Sunday, May 01, 2011

Giving Scandal, John Paul II Was No Saint [Anthony McCarthy]

People who don't follow the Catholic Church would probably be shocked to find out that a lot of the people who reject the fast track to canonization for John Paul II are Catholics, some of the Catholic theologians and clergy, many of them observant Catholics. Most of the criticism focuses on his knowingly abetting the sexual abuse crisis as it was building and his cover up of it once the dam burst and the scandal of it was undeniable. In modern Catholic history, its chief rival as a scandal was the Vatican's activities in relation to the Nazis under Pius XII (and before when he was a Vatican diplomat), who is also being fast tracked for canonization under the incumbent Pope. I'd also point to his appalling indifference to the slaughter of peasants in Central America, especially, during the 1970s and 80s. In a lot of ways he acted more like a CIA asset than someone who should be held up as a great moral example, which is the reason that canonization is supposed to be important.

The National Catholic Reporter has given quite a bit of coverage to the opponents of the rush to canonization and the reasons for it, much of it from sisters and priests. That alone would shock a lot of people who don't know much about Catholic and Catholic culture. Here are a few samples:

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister said John Paul’s “attitude toward clerical sex abuse of children embodied the worst kind of clericalism.”

Said Chittister: “The least the church could do in respect for those who have already suffered insult at the hands of the church is to let the perspective of time decide whether or not canonization is in order.”

Anthony Padovano, a professor at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J., said the late pontiff’s use of power during his papacy set a bad example for “the kind of life you expect the people in the church to emulate.”

“The witness of John Paul II has been extremely disappointing,” said Padovano. “It should not be presented as a model for what a Christian is supposed to do.”

Fr. Charles Curran, professor of theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said that although he had no objection to the news of the beatification, the church “would be a lot better off if we stopped canonizing popes, bishops, clergy and religious.”

Mercy Sr. Theresa Kane said other causes for canonization should have more priority -- particularly Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero’s -- and called the late pope’s beatification “somewhat premature.”

Kenneth Woodward, author of Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, said the late pope had a “profound prayer life.”

Yet Woodward, a contributing editor for Newsweek, also bluntly said that John Paul “ruined the Catholic hierarchy” by making agreement on the issues of women’s ordination and a married priesthood a virtual requirement for episcopal elevation.

You might remember Sr. Kane from John Paul II's first visit to the United States for her address in which she called for sexual equality in all the ministries of the Catholic church to the Pope's stony glare. Needless to say, he did exactly the opposite, forbidding clergy from discussing women's equality, calling it a settled issue. I remember it because I'd been skeptical of him before that visit but by the end of it I knew he was bad news for anyone who wanted more equality.

Much has been made of the economic justice stand of the Vatican and, it's true, officially it is the foremost world institution that has been critical of market capitalism and capitalism, in general. You can only wish that they followed it up in ways that mattered. As John Paul II appointed bishops and cardinals they were generally far more friendly to exactly the same institutions and individuals that comprise the economic establishment that the last two Popes have spoken against.

Why this should matter to anyone except Catholics is that it does matter what direction the Catholic church takes. It has enormous influence over many influential people inside and outside of its membership. It has an enormous potential for doing things both bad and better. Its clergy exerts a strong influence on our politics, though less so now that the sexual abuse scandals have become known.

John Paul II infamously set up the fast track for canonization during his papacy, canonizing and declaring people "blessed" more people than all of the other popes combined. His canonization of some of them was a scandal in itself, Josemaria Escriva who started Opus Dei, which JPII turned into a spy agency in his war against the Jesuit order and liberals in general. A number of his fast track saints were canonized for political reasons, especially some of the Polish ones and Gianna Beretta Molla, who chose to die rather than have a hysterectomy and abortion to save her life (I'm not sure if it's still true but even the Catholic church allowed that kind of "indirect" abortion in cases when doing nothing would lead to a woman's death). It's led to some pretty bad potentials for scandal as the new prominence leads to a review of the lives and writings of those people.

With his papacy, John Paul II ended the period of reform set into motion by John XXIII and Paul VI. That reform was the reason that John Paul I took the names of his predecessors before his early death. John Paul II took the same name under false pretenses, his every action belied that tribute as he set up a dictatorial, scandal ridden clerical despotism, one which Catholics have been leaving at a rapid rate. Some of his and the present pope's critics say that it's part of the plan they made for a much smaller, much more clerically controlled Catholic church, killing the reforms of Vatican II and becoming a force of political and social reaction in the world. I don't see anything blessed in that.