Catholic fact check: Cardinal Karol Wojtyla and the final confrontation
The following quotation is attributed to Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope St. John Paul II:
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine Providence; it is trial which the whole Church, and the Polish Church in particular, must take up. It is a trial of not only our nation and the Church, but, in a sense, a test of 2,000 years of culture and Christian civilization with all of its consequences for human dignity, individual rights, human rights and the rights of nations.
The quotation appears in numerous places and publications on the internet.
The National Catholic Register1 reported the following:
Near the end of his visit, in September, Cardinal Wojtyla shared some striking words. The exact provenance of those words remains elusive to scholars, though they were reported in The Wall Street Journal as having been delivered by the future pontiff in his final speech in the United States before his departure. In one particularly dramatic passage, reprinted by the Journal Nov. 9, 1978…
Already, a few details make this quest difficult.
Firstly, I am looking for something that Cardinal Wojtyla said as Cardinal, not as Pope. His quotations may be attributed to his names or titles from a variety of positions.
Secondly, if the Register is correct, the quotation occurred not during the 21st Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, but in a tour Wojtyla took before the Congress. Searching for Wojtyla events or speeches in 1976 will naturally focus on the Congress rather than preceding minor events.
I can't go exclusively by the Wall Street Journal citation, as tempting as that is, because it appeared (or was reprinted) in November - two years after any event in question.
In 2013, after Archbishop Vigano referenced the quotation in question, a writer at Commonweal Magazine2 investigated the quotation's origins:
George Weigel refers to it in his biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope: “These remarks are cited on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, November 9, 1978, and attributed to Wojtyla's ‘last speech in the U.S. in September 1976, as quoted in the New York City News (an interim strike newspaper).'” Sure enough, that's where it appeared.
From August 10 to November 5, 1978, a strike shut down New York City's three major newspapers. I can't find the New York City News edition that first quoted the speech. Nor can I find the rest of the speech. Just this excerpt. In some places it's mistakenly identified as part of Wojtyla's ‘76 talk in Philadelphia. Others say it's from a speech he gave to the U.S. bishops.
The author's conclusion is that the quotation is “thinly sourced” and “out of keeping” with the Cardinal's other comments.
Now, we have an even more interesting situation. If the origin is indeed the Cardinal's “last speech in the U.S. in September 1976, as quoted in the New York City News (an interim strike newspaper)", then we can narrow our date parameters to September 1976.
The next question is, what is this newspaper? Is is the New York City News? The New York City News? If it was an interim paper, was its regular name something else entirely? Would it be indexed under the name New York City News?
I suffered on my own for a few hours before contacting the oracles at the Library of Congress. A librarian in their newspapers division believed that the newspaper in question was the City News3 - an option I had not even considered. The newspaper's indexing notes say, “Published for New York Times and Daily News during the New York newspaper strike in 1978,” so it seems that we are in the right place.
The only problem is that this article is from 1978 - two full years after the events where (I think) the quotation took place.
Browsing JSTOR for terms on the cardinal and 1976 retrieved a result from 1982, “The Ecumenical Intentions of Pope John Paul II: The Third of the Four Quadrennial Lectures under the Bequest of Judge Paul Dudley, 1750:"4
At the end of his sojourn in the United States, 23 July to 6 September 1976, a visit occasioned by the XLI World Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia to coincide with the American Bicentennial, Cardinal Wojtyla declared in an address before some three hundred, gathered 4 September 1976 at Old Soldier's Home in New York, the combined representatives of the Polish American Congress and the Polish American Clergy Association:
The quotation, “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation” then follows.
This article is extremely helpful because it gives us some idea of what the Cardinal was doing in his pre-Eucharistic Congress tour.
Searching further with additional terms for July, August, or September pulls this selected bibliography of materials on the Cardinal5:
(Note the typo in ‘visist’, which I suspect was a conspiracy to annoy future researchers such as myself.
I obtained a copy of this Kosciuszko Foundation newsletter6, thanks to the active archiving efforts of Polish-American communities.
View the relevant excerpt as a PDF here.
A few screenshots below:
The Kosciuszko Foundation Newsletter XXXI, no. 2 (1976-77), page 1
The Kosciuszko Foundation Newsletter XXXI, no. 2 (1976-77), page 9
The Kosciuszko Foundation Newsletter XXXI, no. 2 (1976-77), page 11
The Kosciuszko Foundation Newsletter XXXI, no. 2 (1976-77), page 12
The full quotation
To end my talk here, I would like to make note of remarks of a previous speaker who mentioned the great number of guests here today in the audience are from the Cracow diocese. Many went to school there, or were born in the area, and one of our first speakers mentioned that he was of goral heritage. As I myself represent Cracow, I would very much like to thank all of you for the warm attention paid to the capital of the Piasts and Jagiellonians and extend our greetings.
If the American Polonia expect us to cooperate in matters pertaining to the Polish American community, then we would expect Polonia to cooperate in taking the great responsibility of the Polish nation for Christianity. We have to put it this way because we are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence; it is a trial which the whole Church, and the Polish Church in particular, must take up. We all realize it is not an easy matter, and a great deal of it depends upon the outcome on the Vistula. I think that Polonia is perhaps the most aware of it, and it seems to me that other layers of American society are less enlightened in this respect and simply eliminate this problem from their sphere of interests. Polonia, which shares Poland's sentiments, feels the significance of the confrontation going on at the banks of the Vistula. It is a trial of not only our nation and Church, but in a sense a test of two thousand years culture and Christian civilization with all of its consequences for human dignity, individual rights, human rights and the rights of nations. All these are affected by the confrontation. As the number of people who understand the importance of this confrontation increase in Poland and America, we can look with greater trust towards the outcome of this confrontation. The Church has gone through many trials, as has the Polish nation, and has energed victorious even though at a cost of great sacrifice.
Did he say it?
All things considered, it seems reasonable to believe that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla said the quotation, “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through…rights of nations” on September 4, 1976, during a visit to the Kosciuszko Foundation, New York City, New York.
(There is a possibility, based on the tone and structure of the Cardinal's speech, that these closing remarks were perhaps spontaneous - a reaction to an earlier speech. It is difficult to say with certainty, but it would explain the Commonweal author's observation that the quotation seemed out of keeping with the Cardinal's other speeches.)
Two years later, and a month before his election to the papacy, a truncated version of the quotation may have been printed in the interim newspaper the City News in New York (a publication which ran only in 1978). Two months later, a month after his election, this version of the quotation was printed in the Wall Street Journal.
Since then, the quotation's original source got lost in the noise of the Eucharistic Congress and the Cardinal's long, prolific papacy.
Kengor, Paul. “John Paul Ii’s Warning on ‘Final Confrontation’ with the ‘Anti-Church’.” National Catholic Register (October 5 2018). https://www.ncregister.com/commentaries/john-paul-ii-s-warning-on-final-confrontation-with-the-anti-church.↩
Gallicho, Grant. “John Paul II Said What Now?". Commonweal Magazine (November 19 2013). https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/john-paul-ii-said-what-now.↩
City News. New York: Hagedorn Communications, Inc., 1978-1978. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030093/.↩
Williams, George Huntston. “The Ecumenical Intentions of Pope John Paul II: The Third of the Four Quadrennial Lectures under the Bequest of Judge Paul Dudley, 1750.” The Harvard Theological Review 75, no. 2 (1982): 141-76. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1509557.↩
Olszer, Krystyna M., Jerzy Ptakowski, Thomas E. Bird, and Ludwik Anowski. “Bibliography: Selected Materials Written in English by and About Karol Wojtyla / Pope John Paul Ii.” The Polish Review 24, no. 2 (1979): 95-106. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25777684.↩
“The Visit of Cardinal Wojtyla. Remarks Delivered by Dr. Eugene Kusielewicz on the Occasion of a Visist of His Eminence Karol Wojtyla to the Kosciuszko Foundation, September 4, 1976.” The Kosciuszko Foundation Newsletter XXXI, no. 2 (1976-77): 1-2.↩