John Paul II: tainted saint?

The late Polish pope and another former pontiff, John XXIII, will be canonised in Rome in a fortnight’s time. Many people, uncomfortable with John Paul’s ideologies and allegiances, are unhappy about the speed of his sainthood

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 01:00

He was a holy man, but was he a saint? As Pope Francis prepares to canonise two of his predecessors, two weeks from now, that question mark hangs over the head of John Paul II, if not of John XXIII.

It is not that John Paul, like John XXIII, was not a patently good man. More than that, in his 27-year pontificate he proved to be one of most influential figures of the 20th century, not least because of his fundamental role in the downfall of Eastern bloc totalitarianism.

On top of that, until his latter, illness-ridden years he was an unfailingly engaging, witty and often inspirational preacher. He was a mystic and a man of profound faith, yet he had tremendous political savvy, honed in years of struggle first with Nazi-German forces and then with Poland’s communist rulers.

In short his faith, wit and intellect were the perfect combination for a man who justifiably earned the nickname of God’s Politician as he travelled the globe, spreading the message long after he was physically well enough to do so.

His travels, his personal witness to suffering and illness, his ability to forgive Mehmet Ali Agca, who tried to assassinate him in 1981, and many other qualities explain why the crowds began that “ Santo s ubito! ” (“Make him a saint now”) chant in St Peter’s Square at his funeral, in 2005. That chant was arguably the biggest spur to setting him on the fast track to sainthood.

Yet many continue to have reservations about his impending sainthood. Secular, non-Catholic world opinion continues to point a finger at his handling of the sex-abuse crisis, which broke on his watch. Catholics also wonder whether the fastest canonisation process of modern times is not just a little too fast.

Latin Americans and others wonder about his lack of sympathy or support for the liberation-theology movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Liberal Catholics question his conservative teaching on sexual mores, as well as his conservative appointments.

Others ask if he was not too enthusiastic about lay movements such as Opus Dei, Comunione e Liberazione and, above all, the Legionaries of Christ of the late, disgraced Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Claims on sainthood
Curiously, one of those to express some of those doubts was the late cardinal of Milan Carlo Maria Martini. This week Corriere Della Sera , the city’s daily newpaper, revealed some of the deposition that the Jesuit cardinal made to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints when it was investigating John Paul’s claims on sainthood.

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