Pope John Paul II was beloved in the Philippines, which he visited twice during his reign, and all over the world. He was seen as the rock star pope, with a papacy that was known for its close ties with the laity. And when his almost 27 year reign as pope ended in 2005, after years of suffering Parkinson’s Disease, the people gathered at St. Peter’s Square shouted “santo subito!” (“sainthood now!”) and called him “John Paul the Great.” With his beatification this past May 1, sainthood is now all but assured.
The Catholic institution of canonization requires a total of two “verified” miracles in order to recognize a Catholic as being a saint who can hear prayers and intercede for those who ask for their help. It is theologically important to note that Christians are not “made” saints by the Church, but, rather, recognized. Before one is confirmed as a saint, however, one must first be beatified. In order to be beatified, a candidate must have one of the two required “verified” miracles under their belt.
The Roman Catholic Church takes miraculous claims seriously—having, until recently, the office of advocatus diaboli, or the Devil’s Advocate, which makes a case against the canonization of a particular candidate. Incidentally, it was John Paul II himself who abolished the office, which expedited hundreds of canonization proceedings. Christopher Hitchens, when he was asked to argue against the beatification of Mother Teresa after the dissolution of the office of the Devil’s Advocate, described his role as representing the devil “pro bono”. The Church investigates miraculous cures and requires that, in order to be attributable to the intercession of a candidate for canonization, the cure be instantaneous, complete, and lasting.
For John Paul II, one of his necessary miracles for canonization came in the form of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who is said to have recovered from the incurable Parkinson’s disease, the same illness suffered by the late pontiff. Sister Simon-Pierre wrote the name of Pope John Paul II after his death on a piece of paper. The next day, she was apparently cured and resumed her duties in her order.
It is, of course, entirely possible that Sister Simon-Pierre was simply afflicted by an illness that had neurodegenerative appearances similar to Parkinson’s, but was curable. A doctor charged with investigating the nun’s condition aired out similar doubts.
But, even if the good Sister Simon-Pierre had Parkinson’s, what the Church is expecting its faithful (and the secular world) to accept is that her recovery was not a natural event. The Church is asking the world to consider that not only have the laws of the universe been suspended (let that sink in for a while: the laws of the universe have been suspended) but that they have been overturned in favor of the Roman Catholic Church and in a manner suspiciously convenient for its politics. With its pastiche of medical investigations that could earn a mid-season replacement spot on NBC, the Catholic Church purports its canonization procedures as scientific: skeptical and rigorous. And what could be more scientific and intellectually honest than concluding from an inexplicable recovery that a person who has died is now watching us from heaven and can help get our prayers to God answered?
With his recent beatification, John Paul II is now just one miracle shy of a confirmed sainthood. A confirmed sainthood would mean that the Roman Catholic Church believes on faith that John Paul II is, in fact, in a place called heaven, in the presence of someone called Jesus Christ. This is the level of pseudoscience, rivaling only ufology and homeopathy, that every believing Catholic has to swallow for each and every saint venerated inside their opulent cathedrals. It’s hard to imagine a bigger waste of human productivity. But for the sole political purpose of establishing John Paul II as a champion of the Roman Catholic Church and what it stands for, the recognition of his sainthood is perfectly appropriate.
Defenders of the current pope, Benedict XVI, cite Darío Cardinal Castríllon Hoyos when pointing the finger at the late John Paul II for the child rape scandal sweeping the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Hoyos served as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and was in charge of priests and deacons who are not in religious orders. In this capacity, he praised a French bishop, Pierre Pican, for not sending the child rapist Rev. Rene Bissey to “civil administration” and congratulated Pican for being “a model of a father who does not hand over his sons.” Cardinal Hoyos revealed that he did so under the approval of Pope John Paul II and was authorized to send his letter of praise to other bishops around the world. Pican served three months in prison for protecting the rapist. Bissey was sentenced to 18 years for the rape of a boy and the sexual assault of ten others.
A good friend of Pope John Paul II, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, “Father Maciel” as he was known, was the founder of the Legion of Christ. The pope described him as an “efficacious guide to youth.” Degollado used the Legion of Christ and his charismatic persona, targeting widows in particular, to funnel millions into Church coffers. The congregation’s assets have been estimated at 25 billion euros. Degollado had political clout with backers including current United States presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and the brother of former president George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, both noted conservatives in the Republican party. Father Maciel was honored by John Paul II in the Vatican in 2004 despite long-standing charges of sex abuse, which involved at least 20 Legion seminarians. As an efficacious guide to the youth, Degollado fathered several children, whom he also reportedly abused. The current pope, Benedict XVI, eventually invited Degollado to lead “a reserved life of prayer and penance”—apparently a punishment suitable for the crime. Degollado never faced any criminal sanctions and died in 2008 as a free man.
It was during Pope John Paul II’s reign when the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, the Holy See’s diplomat to Ireland, told Irish bishops that reporting the rape of innocent children to the proper authorities gave rise to “serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.” Under John Paul II, Archbishop Storero upheld that canon law was above the secular law of a nation, showing a characteristic Vatican indifference to state sovereignty and cries for justice by their employees’ victims.
Pope John Paul II maintained when the first child rape cases started cropping up in the news that it was entirely an “American problem.” Like many other claims by the Church, this ultimately proved false. The Vatican’s position on the crisis was, and still is, that society, not the Church and its self-preservationist policies, is at fault with its permissiveness and “hyper-inflated” sexuality.
Society’s permissiveness apparently drove John Paul the Great to allow Hans Cardinal Hermann Groer, who molested over 2,000 boys (a number so large that it retains almost no meaning) to hide from police in a nunnery. Cardinal Groer eventually died there without being prosecuted for his crimes. Of course, the Church’s repressive Victorian attitudes towards sex, which were strengthened by Humanae Vitae and Persona Humana and reiterated in the Pope’s own The Splendour of Truth, which put the use of contraceptives on par with genocide, were not to blame for its systemic problem with sins against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue.
Pope John Paul II reinforced the old boys’ club of puritans and conservatives in the Catholic Church by having papal nuncios spy on clerics and recommend only for promotion to bishop those who were strongly against contraceptives. John Paul II’s policy of narrow-mindedness was crucial in the assembly of retrograde anachronisms that comprise the CBCP, as well as the other institutions that make up the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy we have today. This is his legacy to the world.
Filipino pilgrims led by Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales watched Pope John Paul II’s beatification ceremony this past May 1. It was their homage to a man who was indeed loved by Filipinos. While Pope John Paul II was undeniably a man who argued for peace and acted to heal religious strife between mutually contradictory faiths, he was also instrumental in the continued suffering of innocent children and the continued impunity enjoyed by child rapists in the Church. And because this moral inconsistency seems to be the spirit that guides the Church he left behind, there really is no one else better suited for sainthood than the Blessed John Paul II.