So, what was that remarkable “day of the four popes” all about anyway? Prepare to be shocked, shocked, at the framing of this amazing event.
Here is the archetypal opening of the pre-event report in The Los Angeles Times:
One helped revolutionize the church, becoming an enduring icon among progressive Roman Catholics who view religion as a vehicle for justice and peace.
The other figured in a societal revolution outside the church, earning the adulation of conservatives by battling communism and contributing to the downfall of the Soviet Union.
So, St. John Paul II — many are already replacing that numeral with “the Great” — was not working for peace all of those years in the pressure cooker that was Eastern Europe, before and after the Nazis and Communists? He was not seeking justice when he talked about the Culture of Death and defined that in terms of Catholic doctrines protecting the sacred nature of the lives of the weak, the poor, the defenseless, the unborn and the elderly? His goals — even in the towering Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) — were merely geopolitical?
And the world-shaping agenda of St. John XXIII is best understood in terms of its impact on issues that matter only to “progressives”? He was not trying to reach out to a changing world on behalf of mission and evangelism, too?
Most of all, must professionals in the mainstream press insist on seeing this historic event strictly through a lens that assumes the savvy Pope Francis was merely trying to play a smart political hand? As a longtime GetReligion reader — yes, a Catholic — noted in a personal email:
There are not two visions here — there’s only one, that of Christ — but it’s impossible for these guys to see it because they only see the world through politically-tainted wrap-around glasses, without even the slightest possibility of a peek of the larger reality ever coming through.
However, there is the key Los Angeles Times passage, when it comes to describing the template that shaped most of the coverage (I would love to hear about exceptions, in our comments pages):
Some observers see Francis as keenly aware of the political minefield surrounding canonization, especially for those candidates whose legacies remain heavily contested. This has led to conjecture that Francis’ move was largely an act of reconciliation, aimed at healing deep divisions between Vatican II enthusiasts and those who favor John Paul’s more conservative approach to church doctrine. Some view the dual canonization as a means of freeing Francis from the ideological constraints of the two camps. …
Whether the canonizations will foster greater unity among conservative and progressive strains in the church is not clear. Francis, for all of his popular appeal and admiration for John XXIII, has not shifted from traditional Catholic doctrine on hot-button issues such as contraception, abortion, gay marriage, married priests and ordination of women.
So the only path to unity is, of course, to shift forward on 2,000 years of Catholic teachings on moral theology and sacraments. Yup. That will certainly produce unity. Note the implication that this is the path that St. John XXIII would have pursued, if he had been allowed to live longer and finish his work. Right?
Once again, please understand that I know how important this “two visions” template is in discussions of the modern church. I am not saying that this point of view should be ignored. Now way. Call folks at Georgetown University and let them do that thing they do, because that is an important perspective.
However, there is another point of view out there that needs to be represented, as well. This point of view defines the work of these two saints in terms of the CONTENT of Vatican II, the actual doctrinal content of the documents, rather than the so-called “spirit” of Vatican II that everyone knows was supposed to keep on going and going, leading to massive changes in doctrine and big-T Catholic Traditions. In this point of view, St. John Paul the Great — a man whose life was greatly shaped by the events of Vatican II — is seen as the defender of the council, not as a man who opposed its core teachings.
In other words, what we have here are two saints for the Vatican II era, but two saints linked to one vision.
Again, that is one point of view — but an important one, unless one wants to ignore the views of many major players in the life of the church. Shouldn’t the coverage include both of these common perspectives?
Instead, what I saw over and over was the familiar framework centering on one man being the father of Vatican II, while the other was the charismatic, but oh-so-conservative, crusher of the “spirit” of the council. In other words, the press focused on one side of the great Vatican II debate and one side alone. Note this crucial paragraph in The Washington Post (which pulled from its site the early draft of its story on the Vatican rites, which was — in my view — truly radical in its anti-John Paul perspective):
By declaring both men saints on the same day, the crusading new pontiff, and the first Latin American pope, had apparently set out to please both reformers and traditionalists.
Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920, John Paul II is seen as the first truly global pope, a charismatic conservative known for stirring oration and staring down communism even as he stood firmly against birth control and divorce. John XXIII, meanwhile, launched the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s that made the Catholic Mass, once said in Latin, switch to the common tongues of the faithful.
And, on the crucial issues changed by the council, the “reformers” and the supporters of St. John Paul II (as opposed to arch traditionalists) were on opposite sides? And the “reformers” surrounding St. John XXIII wanted to change major moral doctrines? And how do we know that?
In the days before the ceremony … Vatican officials had sought to dispel the political subtext of the event — that the two former popes are icons to different constituencies within the church, and that by canonizing them together, Francis was making a political statement as well as a religious one.
John XXIII is a hero to many liberal Catholics for his Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s, which sought to open the church to the modern era. John Paul II is a hero to many conservative Catholics — not only for his anti-Communist heroism and personal charisma, but also because of his resistance to liberalizing elements of the church.
By pairing their canonizations, Francis sought to de-emphasize their differences, many analysts said, in the service of trying to reconcile divisions within the church and finding consensus as he prepared for the meetings, known as synods, centered on the theme of family. In his homily, Francis described John XXIII as the pope of “exquisite openness,” while he called John Paul II “the pope of the family.”
I actually like the fact that, while the two-visions template is in place, the New York Times team actually stressed the “hero” role the two saints have played for often clashing camps, which left a door open for the views of people who saw the actual work of these two remarkable men as being rooted in — well — Catholic doctrine.
It would have been nice, of course, to have quoted experts who can argue in favor of that point of view. But perhaps that would have been too, too, too — journalistic.