A Word on John Paul the Second

A Word on John Paul the Second March 7, 2023

a bronze statue of John Paul the Second
image via Pixabay

We need to talk about Pope John Paul the Second.

In case you haven’t heard, it’s now being reported that Pope John Paul the Second, who was canonized a saint in 2014 after a suspiciously fast-tracked process, covered up sexual abuse during his tenure as archbishop in Poland. In this case he shielded three different priests, maintaining a correspondence with one of them. Two of the priests eventually served prison time no thanks to him. And I can’t believe anyone is surprised. The pontiff’s history with monsters like McCarrick and Maciel is well known. Pope John Paul the Second did everything he could to protect priests guilty of the most serious crimes, again and again. Why he did it isn’t something I can tell you. Maybe he did this because he was extremely gullible and thought they were being wrongfully accused. Maybe he was just trying to make the Church look good because he thought he was supposed to. Perhaps it was because he was arrogant and thought priests should never be embarrassed or punished for hurting their inferiors. Or it could be that he did it because he was sadistic and cruel. His exact motive is not something we know. We know that he committed serious wrong, multiple times. This is just another case to add to the pile.

And yet, he is a canonized saint.

It seems to me there are a few different things you can say at this point. You can be as dense as John Paul might have been and continue to be in denial about all his different serious blunders. You can say it’s a conspiracy to discredit the Catholic Church. That’s ludicrous, but I can’t change your mind if that’s what you think.

You can say that this proves the canonization process isn’t infallible after all, and I’m certainly not going to stop you. That’s an understandable conclusion at this point.

You can claim that the canonization process, when followed correctly, is infallible, but the liberties taken with speeding up John Paul the Second’s canonization made his null somehow. There’s some logic to that I suppose. I don’t know if you could get real theologians onboard with it.

You can say that the only thing canonization means is that a person is definitely in Heaven and answers their mail; he was a horrible sinner but was saved from damnation by the mercy of God and hopefully suffered a painful purgatory, but now he’s home. That’s reasonable to say, but I don’t know how helpful it is. I hope that a lot of terrible sinners are in Heaven, but we don’t hold them up as models of heroic virtue.

Or, you could say that John Paul the Second actually is a saint with heroic virtue, because he was so delusional that he imagined what he was doing was a good thing. In that case, he isn’t culpable for his crimes any more than a man who crashes his car into a lake because he’s hallucinating that the car is a submarine. That’s also an understandable thing to say. John Paul the Second came from Poland at the worst possible time for anybody to come from Poland. He was traumatized both by the Nazis and by the USSR. It would be reasonable to assume he carried scars from that. Perhaps he was completely out of his mind. Perhaps he believed every single accusation of abuse came from the godless KGB and only he could protect everyone. That’s possible.

But it’s no excuse. He was the Pope, and he was canonized a saint. In his lifetime he was held up for us to obey, and after his death he was held up for us to admire.

He wasn’t some eccentric Monsignor at a parish babbling about conspiracy theories, he was in charge of all the millions of Catholics in the world. He rose through the ranks from priest to bishop to cardinal to the Chair of Peter, aided and abetted by his fellow clerics the whole way. In the end, he was the boss. Everyone answered to him. And he betrayed our trust again and again, consistently siding with the corrupt powerful against the least of Christ’s brethren.

If the Catholic Church wants to maintain credibility, and I don’t think they do, they need to address this.

There at minimum need to be no more loopholes where an individual’s cause can be fast tracked if he’s famous and popular enough. There need to be a few generations of quiet before somebody is declared a saint, no matter how beloved they were in life.

And while John Paul the Second can’t be un-canonized, his feast day needs to be stricken from the calendar.

I doubt either of those will happen, but they ought.

 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

 

 

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