A lot of what's being written now on the eve of the canonization of Popes John XXIII or John Paul II is drivel and shlock of the purest (if unintentional) Orwellian form — like William Ditewig's proposal that we venerate John Paul II because he made "people look at things in new ways." Or, even worse, it's simply bold lying, like the Vatican's attempt this morning to spin-doctor John Paul's abysmal record vis-a-vis the abuse crisis with claims that once he became aware of the abuse situation in the church, he acted "immediately" on what he was learning (Can anyone say "Marcial Maciel"?). Joshua McElwee reports about this today in National Catholic Reporter today.
Amidst the drivel, shlock, and outright bold lying, here's commentary I've found that's worth reading:
Francis' "divinizing" these two popes now, thereby seeking to enhance selectively Francis' ability to capitalize on their individual moral influence over various Catholic groups, appears aimed at consolidating Francis' papal power base and at maximizing his influence over a divided world Catholicism.
Francis' strategy appears directed at both so-called "conservative" Catholics, who often favor John Paul II's more dogmatic approach in his rigid encyclicals and self-serving Catechism, and "liberal" Catholics, who often favor John XXIII's seemingly more pastoral approach in initiating the Second Vatican Council reforms. Since the Catechism contains many positions that support a dominant papacy that depends on a rigid sexual morality, Francis' rushed and unsurprising "elevation" of the Catechism’s papal proponent, John Paul II, is both symbolically, practically and perhaps ominously significant for many key "doctrines" that Francis is purported by some to be reconsidering, such as women priests, contraception, divorced and remarried Catholics' readmission to sacraments, and marriage equality.
It’s hard not to read this as a heavy-handed attempt to permanently codify the more controversial decrees of John Paul's papacy, with its pronouncements that women could never be priests and that homosexuality was intrinsically disordered, which, conveniently, Benedict helped create and then promulgated in his own papacy, which John Paul teed him up for. As Vatican expert Luigi Accattoli told Reuters, "By canonizing a pope, the papacy confirms itself. It's as if they are saying that the policies of previous popes are untouchable."
Some supporters of the canonization argue that John Paul's "management mistakes" illustrate his humanity and therefore amplify his greatness. Apparently John Paul is more or less infallible, and apparently irreversible, when he declares that women can never be priests or that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, but just a guy who did a bad job when it comes to the widespread pedophilia and abuse that festered during the quarter century of his papacy.
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.
And, finally, there's the sprightly, important report of Questions from a Ewe regarding what the statistical data show us about Rome's penchant for canonizing — surprise! — men instead of women, priests, monks, religious, bishops, and popes instead of lay folks, the Italians and the French more than anyone else in the world, Benedictines, people who die on May 1st, and royalty and/or people connected to those with wealth. Questions from a Ewe's advice to women aspiring to canonization:
If you insist on being female…which really craters your chances of sainthood…then for heaven’s sake, do not have sex, or if you do, be of royal birth.
And her summary of what the data reveal:
Let me paint an even clearer picture as to the value the church hierarchy ascribes to women and their work via the canonization process. The stats show us the popes believe:
∙Men are 5 times more virtuous and holy than any woman
∙Men are about 17 times more virtuous than sexually active women
∙Popes are over 270,000 times more virtuous and holy than any woman
∙Popes are over 860,000 times more virtuous and holy than sexually active women
Hence, we see John Paul II, a man whose criminal neglect enabled the rape of thousands of children, being canonized next week while Mother Teresa, who merely imitated Christ by caring for the poorest of the poor, still awaits canonization. At least Mother Teresa was an avowed religious woman so her chances of making full sainthood are exponentially better than those of any mother who actually bore and raised children.
And so it goes: John Paul turned a blind eye to Maciel's crimes and to the abuse crisis that broke wide open under his papal watch (which is to say, he turned a blind eye to children, to children being raped by priests), and we're instructed to believe that this illustrates that the more fallible a human being is (as long as he is pope), the more likely he is to be holy (as long as he is pope and waives key rules and regulations for ascertaining who is or is not a saint).
But when it comes to things like the catechism, a totally non-infallible, historically conditioned document that John Paul and his right-hand orthodoxy watchdog man Cardinal Ratzinger railroaded through in order to give the faithful the illusion that their own positions on women's ordination and homosexuality are the last word on those matters, the fallible pope who spectacularly failed to protect children from sexually predatory priests is suddenly totally infallible. And the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the divinely revealed word of God.
Well, this latest catechism has that status, one understands. And all the others that preceded it, which are now amusing to read precisely because they are so obviously products of their particular time and place, are just those old catechisms stored away on the shelf that we consult in order to remind ourselves of the quaint infallible things Catholics once believed implicitly and with reverent obedience about unbaptized babies and limbo, or the fate of those poor misfortunates who ate meatloaf instead of tuna casserole of a Friday.
The graphic: a photo of the consistory of cardinals meeting in February 2011 to canonize saints, from the Italian Catholic news site News Cattoliche.