2011: Year of Pope John Paul II?

by Thomas C. Fox

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Maybe some missed the irony in the juxtaposition of two stories on the NCR web site in the past few days.

One was written by Jason Berry about the striking failings of Pope John Paul II in his dealings with the Legionaires and his blindness in the face of the largest crisis to hit the church in centuries – the clergy sex abuse crisis and episcopal cover-up.

The other, a report written by John Allen that states that Vatican efforts will be made this year to beatify Pope John Paul II.

This is what Jason Berry wrote:

The story of the Legion of Christ and Maciel will continue to unfold in 2011. Interwoven into this story, however, has been a larger one, the story of the way the highest Catholic authorities entrusted to run the church reacted to the Maciel scandal, what decisions they made and what these decisions say about their own views of church and its mission.

It helps, then, to stand back and answer a few basic questions: Why did this scandal happen? How could John Paul II, a pope who showed brilliant moral vision in the face of Soviet communism, ignore the pedophilia allegations that trailed Maciel for decades? Why did he continue praising Maciel for six years after ex-Legionaries filed a 1998 canonical case with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger? How could Maciel's supporters, especially in the United States, so easily dismiss the testimony of so many credible accusers? Considering the order's strange history that keeps coming to light, is Benedict's decision to reform the Legion realistic?

While the question for Benedict is both immediate and risky, there is probably more at stake, depending on how those questions are answered, for the late John Paul and his legacy. How the story evolves and who controls the narrative could greatly influence whether John Paul continues to be viewed purely in heroic terms or as someone whose papacy was tainted by a scandal that came to light just five years after his election, but that he acknowledged only in the late days of his reign (emphasis added).

This is what John Allen wrote:

Benedict XVI signed a decree of “heroic virtue” for John Paul II in December 2009, a document which asserts that the late pope lived a holy life and allows him to be referred to as “venerable.” If the beatification takes place in 2011, it would mean that the late pope will become “Blessed John Paul II.”

One additional miracle would be necessary prior to canonization, the formal act of declaring John Paul II a saint.

If the beatification does indeed take place in 2011, some observers believe that the October date may be the most plausible, given the logistical challenges of organizing what is likely to be the most massive public gathering in Rome since the events following the death of John Paul II in 2005.

So is there no linkage here? With little doubt, the John Paul II episcopal appointees, led by those blooming in clerical red and now positioned in key places in Rome today, have been pushing the canonization of their mentor and patron for some time, in fact almost from the day of his death. At the same time, there is a small but growing countervailing wind gaining strength as more questions surface and play around the edges of the canonization process, including questions raised about episcopal corruption within the Vatican during Pope John Paul II's watch.

And ever present questions about John Paul's denial in the face of the very destructive clergy sex abuse and episcopal cover-up, so symbolized in the scandal of the duplicit and disgraced Fr. Marcial Maciel, who founded the Legionnaires.

Michael Sean Winters at our sister blog site, "Distinctly Catholic," does not mince words. He calls it "madness."

He writes:

This is madness. After years of being frustrated at the slow pace with which the Vatican embraces change, in this one instance where haste could spell disaster, they appear to be rushing.

As Jason Berry has demonstrated time and again, it remains an open question as to how Pope John Paul II dealt with the clergy sex abuse crisis and while no one has raised charges of personal corruption against him, those charges have been leveled against his top aides. Documents pertaining to such corruption as may exist could be in a courtroom near you any day if the Vatican continues to lose its law suits. It would be a shock to the very idea of beatification if, shortly after Pope John Paul II was beatified, especially damning evidence of corruption close to the papal throne emerged.

So one wonders. Could it be that canonization advocates want to move the process forward quickly before too many more questions gain foothold? Could it be that what is at stake actually goes beyond John Paul II and rather can be seen as an effort by like-minded opponents of the Second Vatican Council, which John Paul attempted to curtail so many times in his papacy, to solidify their stamp on the church for years to come, using John Paul II's legacy to do it?

Answers to these questions might likely gain greater clarity in this year, a year that could very well end up being, one way or another, the year of Pope John Paul II.

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