Sunday, April 27, 2014

As a Protestant, I’ve never been much of a saints kind of guy.  It’s how we Calvinists roll.  To me, there is only one criterion for sainthood.  Ask a particularly saintly, living person whether he or she should be considered a saint after his or her death.

If the response is positive, that person isn’t saint material.  But if that person shrieks in terror at the very suggestion, begins physically striking you or throwing things at you to make you go away and never speaks to you again, then I think that it’s fair to say that you’ve got yourself a pretty solid candidate.

Speaking of saints, Charles J. Reid, Jr. is not all that comfortable with the upcoming canonization of John Paul II.  Don’t get Reid wrong, the former pope did some outSTANDing work while he was still with us:

For sure, John Paul II did things that make him worthy of canonization. There is no question that he was a deeply prayerful man who authored profound reflections on the meaning of Jesus and his mission. He provided a great witness to courage, first when he was shot in May, 1981, and then, two decades later, as an elderly victim of Parkinson’s. He rallied Poland and Eastern Europe in the Cold War. Where others might have been intemperate, his messages always encouraged resolute, peaceful, non-violent resistance.

This, of course, is where the “but” goes.  For starters, there was the Pope’s totally inadequate response to the sexual abuse scandal.

First, there was the priestly pedophilia crisis. It was in the middle 1980s when the public first began to get a sense of its enormity. In 1983, the national media highlighted the serial abuse committed by a priest of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, Fr. Gilbert Gauthe. And two years later, in a report to the American Bishops’ Conference, Fr. Thomas Doyle detailed the depth of the problem and predicted that the pedophilia crisis might be the largest disaster to confront the Church “in centuries.”

Fr. Doyle was right of course. And a healthy Church would have responded with shock, yes, but then with a thorough house cleaning. Regrettably, it has been three decades and the house cleaning is still less than adequate. Why? There are many reasons, but one contributing factor was the culture of clericalism that came to dominate the Catholic hierarchy in the 1980s and 1990s.

And the crisis worsened as he aged. Pontificating excuse-makers duly explained that he lacked the capacity to grasp its scale. In the Poland of his youth, his apologists recited, many priests faced trumped-up charges of child abuse and now the aged Pope could not accept that these charges were genuine. Both for the clericalism he promoted and the cognitive dissonance he could not overcome, John Paul II bears at least some of the responsibility for the crisis.

One of the problems with reading a lot of history is when you decide what should have happened.  It’s the easiest thing in the world to praise or condemn actions taken or not taken if you have decades or centuries of hindsight that your subjects did not have.

Did you vote for the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act four years later?  I knew that your votes would eventually result in one of the bloodiest wars this world has ever known because that’s because this is the year 2014.  What with you being back there in the 1850′s and all, you had no idea.
Hell, the very idea of secession would have been inconceivable to you.

But according to Reid, that wasn’t John Paul’s only crime.  The former pope must also be charged with the sin of grieving the (holy?) spirit.  Of Vatican II.

On a very different note, John Paul II was celebrated in his day for the ways in which he defined doctrine. The post-Vatican-II Church of the 1970s, it was said, had been too experimental. 

Scholars wrote about liberation theology. Church historians examined tradition in path-breaking ways. Priests explored a variety of ways of doing liturgy. Yes, there were excesses. Yes, there was naiveté, enough to go around, but there was also genuine excitement and real life to the Church.

John Paul II sought to curb this enthusiasm, mistaking exuberance for heterodoxy. He craved certainty even while despising intellectual diversity. The Catholic Church was one and should speak with a single voice. A generation of Catholic scholars, the best and brightest minds the Church had, were investigated and silenced by John Paul II’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A trained theologian, he attempted to write into Catholic dogma many of his own propositions, thinking them to be universal truths.

Which, of course, led John Paul II to the Unforgivable Sin.

Going forward, these efforts to create a comprehensive uniformity of doctrine may prove to be among the most unfortunate aspects of John Paul II’s pontificate. Take, for example, his theology of the body, which he developed in a series of sermons in the early 1980s and which forms the basis of the sexual teachings found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992.

Assuming what he wished to prove, John Paul II used the creation account — “male and female he created them” — as justification for a sexual ethic that now urgently requires rethinking. In the Catechism, he described same-sex attraction as “objectively disordered” (para. 2358). Same-sex relationships, he said were incapable of “proceed[ing] from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” and so “[u]nder no circumstances can they be approved” (para. 2357).

We know, of course, that same-sex attraction is part of the natural variability of human sexuality. We recognize from simply observing love-in-action that genuinely self-giving, life-promoting relationships are not only possible but common among gay people. Gay people love and live, hurt and heal in exactly the same ways as heterosexuals.

Catholic moral theology must come to understand these elementary human facts. I am confident that it will, since the Church’s teaching is always finally dependent upon a proper anthropology of the human person. Doctrine does develop. But John Paul II’s work has made that development a far more arduous task.

Never mind the other stuff.  For that reason alone, John Paul II shouldn’t even have been made pope, let alone a Christian saint.

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