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A John Paul II Beatification Catechism
Responding to the skeptics and critics


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George Weigel

1. Has the beatification of John Paul II been a rush job, as some have charged?

No one said that the beatification of Mother Teresa was rushed, despite the calumnies against her work and reputation promoted by Christopher Hitchens. This process hasn’t been “rushed” either. The only procedural exception Pope Benedict XVI made was the same exception John Paul II made for Mother Teresa: He allowed the investigation to begin without the normal five-year waiting period.

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The investigative process produced a massive, four-volume study that offers far more detail into the life and accomplishments of Karol Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II, than the American electorate was offered about the life and accomplishments of Barack Obama, or the British electorate was offered about the lives and accomplishments of David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The people complaining about a “rush” are typically “progressive” Catholics who never had much use for John Paul II because he didn’t turn Catholicism into another liberal Protestant denomination; or ultra-traditionalists who lament the fact that he didn’t restore the French monarchy, impose the Tridentine Mass in Latin on the entire Church, and burn dozens of German theologians in the Campo dei Fiori; or ill-informed journalists who can’t stop playing “gotcha” with the Catholic Church. Their criticisms are not taken seriously by serious people.

And in any case, the people of the Church spoke on April 8, 2005, with their chants of Santo subito! (“A saint now!”). The official judgment of the Church is now catching up with that spontaneous popular acclamation. It’s rather ironic to see people who are usually clamoring for “more democracy” in the Catholic Church complaining in this case about the verdict of the Church’s people.

2. How did the beatification process assess John Paul II’s life? How does his record as pope bear on that assessment?

The purpose of this beatification process, as with any such process, was to determine whether the life under study was one of heroic virtue. Over 100 formal witnesses were consulted and the four-volume study includes their testimonies, as well as a biography of the late pope and an examination of what were termed “special questions” — issues that arose during the beatification process itself, such as the charge (likely planted by former Stasi operatives) that young Karol Wojtyla had been involved in the assassination of two Gestapo agents during World War II. The charge was ridiculous, and it was refuted.

Evidently, the overwhelming judgment of those responsible, including Pope Benedict XVI, was that this was indeed a life of heroic virtue. I think that judgment is correct. It doesn’t mean that, as pope, John Paul II got everything right. No pope does. The question is whether he made his decisions prudently, according to his best judgment, and without fear or favor. In The End and the Beginning, the second volume of my biography of John Paul II, I explored that question over some 90 pages. My judgment is that John Paul consistently used his best judgment, without fear or favor, even in decisions I think he got wrong.

3. What were the chief qualities of John Paul II? What were his principal faults?

John Paul II’s radical Christian discipleship, and his remarkable capacity to let that commitment shine through his words and actions, made Christianity interesting and compelling in a world that thought it had outgrown its “need” for religious faith. He was a man of extraordinary courage, the kind of courage that comes from a faith forged in reflection on Calvary and the murder of the Son of God. He demonstrated, against the cultural conventions of his time, that young people want to be challenged to live lives of heroism. He lifted up the dignity of the human person at a moment when the West was tempted to traipse blithely down the path to Huxley’s brave new world of manufactured and stunted humanity. And he proclaimed the universality of human rights in a way that helped bring down the greatest tyranny in human history.

He was, like many saintly people, too patient with the faults of others. His distaste for making a spectacle of anyone, and his willingness to give people a second, third, and fourth chance, were admirable human qualities that arguably worked against the efficiency of his governance.



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