Monday, 2 June 2008

Should JPII be canonized?

Damian Thompson of Holy Smoke claims that there is a traditionalist campaign to stop the former Pope being made a saint:

I'm not sure that a list of actions of the former Pope buried on a website that thinks the SSPX are far too conciliatory towards 'New Church', and one email, however widely circulated, or however prominent and well-known to Australians the author, exactly constitutes a campaign.

All the same, I'm sure doubts on the merits of rushing this canonization through are shared by many traditionalists. A lot of them were expressed in a fairly lively debate on Fr Z's blog a few weeks ago:

The bottom line is that there are really two reasons to canonize someone: they displayed heroic virtue (and consequently are in heaven), and are true exemplars of the perfect Christian life.

Traditionalists, Mr Thompson points out, were never that enamoured of the late Pope: "...he seemed uninterested in the pre-Vatican II liturgy and did little to stop liberal bishops making life a misery for conservatives (not least in England and Wales)."

Personally I found the personality cult that surrounded Pope John Paul II when he was alive disturbing; the uncritical adulation he continues to receive from advocates such as Fr Zulsdorf frankly odd; and the manifestations of the cult at his tomb positively creepy.

My own view is that the late Pope may well have been a very holy man. Whether he was a great exemplar is more debatable. Most saints make mistakes of course: it is in the nature of the human condition, and even the greatest saints didn't attain sanctity instantly. Canonization is not a declaration that all of their individual actions were the best ones in the circumstances. All the same, scrutiny of those actions is rightly part of the canonization process.

Mr Thomson reports:

"A leading liturgical scholar has just emailed me a list of 31 occasions on which John Paul supposedly gave a bad example to the faithful. They include the time he allowed an Indian woman to “exorcise” him with smoked herbs, the time he kissed a Koran, and his decision to give Holy Communion to Tony Blair...

The prominent liturgist who circulated the list to me says that “it pains me to admit that our late Holy Father was very badly led into some rather questionable if not downright indefensible public actions over the years…

In my opinion Pope John Paul II was a good and great man: without doubt Evangelium Vitae and Veritatis Splendor will rank amongst the greatest Encyclicals of all time. He was, however, not so rigorous and careful in his public demeanour, and I do fear that a canonisation of him may obfuscate rather than promote fundamental Catholic truths because of the use the media will make of these (at best) ambiguous behaviours.”

Mr Thompson's motive for printing the content of the email (circulated, one gathers, not for publication) is to bring the debate out into the open:

"I’m going to reproduce parts of the list, because I think this is a debate that should be held in the open. (The Church’s abolition of the devil’s advocate was a great mistake, allowing canonisations to be waved through without proper scrutiny of the evidence.)"

There is certainly a case for injecting some balance into the evaluation of Pope's life. The waiver of the five year rule for consideration of causes for canonization was understandable in the wave of emotion that followed his death.

Whether this is a debate we have to have though? Perhaps.

1 comment:

Justin said...

When I was in Rome two years ago doing research for my book, I interviewed a Vatican "saint maker," Father Kurt Peter Gumpel who essentially echoed the points made here. JPII was a good and great man. But there is a detailed process that must be and should be followed to achieve sainthood -- for extraordinary priests like my sainted Italian relative, and even for extraordinary popes like JPII. My book, by the way, is called My Cousin the Saint, A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles, and I devote an entire chapter to the process of saint making based on Vatican interviews.
Justin Catanoso