Blessed John Paul II: An Attempt At User’s Instructions

Nadia Sepiello, "Padre Pio". Source:

Reading around the Internet some of the reflection about today’s beatification of John Paul II, I would like to point out to a couple of aspects which are, in my eyes, rather important in order to put today’s events in the right perspective. Though I have already written a similar post here, I’d like to tackle the issue again from the point of view of the effect it causes on others, particularly non-Catholics.

1) A beatification has the same rank of a private revelation. No Catholic is obliged to believe that the person made blessed really is in Paradise. This obligation only comes into effect with the canonisation. This should, I think, always be said very clearly when you discuss the matter.

2) A beatification (or a canonisation) exclusively deals with the saintly life and heroic virtue of the blessed or saint and with the presence of the required number (if any; for the beatification of martyrs no miracles are required) of miracles, but is no endorsement of the operate of a person as a Pope, or in whatever other public role he might have been involved. Please stress this to everyone you talk about the matter. This should also be stressed with much energy whenever someone mentions the beatification.

3) The great “expansion” of the number of beatifications starting from JP II is, in my eyes, questionable; still, given the fact that as a Catholic do not have to believe a single one of the beatifications anyway I allow myself to feel relaxed on the point. My – or your – questioning the opportunity of such a number of beatification is therefore perfectly orthodox.

4) More delicate is the question about canonisations. As Catholics, we are bound to believe that the canonised person is in Paradise. As Catholics, we must believe that the Holy ghost would never, ever allow a Pope to make a mockery of the process. Every criticism of the new canonisation process must therefore keep this truth in sight: that every canonisation is to be accepted by the faithful as truth, be they very few or very many. This is very important if we want to avoid confusing our interlocutors.

5) Personally, I didn’t like JP II’s pontificate; not one bit; neither as a whole, nor in any one of his single most defining traits. I’d say that after Paul VI, JP II can be considered the worst Pope of modern times, by a comfortable margin. But this is my assessment of his pontificate, not of his saintliness.  I strictly detach the first (the in my eyes catastrophic effect of almost 27 years of “Wojtylism”, by which an entire generation of Catholics grew up without even knowing the Ten Commandments, but ready to fill airports) from the second (the fact that the man was really trying to do his best, and was personally very holy).

6) “Holy” doesn’t mean, again, perfect in the same way as heroic virtue doesn’t mean perfection.  People have their own foibles and character’s traits, the blessed and saints as everyone else. Even Padre Pio had his shortcomings, and was harshly criticised because of them. But we honour the saint anyway; even more so, because in reflecting about the shortcomings of very saintly men we can better understand how difficult it was for them, as for everyone else.

I assume that every conservative Catholic can easily agree with all the above points, though there will be obvious differences in the assessment of the concrete situation. Again, by every criticism we run the danger of confusing the Catholics and must, therefore, be particularly prudent.

If I were challenged by non-Catholics, or by non conservative Catholics, to say a word about the beatification I would accurately separate:

a) the man from the pope,

b) the canonisation from the beatification and

c) my dislike with this or that part of the new procedure with the Catholic Truth concerning canonisations.

As Catholics, please let us be mindful that whilst we can criticise the beatification procedure as much as we want, we must be mindful not to give the impression that we have ceased to believe in the binding value of the canonisations.

In addition, by the appalling ignorance about Catholicism now rampant ever among Catholics themselves, I wouldn’t give any critical, liberal Catholic a reason to believe that Catholic truth are considered not so untouchable, if even conservative Catholics appear to attack them.

Within the boundaries of acceptance of Catholic truth in the matter, I’d say that everyone should feel free to exercise his criticism as much as he likes.

A non-Catholic seeing that a Catholic can be very critical, but is always loyal will register the fact and, at a more or less conscious level, remain impressed.


Posted on May 1, 2011, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. This is the worst day in the Church for centuries. I shall offer up reperation to the Almighty. What is the point in proposing more candidates for beatification in the future now that the bar has been set so low? To be put on par with the late pope would be an insult to their good name. The altar of St Peter’s has been defiled.

    • Shane,

      I for myself would love to be put on par with the late Pope as regard piety and saintliness; only I am sure that I wouldn’t deserve it.


  2. Sorry my earlier comment was much too OTT and uncharitable.

    On Bl John Paul II, I shall from now on maintain silence!

  3. I’m really not sure how one can divorce a person’s “saintliness” and “piety” from his actions. The party line being fed by the Vatican now is that JPII is not being honored for his papacy but for his personal virtues. Well, now that is quite interesting, and in so many ways.

    What happened on the man’s deathbed I do not know. Whether or not he made his peace with God in those last moments, again, I don’t know. Obviously, I hope he did. But until we see some strong evidence that he renounced his actions while he was (not) governing the Church I must conclude that this whole beatification business stinks. The attempt to separate his actions from his personal virtues is not going to hold up under the simplest forms of logic. If the statement “Faith without works is dead” is true, then we have every reason to be less than optimistic about John Paul’s road to sainthood. And as everyone knows this road has been compromised (by John Paul himelf) to the point that every future canonization can be legitimately doubted. He was the one who cheapened the Saint-making process to ludicrous levels and so, ironically, he will be the first one suspect in the eyes of those who see the current regime in the Church with cautious eyes.

    An excellent commentary on this whole thing can be found on the Christian Order website (an article entitled “B-Day”) and I can highly recommend it to anyone who wants a sobering overview of this catastrophe.

    And it must be said: this bogus “beatification” is the defining example of what is so seriously wrong in Rome. It signifies many things. One of the things it signifies is that Catholics are not going to see any return to a serious restoration of the Faith for a long, long time, because now we will be saddled with yet another long, arduous and near-impossible job of trying to tactfully explain to superficial Catholics that, no, John Paul was not a great Pope. You know that’s coming. You know you will be soon triumphantly confronted by friends and family members telling you that “Rome has spoken” in the case of JPII. So prepare yourself for this utterly pointless and disagreeable task of answering them. Thanks, Benedict. Thanks for making our Catholic lives even more miserable than they were before.

    The deeper that this hole is dug the harder it will be to get out of it. I am beginning to think that nothing short of a Divine miracle from God will save the Faith now. I hope I’m wrong. But after this, where do you begin to even try to undue the damage that Rome has just done?

    I know that Saints are not canonized for the stupid things they did, but for the great things they did. The history of the Church is filled with examples of Saintly stupidity that has caused grave damage to the cause of the Church. But in the “old days” the proposed Saint’s plusses and minusses were examined carefully by the Church so that a wise decision could be made. Dear St Pius X, a man I revere, committed two of the most unbelievable blunders in the history of the Church (the removal of the Hapsburg veto and the raising to the Cardinalate of Della Chiesa, a Rampolla protege who became Benedict XV) but even those two things didn’t stop his canonization because of the other great and glorious good things that he did. But in John Paul’s case, even factoring in his wonderful defense of life (in words…not,alas, backed up by significant actions) the ledger sheet cannot but reveal a disastrous papacy. Saying great pro-life things is good and courageous and, yes, he must be praised for that. But wouldn’t it have been even greater of he had followed that up with canonical actions against priests, nuns, bishops and Cardinals who were undermining him on those life issues?

    So with the evidence of my eyes I can only conclude that we should pray FOR John Paul II, not TO him.

    • Schmenz,

      allow me to point out to you that you cannot doubt canonisations (past, present, or future) without putting yourself in heresy.

      As to the divorce between saintliness and piety, in my opinion this is rather straightforward: a person can be the best person in the world and the most catastrophic Pope ever, simply because to make a good Pope other qualities are needed than saintliness. I’d come as far as to say that saintliness wil not be of help, unless it is accompanied by a very robust “street wisdom”. JP II was very, very naive in his choices (of people as well as of policies), and a man very easy to manipulate once someone had realised from which angle to take him. Look no further than Maciel for an extreme example.

      Now: is an ineffective, naive, credulous, living saint a good pope? Nope, he isn’t. Is this in the way of his becoming a saint? Same answer.

      I do no think that St. Francis would have made a good Pope. I think he would have made a truly disastrous one. To take another extreme example, Celestine V was so saintly that he was canonised, but so inept at being Pope that he resigned. His story is a glaring example of how bad it can go when one confused saintliness with fitness to the papacy.

      On the other hand, Alexander VI was no doubt a very successful Pope; but morally speaking, dear oh dear….

      I will not have any problem at all explaining why JP II’s pontificate was a catastrophe, and will always defend his personal integrity and saintliness with great energy. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone able to put me in any difficulty about this.


  4. I’m afraid that the “we cannot doubt a canonisation” idea has, at the very least, been opened to serious doubt because of John Paul’s tampering with the system of creating Saints. In an objective sense, of course you are right because the Church has always taught that a canonisation is a sort of “class 2 infallible declaration.” But when the procedures have been changed dangerously to the point of inviting serious doubt, which is in fact the case now, a Catholic has every right to be skeptical about these things. Considering the number of distinguished Catholics in Europe who have expressed horror at this beatification I think it a bit of a stretch to label them heretics.

    There are numerous cases in Church history where clerics have had to be corrected by future Pontiffs due to, for example, carrying out sacraments that had no validity. The celebrated case of the 14th century Spanish priest who deliberately did not give sacramental absolution in the confessional comes to mind. So serious was this that the Pope had to step in and announce that anyone who confessed to him had to re-confess to another priest because the sacrament was not properly carried out. This whole episode is discussed brilliantly in ISABELLA OF SPAIN by the Catholic historian William Thomas Walsh, a book, by the way, which is a must read. Here is a case where the “indefectibilty” argument runs into some snags.

    In any case, this is a bit of a moot point since John Paul II has not yet been canonized (thanks be to God) though, sadly, I have no doubt they’ll try to rush that through as well. We’ll have to see what happens there.

    For my part I will avoid the sentimentality of this affair and continue to pray for John Paul’s soul.

    • Schmenz,

      the opinion of the Church in matter of canonisation is not to be put in doubt becaue we don’t like the procedure.

      It either comes from God, or it doesn’t.

      If it doesn’t, no lenght and strenght of procedural praxis will ever give you any security. If it does, you must trust in God’s working within the Church irrespective of procedure.

      For many centuries, there has been no formal canonisation “procedure”. IN many other cases, canonisation were rather rapid. St. Francis dies on the third of October 1226 and was canonised on the 16th July 1228.

      One either believes in the Church teaching, or one doesn’t.


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