Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sainthood So Soon?

Today, the local news was dominated by the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. I seem to recall that the canonization process took place at a slow pace, with several stages in which a candidate was evaulated. In 2005, upon the death of Pope John Paul II, the cry of "Santa subito!" echoed through Saint Peter's Square, but I'm of the opinion that the man's canonization was altogether too subito. I figure someone will have to play the role of devil's advocate, even if it's after the fact of canonization.

Karol Wojtyla's biography is a heroic one- as a young seminarian in Nazi-occupied Poland, he played a minor role in the resistance, about as much as could be expected from a young seminarian, and his resistance to the Soviets was genuine, though largely overblown, until his triumphant return to Poland in 1979. Wojtyla is rightly revered as a symbol of resistance and survival by the valiant, long-suffering Polish people. He was also instrumental in improving relations between Roman Catholics and Jews, both as a bishop and as pope.

On the other hand, he was very conservative from a theological perspective and resisted efforts to give women a larger role in the church. He was resistant to the liberalization of the church's stance on birth control and same-sex relationships. He was unsympathetic to the liberation theology movement in Latin America- seemingly willing to turn a blind eye to the excesses of capitalism due to his understandable fear of Soviet-style communism. By far, his greatest sin was his utter failure to address the sexual abuse scandal which rocked the church worldwide.

John Paul's virtues were the virtues of an individual- He was able to inflame the hearts of his fellow Poles in the face of decades of oppression. He was able to forgive his shooter. His vices were institutional- he failed to root out an evil element of the church which preyed on the most vulnerable members of his flock. He failed to modernize the church's attitude toward women and LGBT people.

In the grand scheme of things, John Paul II was a flawed man (as all humans are flawed) who accomplished much good in the world outside his control, but failed to curtail a great evil in the one sphere in which he could wield authority. He was a canny political player, but he allowed internal politics to interfere in an accounting of the modern Roman Catholic Church's most heinous crime. While I would generally consider that his good deeds outweighed his bad deeds, I would hesitate before I considered him a saint.

Being a cynical man, I'd have to say that his canonization is an obfuscation of his one fatal flaw, and an attempt to downplay the scandal he failed to address... more an example of public relations than of sanctity.


mistah charley, ph.d. said...

maureen dowd of the ny times agrees with your general assessment of jpii

yesterday morning as i went to mass with missus charley someone handed me a prayer card (slightly smaller than a baseball card) dedicated to saint jpii, with painting

i immediately became furious as i interpreted this as an attack on saint john xxiii - obviously part of a well-funded propaganda campaign in favor of the authoritarian retrograde tendencies in the church

i may have been in a worse mood than usual because of a 1 am phone call telling me of the death of a relative

but i'm not wrong about the struggle for the soul of the church - not a new thing, of course

see dostoyevsky's chapter about the grand inquisitor in 'the brothers karamazov'

or todd rundgren's video 'fascist christ'

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

He was unsympathetic to the liberation theology movement in Latin America- seemingly willing to turn a blind eye to the excesses of capitalism due to his understandable fear of Soviet-style communism.

I find it a bit too convenient that this stance also suits the pocketbooks of its adherents.

Smut Clyde said...

Imma guessing that the simultaneous promotion of J-23 was intended as a counterweight for JP-2's conservative policies, to appease more liberal factions in the church.

I can see why a church might want a Holiness Hall-of-Fame to celebrate role models of sanctity. But running it on a basis of dubiously-attested 'miracles' is all rather reminiscent of the Scimitar-Lobbing Moistened Bint system of appointing supreme executives. And when they limit the ultimate promotion to ex-leaders of the same church as a reward for doing the job without fucking up, you have to wonder, do they really have so few examples of noble behaviour elsewhere in the ranks?