Wednesday, July 10, 2013

One papal hand washes another papal heinie -- and so it goes


Above the fray: The saintly, now sainted, John XXIII
once again provides cover for a darker "promotion."

"[I]t is a bit sad to see Pope Francis, who has been doing wonderful things in his short time at the Vatican, play the old game of self-certification at the top of a saint-making factory. Many hope he will make needed changes in the church. But in promoting John Paul II he is exalting a man who fought every one of those changes."
-- Garry Wills, in a new NYRB blogpost,
"Popes Making Popes Saints"

by Ken

At first the news seemed inscrutable: the new pope shoving Pope John XXIII the final step to sainthood -- and waiving the second-miracle requirement to do so! Don't all those Vatican types hate John XXIII? Even after all the decades that have elapsed since that genuinely saintly John's brief reign was terminated, don't they still get night sweats at the thought of a pope who imagined that the Catholic Church could actually serve the spiritual needs of its worshipers, and believed that that included serving their human needs as well?

But wait, you say. The new pope isn't really a Vatican type.

Maybe so, but all you had to do was read a bit further to smell what was going on. As part of a canonization twofer, who gets zipped along to sainthood in (relatively speaking) the blink of an eye? The hero of modern Vatican fascism, Pope John Paul II. The man who, after Pope Paul VI's unacceptably wishy-woshy efforts to overturn Vatican II, really took in hand the job of dragging the Church back into the Middle Ages.

Of course John Paul II had that veneer of piety and humility, but it was real only in the School of George Costanza, whereby "it's not a lie if you believe it." But the man did more than any other in modern times, and perhaps more than any ever, to sanctify the role of Catholics as pawns of the high and mighty purveyors of authoritarian doctrinal mumbo-jumbo.

For a moment there even I wondered if I was being overly cynical in assuming colossal bad faith on the part of the current Holy Father. And then I saw Garry Wills's new NYRB blogpost, "Popes Making Popes Saints." And Garry has the most straightforward possible reason for believing that John is being used to camouflage nefarious saint-making shenanigans. It's been done before, and by none other than John Paul II himself.
On September 3, 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified Pope Pius IX. (Beatification is the third and penultimate rung on the ladder to sainthood -- it certifies that a genuine miracle was worked through a dead person's intercession, establishes a liturgical feast day for that person, and authorizes church prayer to him or her.) Pius IX was a polarizing figure. He wrested from the Vatican Council a declaration of his own infallibility; he condemned such modern heresies as democratic government; he took a Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, from his family -- on the grounds that Edgardo's Christian nurse had baptized him as an infant, making him belong to the church, not to his infidel parents.

Promoting such a man was a touchy matter for Pope John Paul -- but he helped ease Pius into the ranks of the blessed by simultaneously beatifying the popular Pope John XXIII. Though liberals of all sorts disliked Pius IX, only hardened Curial types and sedevacantists -- "throne-empty" believers, who hold that John XXIII was not a legitimate pope -- hated John for changing the church with the Second Vatican Council. Otherwise, "good Pope John" was loved by most Catholics and many non-Catholics -- Lyndon Johnson gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The mutterings over Pius were practically drowned out by the cheers for John.
"Now," says Garry, "Pope Francis has come up with another ablutionary pairing."
He is canonizing John Paul II in record time (Benedict XVI had already waived the normal five-years-after-death period to allow the beatifying process to begin.) Though John Paul II is not as hotly resented by liberals as Pius IX, he is still subject to deep criticism. He presided over the church during its worldwide pedophile scandal, and he gave the handling of that problem to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith -- the very man who, succeeding him, would waive the time-lapse needed to begin his predecessor's canonization. (Who can think that a saint in heaven ever protected a predatory priest?) John Paul had treated as "irreversible" his stands on matters such as homosexuality, married priests, and women priests. He is a symbol, for some people, of things that need remedy in the church.

But -- not to worry -- the "good Pope John" is again being pressed into service. He was beatified to take the sting out of Pius IX's promotion. He is now being canonized to make a joint heavenly pair with John Paul II. To rush John XXIII forward, Pope Francis is even waiving the normal requirement of a second miracle for canonization. John XXIII is the feel-good pope in a time of turmoil, even though he is being used to sanction the turmoil caused by John Paul II.

The Vatican no doubt feels that combining a liberal hero with a conservative hero shows how big a tent its sacred baldacchino is; the holy institution transcends earthly politics.
Garry points out that John Paul II "canonized and beatified people by the hundreds (far more than any other pope)."
Each stamp of entry into heaven above authenticates the pope's power of the stamp here below. And each time a pope canonizes a pope he is completing a circuit of reciprocal authentications. Is it surprising that so many popes have been canonized?
This whole sanctification ritual, Garry notes, isn't built into the faith.
This is not like the early church's prayers with and for and to the dead -- voiced long before there was a pope to certify what prayer was or was not allowed. The idea that all believers, alive and dead, are members of the mystical body of Christ was given expression around the burial place of martyrs. Chesterton called tradition "a democracy of the dead" -- by which ancestors still vote with us. That was the Christian community's sense of a continuing oneness in all its members. Instead of that, we now have a cumbrous, officially monitored, and extremely expensive way of getting a person declared a saint who can be prayed to at Mass.
And the nasty secret about the canonization process is that it's good for business.
Religious orders, like popes, have a pecuniary advantage in getting their founders made saints -- as Opus Dei's founder, Josemaria Escriva, was canonized by John Paul II. A religious order can mobilize great resources -- for canvassing, certifying, lobbying in Rome -- from its houses, members, and benefactors. The expense of time, energy, and cash is well worth it if the founder is canonized. The founder-saint's feast day, sites or shrines, and relics -- all of these promote the order, its works, its recruiting of new members, and further fund-raising.

There is a kind of sad humor in the effort some good-hearted people are making to promote the canonization of the social activist, pacifist, and founder of The Catholic Worker Dorothy Day, using methods of subsidized glorification that mock her own values and concerns. In the same way, it is a bit sad to see Pope Francis, who has been doing wonderful things in his short time at the Vatican, play the old game of self-certification at the top of a saint-making factory. Many hope he will make needed changes in the church. But in promoting John Paul II he is exalting a man who fought every one of those changes.


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