In Defense of Pope St. John Paul II

Pope John Paul II in Strasbourg (Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images)

Thomas Griffin 11/18/20

A New York Times article was published on Saturday, November 14th concerning the “damning evidence” against the sanctity of Pope St. John Paul II. “Saint too Soon? Vatican Report Cast John Paul II in Harsh New Light” was written by Jason Horowitz who clearly, although implicitly has issues with the Catholic Church. Mr. Horowitz also does not understand the Christian notion of holiness which is in dire need of being clarified for the mainstream media. 

The definition of the word saint, according to the Catholic Church, is the recognition that a deceased person is in heaven. This means that he or she is living in eternal happiness with the Trinity and the communion of saints. The Church does not transport someone into heaven at their canonization and she never arbitrarily declares someone a saint. There is also no clause in the Gospels nor Tradition which articulates that moral and intellectual perfection is a prerequisite for sanctity. Actually the opposite is true (i.e. Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul, Matthew, Augustine, and so on). 

This piece by the Times is an important example of how the media covers the Church according to its own agenda rather than taking the time to investigate what, or rather who, the Church is about: Jesus Christ. Make your way through similar pieces and reporting from the Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, and others and you will find no mention of God and countless errors on what the Church exists for and teaches. 

The New York Times refers to bishops as “lietunents” as if the Body of Christ was an army or mafia family seeking to impose its will on its subjects. Among other jabs at the Church is Horowitz’s claim that Francis only places saints up for docking if they are in congruence with the pope’s “doctrinaire.” Simple investigative reporting would show that Pope Francis, and every previous pope for that matter, have nothing to do with proposing candidates nor are they a part of the approval process. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints studies cases or miracles and investigates the details of a person’s life with intensity while using unbiased committee’s composed of medical, scholarly and historical professionals. 

Horowitz cites a Notre Dame professor along with the National Catholic Reporter as if they are authorities for commenting on Church issues. Dr. Cummings views can be encapsulated by her words which finish off this piece by the Times: “You are pope. That should be good enough.” As if being the Bishop of Rome is more important than being in heaven. Religious education 101 shows that Jesus preached that worldly fame or global acclaim does not equal the glory of holiness. The NCR has taken much flack for questioning teachings of the Catholic Church which are immutable while some bishops have called for them to remove the name “Catholic” from their name. Dr. Cummings and the NCR are perfect examples of what the Church is not. Holiness is not derived from a life of intelligent and moral perfection, but of union with Christ. 

The New York Times also implied that the number of canonizations under John Paul II were erroneous and unnecessary calling it a “canonization factory.” JPII did lower the number of years needed to pass before the process can begin and the number of miracles needed for beatification but the number of saints recognized (not manufactured) is the result of thousands of miracles being performed, not a pope using his power for gain. 

Ultimately, this is being spoken of because of the McCarrick Report and the Church did not handle things perfectly. Jesus did not naively give the keys of the kingdom to Peter and the Apostles because they were perfect nor because they would never make mistakes. However, John Paul was never brought any hard evidence that McCarrick was a pedophile and he decided to take McCarrick’s word for it (albeit deceitful one). Saints are often guilty of thinking the best of someone. While he, in hindsight, possibly could have acted better the issue is highly complex not morally simplistic. What is simple is the mission of the Church and the evident rule of John Paul’s life. The Catholic Church exists as the conduit between heaven and earth and sanctity arises not through the avenues of hierarchy but through contact with the person of Christ who is found in a real manner in the Sacraments, the Bible and our concrete circumstances. 

Pope St. John Paul II is not a saint because he was pope, nor he is a saint because he made every perfect decision in his life. As George Wiegel notes (the only glimmer of truth in the NYT piece), this would bar every other person from entering the heavenly gates. John Paul is in heaven because of his holiness of life and intimacy with Jesus. It wasn’t too soon for him, let us hope and pray it is never too late for us. 

Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.

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