Imagine getting access to the building that stores files for and against Pope John Paul II’s case for sainthood. How would you explain and describe to readers the process by which this occurs?
Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post had this task. In Rome she visited the Office of the Postulator of the Cause for Beatification and Canonization, going to the very office that houses the documents for and against JPII.
Boorstein deserves credit for explaining Catholic doctrine and providing good details to support her main point, as the paragraphs below illustrate:
… (What) is found here overwhelmingly supports the late pope’s “cause,” often in the most affectionate terms — a stuffed animal from a couple who credit him with an end to their infertility, a wedding dress from someone who had longed for a partner. Countless letters include those from a prostitute who got her faith back and a singer who was able to forgive her daughter’s killer. There are also historians’ studies of his long papacy, and John Paul’s own writings, including verse that refers humbly to his “fallible thoughts.”
Blesseds and saints aren’t metaphors in Catholic doctrine. They are held up as real examples of people who successfully imitated Jesus in their lives (or deaths, in the case of martyrs), and are well known among Catholics for their holiness.
Boorstein also deserves credit for making an important subpoint — so popular is the late pontiff that criticism of him is difficult:
From the start, this has not been a typical investigation. On the day of John Paul’s funeral in 2005, Catholics in St. Peter’s Square shouted out “Santo subito!” — “Sainthood now!” In the face of strong public enthusiasm, his successor, Benedict XVI, waived the usual five-year wait before formal considerations could begin. Since then, the advocacy has only stepped up to get John Paul quickly through a process that can take centuries.
Yet Boorstein’s story could have used more balance. Yes, she named his critics; and yes, she outlined the general case against the idea that JPII lived a life of heroic virtue, as the paragraph below shows:
The office has received a handful of arguments against sainthood for John Paul, whom church reformers, particularly in Europe and Latin America, have long lambasted. Letters circulating point to the clergy sex abuse scandal, the treatment of women in the church and the repression of dissident theologians.
But Boorstein’s story contained no quotes from critics. This is a key omission. What is the specific case against JPII? Readers are never told.
Maybe no critics are willing to speak on the record against JPII. If so, that is a story: JPII’s critics have been silenced. But that certainly wasn’t the case during his pontificate!
Boorstein’s story overall was well done. If more stories were like hers, the press would be a lot better off.
(Photo by user Jim Forest used under a Creative Commons license.)