Vatican has cracked down on theologians who stray from church teaching during John Paul II's reign. "The church cannot be an association of free thinkers," he said in 1981. He oversaw the first revision of the Catholic catechism, or summary of religious belief, in 462 years. The 1992 document reaffirmed basic Catholic doctrine and included updates for the modern world, such as stances against artificial insemination and using human embryos for stem cell research.

Sanctity of Life

The pontiff decried what he called "a culture of death" in a 1996 encyclical condemning abortion and euthanasia. Abortion, he wrote, "always constitutes a grave moral disorder since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being." He also opposed the death penalty.

Sexual Morality

John Paul II has reaffirmed the church's stands against artificial birth control, artificial insemination, divorce, sex outside marriage, and homosexual relations -- though he urged tolerance for homosexuals.


The pope has refused to allow women to be ordained, saying the Church must follow the example of Jesus, who chose only men to be his apostles. He has also refused to back off the Church's requirement that priests remain celibate.


John Paul II's opposition to communism is credited with helping speed the downfall of the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe. The pope's first visit to his native Poland in 1979 drew crowds in the millions, and those in attendance were emboldened to challenge their government. John Paul II also interjected himself into other international disputes. His mediation of territorial dispute between Argentina and Chile helped avert a war in the early 1980s.


John Paul II has tried to improve Catholic relations with the eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches. The Church of England's 1992 decision to ordain women and the U.S. Episcopal Church's 2003 election of an openly-gay bishop hindered efforts to bridge that divide. And many religious leaders took exception to a 2000 Vatican document asserting the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church.


The pope on many occasions has publicly asked God's forgiveness for the persecution of Jews by Catholics through the ages. But some Jewish leaders have sought a direct apology to the world's Jewish people, and an admission by the Church that Pope Pius XII did not do enough to fight Nazism and the Holocaust. John Paul II has been a supporter of Pius XII, who is being considered for beatification, the last step before sainthood.

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