Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More on John Paul II

I wanted to add a little bit to my last post on John Paul and clarify some things. My last post was kind of a ramble, but this one will (hopefully) be more thought out.

What I am trying to get at is that I feel that now, for the first time, my approach to the papacy is intellectual and rational rather than emotional. As a conservative Catholic, I had an emotional attachment to the person of John Paul II and a well-intentioned pious devotion to him that was somewhat lacking in a balanced conception of what the office of the papacy was.

When I started to move more and more to the Traditionalist mindset, I took a fairly negative view of John Paul II, but this too was largely an emotional reaction to what I saw as the continued downward spiral of the Church under him. And it is right to feel emotional distress over the state of the Church at times.

But now that he has been gone for four years, and that I have matured, and that I have had to do pastoral work in a parish setting and have had ample opportunities to watch my own pastor, I have come to what I believe is a balanced, rational approach to JPII's pontificate that is not based on emotions, either in praise of him or in blame of him.

I understand now that a pastor has to act circumspectly and with great care, for the eternal destiny of souls is in his hand. He can't simply fire all the bishops or something crazy like that without introducing worse disorders into the Church. Therefore, while I still think John Paul II's encyclicals were overly wordy and inaccessible to the common person, I now see that we ought not to always jump to blame if the pope doesn't say something as strongly as we think he ought to have.

I also understand that the problems in the Church were present before John Paul II took office, and that he did do a bit of good in trying to turn the tide. The publishing of the CCC was a good step, I think, and his declaration in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was also of tremendous importance. Fides et Ratio remains one of my favorite of his encyclicals and makes some very valid points that are desperately needed today.

He also did some bad - appointing more liberal bishops, all the interreligious nonsense that has already been documented ad nauseam, legitimizing abuses and allowing some of the worst of them to go on at his own masses. But even these things which are unreservedly bad may not be entirely his fault - who knows how much of this was organized by underlings, or regarding appointments, how often the pope appoints a bishop on the word or urging of someone else without knowledge of their true nature. We have to allow that a person at the head a bureaucracy that manages a billion people may not always be informed about everything done on his watch.

If there is one thing he could be justly criticized for, in my opinon it is not being clear enough in his actions. The pope sends strong statements not just in what he writes, but what he does, and for me his biggest failure was in sending confusing messages to the faithful and the people of the world - kissing the Koran and also allowing Dominus Iesus to be promulgated, sending a confusing message; calling repeatedly for obedience and then doing absolutely nothing about it when Bishops ignored him (like letting the publicly pro-homosexual and dissenting Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit remain in his post for his entire pontificate; Gumbleton was not removed until 2006 when BXVI denied his request to stay in office past the mandatory retirement age). Another issue of JPII was his writing about respect for liturgical norms and then allowing his masses to be festivals of creativity and innovation.

But coming back to my original point, I am now more inclined to forgive him for these things. It is a primary truth of the Christian moral life that we ought to view our own faults in the most serious light but be inclined to give a generous explanation to the faults of others, and I can't see how this is any different when looking at the pope. Nobody knows what it is like to sit on the Throne of Peter and what pressures must come with it, and while I do not deny that I think JPII screwed up on some very important matters, I also no longer hold him in the hostility and condescension I once did.

Should he be canonized? I don't know, but probably not. Nothing I say is going to have any effect on the matter, and if he is canonized, then nobody can say he shouldn't be invoked. If the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints decides to canonize him then I trust their judgement. If not, they won't (hopefully). But again, what is more important to me is not whether or not John Paul is canonized, but whether we as a Church can truly internalize and grow from the good things that he did leave behind and humbly excuse him for some of the less good things, remembering that the measure with which we measure shall be the standard by which we ourselves are judged. And if God judged me solely on the screw ups I made, then I'd be in deep trouble.

Hopefully this post is a little more clear cut and understandable than my last one.


Alexander said...

“Should he be canonized? I don't know.”Canonizing JPII would indirectly “canonize” his scandals.

Some of the more disturbing stuff is stating that schismatics can be martyrs, calling for St. John the Baptist to protect Islam, kissing the Koran (yes it’s a big deal; people were killed for not doing this as one of the conditions of surrendering to Islam), the many pictures of scantly clad women before him, kissing the ring of Rowan Williams, the confusing Assisi meetings were pagans were given access to worship their demons on Sacred Church Ground, etc.

The first one is particularly disturbing to me. This calls into question what he believes about the nature of the Church and what the Body of Christ is. He is either in error about that or his definition of “martyr” is wrong. Either way it’s troubling for salvation issues that have already confused enough people.

This stuff is not nitpicking on small things. They are very large, unapologetic, and affect the faith.

Mind you I agree that he did do a lot of good things worthy of praise but as Athanasius has said “he’s a mixed bag.” Mixed bags should not be formally canonized.

Boniface said...


I agree with you one hundred percent. Sometimes I think you are my second mind.


Anonymous said...

I think the horrible bind that Catholicism has put itself into is one where the Pope has to be perfect or nothing. If we were still in the situation where the Pope could father children in the Vatican and the rest of the Church would just run itself, then I think we would not be having this conversation. One hundred years ago, the average Catholic (peasant) barely knew who the Pope was, and that is a healthy thing. Their conception of the Church should have been centered on their parish, their village, and their family. But now we have a secularized society, and being Catholic is but one identity that we all wear, and the Pope is the CEO of that brand. I think it is profoundly unhealthy.

Will they canonize JPII? In Mexican religious shops, they already sell his statue as if he were a saint. I even saw his image in a New Orleans voodoo temple, along with St. Jude and others. Take that for what it's worth. Holiness does not equal infallibility, and all canonization would mean is that he is in Heaven. I could live with that.

Nick said...

I would largely agree with everything that's been said so far. Getting the CCC published is certainly a monumental and very good thing for Catholicism.

I like the "mixed bag" description, also realizing that the standard by which we judge will be applied to us.

I also want to repeat how important this issue is to discuss. I consider this part of the healing process and what it means to be a true Christian by not holding grudges. I definitely believe the Church and all of us are in a healing phase after what happened the last 40 years.

Smiley said...

I really think that before JPII is cannonized, we need Pope Pius XII to be, he promulgated the Immaculate conception and a whole bunch of important things.

Anselm said...

In this conversation I've too often heard the claim that all that canonization means is that he is in heaven.

That is not true.

Canonization means that the Church authorizes public veneration of the person and places him before the faithful as a model for their lives on account of his heroic virtue.

I'm sure there are many people in heaven who are there for reasons other than heroic virtue. They should not be canonized.

In this case, it is especially the aspect of setting JPII forth as a worthy example to be followed by the faithful which is troubling. And it is precisely in this respect that the many scandalous actions of the late Holy Father (those cited by Alexander above, etc.) are very relevant to the decision about whether or not to canonize.

It is also true that in many respects he is worthy of imitation, his defense of innocent human life, his own patient suffering, etc. But these things don't do away with the many negative things. Hence the "mixed bag" description.

Furthermore, the rampant enthusiasm for his canonization may itself be a good cause to put off the decision for 50 years or so, until such time as people are less clouded by emotion on the issue.

Alexander said...

Anselm, is the character of infallibility used in a canonization? If so, I believe it to only be applied to the fact that the person is in heaven and not necessarily that they are worthy of veneration etc.

JPII’s canonization process seems unstoppable at this point. People are hoping he will be beatified even by next year and no one seems to be facing all the scandals and questionable things in his writings. It is very disturbing.