In September of 1987 near the historic San Fernando Mission in Los Angeles, Pope John Paul II held his first face-to-face meeting with the entire U.S. hierarchy. He dealt bluntly with the “selective” dissent of many American Catholics over church teachings on sexual policies, women’s equality and church authority.
One nationwide poll had found that U.S. Catholics by a ten-to-one margin believed they could disagree with the church and still be considered loyal followers. But the pope, then nine years into his papacy, told the 300 bishops that such dissent was “a grave error” that challenged the teaching authority of bishops and the Vatican alike.
The Polish pontiff reiterated his opposition to ordination of women, divorce and remarriage, abortion and homosexual behavior. Yet he did not prescribe penalties for disobedient Catholics. He urged bishops to “attract assent” through education and a new effort at evangelization “directed to the mind.”