The Canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II: The Opposition

Two diametrically opposed complaints about the upcoming canonizations of two beloved popes landed in my news feed within minutes of each other. That each comes from radically different camps–modernist and anti-modernist–shows that the fringes are almost always united in their wrongness, if divided in their reasoning.

First up is this blast of badly-argued nonsense from USA Today (with the extremely silly headline “Pope puts Catholic rebirth at risk”) by a writer, Brett M. Decker, who tips his hand right in the very first paragraph:

Few moves could so quickly undo his popular efforts to make the Roman Catholic Church more sensitive to the values of modern churchgoers.

One of the absolute least important things in the life of the church is sensitivity to the “values of modern churchgoers.” Modern churchgoers tend to have values which need to be treated with far less sensitivity.

He then falls back and punts with the standard complaint that we’ll be hearing from modernists from now till doomsday: the abuse scandals. He twists himself into contortions making the point that John XXIII and John Paul II were to blame for the scandals, that they did nothing to address them, and that this makes them unworthy of canonization whatever else they may have achieved.

That the scope and nature of the scandals was, in fact, unbelievable to everybody as it first came to be revealed (and most particularly to John Paul, who was accustomed to the use of false sexual abuse allegations against priests  by the communist authorities) seems not to matter.

Decker’s summary is weak:

The Catholic Church declares individuals to be saints to give the faithful role models of heroic virtue and show how one should live life to get to heaven. Because of their sins of omission in face of horrors at the hands of their clergy, neither John Paul II nor John XXIII should be canonized as exemplars of sanctity.

Clearly, the use of the phrase “sins of omission” is just a rhetorical fillip that the writer doesn’t actually understand. You would have to assume, of course, that these were actually “sins,” of omission or otherwise, and not errors of judgment or a failure to grasp to the exact scope and nature of the problem. You would have to imagine that someone said to these men, “Our priests are abusing children,” and they replied, “Eh, who cares. Cover it up.”

Was the abuse scandal horrible? Of course.

Were there things the church could have done differently? In retrospect, that’s obvious.

Does it mean that these two holy men are not now with God? Only a fool would argue so.

Speaking of fools, Bernard Fellay, leader of the SSPX, is certainly not one. In contrast to the sustained cluelessness of the USA Today article, Fellay lays out a meticulous case against the canonizations, full of citations and carefully constructed rhetoric.

That his conclusions are, of course, completely wrong doesn’t make his argument less impressive. People can master facts and arguments and come to the wrong conclusions.

After all, if Fellay wasn’t inherently wrong about these matters, he wouldn’t be the head of SSPX. He’s basically a high-church Protestant with a fluency in Latin.

Fellay’s case is based on two simple conclusions: John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II embodied it. (That’s what Fellay’s “Pope of Assisi” dig is supposed to mean. It’s a reference to John Paul’s ecumenical gestures.) Since the Council is the root of all evil and error in the contemporary Church, goes the logic, these men are therefore not to be considered saintly.

As an argument against their sanctity it’s about as valid as that found in USA Today, but man, does Fellay try like heck to make the case with a sustained attack on all elements of the post-Conciliar Church. After the tired thoughtlessness of USA Today, it’s almost refreshing to get a real argument by someone who’s deeply read on the subject, even if he is a heretic. One gets the impression that he realizes people will pay attention to this one, and he wants to lay out the entire SSPX argument in one place.

He comes out fighting:

But there is also the deeper problem of what will appear to be an unprecedented recognition of catholicity: how is it possible to put the Church’s stamp of approval and sanctity on the teachings of such a Council, which inspired all of Karol Wojtyla’s action and whose rotten fruits are the indisputable indication of the Church’s self-destruction? This second problem offers the solution: the errors contained in the documents of Vatican Council II and in the reforms that followed, especially in the liturgical reform, could not possibly be the work of the Holy Ghost, who is at once the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Holiness.

And then he lists every perceived error in the Council documents.

Indeed, John and John Paul are almost completely forgotten as he runs through the kind of well-rehearsed arguments that animate traditionalist comboxes and publications. It’s little more than erudite rant, shot through with misunderstanding of the continuity of the faith and the nature and teaching of the Conciliar documents. It’s the kind of thing that rallies the troops, but fails to convince others because it was conceived and executed in a hothouse environment.

It also proves another obvious truth: at the far ends of many spectra, the fringes meet. The modernists and anti-modernists are in lockstep on this one. That’s usually a pretty good indication that both are wrong.

The rest of us will just greet our two new saints with joy.

Saint John XXIII, pray for us.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

 

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.


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