Jackson Doughart
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No rest for John Paul II

The Charlottetown Guardian, 21 May 2011

On May 1, the late Karol Jozef Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II, was beatified in a ceremony officiated by Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican City. Over a million Catholic pilgrims partook in the ceremony, which celebrated the contributions of John Paul to the Roman Catholic Church throughout his 26-year papacy. The event was also attended by many political figures, including the prime minister of Italy, the president of the European Commission and the crown prince of Spain, along with Catholic delegations from around the world. Even Robert Mugabe, the infamous dictator of Zimbabwe, made an appearance, though he required an exemption from his European travel ban in order to do so.

Normally, a five-year waiting period from death is required before the process of beatification can begin, but this standard was not applied to John Paul. Instead, Benedict waived this waiting period in 2005 on the advice of the Italian Cardinal Vicar Camillo Ruini, who described the case of John Paulís potential sainthood as subject to exceptional circumstances. Benedict then venerated John Paul in 2009 along with Pope Pius XII, who was pontiff during the second world war. Curiously, the Church has been less eager to beatify Pius, whose papacy has been criticized for its failure to adequately respond to Nazi pogroms in Europe.

Notwithstanding several legitimate criticisms of his tenure as pope, one can say without reservation that John Paul was a very serious and honourable human being, whose accomplishments are certainly worthy of recognition. However, the decision to send John Paul on a fast track to sainthood is suspicious and appears to be the result of ulterior motives on behalf of the Church.

A steady decline in mass attendance over the last few decades suggests that the influence of Catholicism is diminishing in Europe and North America, whose political cultures have progressively become more secular. This has happened to the chagrin of the Church, whose moral teachings on abortion, homosexuality, contraception, gender roles and euthanasia are in direct conflict with the opinions of social liberals, who have themselves garnered much influence over the same period. This trend toward secularization has been staunchly criticized by Benedict, who has warned that Western countries will be led to inescapable moral relativism without ethical guidance from the Church.

In contemplating the reasons for this decline, one cannot discount the effects of the Churchís international child-abuse scandal, which has brought the current pope under scrutiny for his alleged role in the cover-up. It may be naive to assume that the faith of individual Catholics would be shaken by these developments, but it is also difficult to believe that such an ordeal would not have Church officials worried. The current papacy has had its share of public-relations mishaps as well, including controversial remarks by Benedict about Islam, a period of confusion about the Churchís position on condom use and the revoke of the excommunication of Richard Williamson, an antisemite and self-proclaimed Holocaust denier.

John Paul was an immensely popular figure for his outreach to Eastern Christianity, the Church of England, Judaism and Islam, and for his role in the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism. He traveled to over one hundred countries and was accepted as an advocate of peace. He was also celebrated as a leader that united Catholics as a worldwide religious community.

These factors have rendered his legacy open to promotional use for the Catholic brand of Christianity. All too conveniently, the Church wasted no time in digging up their superstar and putting him back on display at the first available opportunity. Apparently not even death can give John Paul a rest from his role as an ambassador of Catholicism.

Employing such a publicity stunt for this reason would constitute a pitiful attempt by the Church to save its own plummeting reputation. Should this have indeed been the motivation behind the decision to beatify the former pontiff so quickly after his death, it is an embarrassment to everyone who held this man in high regard and is most certainly not a proper means of showing respect to him or his legacy.

If there is anything proficient about the Catholic Church, it is an ability to stick to its doctrines and traditions irrespective of conventional wisdom. Exempting John Paul from the established five-year waiting period raises a red flag of inconsistency, which ought to cause the motives of the Church to be questioned. At the very least, the politically-charged and accelerated beatification of John Paul II should be met with skepticism by both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com