The National Catholic Review

Update: The Vatican has announced the canonization date: April 27, 2014.

Today's announcement by Pope Francis of the canonization of Blessed John Paul II was not a surprise. From the time of his death in 2005, when crowds shouted "Santo Subito!" in St. Peter's Square, to Pope Benedict XVI's waiving of the normal five-year rule (the process of canonization normally doesn't begin until five years after a person's death) to this week's leaked news that the second required miracle had been approved, the official announcement had been expected.

What was not expected in today's announcement, which came during a meeting with the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was the approval of the canonization of Blessed John XXIII, whose process seemed to have languished in the past few years. Still more surprising was the news that the Pope had waived the standard second miracle. Federico Lombardi, SJ, the papal spokesperson, explained, "Despite the absence of a second miracle, it was the Pope's will that the Sainthood of the great Pope of the Second Vatican Council be recognized." Fr. Lombardi noted that of course the pope has the authority to "dispense" with that requirement, and also added that there had been discussions among theologians and experts about whether two miracles were needed for beatification and canonization. As ever, Pope Francis surprises. (Perhaps John XXIII's second miracle was the election of Francis.)

The two popes appeal to a wide variety of Catholics. John Paul's popularity seemed only to grow as his papacy continued, and has remained strong among Catholics since his death. A man of firm faith, a tireless evangelist, and a strong foe of both communism and poverty, John Paul II became, much as he might dislike the use of the word, a religious rock star. Perhaps the most admirable quality of the man was his determination: his early life laboring under a Communist regime in Poland, his incredible series of papal trips, and his long battle against Parkinson's disease showed the world spiritual grit. But the man some call John Paul the Great was not perfect: revelations about the crimes of Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ, who both fathered and abused children, cast doubts on John Paul's judgment. But no saint is without flaw: the saints themselves will tell you that.

The renown of John XXIII, on the other hand, seemed to declined among in some quarters of the church, though for those who love him, he is an immense hero. (Some of this decline was inevitable: the simple aging and death of those alive during his years as pope meant fewer admirers.)  Humble, humorous, affable, clever and creative, the man who convoked the Second Vatican Council, which came upon him, he said, not as the fruit of long meditation but, as "the flower of an unexpected spring," is beloved as "Good Pope John." But John XXIII was not, as some would have him, simply a jolly, roly-poly old man. A veteran diplomat and a well-read expert in church history, the former Patriarch of Venice was able to deftly steer the church towards the dangerous shores of renewal. He was also strong in his opposition to that worst of traits in the Catholic church: pessimism. In response to those who portended only peril and danger in the world, Pope John responded succinctly in his Opening Address to the Second Vatican Council: "We feel we must disagree with these prophets of gloom."  But neither was John XXIII perfect: a few point to his pontificate as the beginning of "drift" in the church, and to his Council as ultimately one that tilted too much towards the modern world.

The joint announcement by Pope Francis may strike some as simply a canny "move" on his part. The two popes are seen to appeal to different types of Catholics, and so this announcement will serve to unite these groups. For me, I deeply admire John Paul II, but John XXIII is a great hero. For some friends of mine, that statement would be reversed. But all, I hope can rejoice today.

But there is a much deeper message here, one that goes beyond what some might call church "politics." And that message is about the saints. John Paul and John XXXIII were alike in many ways: dedicated to Christ, devoted to Mary, faithful to the teachings of the church, smart, hardworking, clever, savvy, thoughtful.

In many ways, however, they were different. Karol Wojtyla seemed to have had a more melancholy air than Angelo Roncalli, who by most accounts, was a more lighthearted man, ever ready with a quip. (This is not to say that John Paul was humorless, but those who knew him tend to speak more often of his serious side.) John Paul seemed to relish his place on the world stage, as a way of communicating his faith, whereas John XXIII seemed somewhat more private, having written to his sister before the conclave that elected him in 1958, "Who wants to be more than a cardinal?" John Paul sometimes seemed more philosopher (one need only read his encyclicals for evidence of this) while John seemed more pastor (over the door to his study in Venice, Cardinal Roncalli placed the motto Pastor et Pater.) The two also approached church governance in different ways, worked with the Vatican curia in different ways, and appointed different kinds of bishops and archbishops during their papacies. More basically, friends of mine who knew both men describe their personalities in different ways.

But it has always been this way. Two things we must remember about the saints: First, they were not perfect. And second, as today's announcement reminds us, they are not cookie-cutter versions of one another. John Paul II and John XXIII may appeal to different types of Catholics because they were different types of people. And what the church is telling us today is that both types are saints.

Maybe John XXIII said it best, when speaking about the false idea that the saints were the same. In one of his journal entries, he wondered if he was called to be exactly like one of his great saints, the Jesuit Aloysius Gonzaga. No, he concluded, "I am not St. Aloysius, nor must I seek holiness in his particular way, but according to the requirements of my own nature, my own character and the different conditions of my life....If St. Aloysius had been as I am, he would have become holy in a different way."


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Tim O'Leary | 7/9/2013 - 3:21pm

It is amusing to see so much spin going on in some of the posts below, from both extremes, as they attempt to translate different pastoral approaches of the two popes into some deep variance in ecclesiological or theological understanding of the Church or the Magisterium, on sexual moral ethics or the sacraments.

St. John Paul II (the Great) will almost certainly have the deeper and more profound effect because of his captivating personal story in oppressed Poland, long papacy, extensive evangelical travels and World youth days, great erudition and huge theological opus (esp. his Theology of the Body and his 14 Encyclicals), a new Catechism and Canon law, saints canonized and cardinal appointments. But, equally important will be his direct involvement in the composition of some pivotal documents of Vatican II and then guiding the Church’s interpretation of the whole output of the Council until he handed it off to Pope Benedict XVI upon his death in the 40th year after the close of VCII.

There is also the danger that the teachings of St. Pope John XXIII are being overshadowed by his single act of announcing the Council. He wrote eight encyclicals, including Paenitentiam Agere (Penance for sins), which was published a few months before VCII began. It contains his teaching on penance and on the goal of the Council. Here are some quotes (numbers are paragraphs in

On the Council (4) - “The Ecumenical Council will be a meeting of the successors of the Apostles, men to whom the Saviour of the human race gave the command to teach all nations and urge them to observe all His commandments. Its manifest task, therefore, will be publicly to reaffirm God's rights over mankind, whom Christ's blood has redeemed, and to reaffirm the duties of redeemed mankind towards its God and Savior.”

On Concupiscence (10 & 12) - “penance is that counterforce which keeps the forces of concupiscence in check and repels them…He who is already a member of Christ must learn of necessity to keep a rein upon himself. Only so will he be able to drive away the enemy of his soul and keep his baptismal innocence unsullied, or regain God's grace when it is lost by sin."

On the Church (15) - “when one views the faith which distinguishes the Church, the sacraments which nourish and perfect her, the universal laws and precepts which govern her, the unfailing glory that is hers by reason of the heroic virtue and constancy of so many of her elect, there can be no doubt that the Bride of Christ, so dear to her divine Redeemer, has always kept herself holy and unsullied.

On her forgetful Children (16 & 17) - “But of her children there are some who nevertheless forget the greatness of their calling and election. They mar their God-given beauty, and fail to mirror in themselves the image of Jesus Christ…Help us to repress our worldly appetites, that we may the more easily obtain the blessings of heaven."

Unity under one Shepherd (25) - “The salutary results we pray for are these: that the faith, the love, the moral lives of Catholics may be so re-invigorated, so intensified, that all who are at present separated from this Apostolic See may be impelled to strive actively and sincerely for union, and enter the one fold under the one Shepherd.”

Acts of Penance (28-29) “Hence Christ's severe warning: ‘Unless you repent you will all perish in the same manner.’(Luke 13:5). God forbid that any of our sons and daughters succumb to this danger. But the faithful must also be encouraged to do outward acts of penance, both to keep their bodies under the strict control of reason and faith, and to make amends for their own and other people's sins.”

On self-denial (36) – “Jesus Christ taught us self-discipline and self-denial when He said: ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’(Luke 9:23) Yet there are many people, alas, who join instead the immoderate quest for earthly pleasures, thus debasing and weakening the nobler powers of the human spirit. It is all the more necessary, therefore, for Christians to repudiate this unworthy way of life which gives frequent rein to the turbulent emotions of the soul and seriously endangers its eternal salvation.”

Michael Barberi | 7/10/2013 - 8:51pm


An excellent recount of the many contributions of John XXIII. I think he will be forever thought of as a pope of the people, a pope whose instinct told him to call for Vatical II despite many in his own hierarchy that was against it. He did not fear the truth, nor responsible change.

I am struck by his words about "self-denial" especially "the immoderate quest for earthly pleasures" with the emphasis in my view on the word "immoderate". A reading of both JP II and Benedict XVI teachings, as well as Pope Francis, most of the people who live in Western societies, e.g, secular culture, seems to be viewed as people with an unbridled quest for earthy pleasures especially when they describe modernity.

I was always taught that seeking material things such as money is not immoral. What is immoral is an excessive desire for material things where the pursuit material things is believed to be the answer to happiness and one's problems, without any thought of God's will, salvation and true happiness.

I question how prevalent is this utilitarian attitude among faithful Catholics, especially those that attend Mass frequently and those that strive to live a moral and upright life. It seems that the Church believes that the majority of people in Western societies are extremely desirous of material things. I don't view the majority of Catholics who disagree with some Church teachings, especially those who live in Western societies, as those infected with a diabolical cancer of modernity. I have no data to prove my opinion, but my intuition tells me that a majority of Catholics do not immoderately quest for earthly pleasures.

I would like to see the RCC offer a more intelligible and realistic description of modernity, as the world that God created as good, instead of an exaggerated description of the modern world as evil. Using an analogy, a glass of water filled half way is not just a glass that is half empty, but also a glass that is half full.

J.R. Hochstedt | 7/8/2013 - 8:03pm

Odd the way we read things through our own personalities. It was the joy of John Paul II in consecrating the host on a televised outdoor mass that helped overcome the anti-papal prejudices I'd received in a Bible church. The "air of melancholy" might be attributable to having lost his family and surviving both Nazi invasion and occupation and Soviet domination, and witnessing a great many priests & religious in the West dismissing the Petrine ministry as an absurd anachronism, or the transcendent interventions of Our Lady as provincial superstitions.
John XXIII, by contrast, grew up in a poor but large family, and lived in happy assurance that the malcontents and heterodox teachers were on the fringes of the life of the Church. He certainly never guessed that, following his own death, the image contrived by certain Segundists would be used as a sort of counter-Paul VI (nice old Papa Roncalli would've given us contraception, but not the mean old Pius XII leftover Montini).
John Paul simply carried out the directives that flowed from the Council and which were actually laid out by the merely "Venerable" Paul VI. The dual canonization is as much a recognition of the sanctity of two different popes who held to the core of the Church, as opposed to the ultra-Traditionalists who refuse it and the Segundists who use its "spirit" to excuse their departures from Church teaching.

Al Cannistraro | 7/8/2013 - 2:31pm

What is the meaning of canonization in the modern church? Does it still mean an infallible declaration regarding the afterlife of the individual being honored, or is it merely a politically motivated honorific?

Frank Bergen | 7/8/2013 - 12:58pm

I submit that the comments on James Martin's little essay on the canonizations of the two popes serve to confirm Francis Clooney's suggestion that we wait a century or two before canonizing popes. They won't mind and the opinionated commentators who precede me on this page will know better.

Michael Barberi | 7/7/2013 - 5:08pm

John XXIII and JP II were two very different popes. John XXIII looked to the future, JP II looked to the past. John XXIII had the love and foresight to call for Vatical II because he believed that the Church needed to change. Had he lived longer, we would have seen a much different Church. When I graduated Catholic elementary school in 1960, I was given rosary beads blessed by Pope John XXIII. I still have them today and cherish the love he had for people and for the Church. It is my prayer that Pope Francis will follow in his footsteps.

As pope, there is much to be admired in Karol Wojtyla-John Paul II. He helped free Poland from communism and his social ethics and ecumenism were highly respected. However, he was not free from serious misunderstandings. JP II never embraced Vatican II's call for collegiality, for he believed in a more centralized authority in the office of the papacy and in Rome. His philosophy on human sexuality especially the prohibition of contraception were a throwback to pre-conciliar times with its emphasis on Augustine's sexual ethics. No priest who whispered disagreement with any teaching would be made a bishop during his papacy. He had no patience for those who disagreed with him and he demanded absolute obedience. He also had many stubborn and erroneous thoughts about Western societies and women. His papacy and now his sainthood will influence any significant change that Pope Francis might contemplate.

J.R. Hochstedt | 7/8/2013 - 8:09pm

The bishops who wanted to govern the Church without the pope or in contradiction to the pope are the very ones who kept shuffling the criminals from diocese to diocese and stonewalled civil authorities along with the Curia when their bills came due. Paul VI displeased them horribly by insisting that their authority existed solely within the ambit of papal authority, and not as some sort of House of Representatives in a sort of bi-cameral Church.

John Placette | 7/6/2013 - 1:41pm

It always saddens me to hear Vatican II blamed for the cultural changes that occurred in the 60s and 70s. For good or for bad, change is a constant, and Vatican II had very little to do with it.

What Vatican II did do was create an ecclesiology that will eventually bring Christians together. We have seen profound progress, e.g.the Joint Declaration on Justification, the Anglican Ordinariate, and the dialogue with the Orthodox churches. These would not have happened without the changes in philosophy facilitated by Vatican II. Two hundred years from now, Pope John XXIII will be much more appreciated.

The world is never perfect. But, the glass should always be at least half-full.

As a Permanent Deacon, Pope John XXIII is a hero!

John Placette | 7/6/2013 - 1:40pm

It always saddens me to hear Vatican II blamed for the cultural changes that occurred in the 60s and 70s. For good or for bad, change is a constant, and Vatican II had very little to do with it.

What Vatican II did do was create an ecclesiology that will eventually bring Christians together. We have seen profound progress, e.g.the Joint Declaration on Justification, the Anglican Ordinariate, and the dialogue with the Orthodox churches. These would not have happened without the changes in philosophy facilitated by Vatican II. Two hundred years from now, Pope John XXIII will be much more appreciated.

The world is never perfect. But, the glass should always be at least half-full.

As a Permanent Deacon, Pope John XXIII is a hero!

Jim McCrea | 7/6/2013 - 12:18pm

Michael: really! Your Henny Penny school of Catholicism ("the sky is falling! the sky is falling!") is a very narrow type of faith. Francis' election to the papacy has turned the face of this church to the future, not yearning for the past as was to prevalent during the last two papacies.

Stephen Sottile | 7/7/2013 - 8:23pm

I totally disagree about Francis, he is as much a revisionist as Benedict, his first shared encyclical is quite clear on that matter. All we have now is Benedict with better lipstick, totally out of touch and unacceptable.

michael wright | 7/6/2013 - 11:04am

As witnessed by the link below - Vatican ll is the direct descendant of Modernism. Modernism is the "ism" we all live under now whose basic tenant is that we now know so much we can reject ancient wisdom and tradition. Which we have done.

Dietrich von Hildebrand ( 1889 - 1977) was a German Catholic philosopher and theologian who was called by Pope Pius XII "the 20th Century Doctor of the Church". One of his claims to fame was that he was the first prominent German to speak out publicly against Hitler and the Nazis.

In a interview found in the link below with his wife, Alice, she testifies regarding Vatican II " I witnessed him (Dietrich) many times in moments of great sorrow, and frequently repeating, “They have desecrated the Holy Bride of Christ.” He was referring to the “abomination of desolation” of which the prophet Daniel speaks."

I think we are now witnessing the end result of "the abomination of desolation" (Vatican ll) that has taken place in the Roman Catholic church. They have made a mockery of the church.

All you have to do is look at the comments in various news articles regarding this sainthood to see this is true. We now have Saints who presided over the worst desecration of Jesus in history?

I raised 8 children and was once proud to be catholic. No more.

Heaven help us

J.R. Hochstedt | 7/8/2013 - 8:17pm

I held this view until a friend insisted I go back and look at the Council more closely. I also took the opportunity to look at Paul VI, who was the initial villain to the new modernists or Segundists (my personal coinage) for his insistence on affirming papal authority & infallibility at the Council and for insisting on the Marian conclusion to Lumen Gentium, and especially for Humanae Vitae. It's forgotten, as well, that he insisted on priestly celibacy. After the directions of John Paul II's pontificate became clear, Paul VI was then used (notably in the sneering biography by Peter Hebblethwaite) as a counter-John Paul.
Pope Francis, who remained a faithful Jesuit when being a faithful Jesuit didn't pay dividends in promotion in Jesuit institutions, is, with a smile, simply moving the Church past the tar pits of the immediate post-Conciliar decades.

Stephen Sottile | 7/7/2013 - 8:29pm

Frankly I am revolted but for different reasons. John Paul 2 was a pedophile enabler. He singularly lead to the deaths of countless people in Africa in his insane views on the use of condoms to prevent infection. He took the Church backward to the dark ages, we now see the price of his inept pack in newer priests such as the son of SCOTUS justice Scalia. To name this man a Saint of the Church is an affront to Christ and reason. I will probably move to the Episcopalian Catholic confession over this as I have endured enough stupidity of this sort for one lifetime.

Carlos Orozco | 7/8/2013 - 8:46pm

Please go ahead! I'm sure you have no problem with their openly sodomy-practicing bishops and "consecration" of priestesses. I guess you don't find such perversions an "affront to Christ and reason".

Carlos Orozco | 7/6/2013 - 10:05am

Marcial Maciel was scum, of course. But he had been under investigation many times since the papacy of Pius XII, and had successfully survived them due, in part, to the fact that critical accusers went mute when testimony under oath was needed. That due to the pervasive influence that Maciel still exercised over them. Still, some of the same men that decades earlier lacked the courage to confirm their denunciation of Maciel, blamed John Paul II of protecting the predator.

Jim McCrea | 7/6/2013 - 12:20pm

A lot of money in the right hands at the right times didn't hurt MM, either.

Vincent Gaitley | 7/5/2013 - 1:32pm

The canonization of the recent dead to sainthood in our lifetime is a very imprudent idea. Centuries passed before candidates were elevated before; now in the "Me" generation even sainthood is eligible for instant gratification. Both Popes were good and holy men, but there is a touch of PR here and their heroic lives are being used for damage control. Worse, these men appear to the political minded to be from two sides of the Church, so appeasing both aisles at once is awfully obvious. Poor St. Bede the Venerable and Saint Joan of Arc, they had to wait so long.

Dan Hannula | 7/6/2013 - 9:43am

"...but there is a touch of PR here and their heroic lives are being used for damage control." No kidding, Sherlock. Dead Popes move to the front of the line and women, like Dorothy Day, wait. But, Day would not have even cared about it. Something good in that. Maybe the whole idea of sainthood should be scrapped.

Carlos Orozco | 7/6/2013 - 1:19pm

Even in Heaven there are different levels of saints.

Jim McCrea | 7/6/2013 - 3:42pm

You've been there and can attest to that from experience? Or is that just some pious silliness that you learned in your childhood?

Ashley Green | 7/5/2013 - 5:34pm

But sometimes it worked the other way too. Saint Anthony of Padua, for example, was canonized less than a year after his death. But he was so renowned for holiness that no one propriety of his canonization.

Iggy Taught Me | 7/5/2013 - 12:38pm

I think it is very telling that Francis I canonized John XXIII without the requisite second miracle, immediately after it was recognized that JPII's second miracle.

I was elated with the canonization of John XXIII ( and agree with the statement that the elevation of Francis I is John XXIII's second miracle.)

Tim Reidy | 7/9/2013 - 11:03am

Sir: Your user account will be blocked until your provide a full first name and last name as per our policy.

ROBERT STEWART | 7/5/2013 - 12:24pm

John XXII should have been declared a saint years ago, in my opinion. As a practicing Catholic who became an adult at the beginning of Vatican Council II and one who welcomed the renewal that came with Vatican Council II, I think it is not hyperbole to say that he changed the lives—and for the better—of my generation of Catholics, as well as many older faithful Catholics who were open to the Holy Spirit. He mediated the love of God and the hope brought to us via the Good News better than any pope I can remember; and I remember them all from Pope Pius XII to Francis (I think Francis may be able to do the same). Also, a special thanks to John XXIII and Pope Paul VI for the many pastoral bishops that were appointed in the United States.

All that changed with John Paul II’s appointment of bishops. I think he did a terrible job in selecting bishops, and he did a terrible job in dealing with the sexual abuse crisis, especially when he gave unreserved support for Marcial Maciel Degollado , the former head of the Legionnaires of Christ. On the other hand, he did a great job in advancing Catholic Social Teaching; for that, I am very, very grateful.

Jim McCrea | 7/8/2013 - 3:44pm

I doubt that JPII ... or any pope ... actually selects bishops. He selects those who present him with the terna of names from which he chooses, most likely after advice from whomever gives him the list of names.

JPII's failure was in choosing the advocates to whom he listened.