The National Catholic Review

I am a "liberal" Catholic.  I am also an admirer of Blessed John Paul II. 

Those two things may seem at odds, especially with the growing consternation, in some circles, about the perceived “rush” of his beatification.  In short: the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints waived the normal five-year waiting period before beginning his process or “cause.”  While this is not unprecedented (Mother Teresa was also fast-tracked), the space between his death and the beatification certainly is.  There have also been legitimate concerns raised over whether he deserves to be honored in light of what are seen as his errors as pope.  In addition to vociferous complaints about his handling of sexual abuse crises worldwide, many have objected to his longstanding support of the now-disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, who was later revealed to be among the worst of all abusive priests.  (Supporters answer that John Paul did what he could about the abuse; that he was elderly and infirm; and that he was duped by Maciel.)

As for the rush, and as someone who has written about the saints, I’m in favor of every candidate being subject to the same careful process of examination.  For one thing, it’s unfair to favor someone simply because he or she is more well known. For another, it may give the impression of corners being cut (particularly when some of those overseeing the process were put in their positions by the candidate himself), possibly sullying the saint’s reputation for future generations.  On the other hand, the Vatican is quite clearly responding to the will of the people, millions of whom are devoted to Pope John Paul.  (“Santo subito!” they shouted at his funeral.)  Like Mother Teresa, he is an object of what theologians call "popular devotion."  Ironically, some of the same people concerned about the rush to canonization are those who also believe that the Vatican needs to “listen” more carefully and more often to the voice of the "People of God."  So: they’re listening. 

More importantly, a miracle attributed to the late pope’s intercession (that is, to his prayers from his post in heaven to God) has been authenticated by the Vatican.  So God seems to be in favor of the rush.  That should trump most people's concerns.

As for disagreements over his papacy, even I had my differences with Pope John Paul II, technically my former boss.  (Who doesn't disagree with the boss from time to time?)  He wasn’t always the biggest fan of the Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits, my religious order), though some of his suspicions seem to have originated with some of his advisers.  When, in an unprecedented move in 1981, he suddenly removed Pedro Arrupe, the beloved superior general of the Jesuits, from his post, a great many Jesuits were both dismayed and angered.  John Paul, suspicious of the Jesuits’ work in “liberation theology” (an approach that emphasizes the liberation of the poor from suffering, as Jesus had), was apparently told by some advisers that the Jesuits would be disobedient after his public sacking of Arrupe.  We were not.  Over the years, multiple sources have told me that John Paul was surprised by our fidelity--and pleased.  It changed his view of the Jesuits.  In later years, he visited the ailing Arrupe before the Jesuit’s death.  (For the record, I believe Father Arrupe was a saint.)

Nonetheless, I’m an admirer of John Paul, a person whom the philosopher Hegel would doubtless call a “world-historical” figure.  How can this be?  To explain that, let me point out two things that have been largely missing from some of the critical commentary. 

First, the saints weren’t perfect.  They were human.  Holiness always makes it home in humanity.  And the saints, deeply aware of their own faults, would be the first ones to admit this.  Sanctity does not mean perfection.  The notion that a saint would make mistakes—even big ones—seems not to have occurred to a few people.  To err. after all, is human.  Can his supporters admit that John Paul was human and made mistakes--even big ones?  And can his critics forgive him the errors he made during his time on earth?

Second, and perhaps more importantly, you don’t have to agree with everything a saint said, did or wrote to admire him (or her).  One of my favorite saints is Thomas More, the 16th-century English martyr, who most people know from the play (and film) “A Man for All Seasons.”  But I don’t agree with--to put it mildly--his support of the wholesale burning of “heretics” (i.e., non-Christians).  We part company on that.

One Vatican official stated recently that Pope Benedict XVI is beatifying his predecessor for who he was as a person, not for what he did during his papacy.  In short, he’s not being named a “blessed” for his decisions as pope.  This makes sense.  Beatification (and later, canonization) does not mean that everything he did as pope is now somehow beyond critique.  (Any more than everything St. Thomas More did is beyond critique: Should we believe that heretics should be burned because More has been canonized?)  On the other hand, that line of thinking is a little mystifying: for you cannot separate a person’s actions from his personal life. 

But the emphasis on the personal life is an important one.  The church beatifies a Christian, not an administrator.  In that light, John Paul II clearly deserves to be a blessed and, later, a saint.  Karol Wojtyla certainly led a life of “heroic sanctity,” as the traditional phrase has it; he was faithful to God in extreme situations (Nazism, Communism, consumerism); he was a tireless “evangelist,” that is, a promoter of the Gospel, even in the face of severe infirmity; and he worked ardently for the world’s poor, as Jesus asked his followers to do.  The new blessed was prayerful, fearless and zealous.  He was, in short, holy.  And, in my eyes, anyone who visits the prison cell of his would-be assassin and forgives the man is a saint.

So, after his beatification I’ll be praying to the late pope for his intercession.  From his place in heaven, he’ll understand if I didn’t always agree with him on every issue or decision.  He won’t be worried about that.  In fact, in company with Jesus, Mary and the saints, that will be the last thing that Karol Wojtyla will be thinking about. 

Blessed John Paul II, pray for me.

James Martin, SJ


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Vince Killoran | 5/18/2011 - 9:17am
How do we know that JPII knew about predator priests?  Because he told us he knew about them! He just didn't do very much about it.

As for Maciel, nine ex-Legion members filed charges against the group in the Vatican Court of Canon Law in 1998. The only way one could argue that JPII didn't know would be to acknowledge that the pope didn't read the papers, didn't have any knowledge of his own Vatican, and his aides around him conspired to keep the reports streaming in about Maciel from him for years. C'mon-is that how you wish to portray JPII, i.e., as a dottering fool?
Anne Chapman | 4/29/2011 - 12:39pm
Janice, Thank you for your recommendation. I learned of Evelyn Underhill a couple of years ago, and have recently bought a couple of books - unread so far!  However, your post prompted me to look in the bookcase for them.

Maria,  thank you for pointing out the story about Mary Merrick.  A good friend was very active in the Christ Child Society, and although I never joined, I did make contributions for a number of years. I hope to learn more about her.

Ed, you have raised concerns shared by many, but not yet discussed. I share those concerns.  I oppose the canonization because although John Paul II was a very charismatic individual, certainly raised the visibility of the Catholic church in the world, and did a number of very positive things, especially in terms of relations with the Jews, and ecumenical outreach in general, But the nature of the harm he did was so morally grave, it outweighs the good he also did - failing to protect the young from sexual predators, thus creating thousands of more victims than there might have been. And that tragedy is partly due to the culture he created that you have outlined - centralizing all authority in Rome, especially to the papacy, and appointing bishops who would dutifully put loyalty to the pope and institution ahead of their moral responsibility to protect the young.
ED THOMPSON | 4/29/2011 - 11:42am
Father Jim,  

Many of us in the movement called Voice of the Faithful have difficulty with John Paul II's canonization not only because of his lapses of judgment in the sex abuse cases, but also because of his centralizaion of the power structure in Rome, rather than allowing the local churches more autonomy.

Not only have the local Catholic conferences been emasculated under his watch, but also the principle of subsidiarity has not been adhered to despite its acceptance during and after the Second Vatican Council.

Despite these serious philosophic differences, I thank you for pointing out many of his personal characteristics which obviously were holy.

But due to his and his successor's rulings, this Roman imperialism seems to be gathering steam contolling many more parts of the local church than was envisaged after Vatican II. The American sisters investigations are one example and the new Mass translation another.  Some Catholics consider their church to end at the parish level.  Now with Rome telling us how to pray, our daily pray is controlled by this central authority. 

JANICE JOHNSON | 4/29/2011 - 10:29am
Anne and Crystal,

The name of the English mystic is Evelyn Underhill.  Sorry, it seems my poor brain is frazzled!  Hope you check her out.


Thanks for the info on Mary Virginia Merrick.  I'm interested in learning more about her.  God bless you.
Anonymous | 4/28/2011 - 8:48pm
@ Anne and Crystal: I remembered both of you in prayer at Mass today. Anne, I had to laugh. When I left the Shrine ( in DC) I happened across the Catholic Standard which is the local Catholic weeky here in DC. What should I come across, but this?

Cardinal Wuerl initiates Cause of Canonization of Mary Virginia Merrick

In an April 25 decree, Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington announced that he is initiating the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Mary Virginia Merrick, a disabled Washington woman who founded the Christ Child Society and who gained national fame in the 1900s for her outreach to needy children.

I thought you might appreciate this. See link to finish reading @

God Bless

JANICE JOHNSON | 4/28/2011 - 8:20pm
Hi Anne,

If you aren't already familiar with Evelyn Underwood, I suggest you look into her works.  She was a highly regarded English mystic, Anglo-Catholic.  Some of her writings are on prayer and the saints.  One thing she says is that prayer is a gift from God which fosters and nurtures solidarity  among people.  She was drawn to Catholicism, but I believe she remained an Anglican all of her life.  Do give her writings a try and see what you think!!

Hi Crystal,

You are such a wonderful, avid reader.  I'm always interested in your thoughful comments.  You, too may be interested in Evelyn Underwood.  Take care.
Anonymous | 4/28/2011 - 3:05pm
@ Anne: At you leisure-CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI Pope John Paul II

It is ever more urgent that today all Christians take up again the way of gospel renewal, welcoming in a spirit of generosity the invitation expressed by the apostle Peter "to be holy in all conduct" (1 Pt 1:15). The 1985 Extraordinary Synod, twenty years after the Council, opportunely insisted on this urgency: "Since the Church in Christ is a mystery, she ought to be considered the sign and instrument of holiness... Men and women saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances in the Church's history. Today we have the greatest need of saints whom we must assiduously beg God to raise up". See
Anne Chapman | 4/28/2011 - 2:34pm
Thank you for the information, Maria.  When I have time later, I will take a look. 
Anne Chapman | 4/28/2011 - 2:32pm
No, Brett, I am not a Protestant.  However, I am looking very closely at the Episcopal church, which seems much closer to a model of the early Christian church than does the Roman church. It emphasizes the Jesus and the gospels rather than the teachings of fallible men . It also doesn't interpret scripture literally as do many protestants.  There is also a very refreshing humility.  John Cardinal Newman's essay ''On Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine'' explains why this is so critical and the Catholic church ignores this. I do not object to there being an authority structure, but that authority structure is meant to serve the church, not command the church and deny the 99.999% of those who are the church any voice in their own church. This is one way the Anglicans are so much closer to the early church than is the church that modeled itself after the Roman empire - it understands that the clergy and hierarchy are not ''the'' church, but that all the lay people are also, and they do have a voice in the church, just as was the case in the early christian church.

   There are ''protestant'' Anglicans/Episcopalians who apparently are closer to Protestant evangelicals in some ways than to the Catholic worldview but I have only met a few-they are charismatics. Anglicanism is a liturgical church and shares a sacramental worldview with Roman Catholics, unlike most protestant churches from what I know of them (which isn't much, I'll admit).

 I don't recall saying there should not be individuals recognized as ''saints''. John Paul II made changes in the process and more should be considered. He reduced the number of needed ''miracles'',  a good move, and got rid of the office of Devil's Advocate, not a good move. People can be held up as models, as inspiration, as examples of how to try to live with as much holiness and grace as sinful human beings can live, without insisting on ''miracles'' for them or saying that they will intervene with God on your behalf when each of us can go directly to God. 

 I have no idea what you are talking about in this:''...and it seems that some would like to ignore the terrible mess of reality of that world and its imperfect men (and also the holy ones) for an abstract, coldy sanitized form of grace.'' If you have time, you could try again to explain what you mean by the ''emphasis on grace to the exclusion of nature'' because the meaning of this sentence is still not clear to me, and also clarify what you mean by that last italicized sentence.

 I will never be a ''Protestant''  like Baptists, Calvinists, Methodists, Lutherans etc.  I am way too Catholic to be able to change that much!
Anonymous | 4/28/2011 - 2:32pm

As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few "uncommon heroes" of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. See link below for the rest.
Anonymous | 4/28/2011 - 1:26pm
About there being less lay people canonized than religious, maybe in the past it was this way. But John Paul II has canonized hundreds of lay people. The exact number of lay beatifications are 215 and lay canonizations are 245. Many people don't know this.
I am very happy about it because lay people represent 98% of the Catholic Church. It also affirms Vatican II's universal call to holiness.
Anonymous | 4/28/2011 - 1:17pm
Jack, she sacrificed her life to save her child...she layed down her life for another's sake, where have I heard that before??

Hey Anne, I am not trying to pry and no need to answer but I would be interested to hear if my intutions are correct and if you are a protestant now.  While I don't agree with all of the content, I always enjoy the writting and time that you put into your posts.

As for nature v grace, it seems that some protestants (and many modern americans) want everything the same: no saints, no differences between male and female roles, no authority beyond that of the individual etc.  The grace of God does not occur in a vacuum, but in fallen men in our fallen world and it seems that some would like to ignore the terrible mess of reality of that world and its imperfect men (and also the holy ones) for an abstract, coldy sanitized form of grace.
Crystal Watson | 4/27/2011 - 10:09pm
I read today that vials of JPII's blood will soon be available for "veneration" .... this is the kind of thing that gives non-Catholics the idea we worship saints.

Anne wrote ....  "I go directly to God, and mostly I try to listen. God knows my needs and my wants, God knows me and my loved ones, and my task is to listen, to trust, to surrender, and be thankful."

I  pray this way too and try to listen too, but I do ask for what I want, even knowing God knows already what that is. I like what Eugene McCarraher said Herbert McCabe said about petitionary prayer ... McCabe’s advice is to just go ahead and ask for what you really want—a good grade, money for the mortgage, Grandmom getting better, not drowning. You’re not fooling God by praying for things you don’t really desire but rather think you should desire. Maybe you should pray for those things—the Holy Spirit will lead you there eventually—but if you can’t even pray for the things you do want, how are you ever going to pray for the things you should want?


Anne Chapman | 4/27/2011 - 4:36pm
Unfortunately, children sometimes believe in a God who is a bit like Santa Claus - they think that if they pray to God for something, God will put their presents under the tree, so to speak.  And how devastating to their budding, child-like faith if God doesn't come through - their beloved grandfather dies even though they begged God in prayer to save him, or prayed to Mary to ask God to save Grandpa, or maybe they don't get a toy they much desire, or they don't get an A in the spelling test even after working hard. This is childishness, not child-like humility.

 We must be very careful in what we teach children about prayer, especially intercessory prayer.  And we must be careful to distinguish between childishness and child-like.

 Maria, are you familiar with Fowler's Stages of Faith Development?
Benjamin Alexander | 4/27/2011 - 4:34pm
Hi Fr. Martin,

Just a question-why do you call yourself a ''liberal'' Catholic? From what I've seen from your posts, that's an odd way of describing yourself. You seem to be cautiously conservative theologically, and moderate on other issues.

Perhaps more conservative Catholics would think you are a liberal because you seem to embrace a big-tent view of Catholicism (wherein all ends of the spectrum are still on the same spectrum and not practicing different religions completely), but just because you think the liberals and conservatives both belong in the Church technically doesn't make you a liberal, does it?

Just curious as to positions you hold that make you think you are a liberal. 
Anonymous | 4/27/2011 - 3:20pm
"When I was young, still a child, and it took a while as an adult to stop being a child in my relationship with God, I still prayed 'for' things in intercessory prayer, or asked saints to 'intercede', I had a lot harder time believing in God".

@ Anne: It was in response to your statement above that I submitted Matthew 18.  The foucs of our exchange has been the the Saints and intercessory prayer, not Pope John Paul II. I was simply trying to make the point that Christ tells to humble ourselves, like a child...
Anne Chapman | 4/27/2011 - 2:17pm
Hi, Maria

I am, of course, very familiar with that passage of scripture. But, I don't see how it relates to whether of not one prays directly to God or asks others to pray to God on their behalf, or, to return to the original subject of the thread, how it relates to the ''rush'' to sainthood question.

Anonymous | 4/27/2011 - 2:07pm
@ Anne: At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18: 1-4
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 4/27/2011 - 1:35pm
As predicted ,more polarized comments and more "rush" commentary in print this week.
Another priestly view on rush was given in an earlier thread (from the canonical perspective) by Msgr, Harry Byrne. I think he raised importan tpoints of discussion from that perspecttive.
I keep thinking the critical question is not how happy or unhapy it makes us individual bloggers that this take place (including the esteemed poster), but how it moves forward the Church's mission to believers ,non-believers and ex-believers.
Christopher McNabb | 4/27/2011 - 12:59pm
@ Anne Chapman: Anne, in reference to your comment, logged at 7:54 PM on 4/26/11:

Thank you for your prophetic voice.  It is only when a voice is giving to the vioceless that truth can eventually win. 

Anne Chapman | 4/27/2011 - 9:21am
Thank you, Brendan.

This gets closer to what prayer may be for - it's for us. Prayer helps us remember we are part of God's creation - all humanity, all creation.  When I was young, still a child, and it took a while as an adult to stop being a child in my relationship with God, I still prayed ''for'' things in intercessory prayer, or asked saints to ''intercede'', I had a lot harder time believing in God.  So many ''No s''.  But, then we explain this away (often when our children ask) by saying that every response from God is God's will for us.  (But, Mom, since God is just going to let happen what happens, or do what God's going to do regardless of our petitions, why do we ask God for anything?)

 I do pray - to God not others (except St. Anthony!), but I do not ask him/her) for specific favors or outcomes.  I ask God to help me stay aware of divine goodness and mercy. Prayer also helps me  be more aware of what I may need to think about to make decisions, and I also pray that I will be able to pray someday ''Thy will be done'' and really mean it.  I try also to remember to thank God for all the beauty and goodness in creation. It's so easy to forget, yet the most peace I ever experience, and the strongest faith and feeling of God's presence and nearness, is when I am at a beautiful and wild spot on a river near my home, alone, in silence (Centering Prayer - Be still and know that I am God!) We must clear our heads of words - including the words of both formal and informal prayers - in order to hear God.
Christopher Altieri | 4/27/2011 - 9:05am
Dear Fr. Martin, your affords me the opportunity to pick a bone with you, one on which I have been gnawing for some time. You style yourself a "liberal Catholic" in this piece. Last Summer, in a HuffPo appearance, you described yourself as, "[O]ne of of the most theologically conservative Catholics you'll ever meet." You went on to say, as though this were the benchmark, "Every Sunday, when I say the Creed during Mass, I believe every single word of it."

If that is the standard, then there are not a few teachers at, say, the Greg and other pontificals, who would be very surprised to learn that they are theological conservatives.

Now, 'liberal', 'liberal Jesuit', 'conservative', 'theologically conservative', 'conservative Jesuit', inter alia, might be discrete categories within your technical reckoning of things, but they need to be explained fully over and against their common meanings. Otherwise, you will be speaking an insufficiently developed "private language" in the public square.

Perhaps your point in all this is that we would do well to abandon such labels entirely? That is a cause behind which this (arch-?) Catholic could get!

p.s. Happy Easter!
Anne Chapman | 4/27/2011 - 9:00am

Thank you for taking the time to get the various quotes.  I know you honestly want to help. However, none of those learned men have actually explained why anyone needs to go through saints instead of directly to God.  I don't think that God listens any less to you or me than he does to anyone else, including to those who are dead.  I don't think God is concerned about maintaining whatever ''order'' these men devised to explain these things to themselves. 

''Therefore, says St. Thomas, it is good to have recourse to many saints, 'because by the prayers of many we can sometimes obtain that which we cannot by the prayers of one.'

Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant man, but he was also wrong about many things, due to when he lived in history.  I believe he is mistaken in that statement, just as he was in others.  This one cannot be ''proven'' wrong through science as some of his others have been, but it does not make sense when examined in light of what Jesus taught.

 The context of the times these men lived  in is important - those you quote knew no way of ordering society except a very hierarchical society - kings, lords, tradesmen, farmers, peasants, servants.  Their statements seem to assume that the human way of ''ordering'' society, a monarchical order (sadly, still seen in the church today) was the only way of doing it. As we know, God's ways are not our ways! And men eventually discovered a better way to order society, even with its imperfections. It was probably too much to even imagine for them, even though Jesus made it very clear - we can go to God - directly - even though we are but sinful, ''lowly'' human beings. But we are made in God's image.  What an unimaginable gift - it seems that even two thousand years after Jesus's death we can't envision that what he told is is true, so we set up intermediaries because maybe we humans still don't really trust in God's infinite love and mercy and justice.

Do I pray for others when asked?  Of course. It doesn't hurt, but I don't think it convinces God to change any outcomes either.  Do I sometimes pray to saints - well, I admit that I do - to one - St. Anthony almost always comes through,!

Joseph O'Leary | 4/27/2011 - 4:43am
I am in the odd position, as an Irish priest, of being excited about the Royal Wedding and not at all interested in the beatification. I guess it's because they're always likely to be something living and authentic when two people commit themselves to one another.
Crystal Watson | 4/27/2011 - 12:30am
Thanks for the answer, Fr. Martin.  I do sometimes ask someone to pray for me, though when I consider why I do so, it doesn't really make sense - as Anne mentioned, would God be swayed by a larger number of prayers or prayers prayed by "experts"?  I actually do try to change God's mind with my prayers (thinking of the woman who changed Jesus' mind about healing her daughter) though I suppose doing so is theologically just weird. 
Anonymous | 4/27/2011 - 12:03am
@ Anne: St. Alphonsus Ligouri
Is it useful to have recourse to the saints?
Here a question arises, whether it is necessary to have recourse also to the intercession of the saints to obtain the grace of God.
That it is a lawful and useful thing to invoke the saints, as intercessors, to obtain for us, by the merits of Jesus Christ, that which we, by our demerits, are not worthy to receive, is a doctrine of the Church, declared by the Council of Trent: 'It is good and useful to invoke them by supplication, and to fly to their aid and assistance to obtain benefits from God through his Son Jesus Christ.'
Such invocation was condemned by the impious Calvin, but most illogically. For if it is lawful and profitable to invoke living saints to aid us, and to beseech them to assist us in prayers, as the prophet Baruch did: And pray ye for us to the Lord our God (Bar. 1,13) and St. Paul: Brethren, pray for us (1 Thes. 5,25); and as God himself commanded the friends of Job to recommend themselves to his prayers, that by the merits of Job he might look favorably on them: Go to my servant Job,...and my servant Job shall pray for you; his face I will accept (Job 42,8); if, then, it is lawful to recommend ourselves to the living, how can it be unlawful to invoke the saints who in heaven enjoy God face to face? This is not derogatory to the honor due to God, but it is doubling it; for it is honoring the king not only in his person but in his servants. Therefore, says St. Thomas, it is good to have recourse to many saints, 'because by the prayers of many we can sometimes obtain that which we cannot by the prayers of one.' And if anyone objects, But why have recourse to the saints to pray for us, when they are already praying for all who are worthy of it? The same Doctor answers, that no one can be said to be worthy that the saints should pray for him; but that 'he becomes worthy by having recourse to the saints with devotion.'
Carolyn Disco | 4/26/2011 - 11:25pm
Obviously there is a divide about JPII’s beatification. Many welcome it, no doubt, and so we disagree.
Anne Chapman’s outstanding comment @#5 reflects my own contrary opinion on the matter.
I agree that the idea of “administrative” mistakes slights the gravity of JPII’s deeply-flawed decisions in the sexual abuse scandal, as well as in matters of church governance. The enormous impact of those decisions on survivors and the Church itself compromises the acceptance and authority of the Gospel - indeed in a “world-historical” sense.
To also distort the work of a Vatican Council so grievously, while treating many good people so shabbily (like Arrupe, Jadot, saints in their own right), prompts me to question the judgment and spirituality that informed such leadership. Likewise, JPII’s impressively favorable treatment of complicit bishops such as Law et al reinforces his blindness to injustice.
I admit that hearing about self-flagellation and lying all night on the bare floor with arms outstretched does not resonate in any way.
Being left unmoved, I will be thinking of survivors on May 1, hoping they find inner peace somewhere in the midst of an elaborate celebration of someone who offered them only stone.
Anonymous | 4/26/2011 - 10:23pm
Crystal: The Saints who are in Heaven and  participate in the eternal liturgy with the angels. Who is closer to  God? The Church tells us to ask intercession.

Retreat on the Credo: Faith in the Holy Catholic Church and the Commion of Saints

The Communion of Saints. There is more here to this double profession of faith in the ninth article than may be immediately apparent. Why put together in one act of faith belief in the Church and belief in the communion of saints? The reason is that when we add, as we do, communion of saints, we affirm that the Church on earth continues beyond the earth and is still the Church beyond the limitation of space and time. What is the communion of saints? It is the community of the members of the Church on earth with those in heaven and those in purgatory. All three are united as being one Mystical Body of Christ.
The faithful are in communion with each other by our unifying faith, morals and ritual, and assisting each other with our prayers and good works. Again, the faithful on earth are in communion with the saints in heaven by honoring them as glorified members of the Church, invoking their prayers and aid, and striving to imitate their virtues. That's why the Church canonizes saints, to tell us three things. First, those who are canonized are certainly in heaven; second, those who are canonized should be invoked by the faithful; and third, those who are canonized should be imitated, so we too, might at least become canonizable.

Crystal Watson | 4/26/2011 - 9:55pm

Thanks for the explanation.  I think saints are interesting  and I really liked Fr. Martin's book, My Life with the Sainrs.   But I guess I just can't  imagine asking a saint to ask God for something that I could ask him for myself.  In the case mentioned in this post - the miracle attributed to JPII - it seems just strange that someone would pray for healing to an intercessor like JPII  rather than to God, and that if they are healed, the intercessor gets the credit.  It seems to beg the question of what kind of God God is, that he can be "finessed" by an intercessor.
Anne Chapman | 4/26/2011 - 7:54pm
Those who wish to look at this man as a ''saint'' will do so, even if it means brushing aside John Paul's role in permitting the sexual abuse of young people.  Perhaps it is only those of us who are parents who truly care about this - especially those of us who are mothers - women - firmly and dogmatically kept out of the Vatican and Chanceries and so not there to influence these horrific policies and decisions. Others may rationalize and look at it as an ''administrative'' failure.  It was far more than that - it was a failure of moral judgment, it was putting an institution above young people - putting institutions and hierarchy and clerics above God holds the danger of idolatry.  John Paul II was not ignorant of the charges against Maciel, charges that had first surfaced long before he was ill. It was apparently John Paul II who did not want Cardinal Ratzinger to continue the investigation - and it's clear that Cardinal Ratzinger had been convinced of Maciel's guilt even though he dutifully ''obeyed'' orders. Once he was pope, he wasted little time dispatching Maciel.

John Paul II lowered the number of ''required'' miracles and dispensed with the office of Devil's Advocate. Why?  Many in the medical and scientific establishment believe that most of the ''miracles'' validated by church officials would not meet normal scientific standards.

How can one be truly ''holy'' if they do nothing to stop perverted men in clerical collars from sexually abusing children and young teens?  How can one be truly ''holy'' if one orders the executions of fellow Christians?  Both Thomas More and John Paul II made very unholy decisions, based perhaps on the same grounds - their ''fidelity'' in making these moral decisions was to an institution rather than to God.  They may not have "meant" to cause such harm ,permit such evil to take place, but it did.

Both men accomplished good things in their lives, both impacted the world in various ways.  But, many have endured war and oppression and persecution with their faith intact without being called ''saints.'  How  many Jews continued to believe in God even when suffering the almost unbelievable horrors of concentration camps?  Why has Rome not canonized some of them?' Is being a good ''evangelist'' sufficient for being called ''saint''?  If it is, perhaps Billy Graham should be on the road to canonization.

Of course, ''saints'' are human, and make mistakes.  But some mistakes are so grievous, and cause so much harm to innocents (John Paul II's mistakes in handling those who sexually abused the young like Maciel and his handling of those like Law who facilitated these crimes) that perhaps it is best to pass on calling them "saints." Thomas More caused fellow Christians to be burned at the stake - he immorally deprived them of their lives, and they died for their faith. Why are his victims not on the road to canonization for dying for their religious belief in Christ? John Paul II forgave his assassin - isn't that what we are all called to do? Forgive those who harm us?  Why is his forgiveness and one-time visit of the man who injured him any more saintly than the continuing forgiveness of the sister of a friend of mine who regularly visits the man who murdered her daughter - an ex-husband of the victim - she forgave him and has visited him regularly in prison for years. She may be as saintly as anyone in the church's calendar of saints, but will never be recognized.

There are some ''errors'' that are so great that the church should be very slow to bestow the honor ''saint'' on them even while acknowledging the positive contributions they made.  They can be appreciated and admired for what they did that was good, but some errors cannot be brushed aside as ''administrative'' errors.  That dishonors those who suffered because men chose to put the institution ahead of God.  The big difference between John Paul II's "mistakes" and Thomas More's "mistakes" and the big mistakes of other "saints", is that the mistakes of these men damaged lives, and sometimes cost their victims their lives - More through ordering executions, and John Paul II's clericalism leading to damaged lives and even many deaths as suicides. 

Basing "sainthood" on worldly/political accomplishments or charisma and personality cults renders the very word "saint" meaningless.

Slowing down the process would have been a good thing, and would have helped convince many that this beatification isn't just a huge PR stunt.
Crystal Watson | 4/26/2011 - 7:03pm
This is probably a somewhat off topic question, but why do people pray to saints instead of to God?  Why is it thought that God will pay more attention to what a saint asks for than to anyone else asks for?
Dale Rodrigue | 4/26/2011 - 6:55pm
Fr. Jim, it all seems to hinge on the miracle:

''More importantly, a miracle attributed to the late pope’s intercession (that is, to his prayers from his post in heaven to God) has been authenticated by the Vatican.  So God seems to be in favor of the rush.  That should trump most people's concerns.''

Indeed if it was a ''miracle''.  Only one reported single miracle and we say, yup, God wills it by golly!  I would like to see a peer reviewed analysis of the miracle, especially  since it seems she came out of remission several years ago.

It's an awful lot to justify based on one miracle, a miracle acceptable to the Vatican but how about the cold eye of science, would it hold up to scrutiny?. Talk about putting all of our eggs in one basket.  If the Vatican does believe it is a miracle then they should have no objection to having it reviewed by an outside group of specialists not affiliated w/ the Church. After all we do believe in the truth.  It's not too much to ask. 
I just don't want to see the Church be made a fool of if she succumbs to her disease which I hope she doesn't.  ''Haste makes waste''.
Anne Chapman | 4/30/2011 - 2:26pm
The reaction of the victims of sexual abuse by priests of the church are to be expected, but should be read by those who so easily brush aside the pain and damage that was done because John Paul II chose to look away from what was happening.  It is a tragedy that cannot be undone - but rushing the "sainthood" of a man with such a significant failure is rubbing salt into the wounds.

A quote:  We delivered our letter, along with newspaper clippings, supporting legal documents, and videotaped depositions to the papal nuncio in Washington.
What we were hoping for from Pope John Paul II was justice.
What we received instead was a certified letter from the nuncio curtly informing us that our letters and documents had been acknowledged. We never heard anything more from either him or the pope. Since then, at least two of my seminary classmates, assaulted by the priest who molested me, have taken their lives waiting for papal justice. One shot himself on Christmas Eve 2002 in his parked car under a desolate freeway underpass.
It is likely John Paul, during his long tenure as pope, received hundreds, if not thousands of such letters. Not one survivor, in writing or in person, was ever known to have received a direct reply from him.
Few people, even in the church, know much of the depth and breadth of the betrayal of innocents in this church because of the wrong moral judgment of the hierarchy, all the way up to the popes in Rome. Once it wasn't headline news few followed the story and few were aware of what was happening - in the US, in Europe, in Ireland, in Latin America. So there is not the level of outrage one would expect - most laity don't know about it and few clerics have the gut understanding of this horror that parents have. Let the show go on....

John Paul II was a great politician - he was good at kissing babies and knew how to please a crowd.  Yet he seemed to care little for the suffering of tens of thousands of young people, beyond platitudes, since he never took any action against abusing priests or bishops who protected them from the civil authorities.

david power | 4/27/2011 - 5:33pm

I think Chris Altieri and Benjamin Alexander have a certain Jesuit considering his words very carefully. I can hear the process  as I write.
I myself am a blue-eyed Catholic but my mother is brown-eyed and so I have a very varied background.I am like a Catholic Obama.

I think it really is important to bear in mind that Catholics are basically "safety in numbers" cowards.Communion means that we give to the poor not out of an impulsive sense of generosity but out of a sense of brotherhood.
Often we would like to shoot other Catholics or at least one or two in particular,too late in my case :). But we dont pull the trigger because we know that Jesus himself has thrown us in with them and them with us(for their sins).
In your case and also in that of Crystal there may be no need for intercession.Your way of relating to God may be less tainted with the sociological and tribalistic ways of the rest of us.
Recently my landlady asked me to pray to the saints for her that she would find a new job .She started asking me all about different saints and then I said I might even venture a prayer to God.She looked at me as if I had two heads.
The danger is when the Saints do not lead us to Christ but are an end in themselves.
Unfortunately nobody in the clergy seems to be really up to dealing with that problem.
In Mexico I saw that Mexicans have ten times more interest in the Virgin of Guadalupe than her son.
In Chile I saw two men argue over which was the greater Virgin (Maipu/Lujan)as they had "devotion" to two different Madonnas down there. 
But in the bowels of Latin America I also saw what she meant to people who worked with the poor and it was truly Christocentric.
Does it answer the question you have asked?No. A toothless old woman who sold alcohol in Santiago would always say "Cada uno por su Santo" translated "Each one for their own Saint". Maybe that catches it best.
 The Shepherd is typically a male figure but need not be.Christ told Peter to act like a Shepherd  but as we have seen they often have the instincts of wolves.

A woman is usually the best Shepherd and each mother shares in this attribute and the maternal instinct as Catholic is captured wonderfully by an Irish poet called Patrick Kavanagh.

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday -
You meet me and you say:
'Don't forget to see about the cattle - '
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

This man who was a wasted alcoholic was  miles ahead spiritually of most of the clergy and the much despised Archbishop McQuaid knew of this and befriended him and supported him and spoke to us of the Communion. We believe that their desires in heaven are for us and that the God who banked on love is still doing so.   
Jerry Slevin | 4/28/2011 - 12:37pm
BEATIFICATION FIASCO-Thank you, John. You will be editor-in-chief some day. Unlike Tom Reese, you know nobody ever got ahead in the RCC  by speaking truth to power. As to many of the other bloggers, a question and a suggestion. Which of your comments in the endless game of Theological Trivial Pursuit will contribute to stopping the next defenseless boy from being raped by a priest? The suggestion is that you peruse my comment to John Allen's April 28 National Catholic Reporter article from Rome entitled, Questions and Answers #4-What's the Divine Mercy Connection''. My comment, the third down, is entitled, ''Q&A #4-the Basic Truth. Pax. 
Jack Barry | 4/28/2011 - 10:20am
Brett -
If you are referring to St. Gianna (2 n's), her holy normality as a mother is questionable.   A well-informed pediatrician, she deliberately chose the path leading her to abandon her 3 living children, ages 2, 4, and 5, rather than undergo lifesaving surgery while pregnant (which would have included hysterectomy and abortion).  Her ''conscious immolation'' was praised by Paul VI, who evidently had a rather narrow view of the pro-life scope of motherhood.  Better examples of grace in small things should be available which don't reflect such utter disregard for the fate of one's own children.  See Vatican writeup:
Anne Chapman | 4/28/2011 - 4:18am
I don't follow you, Brett, especially the part about ''An emphasis on grace to the exclusion of nature.''  Could you elaborate?  You misunderstand my ideas on saints, but I will not go over it all again, since I tend to be too wordy.  I guess I wasn't clear, but, you may email me if you wish clarification.  I do have a problem with the hierarachy of the church, as I believe that many of the problems we have experienced, especially those related to sexual abuse of children and the almost total failure of anyone in the hierarchy to put children before sexual abusers is in part rooted in the imperial nature of the church's structure.   I am unfamiliar with St. Giana (i realized in thinking about your comments and others that I have had almost no interest in saints since I was quite young because I didn't relate to them, and thus they didn't ''inspire'' - probably since my teen years - with the constant exception of St. Anthony, and since John Paul II canonized hundreds of them, I am probably pretty far behind in knowing who they are).  I will research her. She might just be my kind of saint.
Anonymous | 4/28/2011 - 2:03am
Anne, you have a very protestant approach; am I wrong or have you already left the Church and joined a denomination? 

In any case, there is great truth in the idea of finding the grace in the small things in life along the lines of the saying of Teresa: ""Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."  What of St. Giana, a "normal" mother and doctor and there are plenty more examples similar to her - ordinary people who act with extraordinary holiness at defining points in their lives.

On a side note, I also see a very protestant tendency towards "leveling" in your posts - i.e. a trend towards radical undifferentiation (extreme anti-hierarchy, anti-exceptionalism in the case of saints) - the idea that all men should be considered saints, or none. A emphasis on grace to the exclusion of nature.
Jorge Morais | 4/27/2011 - 11:56pm
I am sorry for being polemical but, being Brazilian, I have to set the record straight about liberation theology.

Liberation theology brought much suffering to my country. Liberation theologians inspire and organize armed bands in rural parts of Brazil. These bands, under the excuse of "land reform", break the law, invade property and perform vandalism against people they don't like. For example, they don't like genetic engeneering, so they invade research projects to destroy biological experiments. And if they unilaterally proclaim that some farm is improductive, too large or allegedly undocumented, they simply invade it, kill the cattle, destroy the fields and farm equipment. Then they demand the government to give the land to them and provide money. They are responsible for much of the rural violence in Brazil, and have killed people.

Also, both of the major liberation theologians in Brazil - Leonardo Boff and Frei Betto - defend the liberation of abortion. They claim to defend the weak and oppressed, but advocate for the muder of the most weak, innocent and beautiful people in this world - unborn children.

Thankfully, after John Paull the Great  and his wonderful friend Benedict XVI published two documents condemning the evils of liberation theology, things are getting better. But very slowly - the current liberation theologians are obstinate and don't convert. It seems that a generation will need to pass before our Church goes back to preaching only the gospel of love. For a while, there is still this extremist minority, these liberation theologians that preach hatred against farmers and disregard for babies lives.
NORMA NUNAG | 4/27/2011 - 11:33pm
#36 and #39:  I just love your comments!  Thank you.
Craig McKee | 4/27/2011 - 11:15pm
The SIC ET NON approach of this article gave me cause for pause to analyze the mounting commentaries (PRO and CON) on this beatification currently being generated around the world. Upon reflection, I think the usual polarities of liberal vs. traditional may be a bit too facile and less helpful in identifying what's actually going on in peoples' minds and hearts. For myself, I have boiled it down to these two simple little questions - neither of which fall into the investigative parameters of the saint-makers in Rome:

Is THE CHURCH John Paul II left behind a better place today?

Is THE WORLD John Paul II left behind a better place today BECAUSE OF the church he left behind?

I think that people's individual answers to these questions provide the foundation of their opinions about what's taking place on May Day in Vatican Square, and may partially explain much of the vehemence. In other words, it's the SYMBOLISM of the event as it relates to the wider church which people are exegeting as they target, attack, praise or support. And as we continue to read, strong cases can be made for BOTH sides!
Anne Chapman | 4/27/2011 - 9:35pm
David and Walter and Maria and all those other kind people who have responded to my questioning of intercessary prayer.

This is a big problem - ''The danger is when the Saints do not lead us to Christ but are an end in themselves.''  Many believe that Catholics ''worship'' Mary - and it's easy to see why they get this impression, even if it's false.  Many churches have only a crucifix depicting Christ, but many statues and art depicting Mary, candles in front of Mary's statue, people praying the rosary constantly, and visiting Marian shrine after Marian shrine (I have friends who vacation at Marian shrines exclusively! Long vacations in Europe, going from Marian shrine to Marian shrine.)  It often seems excessive. My views of what ''sainthood'' should be are of no importance. But, since several here have tried to help me, I will try to explain.  I go directly to God, and mostly I try to listen. God knows my needs and my wants, God knows me and my loved ones, and my task is to listen, to trust, to surrender, and be thankful.

Maybe the church should do away with some of the midaevil, near superstitious practices surrounding the canonization process. It should drop the ''miracles'' requirement completely, as it is highly suspect anyway.  ''Saints'' are those who have broken through their weaknesses and either achieved some real holiness, or are an inspiration in other ways.  I would like to see the Catholic church recognize people who aren't priests or nuns, who didn't found religious orders, who are ordinary people, and who aren't even Roman Catholic.  It interested me to learn that the Episcopal church's calendar of saints includes all the old ''regulars'', but also people ranging from Martin Luther King to Mother Teresa to Ghandi.

 I would love to see the church hold up exceptional everyday people as examples.  Few of us found religious orders, or go to the third world and start hospitals and schools for the poorest of the poor, or spend our lives in prayer in a monastary. These people may be saints, but many can't relate to them. And, it may be even harder to achieve ''saintliness'' when one faces daily diapers, daily traffic jams, daily homework, daily shopping and preparing and cleaning up three meals a day for a family, daily job stresses, daily laundry, daily housekeeping, caring for aging parents, teaching religious ed, and at the same time trying to be a loving, patient and supportive spouse, all after walking the crying, feverish baby all night long.  And then somehow finding time to say a prayer or two before collapsing in pure exhaustion to do it all again the next day - and the next - and the next -  trusting God, and simply praying that you can keep doing it all with some degree of grace.  Wouldn't you love to have a saint like that to inspire you?

As far as St. Anthony goes - this is how I think it works. I misplace my stuff a lot.  So, I pray ''to'' St. Anthony to help me find what I need to find.  And I think that my prayer activates the subconscious mind to stay alert, to automatically look for things while the rest of my mind is preoccupied with other matters.  Or maybe St. Anthony just tosses it into my line of sight when I'm distracted?

I always thank him, however it happens!
Anonymous | 4/27/2011 - 7:01pm
Fr. Jim,

How is superior general Pedro Arrupe record concerning the sex abuse crisis?  Did he do a good job managing this in the Jesuits?
david power | 4/27/2011 - 6:17pm
The Archbishop also played a role in the events that led to the composition of Kavanagh's poem "On Raglan Road".There was a curious (chaste!) triangular relationship involving Kavanagh, McQuaid and Hilda Moriarty, the lady whose rejection of the poet provided the theme of the song.

This I dedicate to all of the Irish-americans who associate the  Irish with perverse desires .

Ireland's greatest poet with Irelands greatest Archbishop since Martin.
Ireland's greatest singer.

Listen carefully ,to every word and phrase .They are worth more than 14 Papal encyclicals.

Ratzinger will give us work though!!!!
Anonymous | 4/27/2011 - 3:02am
Thanks for this nicely balanced post, Fr. Martin; it is a welcome dose of charity and common sense.

Great quote David!: "To be Catholic is to be in a communion."
Anonymous | 4/27/2011 - 2:08am
@ Crystal-It is so much more than a simple hierarchy. Hardon tells us that the Church founded by Christ has three levels of existence. She is the Church Militant on earth, the Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in heaven. After the last day, there will be only the Church Triumphant in heavenly glory.
It is understood that there is communication among these three levels of the Mystical Body. Those on earth invoke the saints in heaven and pray for the souls in purgatory. Those in heaven pray for the Church Militant and the Church Suffering; they obtain graces for us on earth and an alleviation of suffering for the poor souls. Those in purgatory can invoke the saints on high and pray for us struggling with the world, the flesh, and the evil spirit.
We might, then, describe the Communion of Saints as the unity and cooperation of the whole Church. Together, we all form one Mystical Body. We share our merits and prayers with one another for the greater glory of God and the upbuilding of Christ’s Body which is His Church.

I take great comfort in this. The Saints are praying for you, Crystal!
Crystal Watson | 4/27/2011 - 12:40am

I'd rahter go with Jesus' prayer suggestions (our father ...) than  Aquinas' hierarchical chain-of-command idea.