Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why Canonizing John Paul II Is A Mistake

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, many Roman Catholics were quick to optimism. Some dared to hope for something of a church renaissance, and for relief, perhaps, in the wake of the bitter reign of "God's Rottweiler," Joseph Ratzinger. Much was made of the Jesuit pope's decision to assume the name Francis because the name recalled to mind the saint from Assisi. However, the one of the most revered of all Jesuits is (a) Francis (Xavier) too. Maybe this choice suggested hope for a church with the head of a Jesuit and the heart of a Franciscan and reflected a concern for mending fences and holding ground. I believe Francis was most shrewdly put/voted in place to serve a schism doctor--which is not to say that the image of this pope as a man of great faith and humility is not accurate.

Pope Francis has said much that is good. He has preached firmly on the sin of greed. He has made clear his belief (a belief not inconsistent with the extant Catechism) that salvation extends beyond those who profess to be Christian. Pope Francis celebrated Holy Thursday mass in a prison where he washed the feet of the incarcerated. He has eschewed lavish living quarters and fine loafers. Concern that Pope Francis was on the wrong side during Argentina's (1970-80's) military Junta appears to have quieted down. The pontiff has received praise from Jewish leaders in Argentina for being a friend to the nation's Jews. Pope Francis is not a super charmer but he's endearing, the inverse, it would seem, of Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

In an interview conducted in March of this year (2013) by Canadian broadcaster Michael Enright, renowned priest and theologian Hans Kung, who remains a priest in good standing but has been  stripped of his authority to teach Roman Catholic theology as a result of his challenging Papal Infallibility.  

In the interview Kung describes Pope Francis " a real Christian person."

Asked whether there might be "a danger" that the pontiff's humble nature could leave him vulnerable to "being co-opted" by what Enright called "certain powers within the Curia, the shadowy figures who run the Church," Kung answered without hesitation in the affirmative: 
It is a danger.
 Kung goes on to say that the man he calls the "shadow pope not eliminated... I think that is not what is intended, that the new pope has the same secretary... I think he needs especially new personnel.
Later in the interview, when asked what the first task facing the new pope might be, Kung answers that the new pope must hire new personnel--a new secretary. (Pope Francis has the same secretary who served Ratzinger.) Kung makes clear his feeling that the Pope Francis pontificate remains dogged by this not-fully-retired "shadow pope," and predicts that the church will likely swing in one direction or the other under the leadership of Pope Francis.

Much depends on "where he (the pope) stands on reform," according to Father Kung. If he the man he calls "the new pope" is open to reforms, he "will find broad support even beyond the boundaries of the Church." If not, the theologian appears to believe, the result may be something that sounds a lot like an all-out schism. 

Kung has been predicting a schism for years.
If he {Pope Francis} continues on the present course of entrenchment, the call to rise and revolt will become louder, and will provoke forms from below, without the approval of the hierarchy, and often without the face of hierarchical attempts to thwart them...The ultimate question is whether Pope Francis is 'a man of the Roman Curia or a man of the Church.'
Much of the world is waiting to see whether this new pope is some kind of more worshipper-friendly "good cop" working in tandem with "shadow pope" Ratzinger; a Curia favorite, chosen to staunch the church's bleed and offer Catholics departing in disgust one last reason to consider staying.
And what better pawn, really, for the for the "shadowy" bishops of the Curia" than a genuinely devout man so occupied with prayer, pastoral work and ethereal love of God that he lacks interest in and talent for Vatican politics; a pontiff so blinded by "the glory" that he fails to focus on the "the power?"

In his July 9, 2013 New York Review of Books piece on the matter of popes making saints, Garry Wills suggests how creepy the plan to canonize John Paul II really is.

...the modern canonization process is supposed to have inoculated sainthood from politics, basing it on objective evidence, provided by documents, interrogation, medical examinations, scientific certification—all Enlightenment techniques used to sanction a pre-Enlightenment concept. But, after all this lengthy preparation, only the pope can declare that a supernatural miracle happened—and to say who worked it, the particular address in heaven to which prayers for it had been sent. The pope knows the address, and certifies its reception by the right party. That is knowing a whole lot.
Modern popes have been chary of invoking the suspect “charism,” or divine gift, of infallibility, a power Pius IX wrested from his captive Vatican Council... That is where the canonization process comes in so handily. It gives the pope a kind of back-door infallibility. He says definitively that a person is in heaven, and can work miracles, and worked particular ones (or, for John XXIII, a single one).
The very making of a saint, Wills suggests, gives the saint-making pope an opportunity to strut his heavenly stuff.  That the man being considered for canonization is being put through by a pope who may or may not be acting on concert with the "shadow pope" who held a great deal of power in John Paul II pontificate is creepy. 
Wills hints at the potential canonization of John Paul II has to if not purge two consecutive end intertwined pontificates of the taint of scandal. Sainthood, as Garry Wills reminds us, puts a man or woman in an eternal realm in which earthy aspects take on meaning that goes beyond earthly comprehension. Canonization has reputation-laundering properties. Think of it this way: if the guy who ran things while pervert priests ran amok is a saint, how bad, really, could the Ratzinger-John Paul II coverup have been? And the better the picture for history of John Paul II is, the cleaner Ratzinger looks, for many Vatican watchers believe that Ratzinger was something of a "shadow pope" to John Paul II. Ratzinger was in charge of sexual abuse cases during the John Paul II pontificate. Ratzinger was a man of the Curia. It would be naive to imagine that The current Curia and the emeritus pope are not very afraid of how History might treat a pontiff who resigned while under siege.
Before John Paul II, three miracles were required to establish sainthood, and a set of tests and procedures were long been in place to create the illusion of painstakingly probative inquiry but given that pope's can just "call it," these systematic and costly procedures are pro forma.

 Los Angeles Times reporter Laurence M. Krauss's discussion of "evidence" in the context of "proving" miracles which are--by definition--events that defy such verification shines light through the many holes in proving-a-miracle process and procedure proves useful in this analysis.

There's the rub, of course. There are many medical results we do not understand. Spontaneous remission of cancer, for example, occurs in a reliable but small fraction of the population; no immediate explanation can be presented on a case-by-case. basis.

Attributing that lack of understanding to the intercession of a dead pope is a huge step, and it illustrates a fundamental difference between "evidence" in religion and "evidence" in science.

The physicist Richard Feynman pointed out that in science, when we have an idea, we try to prove it wrong as well as right. This is an essential feature of scientific skepticism that helps us avoid the trap of interpreting accidental coincidences as significant results.

In every experiment, anomalies occur. We accept such randomness in science and test to see if any purported exciting new result is statistically significant before we then begin to examine it more carefully to see if we might be misinterpreting something mundane as something exciting.

If, on the other hand, one seeks out "testimony miracles," there is a good chance one will find them. This is because one is making a presumption that miracles occur. More fundamentally, it ignores the advice of Hume, written long ago, rephrased by Carl Sagan somewhat later in a punchier way as: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
The day the announcement that Pope Francis had approved John Paul II my friend writer Michael Kirkpatrick, knowing I am a Catholic who is faithful to worship, wrote this to me: "The miracle is that he managed to stay out of prison."

If Pope Francis can stomach making a saint of a pope who changed the guidelines for saint-making while looking the other way as priests abused children, he will remove any doubt that he is willing to front for the "shadow pope," and the optimism of many Catholics who had high hopes for this more apparently Christ-like (than we had in his predecessor) will wither.

 If Pope John XXIII and John Paul II do become saints later this year, it will be difficult to see Francis as a pope who is open to reform. The message from the papal throne will be: business as usual in the Vatican. We will know he has chosen what Hans Kung called "the present course of entrenchment."

The College of Cardinals chose a Latin American pope for a reason. The beneficiary of John Paul II's second miracle is Floribeth Mora, a Latin American who claims she was cured of an aneurysm in the brain while praying before a photo of John Paul II. I happened to attend Sunday mass in the Costa Rican diocese in which Floribeth Mora resides and worships. I don't know whether it is true, but one hears that Costa Rican Catholics were perhaps the most pious in Catholics in Central America--also the most prosperous and literate. At the mass I attended, nearly half the people in the pews declined to receive Communion. What does that imply? Generally it suggests obedience. Couples living together without benefit of marriage in the church, worshippers who use contraceptives, people who haven't been to confession in a while often accept Magisterium teaching on these matters and deem themselves unworthy of inclusion in the sacraments.

I don't believe it is an accident that both the new pope and the woman who was cured by a miracle are Latin American.

News that the last requisite miracle had been approved broke on July 5th. Up until that time, it appears that Floribeth Mora had not spoken publicly about her miracle. It is safe to assume that this devout woman who believes John Paul II saved her life when doctors could not now takes her cues from the Vatican Public Relations team. The truth is that miracles happen. Sometimes the body, miraculously indeed, heals itself, the body itself being miraculous. The truth is that doctors, technicians and scanning devices err in diagnosing and treating disease.

 Miracles happen, but the notion that John Paul II pulled this particular trick out of his mitre is a reach and a push.

On July 2nd, news that Cardinal Timothy Dolan may have moved $57 million dollars in order to keep it from being seized to pay damages to sex abuse victims in Milwaukee broke. On July 2nd, that same day, the New York Times reported that two top managers of scandal-plagued Vatican bank, resigned following the arrest of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano who is accused of plotting to smuggle $26 million into Italy from Switzerland.  On July 5th the Vatican announces the happy news that two dead popes--one the liberals love and the other most conservatives love--will become saints. Possibly just in time for Christmas.

Team John Paul II-Ratzinger changed the guidelines for saint-making, and made strategic use of canonization with political gain in mind. They used canonization to send political messages. Teresa of Calcutta was packaged and sold as an unofficial celebrity saint long before she was formally canonized during a time in which Rome thought it imperative to remind Catholics that for women, saintliness lay chiefly in humility and chastity. 

John Paul II blew a kiss to the ultra-conservative fringe when he presided over the canonization of  Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, a supporter of Fascist dictator Francisco Franco and founder of Opus Dei. In doing this, Pope John Paul II affirmed the Vatican's commitment to ultra-conservative Catholics and probably kept some from bolting. (Opus Dei had operated without support from the pope until John Paul II gave granted them a prelature shortly after becoming pope. Garry Wills notes in the aforementioned piece that an order's ability to pay plays a role as well.)

Mother Teresa, a tireless paragon of female humility on the outside and shrewd Vatican team player on the inside, became a saint to the secular world (Remember the ubiquitous photos of Princess Dianna and Mother Teresa?) as the Roman Catholic women's ordination movement was taking hold, Roe v. Wade was becoming the law of the land, a majority of practicing Catholics were making clear their intention to disregard Magisterium's demands relative to the use of so-called "artificial contraceptives," and some of the Vatican's own cardinals were rethinking the ban on condom use.

John Paul II's canonization of Jerzy Popiełuszko, was obviously political as well. Popielsko was murdered by the Polish Communists.One hears a lot about the canonization of Dorothy Day in the Catholic circles in which I run. Will Dorothy Day be canonized any time soon? Maybe: if Rome decides a grand gesture designed to hang on to progressive Catholics is warranted.

The simultaneous canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II suggests the kind of thinking Pope Francis's choice of a papal name reflects. Submitting the conservative favorite John Paul II and the liberal John XXIII for sainthood appears to be a strategy designed to appease and encourage conservatives simultaneously. Wills reminds us, in his New York Review of Books piece, that this is not the first time that the pope who kicked of the Second Vatican council has (John XXIII) has been thrown in (with Pius IX) for good canonization measure.

This plan may backfire in a big way. Progressive Catholics do not think John Paul II saintly and many Orthodox Roman Catholics not only disapproved strenuously of team Joseph Ratzinger-John Paul II while they sat on the papal throne, but they hate John XXIII for getting the Vatican II ball rolling. The Sedevacantists and LeFebvrists dislike both of these candidates for sainthood. The Roman Catholics  who refer to the non-Latin mass as "clown masses" are not likely to look with favor upon a more modern approach to canonization, one that dispenses with the erstwhile waiting periods and third miracle and does away entirely with the Devil's Advocate.

Those with little patience for the papacy or organized religion in general may not like the fact, but many throughout the world view the College of Cardinals and the pontiff almost as royalty. Popes indirectly govern much of the non-Catholic world. Broadcasters go along for the ride as they chronicle the attending pomp, and media coverage of big papal moments sells. Coronations, papal funerals, the elevation of a cardinal to pope--these spectacles astound and amaze. Canonization makes for colorful news and has the power to reshape Catholic thinking, arouse Catholic sentimentality, show the world a conspicuous display of papal puissance, and push thieving monsignors and sleazy cardinals off the "front pages," so to speak. These events magically transform the Roman Catholic Church into the kinder, gentler "Bells of Saint Mary"church of yore, a church defiled by sexual predators and thieves.

According to some reports, the Vatican is looking at December to stage this spectacular.

If Pope Francis truly wants to step out of the shadow of Ratzinger and John Paul II he will exercise not the power to make saints, but restraint.

He will wait, and when he does submit a man or woman for sainthood, he won't submit a case of which any Advocatus Diobali worth his salt can so easily make hash. If Pope Francis does make a saint of John Paul II, we will know Pope Francis is "a man of the Curia" doing the bidding of his neighbor, emeritus and shadow pope.  We will know that in the Holy See, it i s business as usual.

Follow Michele Somerville on Twitter:

1 comment:

  1. Pope John XXIII is already a saint to me because he gave the Mass to the people. I left the Latin Mass and the view of a priest's back and returned when we could see the priest, and hopefully seeing Jesus through his homily, and could understand the words. I wept with joy at each Mass as I came to understand everything in English. And beautiful music was added and we were all encouraged to sing with joy and we did.
    Then Benedict brough back the Old Ways. I was outraged by the unnatural wording, clumsy phrases, illogical sequences, and a return to stifling music. I cried when they said they burned the old missals. What a waste, and for what? A formality that is needed by the true clowns who love all the pomp and pomposity of these ways. I was ready to quit Catholicism and went to Confession, to an older priest wise in the truth and beauty of Vatican II. He said, the words do not matter. Come for the Eucharist. The priests who followed Vatican II are true representatives of Jesus, and truly love and teach parishoners.