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John Paul II: Who Opposed His Canonization, and Why?

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Jeffrey Bruno

Philippe Oswald - published on 04/29/14

No saint is perfect, but did John Paul II deserve to be a saint?

The main objection to the canonization of John Paul II came from his support for the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel (D. 2008).

Marciel led a double life whose secret side hid a combination of sexual escapades (he had three children with two women and engaged in homosexual relations with seminarians), the abuse of power, and embezzlement (including the snaring of inheritances), as shown by the investigation ordered by the successor of the Polish pope, Benedict XVI. Almost immediately after he was elected, Pope Benedict XVI sidelined Marcial Maciel, placing him under penance until his death. By contrast, Pope John Paul II had received Marcial Maciel in audience and blessed him on November 30, 2004 at a time when the charges against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ had breached the wall of silence from within the Vatican.

Even if the Pope was then in the final stages of the disease that killed him a few months later, it is clear that John Paul II was favorably impressed by the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, which was apparently dynamic and thriving. He admired the foundation of Maciel, who was unmatched at publicizing himself while feigning the most accomplished piety and highest spirituality (going so far as to plagiarize books written by authentic spiritual leaders, such as the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer). Warned against the manipulations and poisoning which were common in his country under the Communist regime, the Polish pope distrusted charges against a prelate whose "works" seemed to meet all the criteria of the new evangelization: giving priority to the priesthood, piety, in-depth formation of seminarians, attachment to the beauty of the liturgy, doctrinal security, and investment in the education of elites, especially in Latin America without forgetting the poor, to whom some schools of the Legion of Christ were open.

Having personally had the opportunity to visit some of the Legion’s schools in Mexico in the 1990s, I can testify that appearances really "put on a good show." The residents and young priests who lived out a schedule strictly divided between work, prayer, and relaxation time showed an enthusiasm and joie de vivre rare on this side of the Atlantic, even in Catholic institutions.

Responding to this objection of John Paul II’s support for Father Maciel, Monsignor Slawomir Oder, postulator for the cause of Karol Wojtyla’s canonization, confirmed during an April 22 press conference at the Vatican that further investigation had been conducted on his life and work had shown "no personal involvement of John Paul II" in the affairs of the Legion of Christ. In other words, if there was misconduct by omission, the Pope was not an accomplice to the founder of the Legionaries of Christ nor was he "bought" by him (as were prelates of the Vatican); and he would have totally shared in the indignation of his friend and successor Benedict XVI if he had been shown the truth of the accusations against Marcial Maciel, which the prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger, was already investigating. But the investigation would come to an end only in 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI took over the Legion of Christ by ordering a comprehensive reform of the congregation and appointing a papal delegate to supervise it.

This did not prevent Benedict XVI from starting his predecessor’s canonization process without waiting for the normal period of five years after his death, as the "vox populi" matched his own conviction of the holiness of John Paul II, whose main collaborator he was for nearly twenty-five years.

There are other examples in the history of the Church of saints and popes who have been deceived by those around them or mystified by fantasists, but they were not the least complicit; rather, they were victims of these frauds and hoaxes. One of the best known examples is that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was "led up the garden path," along with Pope Leo XIII himself, by the anticlerical freethinker Leo Taxil, as Bishop Guy Gaucher reports: "Leo Taxil invented the story of Diana Vaughan. This American girl was allegedly converted after belonging to Freemasonry, where she was the beloved child of Lucifer and the fiancée of a demon. Thérèse believed it with all her heart. She prayed for Diana and even wrote her by sending her own picture of Joan of Arc. And then the day came when Taxil publicly revealed that Diana did not exist, during a press conference in Paris, where he projected the photo of Thérèse. And Thérèse came to know all of that. She was deceived, ridiculed, and above all injured in the innermost dimensions of her faith and her love.

Other criticisms raised by the upcoming canonization of John Paul II generally have to do with the governance of the Church, his severity towards the so-called "liberation theology" in Latin America, and his lack of interest in keeping track of the Vatican administration: he was more of an "orbi" Pope than an "urbi" one – oriented more toward the world he so tirelessly visited than toward Rome. The full confidence that he placed in his staff would be at the origin of the scandals that began to explode during his pontificate, such as sex cases involving prelates ranked as high as the Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann-Groër, Archbishop of Vienna, and of the "Vatileaks"  inherited by Benedict XVI, regarding the financial management of the Vatican, or the "homosexual lobby" mentioned by Pope Francis shortly after his election.

The Polish pope’s long illness certainly enabled the misinformation of which both he and the Church were victims. Note, however, that he strongly condemned pedophilia in the clergy in 2002 during his visit to the United States, which was the starting point for a serious shakeup of the seminaries in the Americas.

One could also cite the objections of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (1927-2012), former archbishop of Milan. Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, said at the press conference on April 22 that "these reservations were related to the ‘debate’ about the ‘appropriateness’ of canonizing popes." "It’s not fair and it’s not true" to say that the Italian cardinal was opposed to his canonization, and he had called John Paul II a "spiritual father of mankind," Monsignor Oder emphasized." (La Croix)

But the most determined opposition comes, not surprisingly, from the two extremes, progressive and fundamentalist: the first (e.g., the European protest movement "We Are Church," cf. La Libre Belgique) criticizing Pope John Paul II’s "authoritarianism," which in reality is his commitment to the primacy of Peter and his doctrinal firmness regarding the family and sexual morality. And the latter cannot forgive him for being a "conciliar" pope like all his predecessors and successors. Added to that, the Lefebvrists found a "bitter pill" to swallow in the
Assisi interreligious meeting, which according to them was a sacrifice to syncretism, although the Vatican said before and after the event that it was not about praying together as if they all had the same religion, but about religious men of good will praying side by side.

But the superior of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, will not listen: "…  how can it be possible to give the whole Church as an example of holiness, on the one hand, the initiator of the Vatican II, and on the other, the Pope of Assisi and human rights? (…) How is it possible to guarantee the seal of holiness in the teachings of such a Council, which inspired the whole process of Karol Wojtyla and whose harmful fruits are the unequivocal evidence of the Church’s self-destruction?" he protested in a letter published in several languages a few days before the  canonization of Pope John XXIII and John Paul II.

This is to take another step toward schism, since a canonization involves papal infallibility: Bishop Fellay is not "just" turning his back on the Second Vatican Council, on John XXIII, on Paul VI, on John Paul I and John Paul II, but also on Benedict XVI (who launched the canonization of the two popes) and Pope Francis, who will celebrate the canonizations next Sunday. 

We can add that by giving one of its own, whether a man or a woman, a priest, religious or lay, as a model of holiness to the whole Church, it has never considered them perfect beings. "The saint sins seven times a day," according to a very Catholic saying. The only perfect one, the only truly holy being, is God. All of the saints are called such by virtue of their participation in God’s holiness, because of their acceptance of grace, their listening and their docile and even "heroic " obedience to the Holy Spirit. And this applies just as well to a simple uneducated peasant like Bernadette Soubirous as it does to the sixty popes (265) canonized since St. Peter (and even he denied Christ three times!).

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