This week at the Holy See in Vatican City at Rome Italy the current Pope Francis I and the Pope emeritus Benedict XVI will preside over the “raising to the glory of the altars” the names and reputations of Pope John XXIII who called the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II who traveled more than any other Pope, reigned longer than almost any other and whose life before he was Pope John Paul II made this first Polish pope very unique.
Canonization is of course always about the person. It is less about the work and career than most honors. Those things are considered but personal holiness is more considered. The life of Pope John Paul II has been masterfully written and redacted by an American scholar. You can link to the sale of George Weigel’s book here. In the case of John XXIII there is a book which is about his life and in which most of the text is written by the sainted pope himself but which probably does not meet quite the definition of autobiography under which it has been marketed all or most of my life. You can link to a copy of that book here. But it is perhaps required that i state here in this brief post that I have no doubt that both men have a great deal to say to our age by life, example and writing. Neither one is devoid of all controversy.
Pope John XXIII was a pastor in Fascist Italy and Pope John Paul II was pastor of the universal church when much of the pedophilia scandal was continuing as a crisis of discipline and truthfulness among other things. There is no doubt that both men studied morality seriously, that both men risked much for what they believed, that both men attacked antisemitism, varied religious hatreds and many forms of intellectual blindness. There is no doubt that both men fostered cooperation to improve the lot of ordinary and not so ordinary people in suffering and crisis around the world. There is no doubt that both men sought to speak the Gospel of Christ Jesus to the modern world. So should they be canonized?
Technically, the requirement for a second verified miracle after the saint has died and is in the Beatific Vision has been wived for John XXIII and the requirement of a waiting period at the start was waived under the Santo Subito pressures around the death of Pope John Paul II. Both men have therefore gotten a bit of a pass on the full rigors of the process.
While I will not get a chance to watch much of the process I will try to post more about it after the event. I think it will be a worthy and noble celebration. The television and radio network based in Birmingham , Alabama in the United States has extensive coverage of the event and the lives of the two men. You can link to that information here. I hope people will look at it with an appreciation of its sincerity and its greatness as an expression of a faith community. But there is also a risk in the decision to canonize a Pope which does not exist in other saints. The Pope holds authority in a real situation where human feelings are hurt, human mistakes made and human lives upset. It seems perhaps to be too much to ask those who lost out to a Pope in Life to have him included in their liturgies after his death as a specially recognized companion of Christ. But on the other hand that is what sanctity is all about — holiness in the real world. Further as different as these popes were it is true that both sought to expose this meaning of daily sanctity to the Church and the World.
Both of these men in my opinion have been more likely to be confirmed to the glory of the altars than are either of the two living Popes who will be there. John Paul II may be faulted for not having done more to stop the murder of Jewish children in Poland by the truck loads but he did oppose the Nazis at the risk of his life, he did witness to and oppose the Communists effectively at the risk of his life and run the most honest philosophy lecture for a thousand miles in any direction. He did get shot by an Muslim on a Communist payroll. He did struggle mightily on the grandest scale as Pope for the things he believed. Pope John XXIII made the Second Vatican Council happen and it is difficult for a non-Catholic to imagine what was required to make that happen. I do not think this very popular Pope nor the elderly Apostle of the Longsuffering Germans is likely to leave a record so clearly one of heroic virtue. The risk of scandal which may offset the real merits of Benedict or Francis looms larger because of what is not there in the positive column.
The two living popes are very different as are the two men raised to the honor of being recognized by the Universal Church as saints. I have written a good bit about Pope Francis in the posts linked at the lower potion of this post. I feel I have largely covered this great American-Italian-Argentine-Jesuit breakthrough in those linked posts although not in this post itself. So I feel I can leave aside a brief biography of Francis but can be less sparing about Pope Benedict.
Josef Ratzinger, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was the second consecutive Patriarch of Rome, Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff and Successor to the Throne of St. Peter who has not been an Italian and he has now been suceeded by the first in a while who is both Italian and not Italian as well as an American and an Argentine. His role in making Popes from outside Italy alone is very important to the health of the Church that (without saying the Italians are not a great people and without saying that Bishops ought mostly to come from their own lands or related lands) and is a very good thing. It would probably be good if about half of all Popes were Italian over time but I would not want to see dozens of Popes in a row who were not Italian so everyone must do the best they can and perhaps the current Pope is an elegant solution.
Benedict is saddled with some responsibility for being part of the German theological establishment some of that is good and some is not. I have views differing from those held in the Church’s halls of power about some of the merits of these Germans. Josef Ratzinger is also a German who fought in the regular nonpolitical part of the German forces doing his duty in World War II and is a very accomplished scholar. However, the service to any state headed by Adolf Hitler and his lunatics is a blemish on the Papacy. But the Papacy has had many blemishes — nonetheless I do not lay all the blame on him personally but I do hold it against him. He seems to indicate in his public life that he remembers the insanity of Nazi political religion and although his experience was more ambiguous than he admits he will work to see that the liturgy and practice of the Church draws forth a milieu such as produced Mozart, the Bach family and the Gothic Cathedrals. The Pope he is will be remembered in the context of the German he is and it will be hard to find a route to canonization in all probability.
Like John Paul II he did try to reach out to the Jews. There are problems in doing so that are real and he never looked to skilled at it. But in addition he has more to explain and offset. If he could have said anything kind and honest to the Jews in the way of professional advice that acknowledged some continuity of Hebrew liturgy and have had it well received he would advise them to invest in their worship and liturgy to reach and surpass the heights of the Temple’s musical past. That was a route, perhaps a concert shared together in the gardens, Perhaps more Hebrew in the newer forms of the Latin Mass. For those who judge such matter not so officially there is a great deal to offset in service to the Third Reich. But there is a vast set of problems regarding discussions of the period. Certainly the NAZI regime had more justification for panic and insecurity and rage than we in the USA are usually willing to teach our children, Nor is it unreasonable that we have a cast to our view of things. But Dolan, Law and Hannan were never serious contenders for the Papacy and this man was and is Pope.
Pope Benedict XVI had at once upon election to contend with a very broad spectrum of issues and demands and brought to bear his talents as a writer, thinker and organizer as well as his prodigious mental capacities. He has written about Jesus Christ in a very compelling way and has sought to bring the Christ of Faith, the Jesus of History and the Jesus Christ of Cultural developments into a proper and good focus centered around the Jesus revealed in the Gospels. This is certainly a worthy goal and it fits in the larger context of a body of work. He specifically struggles with that German Teutonic impulse towards the struggle of the spiritual and the State which has always been pronounced but which which has been agonizingly dysfunctional since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But in all the heroism of his struggle he does not lay out the offsetting values that erase the sins and scandals of his time from memory.
Pope Francis is on a honeymoon with the whole world right now and is a formidable pastor. I love that he brings Jesuit skills to bear. But there will be scandals form his past in Argentina. When they emerge I doubt I will be as critical as many. I know how hard it is to look good in horrific situations. But he was a fixer, mover and shaker struggling day in and out in a country in a long and bloody turmoil. Eventually someone will present evidence that something he did or did not do contributed to the death or ruin of an innocent person. I am drowning in self respect and the same could be said of my life. It is just impossible in my view to come out of some situations unblemished. But all the adulation now will make it harder to take whether it comes before or after his death. I hope and tend to think he has risked himself to help those in trouble.
I am going to try to write a little something about the canonization of two recent popes and the ceremony at which two popes will be present. Here is a post discussing some of the early reactions to the papal reign of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio — Pope Francis. Here and here are posts I put up about the transition when Pope Benedict resigned and before Pope Francis was elected. So far as it goes there is no doubt that the papacy has been a serious and sustained interest in this blog. There is also no doubt that if a major scandal breaks regarding Pope Benedict or Pope Francis that there will be people remembering having read things here that they never read extolling these men. I have done little extolling.
However, this is a great day for the Papacy. It is a glorious celebration and I am proud to see the Church reaching out to past and future. But it is a risky time for the church and a good time to be a bit self-critical. My own views are written and published in this blog at length. I respectfully look to Rome form where I stand as myself.