Monday, April 20, 2009

Legacy of JP II

I read an interesting article on Zenit today by Supreme Knight of the KofC, Carl Anderson, on John Paul II entitled, "John Paul's Legacy: 4 Years Later." It was much of thesame standard pop-Catholic approach to John Paul's pontificate: his work bringing down Communism, his defense of the dignity of life, his 'legacy' of Theology of the Body and all of the many countries he went to (when are people going to stop listing the fact that John Paul traveled a lot as if it is somehow meritorious? Traveling is good if you are doing good on your travels, but the fact that one traveled a lot in and of itself is not meritorious and certainly not grounds for canonization, especially since JPII did some questionable things on his travels, like kissing the Koran, allowing Aztec paganism at the canonization of Juan Diego, etc.

I have wondered about JPII's legacy myself quite a bit over the past several years. When JPII was alive, I was a regular conservative Catholic who adored the late Pontiff. I had read all of his writings (most of the important ones, at least) and cried when he passed away. Then, as I discovered Traditionalism, my attitude towards him went about 180 degrees, and I began to view him somewhat coldly due to the abuses and neglect that were characteristic of his pontificate - especially once I started learning about many of the questionable things JPII did.

Now I think I have warmed up to him again somewhat, and I guess I relate to him with what can best be called distant admiration. As an adminstrator of the Church, I think John Paul II was an utter failure. I have read many memoirs of persons who worked in the Vatican during the JPII years who reported that JPII was one of the most disorganized popes of modern times and many colorful descriptions of his desk buried in a random assortment of papers have made their way to out of Rome. I don't know if these anecdotal stories are accurate or not, and it doesn't matter whether one has a messy office. But to me, this picture of his chaotically disheveled office is symbolic of his management of the whole Church. Under JPII, abuses were legalized, more unworthy persons were admitted to the episcopate and the Pope confused Catholics by declaring one thing in his documents and then permitting the opposite to happen in his own papal masses and World Youth Day Masses.

Neverthless, I have more of an appreciation now than I did a few years back of the pastoral dimension of being pope - that is, taking into account that one is dealing with real people with real souls, and that however much we might want the pontiff to start thundering down anathemas, the reality is that a true pastor is never going to take that approach, that "Here's the truth and the rest of you can go to hell" attitude that many Trads have had, and I don't exclude myself. I can understand why a pope wants to say things and make gestures in as sensitive a manner as possible, for I have had to deal with this frequently in my own apostolate as a Youth Director/ DRE, and I have seen my own pastor have to work this way on numerous occasions.

I guess the issue is this: when does being pastorally sensitive cause you to bend too far and become a pushover or a cafeteria Catholic? When confronted with a gnostic heretic, St. Polycarp is said to have angrily stated, "I know you, you firstborn of Satan!" Would we respond to a modern day heretic the same way? Even if we would, should we? I think the difference between conservative Catholics and Traditionalists is that we hold to differing opinions of where that line between pastorally sensitive and pushover is.

I have no problem understanding that a pope has to be pastorally sensitive - but I do take issue with the practice of using "pastoral" to justify almost anything John Paul II does. You can find scores of Catholics on the Net and in print who say that the Assisi meetings, the Koran kissing, the lewd foreign Masses, the irreverent Youth Masses and the pagan rituals in Mexico, Papua New Guinea, etc. were all justified because of "pastoral concerns." To me that is just dishonest.

Let's acknowledge that the Pope has to act pastorally, and that this sometimes means behaving more circumspectly and with less gusto than perhaps we would like. But let's not take this principle and attempt to write off every single wacky thing a pope might do as being "pastoral." Ultimately, pastoral means that something is done out of care for souls, and anything that leads to ambiguity or confusion cannot truly be pastoral. This is one word that certainly needs to be reclaimed from the Vatican II Newspeak intelligensia.

So, back to JPII's legacy. Regarding his "fast track" to canonization, I thought Carl Anderson made a great point when he stated:

The question we should ask isn't "When will John Paul be beatified?" But rather, "When will we follow his example to build a true culture of life and civilization of love?"

This is I think what we can take away from JPII - not hero worship or adoration of John Paul the man, but a taking to heart of the most important and enduring elements of his message and putting them into practice in our own culture. This is what JPII would have wanted.

Click here for part two of this post.


Baron Korf said...

It would seem that trads care more about the little things than everyone else. Case in point is the whole business with the Koran. Regardless of why or how imprudent an action, I can assure you that the vast majority of Catholics, let alone the general populace, don't even know it happened. So if he set a bad example, few really remembered.

How about this for why his travels mattered: Even if he did nothing on them, suddenly the world saw the Pope and Catholicism as the world-wide faith it is. No longer some Italian prince in his ivory tower, but a man in solidarity with the poor. Evangelizing without even speaking.

Pastoral also means delegating, unfortunately. The Pope may have the charism of infallibility in the proper circumstances, but he does not have the power to stop time. More often than not I am sure he was betrayed by those with agendas, just as the current pope has. That on top of the enemies in the world that are gunning for him. He spoke on behalf of the dignity of women and was (is) called a misogynistic patriarch.

Critique him as you feel you can. However I see a deep suffering in the man. Imagine sitting in the oldest and most power seat in the world and seeing all around you the suffering in the USSR, Latin America, Africa, the Far East et al. And what could he do about it? He tried to care and feed the lambs as best he could.

Do not take his difference in priorities from yours as a sign of indifference or passive acceptance of wrongs. He was not perfect, but neither was Peter as the record shows.

Nick said...

Thanks for this. I remember a recent post Athanasius did on this very subject.

I too went from a loyal conservative Catholic fan, to one of a 'traditionalist' leaning which resulted in heartfelt anguish towards him, both of which were driven more by emotions than anything, and then settling back down to a objective look.

These posts are very important, because after things have begun to settle, people are taking a more objective approach to this. On one hand, we have no business going on a war campaign to trash him, but on the other hand we realize it's wrong to give a pass to everything that took place.

I've read somewhere that for a long time Popes were practically bred, because they were taken out of aristocratic Italian families where they were well educated from youth to be critical thinkers and leaders. Popes like JP2 didn't fit that 'legacy', for better or worse.

Also, we have to be careful as laymen, for we have no idea the weight of the world on the Pope's shoulders. You have to live knowing that people are always going to be pissed off at you, and even that your "advisers" might secretly be corrupt and want you to look bad. That "master of ceremonies" SOB guy comes to mind, dressing the Pope literally like a clown.

A lot of people think the pope is sitting next to Jesus as he rules, but in fact he could easily be surrounded by lions, threatening him, giving him bad council, etc. So we don't know what he went through, especially during those abominable '70s-onward.

All that said, when acting publicly, he could/should have put his foot down more. We don't need to sift through stacks of encyclicals if the basics aren't being clearly taught and affirmed. Other things that were outright scandalous or sharp breaks in how things were done such things were tragic and harmful to many souls who really cared for the faith.

Overall, the last two generations were some of the most cursed and corrupt in history. The damage done on all levels over the last 40 years is just staggering. Fortunately all those people are finally dying off, and I do see hope of more youth who are passionate about the faith, especially stuff like the TLM (which itself is growing).

That said, there is only so much you can stress out about these things before they bring you down spiritually, there comes a point when you just have to trust God to get things back on track. We have to thank God we didn't have to go through that Tribulation and have our life sucked out of us, leaving us ice cold spiritually in either the rad-trad or liberal direction.

Mr S said...

I am continually caught off guard when someone refers to JPII as John Paul the Great. Asking why, usually starts with the number of years he was pope....and the fact that many admit that he is the only pope they have ever known.

I too admire much of the man, and that would be his writings. I think it could be decades before we have any grasp on the massive volume of his writings, and how much of them are essential to the Catholic well being.

For now, I think of him as John Paul the PrettyGood.


Boniface said...

Baron Korf-

I am amazed that you missed the fact that the tone of the post was not critical but was saying that I was lightening my opinion of him and that I am now taking more into account precisely the types of things you mention. That does not mean that I will cease to disagree about certain things he did (and I certainly disagree that kissing the Koran is a small thing), but the fact is that, as I said, I am now more inclined to take an objective view of him and not be led along so much by my emotions. It is actually a post saying JPII is not as horrible as I used to think.

Baron Korf said...

Going from a heavy critique to a lighter is still a critique.

"It is actually a post saying JPII is not as horrible as I used to think."

That is the additude I'm talking about. It seems a tad audacious.

I have wanted, many times, for both John Paul and Benedict to finally just drop the hammer on those who have used up all reasonable pastoral patience. However I trust both of these men if for no other reason than because of how much they suffer, willingly, on my and every other Catholic's account.

If I did take it the wrong way, it would probably be on account of the number of pixels spilt proportionately between his virtues and vices.

Boniface said...


I think that is a fair critique.

I think the point of what I was getting at is summed up in this sentence from the post:

Let's acknowledge that the Pope has to act pastorally, and that this sometimes means behaving more circumspectly and with less gusto than perhaps we would like.This is what I mean when I say I have come to be more accepting of him.

Just another mad Catholic said...

I have to admit that when I first went 'trad' I too began to view JP2 in a more negative light. I don't think however that the blame of post vatican 2 falls entirely on John Paul's shoulders, from what i understand of recent Church History his predecessors left hime with a whole load of liberal bishops/archbisohps/cardianals who couldn't be forced out without extreme disruption to the running of the church, once that set began to retire he DID replace them with the more orthodox teachers (think current Holy Father).