Apr 23rd 2014

Unsteady Halo: The Canonization of Pope John Paul II

by Charles J. Reid, Jr.

Charles J. Reid, Jr. was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he majored in Latin, Classics, and History, and also did substantial coursework in classical Greek and modern European languages. It was during his undergraduate days that he developed an interest in canon law, doing a year of directed research in Roman and canon law under the supervision of James Brundage. Reid then attended the Catholic University of America, where he earned J.D. and J.C.L. (license in canon law) degrees. During his time at Catholic University, he organized a series of symposia on the bishops' pastoral letter on nuclear arms. The proceedings of these symposia were published under Reid's editorship as "Peace in a Nuclear Age: The Bishops' Pastoral Letter in Perspective" (Catholic University of America Press, 1986). This book was called by the New York Times "among the most scholarly and unsettling of responses" to the pastoral letter (December 28, 1986).Reid then attended Cornell University, where he earned a Ph.D. in the history of medieval law under the supervision of Brian Tierney. His thesis at Cornell was on the Christian, medieval origins of the western concept of individual rights. Over the last ten years, he has published a number of articles on the history of western rights thought, and is currently completing work on a book manuscript addressing this question.In 1991, Reid was appointed research associate in law and history at the Emory University School of Law, where he has worked closely with Harold Berman on the history of western law. He collaborated with Professor Berman on articles on the Lutheran legal science of the sixteenth century, the English legal science of the seventeenth century, and the flawed premises of Max Weber's legal historiography.While at Emory, Reid has also pursued a research agenda involving scholarship on the history of western notions of individual rights; the history of liberty of conscience in America; and the natural-law foundations of the jurisprudence of Judge John Noonan. He has also published articles on various aspects of the history of the English common law. He has had the chance to apply legal history in a forensic setting, serving as an expert witness in litigation involving the religious significance of Christian burial. Additionally, Reid has taught a seminar on the contribution of medieval canon law to the shaping of western constitutionalism.  Recently, Reid has become a featured blogger at the Huffington Post on current issues where religion, law and politics intersect.

Santo subito! -- "Sainthood now!" That was the urgent plea of the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square in April, 2005, as Pope John Paul II lay dying. If the crowd had had its way, he would have been proclaimed a saint the very moment he died. And in truth, the canonization process has been extremely brisk. John Paul II has been dead only nine years and the Church stands ready to canonize him on April 27.

The passage of years, however, has allowed for a more sober assessment of his pontificate. For sure, John Paul II did things that make him worthy of canonization. There is no question that he was a deeply prayerful man who authored profound reflections on the meaning of Jesus and his mission. He provided a great witness to courage, first when he was shot in May, 1981, and then, two decades later, as an elderly victim of Parkinson's. He rallied Poland and Eastern Europe in the Cold War. Where others might have been intemperate, his messages always encouraged resolute, peaceful, non-violent resistance.

Still, the perspective of time allows us to realize that his pontificate had the effect not of strengthening but rather of weakening the Church in a number of crucial respects. And we would be a friend to history -- and to the Church -- if we acknowledged these flaws, for they are not insignificant.

First, there was the priestly pedophilia crisis. It was in the middle 1980s when the public first began to get a sense of its enormity. In 1983, the national media highlighted the serial abuse committed by a priest of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, Fr. Gilbert Gauthe. And two years later, in a report to the American Bishops' Conference, Fr. Thomas Doyle detailed the depth of the problem and predicted that the pedophilia crisis might be the largest disaster to confront the Church "in centuries."

Fr. Doyle was right of course. And a healthy Church would have responded with shock, yes, but then with a thorough house cleaning. Regrettably, it has been three decades and the house cleaning is still less than adequate. Why? There are many reasons, but one contributing factor was the culture of clericalism that came to dominate the Catholic hierarchy in the 1980s and 1990s.

Priests and bishops were said to be special, set apart for leadership in the Church. Bishops, in particular, came to see themselves not as men dedicated to service and compassion but as defenders of the Church against her enemies, including, to the Church's great shame, the victims of abuse. John Paul II set the tone for his bishops.

And the crisis worsened as he aged. Pontificating excuse-makers duly explained that he lacked the capacity to grasp its scale. In the Poland of his youth, his apologists recited, many priests faced trumped-up charges of child abuse and now the aged Pope could not accept that these charges were genuine. Both for the clericalism he promoted and the cognitive dissonance he could not overcome, John Paul II bears at least some of the responsibility for the crisis.

And among the worst cases of child abuse was that of Fr. Marcial Maciel. The Founder of the religious order, The Legion of Christ, Fr. Maciel enjoyed extraordinary favor all the while he preyed on his seminarians, victimizing dozens over his long reign of terror. He fathered children with various women on at least two continents, and even plagiarized his spiritual autobiography. A group of former seminarians attempted to inform the Vatican of their mistreatment in the 1990s, but were never given a hearing. All the while, John Paul II feted Fr. Maciel in Rome and praised him for his devotion to orthodoxy. The cleansing of this sordid mess fell to his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.

On a very different note, John Paul II was celebrated in his day for the ways in which he defined doctrine. The post-Vatican-II Church of the 1970s, it was said, had been too experimental. Scholars wrote about liberation theology. Church historians examined tradition in path-breaking ways. Priests explored a variety of ways of doing liturgy. Yes, there were excesses. Yes, there was naiveté, enough to go around, but there was also genuine excitement and real life to the Church.

John Paul II sought to curb this enthusiasm, mistaking exuberance for heterodoxy. He craved certainty even while despising intellectual diversity. The Catholic Church was one and should speak with a single voice. A generation of Catholic scholars, the best and brightest minds the Church had, were investigated and silenced by John Paul II's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A trained theologian, he attempted to write into Catholic dogma many of his own propositions, thinking them to be universal truths.

Going forward, these efforts to create a comprehensive uniformity of doctrine may prove to be among the most unfortunate aspects of John Paul II's pontificate. Take, for example, his theology of the body, which he developed in a series of sermons in the early 1980s and which forms the basis of the sexual teachings found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992.

Assuming what he wished to prove, John Paul II used the creation account -- "male and female he created them" -- as justification for a sexual ethic that now urgently requires rethinking. In the Catechism, he described same-sex attraction as "objectively disordered" (para. 2358). Same-sex relationships, he said were incapable of "proceed[ing] from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity" and so "[u]nder no circumstances can they be approved" (para. 2357).

We know, of course, that same-sex attraction is part of the natural variability of human sexuality. We recognize from simply observing love-in-action that genuinely self-giving, life-promoting relationships are not only possible but common among gay people. Gay people love and live, hurt and heal in exactly the same ways as heterosexuals.

Catholic moral theology must come to understand these elementary human facts. I am confident that it will, since the Church's teaching is always finally dependent upon a proper anthropology of the human person. Doctrine does develop. But John Paul II's work has made that development a far more arduous task.

Beginning in the middle 1990s, John Paul enlisted as a full-fledged combatant in the culture war. And this long twilight struggle of his papacy led to a generation of Catholics coming of age who can only conceive of the Church as the guardian of orthodoxy in a hostile world. Their websites are prolific. They are hasty to denounce their foes, fast to pronounce anathema, and quick to read people out of the Church. They rush to defend the Church, but in their misguided zeal, they only weaken it.

John Paul II, in brief, inherited a Church that was intellectually supple and mentally vigorous. It was a Church that was open to new questions and new experiences. It understood its mission as the implementation of the Gospel in all its richness -- embracing the poor, welcoming the marginal. John Paul bequeathed a Church that is inward-looking, defensive and brittle -- a Church that is altogether too quick to abandon whole dimensions of the Gospel message in order to wage a losing culture war.

In retrospect, had John Paul II chosen to do what his immediate successor did -- retire at an appropriate time -- he would have stepped down around 1995. Our assessment would be different. But we must assess his legacy in its totality. And when we do, we realize that recovery from it will be a years-long process.

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Public opinion in Belarus remains firmly against involvement into the war with Ukraine. Moreover, according to a Chatham House survey, 40% of Belarusians do not support Russia’s war, compared to 32% who do, while around half of those questioned see predominately negative consequences of the war for Belarus (53%) and for themselves (48%). The Belarusian military and security services are also aware of the determined and skilful resistance that Ukrainian forces have put up against Russia and the risks that they would therefore be running if they entered the war against Ukraine. This, in turn, means that the risk to Lukashenko himself remains that he might lose his grip on power, a grip which depends heavily on the loyalty of his armed forces." ---- "Ultimately, Belarus may not be on the brink of being plunged into war quite yet, but its options to avoid such a disaster are narrowing."
Jun 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russification (the policy of enforcing Russian culture on populations) appears to be being reinforced by ethnic cleansing. Last month the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, Liudmyla Denisova, informed the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, that 1.3 million Ukrainians, including 223,000 children, had been forcibly deported to Russia."
Jun 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "If Trump had his way, then Vice-President Pence would have also broken his oath to the constitution and derailed the certification of electoral votes. Our continued existence as a Republic might very well have hung on Pence’s actions that day. The mob’s response was to call for Pence to be hanged, and a noose and scaffold was erected apparently for that very purpose. What was Trump’s reaction when he was told that the mob was calling for Pence’s summary execution? His words were: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Mike Pence “deserves” it."
Jun 10th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Speaking to journalist Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show recently, former war crimes prosecutor Sir Howard Morrison, now an advisor to the Ukraine government, highlighted the dangers posed by the negative – often insulting and dehumanising – statements made by some Russian politicians and media personalities about Ukraine and its people." ---- "The conditions and attitudes described by Morrison have existed for centuries: Russians have viewed Ukrainians as inferior since before the Soviet era." ----- "And, as Morrison said, stereotyping and denigrating a people as inferior or lacking agency makes atrocities and looting more likely to happen, as we are seeing in Ukraine."
Jun 9th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unless Russia realises that the west is willing and able to push back, a new, stable security order in Europe will not be possible. Concessions to Russia, by Ukraine or the EU and Nato, are not the way to achieve this. That this has been realised beyond Ukraine’s most ardent supporters in the Baltic states, Poland, the UK and the US is clear from German support for strengthening Nato’s northern flank and a general increase in Nato members’ defence spending."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Highly civilized people can turn into barbarians when demagogues and dictators exploit their fears and trigger their most atavistic instincts. Rape, torture, and massacres often happen when soldiers invade foreign countries. Commanding officers sometimes actively encourage such behavior to terrorize an enemy into submission. And sometimes it occurs when the officer corps loses control and discipline breaks down. Japanese and Germans know this, as do Serbs, Koreans, Americans, Russians, and many others."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Like Metternich, Kissinger commits the fatal error of believing that a few wise policymakers can impose their will on the world. Worse, he believes they can halt domestically generated change and the power of nationalism. Many years ago, this is what Senator William Fulbright termed the “arrogance of power.” This approach failed in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is also doomed to fail in Russia and Ukraine." ------ "Not surprisingly, Kissinger misunderstands Russia. He appears to believe that, because Russia has been an “essential part of Europe” for over four centuries, it is therefore fated to remain so for the foreseeable future.The claim is completely at odds with history." ---- "Finally, Kissinger misunderstands the implications of his own analysis for Western relations with Russia. “We are facing,” he said, “a situation now where Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere." ---- "But what’s so bad about Russia’s isolating itself from Europe and becoming a vassal state of China? "
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "According to the latest figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population grew from 1.41212 billion to just 1.41260 billion in 2021 – a record low increase of just 480,000, a mere fraction of the annual growth of eight million or so common a decade ago." ----- "China’s total fertility rate (births per woman) was 2.6 in the late 1980s – well above the 2.1 needed to replace deaths. It has been between 1.6 and 1.7 since 1994, and slipped to 1.3 in 2020 and just 1.15 in 2021."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Casualties are very high. A very conservative estimate of overall Russian losses is that they have lost more troops killed since February 24 than in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan. This implies well over 40,000 men taken out of the fight, including the wounded." ----- "Away from the cauldron of Donbas, Belarus has been rattling its somewhat rusty sabre by deploying troops to its border with Ukraine. This is unlikely to trouble Kyiv. The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, is well aware that he may need them at home to shore up his shaky regime."
May 27th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Monetary policymakers are talking tough nowadays about fighting inflation to head off the risk of it spinning out of control. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually wimp out and allow the inflation rate to rise above target. Since hitting the target most likely requires a hard landing, they could end up raising rates and then getting cold feet once that scenario becomes more likely. Moreover, because there is so much private and public debt in the system (348% of GDP globally), interest-rate hikes could trigger a further sharp downturn in bond, stock, and credit markets, giving central banks yet another reason to backpedal." ----- "The historical evidence shows that a soft landing is highly improbable. That leaves either a hard landing and a return to lower inflation, or a stagflationary scenario. Either way, a recession in the next two years is likely."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "No, I am not arguing that Powell needs to replicate Volcker’s tightening campaign. But if the Fed wishes to avoid a replay of the stagflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it needs to recognize the extraordinary gulf between Volcker’s 4.4% real interest rate and Powell’s -2.25%. It is delusional to believe that such a wildly accommodative policy trajectory can solve America’s worst inflation problem in a generation."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "It will be critical in this context how China will act and whether it will prioritise its economic interests (continuing trade with Europe and the US) or current ideological preferences (an alliance with Russia that makes the world safe for autocracies)."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "The document is full of embarrassing and damming stories of illegal gatherings and bad behaviour. There was “excessive alcohol consumption”, a regular fixture referred to as “wine time Fridays” and altercations between staff. Aides are shown to have left Downing Street after 4am (and not because they had worked into these early hours). Cleaning staff and junior aides were abused, and a Number 10 adviser is on record before the infamous “bring your own booze” party...."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."