Why did so few mention irrationality at heart of papal canonisations?

Opinion: Protests of clerical child abuse victims were drowned out


It was, presumably, a reluctance to rain on the popes’ parade that prevented all but a tiny minority of those covering the double canonisation acknowledging the irrationality that lay at the heart of the occasion. Canonisations depend on miracles and miracles are matters not capable of rational explanation.

To declare somebody a saint is not to assert that he or she lived a virtuous life but that they are now living in heaven and have the ear of God to pass on pleas for favours beyond the ability of mortal beings to deliver. The key miracle in John Paul II’s case concerned the recovery from a brain aneurism of Costa Rican woman Floribeth Mora Diaz in May 2011, just a month after being told that she’d soon die.

Diaz told that she had watched the beatification of John Paul exactly three years ago, on May 1st, had then fallen asleep and had awakened to hear John Paul say, “Do not be afraid, get up!” Her aneurism was gone. The most obvious explanation is initial misdiagnosis. But when reports of the cure reached the Vatican, officials decided that a miracle granted to John Paul was the more likely explanation

The reports had come to the Vatican’s attention not, as would be normal, from the diocesan authorities but from the internet: Diaz had posted her news on a number of sites. The Holy See, as if in a frantic hurry, immediately summoned her to Rome. She travelled incognito, posing as a tourist – a precaution against embarrassment if the cure claim turned out to be unsustainable.

After examination by a team of objective medical experts appointed by the Vatican, Diaz’s cure was pronounced miraculous.

John Paul’s beatification (as opposed to canonisation) miracle had been remarkably similar – the recovery five years earlier of French nun Sr Marie-Simon-Pierre from Parkinson’s disease. The nun did not assert that she owed her recovery to miraculous intervention, much less to intercession by John Paul: she had been praying to a number of saints. However, the Vatican ruled that it had been John Paul who had made the crucial intervention.

There was something appropriate about this. One of the most high-profile canonisations of John Paul’s own pontificate had been of Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. He had been credited with the sudden recovery in June 1976 of Spanish Carmelite Sr Concepción Boullón from a cluster of serious illnesses specified by the medical consultants to the Congregation of The Causes of the Saints to have included the deadly lipocalcinogranulomatosis. She had been praying to Escrivá.

Why the nun should have been praying to the Opus Dei founder in June 1976, less than a year after his death during the reign of Paul VI and years before the possibility of sainthood became a matter of wide speculation, was itself something of a mystery. The cure was not notified to the Vatican for six years, by which time the Throne of St Peter was occupied by John Paul, whose first action after enthronement had been to lead a procession to Escrivá’s grave.

Without the miracles, John Paul could not have been canonised. It would have been well within the limits of relevance to make consideration of the miracles central to rapportage. But this hardly happened. The dreamy coverage of Pope Francis’s papacy may have had something to do with this.

Abuse victims
Representatives of thousands of victims of clerical child sex abuse from around the world had gathered in Rome in an effort to draw attention to their treatment at the hands of the imminent saint. By and large, their efforts failed.

Said Daniel D’Bonnabel ( 53) from Austria: “It rubs salt into an open wound to promote someone who enabled and protected sexual predators.”

Nicky Davis (50), an Australian: “He could have used his enormous power to save children but decided instead to save the reputation of the church.”

Miguel Hurtado ( 32) from Spain: “Many people feel very alone because the man who could have prevented their abuse is being made a saint.”

The Irish delegation to Rome was led by Cardinal Seán Brady, the man who had children who were abused by Fr Brendan Smyth swear not to divulge their stories to another single soul, thus allowing Smyth to rape scores at least of other innocents.

If Brady and John Paul didn’t recognise at the time the gravity of the sexual abuse of children they should not have been in positions of authority over children in the first place and should have withdrawn from their ministries once the consequences of their actions became clear. Yet the one led the Irish applause for the other last weekend.

In all the circumstances, Sinead O’Connor’s comment that the spectacle “made me puke” was not excessive.

It is understandable that devout Catholics whose faith could drown out the complaints of the victims stood in awe in St Peter’s Square. What’s the others’ excuse?

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