Saturday, April 30, 2011

History in the Making: Some Thoughts About the Beatification of John Paul II

One of the thousands of Posters that
dotted the streets of Rome during
the funeral of  Pope John Paul II

This is the weekend that John Paul II will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI—just six years after his death.  The beatification is not without some controversy and, to be honest, I am surprised that it has all come about this fast.  For one thing, I had heard over the last several years that Pope Benedict was not anxious to advance the “cause” of his predecessor. In part, I think this was a prudent reservation on the part of the current Pope.  The papacy of John Paul will be an extremely complex one to historically evaluate.  “It was,” as one BBC commentator replied at the time, “the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  John Paul was probably the most significant individual in the collapse of the Soviet Empire, not only demolishing the tyrannical regimes but  making Stalin a posthumous laughingstock for his derisive comment “How many divisions does the Pope have?”  John Paul had immense popularity—especially with the world’s youth and never passed up an opportunity to reach out to them.  Yet one cannot say that he brought them back to the practice of the faith, much less to the moral standards which the Church teaches.    He took some remarkable steps with interreligious and ecumenical dialogue.  At the same time, since his death there has been some serious rethinking of those very same interreligious and ecumenical advances, not least of all by the current Pope.  Probably more seriously, there are questions regarding his handling of the Sex Abuse situation in the Catholic Church—how much did he know and in what ways did his policies hinder justice and leave young people exposed to predators?  Too, some observers believe that that he greatly weakened the Church by selecting bishops for their loyalty without sufficient regard to their pastoral skills, prudent judgment, or intellectual ability.  Certainly we can see in the United States that we no longer have sufficient numbers of articulate or intellectual leaders among the American Bishops to write the sort of pastoral letters that the Bishops turned out on Just War Theology and Nuclear Weapons or the Economic Morality that the bishops of thirty years ago turned out.  Of course good leadership or bad leadership does not reflect on the personal sanctity of the candidate.  We have had saintly popes who failed to meet the leadership challenges of their times.  But the question remains—in what way the example of Pope John Paul II reflects the extraordinary degree of sanctity and virtue that sainthood represents.  He was pious, granted—but piety is not holiness.  I am not saying that this beatification is a mistake—only that it will be corrected—if corrected it need be—by time’s passing and history’s critique.
As for the rapidity of the process—note here some medieval canonizations (not beatifications) and see their time line:    

Name                       Year of death     Year of Canonization       
Anthony of Padua            1231                       1232    
            Francis                                 1226                      1228
Claire of Assisi                   1253                      1255
Hugh of Grenoble            1132                      1134
Elizabeth of Hungary      1231                      1234
Thomas Becket                 1170                      1173
Galgano Guidotti              1180                      1184
Hugh of Cluny                   1109                      1120
Gilbert of Sempringham1190                       1202
Dominic                              1221                       1234
Bernard of Clairvaux       1153                      1174

I am sure there are other “quickies” in addition to these, but it does show that at one time the Church didn’t scruple to move ‘em thru.  By the way, I will be in Rome this week and doing some travelling for the next week or two so be patient.  I won’t be posting every day but I will be collecting photos and doing some research. 

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