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Why JPII Should Not Be Canonized

Extremely conservative Catholic, Eric Giunta has a rather provocative post arguing that the late Pope John Paul II should not be canonized as a saint. He makes his argument on the basis of the ongoing sex abuse scandal among the Catholic hierarchy:

The allegations highlight what for all too many Catholics is the elephant-in-the-room when discussing the ills which beset the modern Church: the extent to which the late Pope John Paul II was an enabler of these perversions, from sexual and liturgical abuse to theological dissent and the scandal of Catholic politicians who support the most immoral of social policies with the tacit or express blessings of their Church.

One does not need to deny or disparage the personal sanctity, thoughtful conservatism, or religious orthodoxy of the late Pontiff in order to acknowledge that his Pontificate, by all accounts, was a glorious failure. Yes, he aided in the fall of Eastern European Communism, but the Pope of Rome is not primarily a mover and shaker of state politics, but a Christian pastor whose mission it is to save souls, convert the lost, and govern his church in such a way that it resembles, as best as possible, the city on a hill, the light of the world whose radiance cannot be hid under a bushel-basket. . . .

Though Catholics and others are loathe to admit it of an otherwise beloved Pope, John Paul II oversaw a church which deteriorated in both its inner and outer life. His callous indifference toward the victims of priestly sexual abuse in refusing to meet personally with a single one of them, and his stubborn refusal to compel the resignation from office of any of the bishops who aided, abetted, and covered-up the abuse, are testamentary to his utter failure: not as a Catholic or a theologian, but as a Pope.

And this is precisely why he should not be canonized. For in the Catholic (and popular) understanding, canonization is not simply a technical decree indicating one’s everlasting abode in Paradise; it is, in addition, the Church’s solemn endorsement of a Christian’s heroic virtue. The question the Catholic Church must ask herself is: Was John Paul II a model of “heroic” papal virtue?

To be clear, I’m not arguing one way or the other on this. As a non-Roman Catholic its really not my place to say. But it seems like this is a pretty important argument that Roman Catholics need to have.

Here’s a bit more from the article:

Contrary to leftist media reportage, the late Pope was not an authoritarian despot, bent on enforcing Catholic orthodoxy on an unwilling church. Quite the contrary: theological liberals and dissenters flourished in all of the Church’s structures, from lay politics and Catholic universities, to the ranks of priests and bishops. Not a single pro-abortion Catholic politician has been excommunicated from the church; only a handful of openly heretical priests were asked to stop teaching theology, but were otherwise permitted to exercise their priestly ministry unhindered. The Church in Austria openly dissents from orthodox Catholicism with papal impunity. Fr. Richard McBrien, Sr. Joan Chittiser, Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Notre Dame University, dissenters galore: the overwhelming majority of prominent far-leftist, theologically modernist Catholic organizations, speakers, and theologians are Catholics in good standing with their church, and are frequently given an official platform at church-sponsored institutions and events. To give just two more examples, several Catholic parishes and universities flaunt themselves as “gay-friendly” in a directory published by the Conference of Catholic Lesbians. These speakers and institutions are in just as good standing with the Church as so-called “orthodox” Catholic pundits and writers.

After John Paul II, the Catholic Church is virtually indistinguishable from the Anglican Communion. Everyone has their seat at the table, liberal and conservative, high church and low. The “official” teaching of the Church may lean toward religious conservatism, but this is just one option out of many which a loyal Catholic may avail himself of and remain in good standing with his Church.

The late Pope’s governance of his church was laissez-faire, he personally adhering to conservative Catholic orthodoxy but not wishing to impose such on Catholic clergy or institutions. Ironically, the Papacy has been rather critical of governments who take such approaches to their economies; should it be the model for a church which regards itself as the one true religion?

H/T: Rod Dreher


  1. Hill wrote:

    The issue is that his decisions on all of these matters were tactical, and honestly have nothing to do with his personal sanctity. The efficacy of his approach could be called in to question (although not in any unequivocal way), but that has no bearing whatsoever on the question of his sainthood. This is honestly a really stupid article. Like provocative in the sense that making absurd non sequiturs is provocative.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    To play some devil’s advocate here, if I were the pastor of a church and the youth pastor under my authority molested a bunch of kids and I refused to meet with or speak to the victims of this and kept the fellow employed in the church, wouldn’t that in some manner reflect on my personal sanctity?

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  3. mike d wrote:

    I don’t really understand how a Pope’s decisions concerning the Church could have “no bearing whatsoever on the question of his sainthood”, unless by sainthood you just mean his interior life. And that just strikes me as a wrong approach to sainthood and sanctification in general. I certainly would listen to someone who said “well that CEO just made tactful decisions in his potion, that has nothing to do with his sainthood”.

    I suppose unless you deny his notion that sainthood is “the Church’s solemn endorsement of a Christian’s heroic virtue”.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  4. robert wrote:

    JPII’s failure to his calling in regard to purging the church and protecting his flock from sexual predators (and their enablers) is a fair question. The rest of the accusations, though, are the fruit of Vatican II, not of JPII’s governance.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  5. Wow, that really was a stupid article. In many ways the author is implicitly linking left-wing Catholics with sexual abuse of children, while lamenting that JPII wasn’t authoritarian enough to enforce conservative understanding of orthodoxy (which is a bit odd considering the reputation of the CDF during this time). I am personally quite glad that the Vatican had a largely very liberal, in the non-specific sense, approach to the way Catholic universities were run (i.e. not like evangelical universities attempt at mono-identity), but to suggest that this was also the practice at the level of the seminary is just incorrect. In short, don’t make him a saint cause he wasn’t right-wing enough is just a weird thing to celebrate, even if he doesn’t ultimately meet the criteria for canonization.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Just to be clear, I agree that the whole “the pope was a liberal” thing is stupid. Probably the only thing I’m interested in about the question is that of the clergy sex abuse stuff. How pastors deal with that stuff seems pretty important to me.

    The only thing that I find at all helpful about the other criticisms is that they belie the sort of quasi-catholic appropriation of the pope among evangelical protestants who want to hold him up an ultra-conservative ally.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  7. Paul wrote:

    Although I’m unsympathetic to Giunta’s ultra-conservatism and not impressed by much of his argument, I don’t find his article “stupid” at all. Very few popes were canonised before the 20th century, but now we are moving towards a situation where the canonisation of popes (like that of founders of religious congregations) will be the norm. Such mechanisms not only unbalance the notion of sanctity in the church, but they do inevitably have an effect of canonising also policy directions and insights. That was why the beatification of the immensely popular John XXIII had to be “balanced” by that of the arch-conservative Pius IX, to whom no-one much is devoted. It was an ideological operation of the worst kind. The cause of John Paul II is being pushed, at least partly, as an ideological campaign in favour of a certain kind of church and papacy: therefore the effects of his papal policies need to be taken into serious consideration. If he did indeed turn a deliberately blind eye, for example, to the utter corruption of Marcial Maciel of Legionaries of Christ fame, as recently alleged, it is surely a most serious matter.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  8. To be absolutely clear – I don’t think opposing the canonization of JPII is stupid (there are plenty of reasons to do so, and you mention many of them). I think the way the article went about doing so is stupid and hence the article itself was labeled, by me, as stupid. Nothing more than that.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  9. Hill wrote:

    I think this situation is significantly different. Hopefully the issues involved with meeting the victims of a scandal that affected likely thousands of people are apparent. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have happened, but it isn’t as if it’s a no-brainer exactly how something like that should have taken place. If anything, he’s to be commended for not undertaking some kind of token photo op.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  10. Hill wrote:

    I’m bracketing the fact that his analysis of the former Pope’s role in all of this is logically dubious at best. JPII was not clairvoyant, that’s true, and it’s possible that he could have handled things differently. This guys seems to be a right wing traditionalist who is more concerned about supposed latitudinarianism and is simply coopting the “JPII is responsible for sexual abuse” argument to garner support from people inclined to believe that sort of sensationalist rhetoric. Some of you seem to have bitten.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    You are right on.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  12. Theophilus wrote:

    Talking about the “purity of the church” and purging bad elements from within is likely to get a more sympathetic hearing in an Anabaptist tradition than a Catholic one.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  13. Hill wrote:

    Yeah… Anabaptists tend to be a bunch of Donatist bastards.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  14. Halden wrote:

    At least we’re not the fucking whore of Babylon.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  15. Hill wrote:

    …with a cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  16. Eric Giunta wrote:

    Mr. Smith:

    My very explicit mention of the Maciel case should put to rest any accusation that I believe sexual abuse of minors is/was solely a “left-wing problem.”

    Secondly, Catholicism is an inherently conservative religious system, even if that conservatism does not neatly fit anywhere in the stereotypical American spectrum. It is entirely fair to ask whether John Paul’s pastoral policies left behind a church more faithful to what that Church has historically considered to be its religious orthodoxy. Believe me, had John Paul so grossly tolerated “far-right” dissenters, I’d bring that up to, but he didn’t. The fact of the matter is that “far-right” sects like the Lefebvrists and Feenyites really WERE purged from the Church under his Pontificate. A pirest was more likely to get defrocked under the John-Paulian church is he had a penchant for the traditional Latin liturgy than if he endorsed gay marriage.

    Third, while the modern crisis in the Church predates John Paul by two pontificates, the fact of the matter is he did virtually nothing to stem that tide.

    Finally, I’d be interested to hear what it is that defines “extreme” conservatism. My political philosophy, such as it is, is rather mainstream:

    Keep in mind that my evaluation of the late Papacy is from an orthodox Catholic perspective. (Note: I do not claim that it is the ONLY position an orthodox Catholic may take.) If someone thinks the Episcopal Church is the model for 21st century Christianity, much of my critique will indeed ring “stupid.”

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  17. I’ll avoid the MacGuffin of arguing whether or not you limit sexual abuse to those on the left. Obviously I never said that you meant all priests who sexually molested children were left-wing priests. What I pointed out, and this is clear from your post, is that you blame something that you vaguely think is “left-wing” (or “modern” to use another traditionalist catchphrase).

    Reading through your political opinion (which hardly constitutes the grand title of a philosophy) I see that you, indeed, a conservative of a particularly American stripe. Obviously you are more intelligent than, say, Sarah Palin or Bill O’Reilly, but that only convinces me of your bêtise all the more. Now, I by no means ascribe to the position that the Catholic Hierarchy (with whom you confuse the Catholic Church in toto) is “far-right”. In fact, I think they are essentially moral cowards and try to hold together people of all persuasions through ambiguity of social teaching. So, of course they excommunicated rebellious far-right groups and individuals (why the quotes? they really were far-right!) and disciplined the left (no need for excommunication, as those on the left, particularly in liberation theology, often capitulated to that disciplining or left the priesthood to avoid being under the eye of the CDF). So, though I’d have to see some numbers to actually believe you, I would be unsurprised if a priest were defrocked for being more right than left. Not because the hierarchy is more predisposed, under JPII, to the left, but because gay marriage simply isn’t something that would threaten the authority of the hierarchy, whereas the traditionalist, anti-Vatican II folks did. I assume you don’t need this spelled out.

    As for your other unsupported claims, like collapsing orthodoxy (a matter of doctrine relating to God) with political positions is, you guessed it, stupid. It is a common mistake amongst those who take themselves to be the faithful, thinking that what they believe must be what orthodoxy says from the Nicene creed to Corn Flakes. However, there is no necessary or logical reason why orthodoxy requires conservative politics as such. The understanding of how best to live out orthodox dogma is open to change, though I suspect you will just collapse this view into some already existing narrative about leftist relativism or some other such bullshit.

    I wouldn’t count you as a representative of orthodox Roman Catholicism. No, you sir are just another insane traditionalist lacking in critical faculties. Of course you’d like to present a narrative where such views are reasonable, even common sense or derived from empirical observation of nature (other mammals are serverly lacking in monogamous family values), but that is a narrative that strikes me as false when I try to think with the grain of the universe.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  18. Theophilus wrote:

    Perhaps the reason JPII cracked down on the right rather than the left was because he thought it would be easier to convince excommunicated rightists than leftists. Benedict XVI’s reintegration of the Society of Saint Pius X into communion with Rome seems to support the notion that conservative dissenters won’t become established as independent churches but will return to Rome given the chance, while liberalizing dissenters are more likely to cut all ties to Rome. See the Hussite Church in the former Czechoslovakia, Alberto Cutie in Florida moving to the Episcopal Church, etc.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  19. Hill wrote:

    That’s a good point.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 8:04 pm | Permalink
  20. Eric Giunta wrote:

    Mr. Smith:

    I am afraid it is you, not I, who conflate “conservatism” with the Republican Party platform. The distinction between principles and policies also seems to elude you, which is why you take conception to my characterization of Catholic Christianity as an inherently conservative belief system, which it most certainly is.

    You also make assumptions about my beliefs (vis-a-vis doctrinal development, for instance) which are not warranted by my published writing. I certainly am not a “traditionalist” in the sense REAL Catholic “traditionalists” use the term.

    The rest of your post is hardly worth responding to: typical professorial ad hominem. Get back to me when you figure out the difference between modernity and modernism, and when you’re honest enough to take your cultural liberalism to its logical conclusion and start renaming the days of the week.

    (I’ve browsed through your course syllabi. I’m truly moved by your multicultural sensitivity in employing the BCE/CE dating system. But I remain offended by the fact that my days of the week continue to be named after pagan deities I no longer worship. Be REALLY sensitive to your students and let them know that your Classical Christian Thought I is gonna be meeting on Tridi and Quintidi!)

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 10:41 pm | Permalink
  21. Daniel Imburgia wrote:

    Reckon I will hold off on that tattoo till this gets sorted out, obliged, daniel.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Permalink
  22. Right, so you are apparently so stupid that you can’t tell when a person named Adam Kotsko (a REAL Catholic, as you say) is teaching a course and when a person named Anthony Paul Smith is teaching a course. Nice try though. You’re also either stupid enough or cynical enough to try a bait and switch by attributing to me a statements I never made and ignorance that I do not harbor. I’m speaking, of course, to your saying that I conflate conservativism with the Republican Party platform and that I didn’t know the difference between modernism and modernity. It was a nice way of avoiding dealing with a problem in your thought, that is the conflation of dogmatic orthodoxy with political policies. Again, you present no evidence to your claim that Catholicism is inherently conservative and yet you just want us to bow and let you pass! As for my calling you a traditionalist, well perhaps you aren’t a rank and file traditionalist, but you present a position very friendly to the traditionalist and it is clear that you sympathize with them, whereas it is very clear you do not sympathize with the leftist Catholic organizations.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 2:32 am | Permalink
  23. Eric Giunta wrote:

    Mr. Smith:

    (Oops on the sylllabi! Shows I’m not infallible after all!)

    If you’re truly serious about disputing the inherent conservatism of Catholic orthodoxy, I suggest you review the late Russel Kirk’s “Ten Conservative Principles” and let me know which one of them you find inconsistent with that orthodoxy.

    Catholicism is a religious system which holds tradition in VERY high esteem, insists that there is a moral order which transcends the material world (and to which the latter must conform itself to), insists on the falleness of man’s nature, respects hierarchy, teaches the principle of subsidiarity, has a very organic view of civil society, insists that changes in civil and ecclesial society should be prudent and organic, and fosters a love and devotion for the non-rational dimensions of the human experience.

    All this is quintessentially conservative, and avoids your error of implicitly mistaking principles for policies.Catholicism’s inherent conservatism is not inconsistent with, say, the bishops’ opposition to the Iraq War, or their support for government-run insurance.

    You may well object to my having recourse to Kirk as a conservative litmus test, but I do believe his distillation does justice to the greater conservative tradition, elucidated in his “The Conservative Mind” and contained in the writings of such luminaries as Burke, De Maistre, Newman, most of the American Founding Fathers, not to mention the conservative Big Lights, like William F. Buckley and Richard John Neuhaus.

    Finally, you might wanna cut out the name-calling. It’s a sign of intellectual weakness and insecurity, and degrades no one but the one who employs it.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink
  24. Brad A. wrote:

    Eric, I’m curious whether you’ve read the likes of William Cavanaugh, Michael Baxter, or other Catholics who have written in the past decade or so on the many ways Enlightenment liberalism – including the conservatism of Burke/Kirk – diverges from, and is in some instances directly contrary, to Christian orthodoxy. As I read those ten principles, I see a number of items that seem questionable to me when juxtaposed to the Roman Catholic tradition(s).

    Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  25. Eric Giunta wrote:

    Mr. Brad:

    I am not familiar with either Baxter or Cavanaugh. I know Burke himself has often been accused propounding some kind of blind historicism, but I don’t feel such a reading does justice to his philosophy.

    Which of Kirk’s ten principles do you find inimical to the Catholic tradition? As I understand it, he sees these as a distillation of thousands of years of speculation and lived experience, Greco-Roman-Judaeo-Christian. It seems no accident to me that the Catholic Church, given its history, would be a unique repository for this collected wisdom.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Permalink
  26. One need only do a bit of anthropology of indigenous Catholic groups to see that your essentialist view of religion and politics is wrong.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 3:54 am | Permalink
  27. Theophilus wrote:

    Your argument only works if you take Catholic folk practices to be the standard by which Catholicism is to be judged. Those who let the Vatican define what it is to be Catholic will heartily disagree with you, methinks.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 7:49 am | Permalink
  28. Eric Giunta wrote:

    I think things are a lot more nuanced than either Mr. Smith or Theophilus take them. It’s not the “Vatican” which defined Catholic tradition, but the Magisterium, in accordance with the greater orthodox tradition, which is informed by the sensus fidelium and yes, even folk piety.

    There MUST be SOMETHING essential to Catholicism (and various political philosophies); otherwise, how is it even possible to speak of them intelligently? There may be SOME truth to the non-essentialist reading of religion, but its ultimately an unsatisfactory framework.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink
  29. My point is that the Catholic experience is varied and that it is also liable to change. While there is certainly a tendency towards conservative politics in the Roman church, it is not essential to it.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  30. Hill wrote:

    I’m getting APS tattooed under my left eye.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  31. Devin Rose wrote:

    I would add that Catholics believe that the bishops are the successors of the Apostles, with of course the Bishop of Rome as the first among equals, who holds primacy; however, the other bishops are the rightful authorities and pastors of the faithful in their dioceses, and so the primary responsibility is theirs for not correctly disciplining or stopping the evil committed by priests and others in their diocese.

    The Pope can certainly counsel his brother bishops in these matters of prudence and justice (and no doubt he did), but the bishops have the responsibility to take the appropriate actions.

    As to the Fr. Maciel situation, it demonstrates that a cunning man can deceive the Pope about his character, which says nothing about the Pope’s quality of heroic virtue or lack thereof.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  32. Eric Giunta wrote:

    Again, you’re conflating conservatism with right-wing politics. Depending on the context, someone with a conservative worldview (e.g., Kirk) may indeed support policies which are left of center.

    The Latin American Christian Democratic parties come to mind here. (The ones in Europe do tend to be center-right, with some notable exceptions.0

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  33. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Do you always resort to name-calling when you don’t know what you are talking about? You did it on another occasion that I can remember as well. To my recollection, even calling somebody a “fool” puts you in danger of hellfire. Watch your words.

    This comment does not deserve to be on the blog Halden. Comments like this are simply ad hominem and not argumentation at all. Let this guy go back to his clique and be happy with himself. It does a disservice to Catholics to allow this type of comment that is not very thoughtful at all.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

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