The news that the Pope plans to beatify the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, on May I has caused consternation amongst many, myself included.
Holiness doesn't necessarily equate with competence and good judgment
While one can certainly point to precedents of Popes and other rulers whose personal holiness merited sainthood, but who were less than spectacular successes in their positions they held, they are fairly few and far between and in most cases exceptional circumstances applied.
Pope Celestine V, a Benedictine hermit, for example had a reputation for holiness before being made Pope - indeed that was why he was forced into the role, in order to break a deadlock. And he spent only five months in it before finally being allowed to resign, with great personal consequences (he was hounded to death by his successor).
In other cases, such as founders of religious orders forced out of the lead role in their institutions, sometimes (though not always) for good reasons, they left a clear and important spiritual legacy behind them that survived the test of time not withstanding their weaknesses as leaders or administrators.
By contrast, Pope John Paul II spent a very long time indeed in the role, so on the face of it surely deserves to be judged in part for how well he carried out the duties of his state of life when assessing how appropriate a role model for holiness he is? And while Pope John Paul II still has a strong lobby of supporters, even many of those have gone quiet in the face of the continuing revelations of his mismanagement of the Marciel affair and abuse situation more generally, to take but one of many issues relating to his reign.
On the face of it, the best one can say, in my view, is that his true legacy needs more time to be properly assessed.
Beatification is just a step in the process however
It is important to be clear however that, whatever the situation in relation to canonisation (and this is debated, though the weight of opinion firmly favours the decision as infallible) a papal decision to beatify someone is not infallible.
Indeed, it was in order to make this distinction clear that Pope Benedict XVI decided not, in general, to preside at beatifications.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints set out the distinction thus, in announcing the new procedures:
Canonization is the supreme glorification by the Church of a Servant of God raised to the honours of the altar with a decree declared definitive and preceptive for the whole Church, involving the solemn Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff.
This is expressed unequivocally in the formula: "Ad honorem Sanctae et Individuae Trnitatis... auctoritate Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, beatorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli ac Nostra... Beatum N. N. Sanctum esse decernimus ac definimus, ac Sanctorum Catalogo adscribimus, statuentes eum in universa Ecclesia inter Sanctos pia devotione recoli debere".
Beatification, on the other hand, consists in the concession of a public cult in the form of an indult and limited to a Servant of God whose virtues to a heroic degree, or Martyrdom, have been duly recognized, as is pointed out by the respective formula: "...facultatem facimus ut Venerabilis Servus Dei N. N. Beati nomine in posterum appelletur, eiusque festum... in locis ac modis iure statutis quotannis celebrari possit".
Fr Zulsdorf has a good post up on the processes around the beatification and canonisation processes.
He points out that an extensive and proper process has occurred. Fair enough, although I would suggest that assessments of evidence, jdgments and interpretations do tend to change with perspective and time. Still, that's not the real issue here.
Fr Z concludes by arguing that if all the steps in the process suggest proceeding then in justice it should proceed:
If a good case has been made and the Congregation determines within reasonable doubt that what the actor proposed is true (a person lived a life of heroic virtue, there was a miracle obtained through some person’s intercession, that a person was killed out of hatred for Christ, the Church or some virtue that cannot be separated from them) then it would be wrong to delay moving to the next step.
But I'm not sure that follows at all. Indeed, only a paragraph before Fr Z acknowledges that there is a prudential element involved here in the decision on whether or not to go forward - indeed it seems highly likely that the cause of Pius XII has been held up for exactly this reason.
So a delay to take stock of the situation in relation to Pope John Paul II is not really out of court at all.
In any case, Pope John Paul II is one of those issues that makes clear the demarcation line between conservatives and traditionalists I suspect, and for once I'm with the curmudgeons on Fr Z's blog and Rorate !