Shortly before the beatification of John Paul II, there was consternation in some circles about the perceived rush to canonize him. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints had waived the normal five-year waiting period before beginning the proceedings. There were also concerns raised, in light of what have been seen as his failings as pope, about whether he deserved to be so honored.
As for the rush, I am in favor of every candidate being subject to the same careful process of examination. It is unfair to favor someone because he or she is better known. Also, this might give the impression that corners were cut, possibly damaging the saint’s reputation for future generations. On the other hand, the Vatican was responding to the will of the people, millions of whom are devoted to Pope John Paul.
More important, a miracle attributed to the late pope’s intercession has been authenticated by the Vatican. So God seemed to be in favor of the rush.
I had my differences with Pope John Paul II from time to time. He was not always the biggest fan of the Society of Jesus, though some of his suspicions seem to have originated with false rumors carried by his advisers. When, in an unprecedented move in 1981, he removed Pedro Arrupe, the superior general of the Jesuits, from his post, many Jesuits were dismayed. John Paul was apparently told by some that the Jesuits would be disobedient after Arrupe’s public sacking. We were not. Many sources told me that John Paul was surprised by our fidelity—and pleased. In later years, the pope visited the ailing Arrupe before the Jesuit’s death. (For the record, I believe Father Arrupe was a saint.)
Nonetheless, I am an admirer of John Paul. How can this be?
First, the saints were not perfect. Holiness always makes its home in humanity. The saints would be the first to admit this. Sanctity does not mean perfection. So can his supporters admit that John Paul was human and made mistakes? And can critics forgive him the errors he made?
Second, you do not have to agree with everything a saint did to admire him (or her). One of my favorite saints is Thomas More, the 16th-century English martyr, known to most people from the play and film “A Man for All Seasons.” But I do not agree—to put it mildly—with the burning of heretics, which More approved.
The Vatican noted that Pope Benedict XVI beatified his predecessor because of who John Paul was as a person, not for what he did during his papacy. Beatification does not mean that everything he did as pope is now beyond criticism, any more than everything St. Thomas More did is beyond criticism. On the other hand, that line of thinking is a little mystifying; you cannot separate a person’s actions from his or her 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 deserves to be a blessed and, later, a saint. Karol Wojtyla led a life of “heroic sanctity”; he was faithful to God in extreme situations (Nazism, Communism, consumerism); he was a tireless evangelizer in the face of severe infirmity; and he worked ardently for the poor.
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 I will be turning to the late pope for his frequent intercession. From his place in heaven, he will understand if I did not agree with him on every issue. And now, in the company of Jesus, Mary and the saints, that will be the last thing Blessed John Paul II will be thinking about.