Is Mehmet Ali Agca crazy or just a bad Catholic?

The upcoming canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II have generated some very good press for the Roman Catholic Church. While a few articles have sought to punch holes in the reputations of the soon to be saints — a frequent criticism I have seen is that John Paul was negligent in disciplining the serial abuser Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ — most converge has been positive.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel published an in depth piece on the miracles associated with John Paul, that treated the issue with sympathy and empathy. It is too early to tell how outfits normally hostile to the papacy such as the BBC or the European leftist press will present this story. However, interest in the canonization outside of religious circles appears to be very high.

On Friday Vatican Radio reported that 93 nations will send official delegations to the April 27 canonization service, while two dozen heads of state and as many as 150 cardinals and 1,000 bishops will be present at the Mass.

One oddball item that caught me eye amongst the flurry of articles was an interview conducted by the Italian wire service ANSA with John Paul’s would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca. Here the lede of the story that ran with the headline: “Foiled killer said sinful to ‘deify’ John Paul”:

Pope John Paul II is not a saint, because only God can be considered holy and attempts to “deify a human being” are sinful, Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate the pope in 1981, said Thursday in an interview with ANSA.

The article offers some background information on Agca, who in 1981 shot and nearly killed John Paul — a crime for which he served 20 years in an Italian prison, before being deported to Turkey, where he served a further ten years imprisonment for a 1979 murder. The article further notes Agca:

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10 years of GetReligion: Labels, labels, labels, labels!

It is my understanding that there was some kind of Jerry Springer-esque debate last night between young-earth creationist Ken (hello dinosaurs) Ham and Bill (The Science Guy) Nye.

Let me state up front that I am not terribly interested in what either man had to say.

However, I am curious to know if any of the thousands of religion-beat pros who live and move and have their being on Twitter can answer the following questions:

(1) At any point in the broadcast, was the term “creationist” defined? Did the definition involve six 24-hour days or was the emphasis on God being meaningfully involved in creation, period?

(2) At any point in the broadcast, was the term “evolution” defined? If so, was the process described as being “mindless, unguided, and without purpose or goal” or words to that effect?

Also, was anyone involved in the debate whose viewpoint resembles the following?

“Rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations.”

And also:

“Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.”

These words, of course, were spoken by the Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Which simplistic term commonly used in mainstream articles about these debates — “creationism” or “evolution” — is best used to describe this soon-to-be-official saint’s perspective on God, man and creation? Which label, as commonly used by way too many journalists, deserves to be stuck on the forehead of John Paul the Great?

If there is one thing that your GetReligionistas do not like, at all, it is the degree to which the mainstream press accepts the use of vague, simplistic labels. Want to imply that you accept someone? Then call them a “moderate” (like that crucial New York Times self study noted). Want to imply that someone is stupid? Then you know what F-word to pin on them.

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Once again: God cures someone, through the prayers of JPII

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that almost every story written about the Vatican decision to recognize the sainthood of the Blessed John Paul II (and, in a surprise of timing, John XXIII) is going to include a phrase or two about the former pope performing a miracle of healing, or words to that effect.

Trust me, I am well aware of the fact that many Catholics use language, from time to time, saying that this or that person was “healed by” prayers “to” a particular saint. At this point, however, I guess the big question is whether journalists should strive to include at least one passage in these stories that actually discusses what Catholic doctrine says about saints, intercessory prayers and miracles.

Please ponder this less than perfect analogy. By now, in the post-Sept. 11 age, most journalists are aware that the term “jihad” has a rather complex meaning. While many Muslims consistently use this term in reference to “holy way,” the actual definition of the word means “struggle” or “effort.” One online dictionary states both parts of the equation thusly:

1: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; also: a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline

Now, I think most editors would consider it wrong if a reporter wrote a story in which the term “jihad” was frequently used and never paused to explain what this doctrinal term truly means for believers in the Muslim faith, as well as mentioning how the term is commonly used in reference to armed struggle. In other words, journalists should — to help readers fully understand the reference — describe precisely what Muslims believe about this term and this concept.

At this point, maybe that’s the most we can hope for with the concept of divine healing in response to the intercessory prayers of the saints. One more time, here’s a word on the basics, care of Father Arne Panula of the Catholic Information Center here in Washington, D.C.:

“What must be stressed is that we pray for a saint to intercede for us with God. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that we ask the saint to pray ‘with’ us, rather than to say that we pray ‘to’ a saint,” he said.

“You see, all grace comes from the Trinity, from the Godhead. These kinds of supernatural interventions always come from God. The saint plays a role, but God performs the miracle. That may sound like a trivial distinction to some people, but it is not.”

With that in mind, let’s look at two different wordings in a new Reuters report about John Paul II. The first is a classic example of how some Catholics talk about this phenomenon. This is long, but it’s important to see all the details:

(Reuters) – Suffering a potentially fatal swelling in the brain, Costa Rican grandmother Floribeth Mora says a voice spoke to her through a photograph of the late Pope John Paul II, miraculously curing her and sealing the late pontiff’s sainthood.

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