And so it is out: the beatification of JP II will take place on the 1st May.
I am, as no reader of this blog can avoid noticing, no great fan of the man as a Pope. I think that his contribution to the fall of Communism is vastly, vastly exaggerated (the one who did it for communism was clearly the Gipper; George Walker Bush and Pope John Paul II only reaped the benefits afterwards and the liberal press would commit suicide rather than give Reagan his due) and I find it frankly extraordinary that a Pope should be praised for…. being opposed to Communism.
As far as his work as Pope is concerned, I personally think that the only redeeming feature of his too long Pontificate is the fact that he came (excluding the short weeks of what could have been a wonderful Pope, Albino Luciani) after Paul VI, the undisputed Jimmy Carter of the Church. JP II’s actions against the problems of his time (say: the Dutch Schism, Liberation Theology, the rampant “spirit of Vatican II”-mentality) can be considered in a halfway positive manner only in the light of Paul VI’s tragic impotence, but were slow and contributing to the confusion of Catholics by every other modern standard. In his appointment of Bishops, JP II will probably prove one of the most disastrous Popes of all times as he is the main responsible for the appointment of an entire generation of bad shepherds, who have almost completely given away Catholicism and will now continue to afflict the Church for a couple of decades to come.
A further problems of JP II’s pontificate is, in my eyes, the stubborn refusal to deal in an exemplary manner with people clearly responsible for grave misconduct. Cardinal Law’s treatment, or Cardinal Groer’s, are in my eyes great stains on his pontificate as they show an attitude towards grave problems by which the desire to avoid scandal and public admission of fault comes before the desire to send clear signals as to how the Church is led and what behaviour is expected from the men at the top.
And then there’s the media orgy. JP II’s pontificate can be remembered as the age of the dumbing down of everything Catholic, the search for popularity at all costs, the media circus, the desire to sink towards common people aspirations and conveniences instead of drawing them to aspire higher to Christ. From the unspeakable rock concerts (in which Catholicism had to witness the head of Catholicism being publicly scolded by rock singers; Pope Pius XII must have cried from Heaven), to the interconfessional/ecumenical/heretical events in Assisi, Fatima and elsewhere, to the in itself obviously heretical kissing of the Koran, to the relentless seeking for TV time in his pursuit to travel in the furthest corners of the globe whilst Vatican work was clearly neglected (cue the inefficiency and indecisiveness in tackling the problems of the Church, like the evident issue of rampant homosexuality in the seminaries), John Paul II’s years have diluted and banalised the Catholic message. The most dramatic example of this sad development was seen in his last days, with a huge media happening and a vast attention from a mass of individuals obviously not caring in the least for Catholicism and merely attracted by the next media-pumped collective hysteria in purest Lady Diana style. When he died, JP II had successfully transformed himself in the Che Guevara of our times, a man whose face is on millions of t-shirts carried by people who don’t even know who he was and what he wanted, but find the projected image someway cool. In the meantime, a generation of Catholics was raised without even the basis of proper Catholic instruction but hey, there were 500,000 people when he went out of the aeroplane so we are doing fine.
One of the least palatable aspects of this attitude was the late Pope’s desire to please the masses by sending ambiguous messages which, whilst not openly contradicting the Church’s teaching, were meant to give them a varnish of political correctness and make their distorted perception popular when the real ones clearly aren’t. He formally abolished the capital punishment in the Vatican, but conveniently forgot to remind the faithful that the legitimacy of capital punishment is integral part of Catholic doctrine and as such not modifiable and not negotiable. He asked for forgiveness for the atrocities committed during the Crusades, but conveniently forgot to remind the faithful of the saintliness of their cause and of the glorious page represented by the Crusades themselves. He was personally contrary to every conflict happening in his time, but conveniently forgot to remind the faithful that the Doctrine of War is also integral part of Catholic teaching. As a result of this, Pope John Paul was vastly perceived – particularly by poorly instructed Catholics, let alone by non-catholics – as a white-clothed pacifist opposed to capital punishment and ashamed for the Crusades. I am not aware of any effort he made to counter this widespread popular impression and no, this is not good.
Allow me here to also remind my readers of the Lefebvre affair. From the information I have found and read, it seems to me that a clash of egos (it happens among the saintliest men; it’s human nature) played a more than secondary role in the events but that at the root of the mess was JP II’s refusal to understand when things have gone too far and it is time to stop being stubborn and to start being reasonable. Hand on heart, I thank God for Lefebvre’s courage and determination on that occasion. To use an admittedly strong image, when the father is drunk the son who refuses to obey him is not going against the family and his father’s authority, but respecting and upholding them and the values they represent. The SSPX’s affair is, if you ask me, just another of the many avoidable blunders of John Paul II’s pontificate.
Still, behind the Pope there was the man. A deeply religious, pious, spiritual, sincere, kind man of God. A man whose mistakes were certainly never made in bad faith and whose first desire was to protect the Church and to win new souls to Christ. A man in front of whose deep spirituality and pious nature most of us (and certainly yours truly) must hang their head in shame. A man of whom you can criticise everything, but not the pure heart and the honesty of his intentions.
Whenever Catholics criticise the many mistakes of his pontificate (as they, if you ask me, should do far more often and much more vocally in order to avoid another pontificate like his to be ever repeated), they should remember – and should remind the enemies of the Church – of the purest of hearts behind those mistakes and of the example which John Paul II continues to give as a saintly man.
A saintly man is not necessarily a good Pope and a good Pope is not necessarily a saintly man. Much as we would like to see both qualities together, this is by far not always the case.
When we are blessed with a saintly Pope, I can’t see why we shouldn’t – whatever the shortcomings of his Pontificate – draw strength and inspiration from his saintliness.
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.