Sorry about the silence – I’ve been busy. Still am. This is just another quick “pop-in” on the same subject as below.
There is obviously no shortage of Catholics willing to bag everything good in the Church at the moment, and to do this publically. The latest example is this deplorable discussion of the legacy of John Paul II on ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live with Philip Adams. His guests are Paul Collins (no surprise) and Michael Walsh, described as:
Author, historian and former librarian of Heythrop College, London. He is author of “The Secret World of Opus Dei”, an early biography of John Paul II, published by Harpers; his latest, a history of the College of Cardinals.
In fact, his book on Opus Dei and his book on John Paul II are two separate works. You can read something of what Walsh had to say about Benedict and John Paul II here before the visit to the UK. You can also read something of what Simon Rowney had to say about Walsh on Cathnews here last year.
Basically, the LNL piece on John Paul II entirely focuses on his blameworthiness (to use an ugly word) in regard to the abuse scandal. When this is the sole focus of the discussion, it is easy to see why it is a big ask for some people to see the former pope as a saint. But it seems an incredible travesty to view the life of Karol Wojtyla through this prism. It is an exact parallel – and one actually made explicit in the LNL discussion – to the way in which Venerable Pius XII is viewed through the “Hitler’s Pope” prism. Aside from the fact that a judgement of heroic virtue and personal sanctity refers to the life of the individual and not to any historical circumstances or mistakes that they may have made, it is a complete distortion of the story.
One argument that Paul Collins uses is that “saints should be role models”; and thus he approves of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, but disapproves of John Paul II. Well, go figure. If you can’t find something in John Paul II’s life and character to take as a role model for your own life, you are either ignorant or aren’t trying. Or both. Still, the Church does not make but rather recognises sainthood. The process of beatification and canonisation is not a program for making pin-up poster-boys/girls for Catholics. It is recognising people for who they are in the sight of God.
John Paul II was a gift from God to the Church and the world at just the time when we needed his strong hand and guidance. Was he perfect? No. Was he a saint*? The Church says “yes” and I, thinking with the Church, agree.
We should not whitewash the sins and failings of Catholics, certainly not the failings of our Popes. Every saint, every Catholic, is a human being. Saints are not people who never sinned, nor people who, as judged by those with the benifit of hindsight**, never made mistakes. They are people in whom the holiness of Christ shone with beauty and light for the world. It will remain a mystery to me why good Catholic people feel that they are doing the work of Christ by publically presenting the darkest view of the Church that they can achieve.
[* I am using the word “saint” in the broad sense – I know he is not yet canonised.]
[** I like this Wikipedia entry on “Hindsight Bias”:
“Hindsight bias is the inclination to see events that have occurred as being more predictable than they were before they took place. Hindsight bias has been demonstrated experimentally in a variety of settings, including politics, games and medicine. In psychological experiments of hindsight bias, subjects also tend to remember their predictions of future events as having been stronger than they actually were, in those cases where those predictions turn out correct. This inaccurate assessment of reality after it has occurred is also referred to as “creeping determinism”.