Friday, April 29, 2011

Santo subito? Not so fast, please

Among the many opinions that no one in the world is clamoring to hear are mine concerning the pending beatification of the late Pope, John Paul II.

At his funeral, crowds in St. Peter's Square unfurled banners and chanted "santo subito," which means (I am told) "sainthood now." And the canonization process, streamlined under John Paul II himself, was really fast-tracked for JPII by his successor, Benedict XVI.

John Paul II is, and I think will continue to be, regarded as one of the heroes of the 20th Century.

I imagine Joseph Stalin, skewered and rotating on a spit over an open flame in one of the hotter regions of the Netherworld. Long before John Paul II's reign, Stalin once famously sneered, "How many divisions does the Pope have?" Now, roasting in eternity, Stalin has his answer -- and JPII provided it: Enough. There are others deserving of credit, too, but John Paul II, as much as any other man, is responsible for the destruction of Soviet Communism.

But is John Paul II a saint?

The horrors that some (and far too many) Catholic priests and brothers inflicted on minors were revealed, in nation after nation, during John Paul's papacy. Reforms were adopted in America during his reign -- important reforms, badly needed, and, for the most part (as far as I can tell) sincerely implemented to date -- but the Church has never seemed to completely understand, acknowledge and accept its complicity in so many crimes over so many years.

As long as there are children there will be evil, sick or twisted individuals who will seek to exploit them. The Catholic Church was never alone in this. The Boy Scouts, protestant churches, even public schools -- there have been abusers in all of these, too. And in far too many cases, abusers in all of these settings were allowed to resign quietly, and even given carefully neutral references. But in none of these other settings were abusers systematically protected and moved to other fields of opportunity. To protect the Church. To protect the Church! To descend, for a moment, into kid-speak, but only because it seems particularly appropriate: OMG. But it wasn't just evil or venal or incredibly short-sighted bishops. There were well-meaning people involved there, too. Ironically, and tragically, an institution built on faith too many of these put their faith in science, hoping and relying on doctors and psychiatrists to "cure" errant clergy. It didn't work. We know better now. We hope.

The stain of clergy abuse clings to John Paul II, and not just because it was revealed on his watch. He appears to have defended or supported Marcial Maciel, the Mexican priest who founded the Legion of Christ and who also, according to Wikipedia, "was found guilty of raping underaged males and... also fathered at least one child."

Now the Pope -- any Pope -- sits atop a very steep pyramid. Not everything that goes on in the Church is or could be known by the Pope. In many ways the Pope -- any Pope -- is a figurehead, a prisoner of the Vatican bureaucracy, the Curia. The Curia is practically a living creature and, as such, is certainly far older than the Catholic Church. It is the bureaucracy of Rome -- Republican Rome, Imperial Rome -- still living on, adapting, growing. Like any living creature, the Curia responds to stimulation. And Maciel sent a lot of it to Rome during his heyday -- money, favors, money. When rumors swirled, they could be put down. Buried. Ignored. Dismissed as the mutterings of jealous rivals. What the Pope knew, therefore, and what the Pope should have known, on this issue or on many others, is not necessarily obvious.

But with these uncertainties I can not get too excited about John Paul II's coming beatification, unlike so many of my fellow Catholics here in Chicago. Cardinal George is heading up a large Chicago delegation to the ceremony this weekend. Part of it is ethnic pride: Chicago is the largest Polish city in the world after Warsaw (and home to more Poles than Warsaw at one time).

I take solace in this: Beatification is not sainthood. The media don't quite understand all this Catholic mumbo-jumbo and don't trouble themselves to learn, either. A man or woman who is beatified may be venerated by the faithful, but the Church does not declare, by beatification, that this man or woman is worthy of veneration as a friend and true servant of God.

I'd love to have met John Paul II. I was at his Mass in Chicago's Grant Park in 1979 -- me and a million or so of my closest friends. As I've already said, he is surely a hero for his role in bringing down the Soviet bloc. But there's no hurry, so far as I'm concerned, to declare the man a saint. Time will tell.

1 comment:

Dave said...

With very little knowledge of Catholicism, I could list a bunch of flawed people who've done good and great things.

Not being a Catholic, I can't see God caring much about titles, whether the titles Pope, beatified Pope or Saint.

I think the thing is, if there's a heaven and a hell, making the cut, whatever the cut is.