A new biography of Pope John Paul II, which attempts to document the Pope’s “intellectual decline” has serious flaws in fact and reflects the author’s uncompromising bias, says Damian Thompson in a review for Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
“The Pope in Winter” was written by John Cornwell, well-known journalist and author of “Hitler’s Pope” about Pope Pius XII. A baptized Catholic, some critics say his recent writings indicate that he is anti-Catholic.
This is the first biography of John Paul II “to argue that he has done more harm than good,” says Thompson.
While the reviewer praises Cornwell’s 15-year-old work, “A Thief in the Night,” which dismantled the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Pope John Paul, this current work seems to be the result of sloppy journalism. It includes series of accusations and draws conclusions, which are not founded on historic fact.
For example, Cornwell tries to sully Pope John Paul's influence on the victory over Communism with a “dig at his ally Ronald Reagan,” says Thompson. Cornwell tells the reader that there were files on dead children whose murderers were "trained by Reagan's compatriots" in the office of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Thompson rightfully points out that Romero was killed before Reagan was elected to office.
In some cases, there is suspicion that facts are being manipulated, says Thompson. The reviewer cites George Weigel, the Pope’s most authoritative biographer, who confirms that one story Cornwell recounts is “rubbish.”
Cornwell attacks the Pope’s current health and recent battle with Parkinson’s, and charges that Pope’s refusal to resign demonstrates his self-importance. Cornwell even alleges that the Pope is an egomaniac and suffers from depression, blank episodes and paranoia.
He also attacks the Pope’s writings and blames him for a series of problems in the Church, such as the decline in mass attendance. Thompson states that, given recent societal factors, these problems would have arisen anyway.
Thompson says many Catholics will dismiss these reports since the book is such “a hatchet job.”
“Cornwell's record of John Paul II's pontificate is often grotesquely biased,” said Thompson. “Far from exposing ‘the dark face of John Paul II's papacy, ‘The Pope in Winter’ reveals the degree to which Cornwell's prejudices interfere with his judgment.
“This new book is indeed a record of intellectual decline,” he concludes, “but not quite in the way that its author intended.”