What is a saint? Does he or she really need two miracles to prove his or her holiness? The Vatican bureaucracy pre Pope Francis seemed to be working out of a medieval theology here. The present pope virtually said so when he waived “the second miracle” for Pope John XXlll. The man’s goodness was enough to canonize him.
John Paul ll was in many ways a heroic figure on the world stage, flying over the world and over the heads of local dioceses as a superstar in a world which badly needed strong moral voices. JP ll often provided these voices defending the dignity of humans and the dignity of labour. He railed against the excesses of free market capitalism. With his flare for the dramatic he captivated many. The Russian empire was rotting from internal contradictions so JP ll’s role in the disintegration is a tad exaggerated.
The Church often uses Latin expressions to differentiate loci of influence. So JP ll “ad extra” outside in the world was a force for good. Lamentably “ad intra”, he was not so good. As he was rushed to sainthood by his many supporters, largely the naifs in the the ultra conservative new orders which had sprung up. This “rush to judgement flew in the face of the Catholic Church’s longer view, its sober second thought. Even in this very brief time between his death and beatification John Paul ll’s pontificate began to show glaring weaknesses.
A stormy Papacy
Now that he has gone, many people forget that his pontificate was very stormy. He was often opposed by the greatest thinkers in the Catholic church, theologians who loved the church as much as he did but could not abide his totalitarian methods in shutting down his one size fits all, his “my way or the highway” approach to dissent.
Sadly “ad intra”,John Paul ll gets a failing grade. At a time of increased lay education and in the tradition of Vatican ll’s model of collegiality, the Polish pope became the sole driver on the bus ignoring collegial input. He failed to realize that the ground had shifted under him. As the British theologian Charles Davis quipped, “Some people in history just show up at the wrong time.”John paul ll was such a figure. What was needed was a pope who would continue the necessary implementation of the Council.In hindsight, we have the hsitorical re-enactment of Newton’s second Law of Motion, every action produces a counter reaction. And this is exacly what happened—a reactionary papacy,
His top down monarchical and authoritarian model honed in a country (Poland) unaffected by Vatican ll was deeply insulting to those raised in more democratic cultures. JP ll ran smack into Cardinal Newman’s great gift, the sensus fidelium the baptismal rights of all Catholics to be consulted. JP ll forgot or ignored that the Spirit has been given to the entire Church, most of whom are lay. As Lumen Gentium stated,”The whole body has received an anointing.” Father Knows Best was dead. The people of God are part of the Magisterium. The Catholic Church is not the papacy, the bishop is not the Church and the priest is not the pope in his parish.
Theologians sidelined in a new “Ice age.”
John Paul ll and his enforcer Josef Ratzinger immediately began marginalizing the role of the best thinkers in the Catholic church, their partners in the magisterium. Vatican ll had called for a discipleship of equals. The Woytyla/Ratzinger papacy produced a dictatorship. Papal primacy would no longer be seen in the context of collegiality. John Paul ll was no longer primus inter pares, but primus, a monarch, the sole teacher in the Church. The power of episcopal conferences was curtailed. A medieval restoration was in full bloom. This duo, the pope and his enforcer, gave new meaning to the expression “bully pulpit.” This was a major turn away from the Church of dialogue promoted by Pope Paul Vl.
As Karl Rahner, our greatest 20th century theologian was about to die, in 1984, he named the John Paul ll pontificate “the ice age.” He and his enforcer were ecclesiastical appeared more like commissars than fellow Catholics. Their way of silencing different opinions was to fire, condemn, exclude and banish theologians. It was a stunning abuse of power that bordered on hubris by a man who was so convinced that alone spoke absolute truth. Bishops no longer were seen as leaders of a local see but like ancient satraps, enforcers of diktaks which came from control centre. The centralization of power in Rome was a deep insult to the collegiality espoused by Vatican ll. Along with this came what theologians called “creeping infallibilism”, the tendency to treat all Vatican utterances as near infallible.
Hundreds paid the price for their resistance to the new dictatorship and the flagrant abuse of authority. Many remember the most famous victims who were proscribed Boff, Curran, Kung,etc—but that was simply the tip of the iceberg. The “chill was carried through in local dioceses by the Yes men” named to major Sees. Progressive voices were silenced, dialogue became monologue. When one compares the highly pastoral Paul Vl (1963-78) who proscribed no theologians in his 15 year papacy to the ham-fisted clampdown of Woytla/Ratzinger one gets a sense of the reign of fear present in that papacy. Pope Paul Vl (Montini) had enough pastoral sense to allow peer review to test the ongoing and necessary upgrading of theology. Montini had trust in these theologians. JP ll did not. He tried to impose his own brand of rabid orthodoxy on the universal church. Intimidation and coercion replaced dialogue and the freedom of inquiry. Theological reflection which belongs to the whole Church and particularly to professional theologians had become the sole province of a narrow band of prelates.
It became highly embarrassing as JP ll again and again disrupted normal processes of diocesan and curial consultation to impose his own candidates on local churches. All over the Catholic world, local churches resisted his poor choices. In Recife, Brazil 60 priests protested the leadership of Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrino by refusing to attend the Holy Thursday chrism mass. It was Sobrinho who replaced the “saint of the slums” Helder Camara and having destroyed Helder’s pastorate among the poor and then told him not to speak publicly in his recife diocese! In Brazil, Woytyla cut the legs out from under the great progressive Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns. His diocese was divided into five parts. In El Salvador Fernando Lacalle, the Opus Dei military ordinary was appointed Archbishop-a deep insult to Oscar Romero’s legacy. Peru’s progressive episcopacy was replaced by Opus Dei bishops,distant from the people.
The most embarrassing and shocking manipulation was the broken promise to the ecclesiastical giant Cardinal Franz Koenig of Vienna. Assured by the pope that he would have a say in the appointment of his successor, Koenig was stunned to hear on the radio that Herman Groer had been named successor. His credentials? He had restored a small Marian shrine which he commuted to in his Mercedes! Groer later resigned when his homosexual liaison with a seminary student leaked out.
Chaos reigned when JP ll appointed Kurt Krenn a close friend of the pope as auxiliary. He was so despised that police were called so Krenn could get over the prone bodies of protesters lying in front of the cathedral.
In Ireland outstanding candidates were passed over clerical and lay opinion ignored. Today Ireland’s Catholicism is in tatters. In the Netherlands the church of the great Cardinal Alfrink was demolished. As in other jurisdictions, John Paul ignored the role of diocesan clergy in choosing bishops. In 1985 the people literally turned their back on the Pope as he drove through the streets.
In 1989 163 German theologians spoke out against JP ll’ arbitrary use of papal authority. ”If the pope does what does not belong to his office he cannot. In such a case he must expect opposition demand obedience in the name of Catholicism. Their objections were tripartite:
JP ll’s appointment of bishops “without respecting the suggestions of the local churches. This runs counter to the Catholic tradition that the selection of bishops “is not some private choice of the pope’s.”
Secondly, the Vatican’s refusal to grant official license to theologians with whom it disagrees. This silences dissent and “a dangerous intrusion into the freedom of research and teaching.
Thirdly, the creeping infallibilism referenced earlier—especially to the ban on birth control. Collegiality was being smothered “by a new Rome centralism.
From June 6-9 of 1990 the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) repeated many of the same concerns particularly the right of free inquiry. This brilliant statement “Do not extinguish the Spirit “was highly critical of the growing chill within the Church and the increasing denigration of of theologians now labelled “dissenters”. Walter Principe, the Canadian Basilian countered the Vatican claim that harm was being done to the faithful by theologians with “the harm m being done by the Vatican issuing of documents with no prior consultation with bishops and theologians”.
In 1992 came the shocking beatification of Josemaria Escriva the Opus Dei Vatican ll denier. In Canada and the USA, pastoral bishops were replaced by docile,safe bishops sworn to never discuss celibacy, the ordination of married men and certainly not women. Also they had to be rabid about birth control.
And then came 2002, the pedophilia crisis and the JP ll bishops’ coverups, the greatest Church scandal since the Reformation.