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Santo Subito: a rush to judgment?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 14, 2011

The Vatican’s approval of a miracle attributed to the intercession of Pope John Paul II has triggered criticism for three reasons. First, because everything the Vatican does or says will trigger criticism in the current climate of anti-Catholic triumphalism. Second, because the quick pace of the late Pope’s cause—with his beatification now scheduled barely 6 years after his death—gives rise to fears that the Vatican cut corners in the investigation. Third, because some serious questions still remain about his administration of the papacy.

Questions in the first category may be dismissed fairly easily. Those who despise Catholicism will always find reasons to criticize the Church, her decisions, and even her saints. We should be sensitive to the ways in which non-Catholics perceive the Church, but we should not allow anti-Catholic sentiments to influence the Church’s decisions. 

Questions in the second category can also be answered—and have been answered—by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The Congregation did give top priority to the cause of John Paul II, but as Cardinal Amato has testified, the scrutiny of his life and works was not curtailed. The investigation racked up and pored over literally tens of thousands of pages of testimony. The reported miracle was carefully vetted by both theologians and doctors. Pope John Paul II lived in the limelight, more than perhaps any other figure in history; his actions and statements were well known to the public—and in most cases, recorded for posterity—even before the investigation began. Critics and skeptics had plenty of time to make their case, and plenty of evidence with which to make it. They did not convince the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Nor did they convince the general public. Those cries of “Santo subito!” heard at the late Pope’s funeral, still represent the general consensus. The world at large thinks of John Paul II as a saint.

Questions in the third category are not so easily dismissed. Nor should they be. Was John Paul II right to kiss the Qu’ran? To institute the World Youth Day celebrations? To gather different religious leaders at Assisi? Was he wrong to support Father Maciel? Does he bear some degree of responsibility for the widespread pattern of episcopal misconduct that has been exposed in the sex-abuse scandal? These are legitimate questions, still open to debate and discussion.

But even if John Paul II is open to criticism for some of his decisions (or non-decisions), what does that mean? He was human. Beatification is not a claim that an individual was perfect; it is, rather, the Church’s pronouncement that in spite of his human weaknesses, the individual made an extraordinary, loving, heroic response to God’s call. It is easy to make that judgment of John Paul II, even in the face of the harshest critics.

Yet really we don’t need to make that judgment for ourselves, because it has been made for us by the Church. More than that: it has been ratified by a miracle. The process of beatification requires that the Church thoroughly investigate the life of the candidate, find evidence of heroic virtue, and then wait for a sign from God to confirm that judgment. In the case of John Paul II we now have a sign: a miracle cure, certified by independent experts as inexplicable by all human means. Unless you are prepared to argue that Vatican officials deliberately distorted the evidence or exerted undue influence on the investigating panels—an argument that requires a considerable degree of devotion to conspiracy theory—the miracle is evidence that the almighty God approved the beatification of John Paul II.  

If you don’t believe in miracles, of course, you won’t find this argument convincing. But if you don’t believe in miracles, the beatification of John Paul II won’t be the first subject on which you disagree with the Catholic Church. 

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 20, 2011 11:33 AM ET USA

    "In order that the prayers of the faithul may not be...misdirected... the Church has commanded that no public homage shall be given to any individual who has not been beatified or canonized...We see,then, what laborious and lengthy deliberation our Church uses...She does not hurry... " The unbridled apotheosis is but another example of the abandonment of the traditional "sensus catholicus." Imagine St. Bernard's response to a Catholic kissing the Koran while he preached the Crusades.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Jan. 18, 2011 10:52 PM ET USA

    The Vatican moves exceedingly slow in most matters. Why does John Paul II's beatification and canonization get put on the fast track? I'm still waiting for the canonization of the holiest pope in my life time---Pope Pius XII. Why is that taking so long?

  • Posted by: Savonarola - Jan. 18, 2011 8:58 PM ET USA

    Phil - As to the five questions in your third category (if you're polling): kissing the Koran was indifferent; World Youth Day has mixed but mostly positive effects; the Assisi meeting a worthwhile ecumenical effort. The last two are more arguable: the hammer should have come down promptly on the coverup bishops and, as to Maciel, it may well be that this corrupt man also corrupted with cash some of the Pope's advisors. (As to the Legionaries, that situation is simply not redeemable.)

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 18, 2011 4:48 PM ET USA

    To quote that font of Catholic wisdom, Brian Kilmeade: "The Pope's a Saint. It's a slam dunk."

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