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


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George Weigel

4. Has the Church been making too many saints since John Paul II changed the process?

First of all, the Church doesn’t “make saints”; God makes saints, and the Church recognizes the saints that God has made.

Second, I don’t quite understand how there could be “too many saints,” since sanctity is what the Church is in the business of fostering.

John Paul II was convinced that God is profligate in making saints, and that the Church should recognize that. The world always needs examples of men and women who have lived their lives nobly, courageously, generously. The world especially needs such witnesses today, when a thick fog of cynicism hangs over the West. What’s wrong with lifting up such lives and celebrating the grace of God that makes such saintly people possible?

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5. Is Pope Benedict XVI beatifying John Paul II as a way of vindicating his own record as John Paul’s successor?

No, he isn’t. Benedict XVI has, after all, done some things differently, although there has been an essential continuity of teaching. But that was to be expected, as both John Paul II and Benedict XVI are teaching the faith of the Church, not their own opinions. 

I think Benedict XVI was wise not to accede to requests for an immediate and virtually spontaneous beatification or canonization; I also think he was wise to waive the normal five-year waiting period for the process to begin. He worked with John Paul II for more than two decades, and he knows the qualities of sanctity that John Paul II exemplified.  

6. What about John Paul II and the sexual-abuse scandal? Does the fact that this broke into public view during John Paul II’s pontificate raise serious questions about his heroic virtue?

In 1978, when Karol Wojtyla was elected pope, the Catholic priesthood was in terrible shape: More than 45,000 men had left the active ministry, in the greatest wave of defections since the 16th century, and seminaries were, in more than a few cases, zoos. Over the next twenty-six and a half years, John Paul II became one of the great papal reformers of the priesthood, and in several ways.

First, he was the greatest vocations director in history, inspiring tens of thousands of young men to give their lives to Christ and the Church through the demanding vocation of the priesthood, in an exercise of the priesthood’s unique form of spiritual paternity. The priests whose vocations he inspired are very unlikely to be the kind of men who would abuse anyone.

Second, John Paul II recovered the essential idea of the priesthood in the Catholic Church, which has long believed, but had begun to forget, that the priesthood is a matter of iconography rather than functionality: According to the Church’s understanding, Catholic priests are men who act in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”), making the power of the incarnate Word of God present through their preaching, making the body and blood of the Lord present through the Eucharist, and making the mercy of Christ present through the sacrament of Penance. In recovering this idea of the priesthood as a sacred vocation, rather than a bureaucratic career, John Paul II gave heart to priests who may have begun to flag in their commitments, as he did by writing an annual letter to priests every Holy Thursday and by inviting the priests of the world to share with him his 80th birthday in 2000.

Third, seminaries today are in far, far better shape than they were in 1978, thanks in no small part to John Paul II’s 1992 document on seminary reform, Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I Will Give You Shepherds”).

That is the proper historical context in which to evaluate John Paul II’s pontificate with regard to the priesthood. Now, having said that, it is also true that, as I wrote in the 2002 book The Courage to Be Catholic and more recently in The End and the Beginning, John Paul II and the Roman Curia were four months behind the information curve during the 2002 crisis in the United States, thanks to a remarkably inept performance by the Vatican nunciature in Washington. This allowed critics to promote the image of an uncaring pope, on which a lot of the media and the usual opponents of John Paul’s pontificate have been gnawing ever since for a variety of reasons. Yet the fact remains that when the pope finally knew, in April 2002, what he should have known in January 2002 (when the Boston crisis first broke), he took decisive action and made clear, as he put it to the American cardinals that month, that “there is no place in the priesthood for those who would harm the young.”

           



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