To be or not to be a Saint – that is the question?
The official announcement was not a surprise – Karol Józef Wojtyła – better known as Pope John Paul II – would be beatified on May 1, 2011. This fast track process is skilfully orchestrated for reasons that still need to be uncovered. We can get sidetracked if we get bogged down on the issue of the dubious miracle which is trumpeted as the impetus to move the candidate from the lower status of Venerable to that of “Blessed”. These official miracles, even when scrutinized by highly competent experts not beholding to the outcome, are a dime-a-dozen. They can neither be authenticated nor
disproven, regardless of the Vatican seal of approval. After all, even miracles were attributed to Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, founder and cult “father” of the Opus Dei group, who was promoted to the club in 2002 by John Paul II, whose own roots in the cult precede his rise to the Chair of Peter.
Opus Dei Awareness Network http://www.odan.org/index.htm
The editors of NCT:sf (editorial Jan 24, 2011) expressed an ambivalence to this announcement but still suggested that John Paul II could possibly be considered as one such “heroic figure whose witness modelled servanthood and the values of God’s reign”. Respectfully, I must disagree. I suspect that the haste of this fast track process is purposely designed to thwart the scrutiny that time and historical analysis could bring to understanding the complexity of this man who without a doubt is a major “star character” of the 20th Century.
I will admit that the Pope was a deeply spiritual man – and about that we can only
comment on the exterior signs that he displayed rather than speak about the internal depth of his inner self. It is said that he prayed more than other modern popes, and that he spent many hours kneeling in prayer before the tabernacle. It has been revealed that he practiced forms of “self mortification” such as sleeping on the floor, “taking the discipline” (self flagellation) using a belt which he dutifully took with him even when on holiday, and that he wore a modified form of “cilice”.
As a former teacher, when I saw students with self inflicted wounds, I would suspect some type of disorder, or at the very least a troubled soul reaching out through pain to find relief. I was a guidance counsellor but not a psychologist, so my observations would lead to referrals to trained professionals who could assess such a situation. To learn of these spiritual practices being used by a pope before the XX century would not raise an eyebrow as this was in line with the spiritual direction of the time. How do these seemingly self abusive rituals of John Paul II tie in with his overall theology and decision making is a matter for history. But as a model for the 21st Century, hardly!
Recently, in January 2011, the Archbishop of Toronto Thomas Collins was speaking at the Thurles Cathedral in County Tipperary about the sexual abuse of children by clergy in Ireland. In a penitential service Archbishop Collins spoke of the immense harm caused by the abusers. He suggested that the church could show its concern by “doing all that we can to learn from this experience of evil, and so to try to be sure that it never happens again”. Then in an astonishing moment, Archbishop Collins stated “The crimes themselves, and the failure of church authorities to respond adequately to them, are both great scandals.”
This frank admission points directly to John Paul II who protected the godfather of all child molesters – Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi,
who accompanied the Pope on his three visits to Mexico. It was under the direction of John Paul II that church leaders were told not to divulge incriminating information to civil authorities about clergy who not only abused children, but were moved about from
parish to parish enabling them to assault even more children. It was John Paul II who rewarded Cardinal Law of Boston with a comfortable patronage position in Rome as Archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, even though Law was responsible for perpetuating the abuse of children by his clerics and refusing to pass on information of this criminal behaviour to civil authorities. The enabler was a conspirator in this great “evil” and indeed his actions are scandalous.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) responded to the news of the beatification of John Paul II saying that it was like having salt poured onto fresh wounds. The organization urged the Vatican to move with great caution with this beatification process. SNAP correctly stated in their press release: “When we honor those who ignore or conceal wrong-doing, we essentially condone wrong-doing.” Archbishop Collins and SNAP would seem to concur that at this time it is scandalous that John Paul II would be put forth as a model for the Christian faithful. He was at the top of the pyramid and there is no
doubt that he was aware of the worst crisis festering within the Catholic communion throughout his papacy. He remained distant to the victims, while he protected the abusers and the enablers. He also refused to deal with the institutional responsibility for the abuse by its agents – something that he did not create as it is being revealed that this problem is deeply rooted in the culture of clericalism, including mandatory celibacy and the formation of clerics.
Daniel McGuire speaks of the “unfulfilled potential” of the papacy of John Paul II. When elected, Karol Wojtyła chose the name “John Paul” suggesting that it was his intention to further the work begun by these two popes of Vatican II – the real miracle of the 20th century. Sadly we discovered that the name was only a mask that hid his true intentions – the “restoration” of the church to its pre-Vatican II values and methods. Maguire sadly affirms “Two areas especially signalled his inadequacy as a world moral leader: his demeaning view of half the human race – women, and his obsessive concern with what can be called pelvic orthodoxy.”
On John Paul’s difficulty with women so much more needs to be written, and I am sure CNT:sf will receive more articles on the topic written by capable women scholars and pastoral agents. Suffice to point out the John Paul II preferred women like Mother Theresa, who defended male superiority and authority, to women like Theresa Kane, who showed us early on what to expect of this very macho pontiff.
One of the major accomplishments of John Paul II, apparently, is his pivotal role in helping destroy the evil Soviet empire. There is no doubt that he was a major player in the death throes of the Russian system, but we can question whether his influence was spiritual or political. Karol Wojtyła came to Rome with a lot of cultural and political baggage.
He developed a close friendship with Ronald Regan, possibly the most “Catholic” of American presidents if we look at his policies and the people who surrounded him as advisors. Regan and Wojtyła first met at the Vatican on June 7, 1982 in the Vatican library and thus began a close working relationship on matters of state and church, not only in Eastern Europe but also the Americas.
(The Holy Alliance – http://www.mosquitonet.com/~prewett/holyalliance1of2.html )
William Casey, a Knight of Malta and director of the C.I.A. made frequent trips to Rome to advise the pope and also to be advised, as the church provided the most efficient network for collecting information and distributing the support provided by Washington, much of it to the Solidarity movement. John Paul II was in effect the highest ranking C.I.A. operative in Europe who commanded an army of personnel throughout the Eastern bloc and the world.
The American government was also very concerned about its influence in Latin America and the growing unrest that could lead to more “Cubas”. John Paul II with his narrow anti-communist focus was also suspicious of church leaders who were seen as agents of change throughout the Americas. Here the Vatican and Washington could also collaborate to further mutual agendas – and the result was an era of martyrdom. Ronald Regan stated that he wished “to work closely with the [Roman] Church in Latin America…. to prevent the spread of repression and godless tyranny.”
Bishops, priests, religious men and women, catechists and teachers, and thousands of pastoral agents were imprisoned, tortured, and killed during the reign of John Paul II. On the walls in El Salvador and Guatemala, graffiti written by death squads proclaimed “Be a Patriot, Kill a Priest”. One such patriot was Roberto d’Aubuisson, a graduate of the American “School of the Americas” which trained Latin American military officers in the arts of assassination and torture. It was Roberto d’Aubuisson who planned and directed the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero on March 24, 1980 having been duly informed through church leaders identified with the oligarchy that John Paul II did not support Romero and that in fact had already signed
the documents to have Romero removed as Archbishop of San Salvador.
Progressive bishops who were inspired by Vatican II and the following conferences of Medellin and Puebla were replaced by conservative clerics anxious to turn back the clock and to stamp out traces of the feared “theology of liberation”. Dom Helder Camara of Recife Brazil and many other bishops who moved to a position of solidarity with the poor and the oppressed were removed, retired or found their authority reduced. Such was the case of the saintly bishop of Chiapas, Don Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who recently died in Mexico. In Peru, what some call the cradle of the theology of liberation as developed by Gustavo Gutierrez and a team of theologians, three bishops known for their solidarity with the poor died in mysterious circumstances. Up to thirteen of the new bishops in Peru are members of Opus Dei, a dubious distinction shared by no other country, but clearly a sign of the Vatican’s fear of the “popular church” movement and the base community emphasis that came after Medellin.
I must declare a bias in these matters – in the short time I worked in Latin America three colleagues were killed by these “patriots” who despised the sector of the church
that worked not only with the poor but “from the perspective of the poor”. Fr. Ivan Betancour died after torture in 1975 in Honduras, Fr. Vicente Hondarza Gómez died during torture in Peru, and a lay teacher Fanny Abanto Calle died from injuries sustained while imprisoned because she was a leader in the teacher’s union movement. There is no hurry in the Vatican to recognize in these martyrs, as with Romero, the “heroic figure whose witness modelled servanthood and the values of God’s reign”.
When I think of John Paul II in Latin America I recall the photo of his appearance in 1987 on the balcony of the Presidential palace with General Pinochet to his left. Of course this had been prearranged by Cardinal Sodano who orchestrated the papal gestures that sought to legitimize the dictator. Later in February 1999, when Pinochet was under house arrest in Britain under human rights charges brought before the courts in Spain, the Pope appealed for his release “on humanitarian grounds”.
Around the world there are glaring examples of the best and most progressive Catholic thinkers and writers being suppressed. In Asia one theologian was even excommunicated, albeit only for a year, because of his writings about the church. Tissa Balasuriya, an Oblate from Sri
Lanka, wrote a book titled “Mary and Human Liberation” which some church officials found offensive. Tissa also happened to be involved in helping the poorest of the land, tea pickers, organize and form unions which offended the sensibilities of the powerful oligarchs including the Cardinal, who also happened to be an Oblate.
John L. Allen, jr. who writes for the National Catholic Reporter said of John Paul II “He was a magnificent pope who presided over a controversial pontificate, at times daring and defensive, inspiring and insular. John Paul II, 263rd successor of St. Peter, leaves behind the irony of a world more united because of his life and legacy, and a church more divided.”
John Paul II: actor, philosopher, C.I.A. operative, and pontiff – far too complex to begin to understand with so much information yet to be revealed. I suspect that the haste to beatify him might have a lot to do with seeking to justify the continued push of the “restoration” under Benedict XVI.
O.K. maybe I have a problem with this process? Besides – Everyone needs a patron saint – even the School of the Americas.
The unfulfilled papacy – http://ca.renewedpriesthood.org/page.cfm?Web_ID=475
Bishop Spong on the Papacy of John Paul II http://ca.renewedpriesthood.org/hpage.cfm?Web_ID=588
The Battle for the Catholic Church by Phillip Berryman at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=863