Damian Thompson is Blogs Editor of the Telegraph Media Group and Editor of the orthodox Catholic Herald in England.
For a long time now, some conservative Catholics – most of them hardline traditionalists – have been discreetly slagging off the late Pope John Paul II. One priest I know grimaces every time his name is mentioned. “Oh, you mean, ‘John Paul the Great’,” he says,” rolling his eyes. He does not want him to be made a saint – not because he thinks he was a bad man, but because he thinks that, despite his heroic witness against Communism, he damaged the Church.
The charge sheet against JPII goes something like this:
1. He allowed truly terrible appointments to be made in Rome and to diocesan sees around the world. England and Wales was bad enough, but some bishops in Germany and France are what you might call “Vatican II protestants”. These bishops are now intent on wrecking the pontificate of Benedict XVI.
2. As a result of bad appointments, especially in America, the scandal of clerical sex abuse gathered pace, and for one reason or another – perhaps because he was so busy travelling – John Paul II failed to act swiftly (or at all, in the early days). He allowed guilty priests to be moved to parishes where they carried on abusing minors.
3. He tried to improve the liturgy, but in practice allowed bishops and priests to do their own thing, turning the sanctuary into a sort of talent show for women “eucharistic ministers”. And the papal MC, Archbishop Piero Marini, set a terrible example by dressing the Pope in Star Trek outfits and adding a touch of Butlins to international jamborees.
4. John Paul’s attempts to reach out to other faiths effectively celebrated and validated non-Christian religions. Conservative Catholics still feel outrage at the memory of the Pope praying with the Dalai Lama et al at Assisi, and kissing the Koran on a visit to Syria (see photo above).
Until now, most anti-JPII sentiment has been expressed prviately. But take a look at this post on the website RenewAmerica, from Eric Giunta, a conservative law student.
Once again, the Catholic world has been rocked by yet more allegations of sexual impropriety by Legionnaires of Christ founder, the late Fr. Marcial Maciel. It seems the now-disgraced founder-cum-pervert fathered more children than previously suspected; the latest claimants to his paternity purport to have evidence that the late Pope John Paul II knew of Maciel’s sexual dalliances, and turned a blind eye to them …
The allegations highlight what for all too many Catholics is the elephant-in-the-room when discussing the ills which beset the modern Church: the extent to which the late Pope John Paul II was an enabler of these perversions, from sexual and liturgical abuse to theological dissent and the scandal of Catholic politicians who support the most immoral of social policies with the tacit or express blessings of their Church.
One does not need to deny or disparage the personal sanctity, thoughtful conservatism, or religious orthodoxy of the late Pontiff in order to acknowledge that his Pontificate, by all accounts, was a glorious failure. Yes, he aided in the fall of Eastern European Communism, but the Pope of Rome is not primarily a mover and shaker of state politics, but a Christian pastor whose mission it is to save souls, convert the lost, and govern his church in such a way that it resembles, as best as possible, the city on a hill, the light of the world …
Giunta does not want to see the feast day of Pope St John Paul II added the calendar:
Though Catholics and others are loathe to admit it of an otherwise beloved Pope, John Paul II oversaw a church which deteriorated in both its inner and outer life. His callous indifference toward the victims of priestly sexual abuse in refusing to meet personally with a single one of them, and his stubborn refusal to compel the resignation from office of any of the bishops who aided, abetted, and covered-up the abuse, are testamentary to his utter failure: not as a Catholic or a theologian, but as a Pope.
And this is precisely why he should not be canonized. For in the Catholic (and popular) understanding, canonization is not simply a technical decree indicating one’s everlasting abode in Paradise; it is, in addition, the Church’s solemn endorsement of a Christian’s heroic virtue. The question the Catholic Church must ask herself is: Was John Paul II a model of “heroic” papal virtue?
Contrary to leftist media reportage, the late Pope was not an authoritarian despot, bent on enforcing Catholic orthodoxy on an unwilling church. Quite the contrary: theological liberals and dissenters flourished in all of the Church’s structures, from lay politics and Catholic universities, to the ranks of priests and bishops. Not a single pro-abortion Catholic politician has been excommunicated from the church; only a handful of openly heretical priests were asked to stop teaching theology, but were otherwise permitted to exercise their priestly ministry unhindered. The Church in Austria openly dissents from orthodox Catholicism with papal impunity. Fr. Richard McBrien, Sr. Joan Chittiser, Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Notre Dame University, dissenters galore: the overwhelming majority of prominent far-leftist, theologically modernist Catholic organizations, speakers, and theologians are Catholics in good standing with their church, and are frequently given an official platform at church-sponsored institutions and events. To give just two more examples, several Catholic parishes and universities flaunt themselves as “gay-friendly” in a directory published by the Conference of Catholic Lesbians. These speakers and institutions are in just as good standing with the Church as so-called “orthodox” Catholic pundits and writers.
I don’t endose these views: in fact, it seems perfectly obvious that the reign of John Paul II was one of slowly growing orthodoxy in the Church, nurtured by his Catechism and a series of magnificent encyclicals. And those Catholics who want to draw a sharp distinction between the agendas of John Paul and Benedict are overlooking the fact that the theological direction of the last pontificate owed an enormous amount to the current Holy Father, who would be horrified by Giunta’s article.
Yet this debate is clearly gathering pace. JPII loyalists are also on the warpath. (George Weigel is using the Maciel scandal as a stick with which to beat this administration, not the last one.) So I’d be interested in your views.