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


George Weigel

7. What are we to make of John Paul II and the sordid case of Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a man whom the late pope supported and who turned out to have been a pathological personality?

As I wrote in The End and the Beginning, John Paul II was clearly deceived by Maciel, who was a master deceiver. The relevant questions here, in terms of John Paul II’s beatification and its judgment that he lived a life of heroic virtue, are whether John Paul II’s failure to see through Maciel’s deceptions was willful (i.e., he knew about Maciel’s perfidies and did nothing about the situation), or venal (i.e., he was “bought” by Maciel), or malicious (i.e., he knew that Maciel was a sociopathic fraud and didn’t care). There isn’t a shred of evidence that would sustain a positive answer to any of those questions. To even think that such could be the case is to utterly miss the character of the late pope.

To focus so much attention on Maciel at the time of John Paul II’s beatification, as if his case offered a privileged window into a 26-year pontificate that changed the history of the Church and the world, is rather like obsessing on the disastrous raid on Dieppe and the bombing of Dresden at Winston Churchill’s funeral. It’s grotesquely disproportionate, from any serious historical point of view. 

— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His two-volume biography of John Paul II comprises Witness to Hope (Harper Collins, 1999) and The End and the Beginning (Doubleday, 2010).