Thursday, May 01, 2014

The political trap set by rushing these canonizations

Before the recent canonizations, we asked "Why are these canonizations being fast-tracked?" (Musings, April 23, 2014). Already in the weeks preceding the momentous event, there were signs that the timing of these canonizations might not be propitious, given the many unsettled questions about the relationship between these popes and scandals and crises of recent Church history (not only the sex scandals under Pope John Paul II, but the crisis of Vatican II associated with Pope John XXIII, whose last words on his deathbed, as reported by the peritus Jean Guitton [EWTN link], were: "Stop the Council; stop the Council"). In other cases, the Church has backed off from pushing through canonizations, precisely because there remained publicly unsettled questions and confusions about a candidate's possible complicity or guilt-by-association with some scandal or other, as in the case of Pope Pius XII and whether he could have done more to help the Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust during the Second World War.

Below are some excerpts from articles in the secular press shortly before the recent canonizations. I think the sentiments expressed in them are widely shared concerns that are perceived as not only as legitimate but gravely serious. I would agree that they are. Given the following statements and questions they raise, it's hard for me to make sense of why so many traditional safeguards in the canonization process were deliberately waived in order to fast track these particular cases. I cannot help thinking that even the two men canonized would have certainly counselled the prudent course of first resolving the disputed questions surrounding their cases. Given their particular associations with scandals and crises that have rocked the Church in recent decades, these fast-tracked canonizations would appear to be everything that the enemies of the Church and anti-Catholic media could possibly want in order to permanently link the Church to scandal in the public mind. Have a look below, and see what you think.

  1. "Vatican Under John Paul II Knew About Sex Abuse In Legion Of Christ For Decades, Documents Reveal" (Huffington Post, April 21, 2014):
    The late Pope John Paul II and his top advisers failed to grasp the severity of the sexual abuse problem until late in his 26-year papacy, especially concerns about the troubled Legion of Christ order and its leader, the Rev. Marcial Maciel. But the Legion's troubles were not news to the Vatican, according to a trove of 212 Vatican documents exposed in the 2012 book "The Will to Not Know" and placed online at Here's a look at some of the more pointed criticism about Maciel from the archive, which also included plenty of letters from bishops and Vatican officials praising him and his order....
  2. Daniela Petroff and nicole Winfield, "John Paul Saint-Maker: Pope Not Involved in Legion" (ABC News, April 22, 2014):
    John Paul and his closest advisers had held up the Legion and its late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, as a model for the faithful, even though the Vatican for decades had documentation with credible allegations that Maciel was a pedophile and drug addict with a questionable spiritual life.


    Asked Tuesday about John Paul's overall record on sexual abuse, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, noted that sainthood isn't a judgment on a papacy or even an evaluation of someone's perfection in life.

    "The important thing is that the intentions were upright and that there was respect," Lombardi said. "This does not mean that he or she was perfect."
    Is not this a bit odd? Here is a Vatican spokesman essentially apologizing for the candidate for canonization just days before the event. Yet as noted in our earlier article cited above, Prof. Roberto de Mattei states that when the Church canonizes one of the faithful, "it is not that she wants to assure us that the deceased is in the glory of Heaven," but rather that "She proposes them as a model of heroic virtue." So why should a Vatican official be apologizing about the questioned virtue of a saint? What is the purpose of canonization if NOT to propose him as a model of virtue, and heroic virtue at that? Please note: I am not suggesting that these saints are not in heaven or that they were not virtuous, even heroically virtuous. I am questioning whether questions and confusions about their virtue in the public mind have been adequately addressed and resolved for their canonizations to be judged prudent.

  3. Brett M. Decker [a Catholic journalist], "Pope puts Catholic rebirth at risk: Column" (USA Today, April 21, 2014):
    Canonizing pontiffs from the era of abuse is not only tone deaf but also exposes a continuing, stubborn refusal to acknowledge the institutional coverup that occurred for decades and that those at the highest levels — including popes — didn't do enough to prevent the crimes, enabling the crisis to continue.

    ... The other major factor in papal complicity for sex crimes is that popes personally appoint all the bishops in the Catholic Church and are responsible for their tenures. All 5,000 bishops serve at the pleasure of the holy father and resign or retire when their boss says so.

    ... Some of the most egregious offenders, such as Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston, and Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles who withheld a list of potentially abused altar boys from police and has settled $700 million in abuse claims, were not only promoted to bishop but also given the cardinal's prestigious red hat by John Paul II.

    ... 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.
There is an old song we used to hear ("They'll know we are Christians by our love"). A poorly-made song, it was nevertheless based on John 13:35 ("By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another") and implicitly argued that the watching world has a right to know who we are by our love.

By extension, someone could suggest that the world has a right to understand the kinds of values that the Church espouses by the values clearly exemplified in the lives of the saints she canonizes. As Jesus said, after all, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Mt 5:16).

Which gives some pause in light of the foregoing extracts from public media. Will the world know we are Christians by our love? by the clear values exemplified by the saints we've canonized? Things hardly look as auspicious as all that. Sad to say, some wag might even go so far as to suggest that the canonizations come closer to signing the Church's political death warrant before the watching world.

[Hat tip to M.M. and C.R.]


Dymphna said...

I mentioned the Marciel thing to someone who was pro canonization. He snapped back, "That's been gone over ad nauseum". I shut up but the SNAP people are not. I have a bad feeling that something big is about to hit the newspapers.

bill bannon said...

St. John Paul II simply did not believe lower witnesses against higher ranked witnesses. In South Africa, he believed the South African government that it was not torturing prisoners and he believed them over his own Bishop Hurley who said they were torturing which was later confirmed by the South African Supreme Court.
He believed in Marcos more than he believed in Cardinal Sin though the Cardinal couldn't see the rejection signals nor could Weigel who needed John Paul to be hero there. John Paul believed Groer over his inferior ranked critics. He believed in Macial over his inferior ranked critics. John Paul trusted rank and power. I agree that it was an imprudent canonization but no one could say no to the Poles who chanted at his death. But John Paul didn't believe witnesses in sex abuse matters...he believed in rank and power over inferiors. It's not like he said to himself...." sure these priests are sodomizing kids". He simply didn't believe a lower witness against a higher ranked person. And I think on a daily basis, he sent signal after signal to those around him that he did not want to hear bad news. Can I think of anything in him I find worth imitating? God took his entire family from him by the time he was college age and not only did he not end up in the house of the rising son drinking himself to death...but he turned toward that God and gave Him his life.
The " stop the Council, stop the Council" must be added to the many bizarre private conversation explanations of trads as when they alleged that Msgr. Lambrushini was rebuked by Paul VI after introducing Humanae Vitae as non infallible at its press conference....baloney....were Lambrushini incorrect, Paul VI had a moral obligation to correct him in the world press the next day....a grave obligation involving a mortal sin of omission. Not to mention that Paul VI later saved the US dissenters from their Bishop's punishment on the matter by only requiring that they sign that it was authentic Church teaching which can be non infallible like Vix Pervenit that was overturned in 1830 or Exsurge Domine that was overturned on art.33 by Splendor of the Truth, sect. 80.
He never said " Stop the Council" on his death bed because he would have summoned a pen and paper and wrote longer to that effect to a Cardinal who could stop the Council seeing his signature on the paper...unless like my mom in her last week on earth, his brain was affected by organ breakdown and he became like her non rational.