Sunday, July 07, 2013

"Saints aren't perfect"

This week's news about the impending canonization of Bl. John Paul II in conjunction with Bl. John XXIII has been met with rejoicing and concern. Many Catholics have been understandably elated with the imminent raising of two new papal saints to the altars, while others have voiced concern about the "fast tracking" process that has made this possible as well as the fact that the many scandalous events of John Paul II's pontificate have never been satisfactorily answered to or explained.

I do not intend to spend a lot of time going over the reasons why I personally believe the canonization of John Paul II is imprudent at this time, but it is necessary to mention them in passing to put some context to what I will say here. The Assisi interfaith meetings were scandalous and confusing to the faithful; I don't care how you try to explain it away, they simply were. The kissing of the Koran and referring to it as the word of God, praying with animists in Togo, allowing pagan Aztec priestsesses to bless him, and all such activities were equally scandalous and unprecedented in papal history. What about asking St. John the Baptist to protect Islam? The list could go on. I am willing to grant that maybe John Paul II was not personally responsible for all of these things; I am not suggesting the degree of personal culpability attributable to the late pontiff. But, they happened on his watch and so they are laid at his doorstep. For these reasons and others, I do not believe it is a good idea to canonize this man.

Here's where people chime in and say, "C'mon! Saints aren't perfect! Sure, the man had flaws. Every saint has flaws. You are being too critical."

Saints aren't perfect. I agree. Saints are not perfect. But we are falling prey to a subtle bait and switch if we accept the rationale that "saints aren't perfect" therefore it is appropriate to canonize someone with so much questionable baggage. Let's dissect this.

No person is perfect. No saint is perfect. And we don't want to be hyper-critical. All saints have very human flaws due to human weakness. St. Jerome was notoriously cranky. St. Augustine, during his latter years, was perhaps unduly pessimistic and dour in his prospects about the human race in general. St. Francis of Assisi gave away his father's fabrics to the poor without permission, which would have technically been a form of theft. St. Dominic, though a mendicant, apparently could be nit-picky about wanting his habit kept clean (at least according to the testimony of colleagues at his canonization hearings); St. Teresa of Avila could be slightly strong-armed when asking potential donors to part with their wealth; if we are to believe the stories, St. Nicholas himself once lost his temper and slapper Arius in the face. Sure, saints have flaws. They are humans and they are subject to human weakness.

But here is the distinction: It is one thing to say a saint has flaws; it is another thing to say he did something fundamentally harmful to the faith or contradictory to the nature of his office. We see St. Francis, with the zeal of a new convert, going beyond the boundaries of prudence and giving away his father's silks without permission. We can understand this. We sympathize. We, too, know the experience of being too overzealous about something and inadvertently hurting someone else because of it. This is not a real strike against Francis' sanctity. It just demonstrates his human side.

But suppose Francis, wanting to give to the poor, had gone out and robbed and beaten up someone in order to steal money that he would in turn give to poor, Would we be so likely to sympathize with him then? Would we understand that? And what if he did this, not in the zeal of a new convert, but very deliberately in his eighth year of religious life and then again sixteen years later? And what if these were not isolated incidents, but were exemplary of Francis' general approach towards giving to the poor?

In that case, it would be very hard to sympathize with him, because we would be dealing not with an understandable weakness of character due to zeal that could happen to any son of Adam, but a series of very deliberate actions that are calculated, reasoned out, and executed with precise intentionality. In the former examples, we have instances of saints demonstrating imperfections despite their will to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect"; in the latter hypothetical example, we have a person utilizing their will to engage in activity that is objectively hurtful to others. We can understand and sympathize with the former; we are confused and scandalized by the latter and feel no sympathy for it. Perhaps if we still had a Promotor Fidei, it would be easier to sort out or categorize these sorts of things. 

To what category, then, do the actions of the late John Paul II fall? What human weakness caused him to "accidentally" invite the leaders from all the pagan religions to Rome to encourage them to pray to their false gods and not preach the Gospel to them the entire time they were present? That's not the sort of thing one just "falls" into. One does not simply go to the trouble of scheduling a papal visit to Togo where one engages in prayer in common with animists just due to common "human weakness." These are not things that just happen to anybody. These are deliberate actions that John Paul II intentionally chose to do or intentionally allowed to happen- and those of us who choose to be intellectually honest understand that they were confusing and scandalous to the faithful, in addition to sending the wrong message to the pagans, who were encouraged in the worship of their false gods. And, even if John Paul II did somehow "fall" into the Assisi meetings in 1986, even if these were a "slip-up", it is hard to see why he went ahead and did them again in 2002. Clearly they were intentionally set up to go down exactly as they did. So this is not really a matter of saying, "Eh, he's not perfect." This is matter of deliberate actions done that were confusing or potentially harmful to the faithful, to say nothing about their harm on the participants, who were falsely led into believing it is acceptable to worship their false gods.

We must remember, when we canonize a person who holds an office, we are also approving the manner in which he administered that office. One of the biggest misunderstandings modern Catholics have about canonization is that it is simply a declaration that someone is in heaven. I'm so sick of hearing that! "What's the big deal? All it means is that he's in heaven." If that were all it was, then we could canonize a death-row murderer who maintained his impenitence until a moment before death when he suddenly decides to accept baptism one minute prior to execution. After all, he's in heaven! Clearly this is too simplistic.

Whenever we canonize someone, we are not just affirming they are in heaven, but we are affirming that they have done deeds that are worthy of emulation. Furthermore, tf this person holds an office, like a bishop, priest, pope, or king, then we are also affirming that what they did in that office is worthy of emulation - that they were not just a holy man or woman, but an ideal abbot, abbess, king, queen or whatever. Has it ever been otherwise? Do you know of any saint-kings who were personally holy but terrible kings? How about sainted bishops who were personally holy but made awful bishops? How about sainted popes who were personally holy but the Church went down the toilet under their administration? When a saint really does look like they will not be able to deal with their office, they resign it, like St. Celestine, or St. Cuthbert, who resigned his bishopric for a life of seclusion. What they do not do is stick around for two decades, mismanage the affairs of their communities, confuse and scandalize everybody and then get proclaimed a saint anyway while everyone shrugs off their very obvious flaws.

To canonize an office holder is to canonize the manner in which they held the office. St. Gregory the Great is a saint not just because he was personally holy but because he was a model pope, St. Charles Borromeo because he was a model bishop, St. Francis because he was a model mendicant, St. Thomas because he was a model teacher and theologian. Nothing is more contrary to the tradition of the Church and the meaning implicit in canonizations than to draw a distinction between someone's personal holiness and the manner in which they fulfilled their vocation. The two are united. In fact, one's personal holiness is directly contingent upon how one fulfills one's vocation. One cannot become a sainted bishop while simultaneously having failed in the most fundamental aspects of an episcopal vocation. It's so simple, we could make a meme out of it:

I have been giving extreme examples, and I am certainly not saying John Paul II was a failure as a pope. There are many things I did that I think were wonderful. I have no qualms, however, about saying that John Paul II was not an ideal pope, much less is he worthy he being called "the Great." The reasons for me saying this are those common to most traditionalists, and I will not argue each point here. But the important thing is to realize that to canonize John Paul II is to canonize his scandals. The faithful will have no way to distinguish between the praiseworthy and the scandalous in his pontificate, especially since those pushing the cause of John Paul II have never offered an official explanation for these scandals (I even tried to write them and ask for one; see here). The faithful will see St. John Paul the Great praying with pagans at Assisi and think this is Catholic missiology; they will see him kissing the Koran and think this is how we ought to interact with Islam. And who will tell them any differently, eh? If nobody bothered to explain it while John Paul II was on the throne, they sure won't bother to now that he's being raised to the altars.

There is much more we could say. I will probably do another post in the near future about this issue of "fast-tracking" the two late pontiffs to get them canonized.


Pelarius said...

Then it's a good thing that the first pope wasn't canonized. He knew Christ directly but tried to talk him out of the passion,publicly denied him, and went against his own public decrees against the Judaizers. That might have caused come confusion.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Boniface. As it is that Canonisations are infallible, once he is Canonised does that mean his actions truly are to be imitated?

I will accept that he is in Heaven but the idea that he and Pope Saint Pius X acted faithfully within Tradition is risible.

That being so, what are we to make of our situation as Catholics?

This is simply a splendid post and you really got down to the brass tacks I choose to step over pretending they were not there.


P.S. In California, I was in an old store that still had the brass tacks nailed into the floor that he owner used to measure items

Jamey said...

Thanks Boniface.

JPII's pontificate was radical to say the least. According to John Salza JPII was blessed with cow feces on his forehead in Madras 1986 by a "shiva priestess" and then drank voodoo potion in Fiji the same year. He may have opened himself up to the diabolical with these and other documented activities. His theology was a profound rupture from the past sometimes in a subtle manner, sometimes not so subtle and has helped contribute to the confused current state of the Church. There is a book available in Amazon kindle where Fr Patrick De La Rocque highlights the new theology of JPII and how it usurps Catholic Christianity as we have always known.

On his desk JPII had the book "Meditations on the Tarot", Balthasar's favorite book and where the author (later revealed as Valentin Tomberg) converted to Catholicism from the esoteric school of Rudolf Steiner and continued to believe in reincarnation and universal salvation nevertheless. The same author also said the concept of an eternal Hell was barbaric and from memory such a God a monster and I think we can see these influences in JPII's theology.

For the photo of Meditations on JPIIs desk scroll down on the following link:

"Sources cited in MOT are many the most common one is the Bible, followed by an array of saints, theologians, mystics, philosophers, occultists, and other writers, notably including Henri Bergson, Buddha, Goethe, Jung, Kant, Eliphas Lévi, Nietzsche, Fabre d'Olivet, Origen, Papus, Joséphin Péladan, Philip of Lyons, Plato, St. Albertus Magnus, St. Anthony the Great, St. Augustine, St. Bonaventura, St. Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Ávila, St. Thomas Aquinas, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hermes Trismegistus, and Oswald Wirth"

The above listed authors in the work give an indication of the religious syncretism that marred JPII's papacy. Unfortunately he didn't follow Tomberg's advise who decried the loss of Latin and the old Mass.

Traditionalist priests didn't fare well in his reign - whether he set the structures to allow this or not is debatable. I suspect he was well versed on the problems within the Church but chose not to investigate further - I have a photo taken in the late 80's of the trad Jesuit Fr Vincent Miceli pleading with JPII over some issue. Miceli was a fiery Catholic who didn't pull punches - when meeting JPII he knew it his chance to tell someone who COULD make a difference JPII looked unimpressed and disbelieving. What would have been heroic would have been for JPII to have implored non Catholics to convert (that is not so comfortable), to have not traveled so much but stay at the Vatican and clean house. The new Catholicism is easy, the old one isn't.

Boniface said...


See, that's the sort of confusion I'm talking about. Peter's actions you mention, with the exception of one, took place before his conversion, before the Church was even empowered by the Holy Spirit, so they hardly serve your point.

The issue with Peter refusing to eat with the Gentiles is a perfect example of what I mean. Yes, he failed there. But it was a momentary lapse in judgment due to human weakness (desire to look good or impress a certain group), and as far as we know, Peter did not do it again after Paul rebuked him.

But, can you imagine if Peter not only refused to eat with the Gentiles, but continued to do so deliberately year after year? Despite being rebuked by Paul? Despite the fact that Christian teaching as it was then understood taught something contrary? Can you imagine if not eating with Gentiles was made a cornerstone of his papacy? It would be totally different, because we'd be talking not about faults or shortcomings but about policy, which is what the issue is with JP2.

Boniface said...


When a saint is canonized, it means that at the very minimum their heroic virtues are worthy of imitation. In the case of popes, not their policies or personal gestures. John Paul II's kissing of the Koran does not mandate imitation any more than Eugene IV asking the patriarch of Constantinople to kiss his feet at Florence-Ferrara mandates imitation. Both were perhaps excessive gestures. So, no, not everything a saint does is meant to be imitated, but only those things in which they demonstrated heroic virtue that contributed to their sanctity.

That is why this is so bad - is JP2 kissing the Koran a demonstration of "heroic virtue" or was this a lapse in judgment and poor policy? We know the answer, but how will the majority of the faithful, already so poorly catechized, know the difference?

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Brother Boniface. But we both know that interfaith prayer will forever be defended by citing the example of Pope Saint John Paul II; He did it and he is a Saint so there is nothing wrong with it

So what if the 260 or so Popes who preceded him would not have been caught dead doing that, that is all now changed.

Bye bye Mortalium Animos. It has been vacated by the actions of Pope Saint John Paul II but, always remember, that even though everything has changed nothing is different.

Boniface said...


Yes, that is the problem we find ourselves in.

There is a certain ambiguity here with how the actions of saints are either imitated or not imitated. On the one hand, "JP2 is a saint, so we ought to do X,Y, and Z." On the other hand, sometimes with other issues, "Yeah, so-and-so was a saint so that's okay for them but not for us."

Alexander said...

Everyone here probably realizes this but I will say it.

Canonizing these two men will set us back in this war or at the very least will slow us down – it will help to entrench the enemies of the Church in some ways; especially those in Catholic education who call themselves Catholic and are poisoned with neo-Modernists tendencies or full blown heresy.

However, there are some things you can use in JPII against them. But I still feel this mixed-bag Pope will slow the recovery form the crisis down to some degree.

Anonymous said...

I was a sedevacantist of sorts from approximately 2003-2010, mainly because of the bull "Cum ex apostolatus officio". (I believed that the sacraments of the Novus ordo were still valid, that the body of the church still existed, that all valid Novus ordo bishops had supplied jurisdiction because of needs of the faithful, but that the church was without Christ's vicar) Because of Boniface's excellent blog and the old "AthanasiusCM" blog, I began to incline toward the view that the Benedict XVI was a valid Pope. I was upset when JP2 was beatified--but I consoled myself with the thought it only gave permission for a local cult, and that infallibility was not at stake. It could be an imprudent permission granted by a valid pope, but not proof of an invalid papacy.

But I have to say, if JP2 is canonized, then I don't know what to do. I will have to go back to sedevacantism I guess. Canonizations bind the faithful to honor and regard the canonized as saint, a man of heroic virtue.

I think JP2's papacy was the worst, an abomination really. he relentless preached all of the modern errors. I cannot honor this man as a saint.

God help us all! God Help us all! Please guide us in these dangerous times! With your grace, we will not despair!

Gina said...

I just wanted to say that I agree with you that I am confused about the canonization, as well.

It frustrates me, because it seems like it was a popularity issue that was partly the cause for the quick canonization. What about other popes? I'm sure there are other popes that may deserve this honor.

I suppose I just don't get it. ESPECIALLY with the Islam part. Islam is the cause of so many terrible sufferings and much martyrdom in our times. Is it possible that he didn't know that?

Michael Ortiz said...

In regard to certain actions of JPII, yes, there are problems. However, there is also a lot of ignorance about how much he intended, and how much he delegated. We don't know. I certainly don't. Perhaps those here condemning JPII do. Citations, please.

I also think there is a tendency for Trads to interpret JPII's writings in the worst light possible. That's hardly reasonable.

I am a trad-leaning person who grits my teeth at most NO celebrations, and accept most of the trad-critiques of the present day Church. However, there is a lot of rash judgment going on here, and I think it doesn't help the cause of Tradition.

Anonymous said...

Are Canonizations really infallible? That's my question.

I personally think Bl. Pope John Paul was a holy man. I don't agree with what he did, as described in this article.

Those Assisi meetings are absolutely absurd. I know one thing. That isn't converting them to the One, True, Faith without which there is no salvation. There is no point in praying with pagans and protestants while they pray to their false gods. The Vicar of Christ doing it is especially horrifying.

One can resist the errors of a Pope. Saints did it. So can we. I do resist the wrong things he did.

He did many great things, too.

I will accept whatever the Holy See says. If he is canonized, then he is canonized. Period. If it's infallible, we must accept it. I'll be more than happy to ask for the intercession of another saint.

Anonymous said: "But I have to say, if JP2 is canonized, then I don't know what to do. I will have to go back to sedevacantism I guess."

That's your answer? You have to be kidding me. The Church is where Peter is. Would you really put your soul in danger? Absurd. The Church is going thru tough times, but none of us should abandon ship. We're in a crisis of Faith. The Church needs us though. Abandoning her is not the solution. Period.

BTW, I LOVE your website and blog, Boniface. It is one of my favorites. Please keep up the good work in defense of tradition and Holy Mother Church. God bless you.

Boniface said...

A few things:

Yes, I do believe canonizations are infallible because otherwise we could have the possibility of offering Masses in honor of individuals not really among the blessed and hence the Mass could not be pleasing to God. I think there is a strong argument to be made based on the fact that the legal, valid rites of the Church must be objectively pleasing to God.

I do not think the argument that John Paul may have gotten duped by people under him holds water. "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on you." JP2 didn't just get fooled once; he did this sort of thing again and again and again and made no effort to stop it. He is the Pope. If you get to a liturgy and something bizarre is going on, you STOP the liturgy right then and there, correct it, and can the person who was responsible. Benedict XVI got fooled once. He showed up at Mariazell and was given some tie-dye vestments:

This monstrosity was the working of Msgr Piero Marini. Only about a week afterward, Marini was canned and Benedict never got "fooled" like that again.

The fact that JP2 allowed this stuff to go on again and again and again and never reprimanded anyone for it, offered any explanation or tried to stop it when it was happening suggests that he either knew about it ahead of time (at worst) or consented to it. If a pagan was trying to bless you, would you just let it happen even if you disagreed with it? Whatever his level of complicity or culpability (which I do not presume to judge), this stuff definitely would not have happened without his assent to some degree.

Finally, to our former sedevecantist, please consider, you cannot base your decision to remain or leave the Church on a canonization, as if the bedrock of all truth is that JP2 cannot possibly be canonized and if he is there is no valid pope. Your affiliation with the Church is based on assent to her teachings, not on an assumption that you hold to be inviolable.

Anonymous said...

well, I said I might go back to sedevacantism, but I won't leave the church--even in its Novus ordo structures. I will simply "hold in doubt" the status of Francis.

J. said...

When a saint is canonized, it means that at the very minimum their heroic virtues are worthy of imitation.

One could argue (though I'm not sure I would) that John Paul showed heroic virtue by remaining in office through his debilitating illness. As such, it could be seen as a witness to the dignity of life even in the weakness of old age, especially against the euthanasia enthusiasts. Sadly, Benedict's retirement undercuts this witness severely, and the Holy See would certainly avoid talking about this aspect of JP's heroic virtue in order to avoid embarrassing the Pope Emeritus.

I'm afraid I know too little about John XXIII's pontificate to offer an opinion on his heroic virtue or lack thereof.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Can Antipopes be Saints?

Two Antipopes seem to have been so Pope St Felix II who twice over became Pope after having first been Antipope and then stepped down when Liberius had cleared himself, and St Hippolytus who as far as we know never became Pope and may not have relinquished his false title.

If Roncalli and Wojtyla were Antipopes, could they still be saints?

I am asking because of the miracles, especially that of Roncalli. I just recently heard of it. Read of it.

As to the two of Wojtyla, neither meets Lourdes criteria, one being delayed and one being incompletely definitive.

In my view that could be because he went to Purgatory (the flamy image of his figure, being pure bright flames also suggests sth like that), miracles because some speculated he went to Hell, one incomplete because his apostolicity of doctrine while intended was incomplete in effect and one delayed because his entry to Heaven was delayed.