Blessed John Paul II's flawed pontificate

Pope John Paul II has been beatified and is now one step from being proclaimed an official church saint. The beatification of this pope is now part of our church's history. This is clear. It is equally clear that this beatification will be linked in church history with charges that Pope John Paul II, whatever his personal holiness, was a flawed pontiff.

We know the list of charges, some of them by Vatican II supporters who say that he did all he could, despite words to the contrary, to pull back the church from the mid-20th century reforms and renewals of that council.

However, the most pressing charge of all -- and the one that might look most unkindly in church history -- is that he put church interests, institutional interests, ahead of the protection of vulnerable children, that he turned a blind eye on credible accusations that priests were sexually abusing young children in many parts of the world.

Instead of outrage and immediate action, there was only silence on his part. Instead of signaling immediately to all sectors of the church that such actions and the coverups by bishops would be viewed as mortally wrong, there is indisputable evidence he chose not to hear and investigate patterns of abuse that were evident dating back to the mid-1980s for all who cared to know.

NCR reported stories of clergy sex abuse and episcopal coverup weekly -- issue after issue, month after month for years throughout the 1980s and 1990s and into the 21st century to this very week.

Our bishops and Pope John Paul II cannot say they did not know.

That these charges against Pope John Paul II were real -- are real today -- even as his beatification becomes part of Catholic history is a fact. This is again evident in a column that appeared today in the Boston Globe, which cites a letter written to Pope John Paul in 1994 by a survivor of clergy sex abuse, Robert Costello.

“What I can’t understand is all of the silence by the Catholic Church,’’ he wrote to the pope, as reported in the Globe. “This priest admitted what he did. The Church knows he abused sexually, spiritually and mentally many children. He was transferred to another parish where he continued to sexually abuse children.’’

Costello begged the pope for an audience.

“By us sitting down together you could help the healing process for thousands of people. I would not take up much of your time and it would mean so much to countless others that the pastoral responsibilities of the Catholic Church were making a comeback.’’

Costello never did hear back from the pope. Why we shall never know.

Each of us is flawed. Our saints are flawed as well. Blessed John Paul II, a holy man, was a flawed pope.

Whether today's beatification further highlights his record of holiness and love for the church or the clergy sex abuse tragedy he failed to face will characterize his papacy and eclipse some remarkable attributes the history books will one day tell.


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