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UP EARLY this AM: TRYING to CELEBRATE the NEW SAINT POPE JOHN PAUL II and DEFEND him from UNFAIR CRITICISM

I am up at 4 am trying to stay up enough to watch the mass in celebration of the Canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.

I am no authority on John XXIII.  I am somewhat of a skeptic on the question of the Second Vatican Council only because most of my early readings (William F. Buckley, Jr. for example) were not favorable toward the Council or its aftermath.  He was obviously an historic figure and should be admired.  I did not realize until this week that John XXIII was something like 78 when he was elected.

But it is Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, I am up at 4am this morning to honor.  Not because he was the first Pope from Poland.  Not even because he was the first non-Italian Pope in over 400 years.  But because Pope John Paul II reformed the church and was a force to defeat communism in Europe and the former Soviet Union.  Pope John Paul is a hero of mine.  I truly believe that (who knew then!) when Karol Wojtyla was proclaimed the new Pope, that communism was finished in Europe and finished as a political force.  It was just a matter of time.  Now Christians are not persecuted in most of the nations that were behind the Iron Curtain and there a degree of political freedom.  I am sure the new saint, John Paul II is praying for the situation in Ukraine and we should too!

It is very fascinating to see the former pope, Benedict XVI, celebrating mass along with Pope Francis.

So I had to be up this AM to honor this remarkable man of God.  George Weigel’s excellent book, Witness to Hope, is worth reading and I also have the DVD, Karol, that is worth listening to.

Now it must be made clear (I also must make clear that I am not Catholic but respect and admire the Catholic Church for its commitment to education, social justice, generally conservative doctrine and health care) that sainthood is misunderstood; it is a recognition that that person is in heaven, interceding for the faithful.  It is a way to pray for intercession before God.

Now I would state that I believe that when a person dies, they go to either heaven or hell, based on their acceptance or rejection of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.  (If you want to be sure you have saving faith in Jesus, go here!)

Sainthood is not a honor or a title, although John Paul II will be called hereto in the Catholic world St. John Paul II.  The Apostle Paul refers to his readers in his letters as saints in his greetings.  Here’s one example (I Corinthians 1:2 [KJV]):

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

Now it is time to defend the new saint.  I noticed that people are critical of how St. John Paul II handled the sex abuse crisis in the Church, in effect covered it up.  Here is a Maureen Dowd op-ed in the NY Times for example.  Now I would say in dealing with the New York Times that I agree with what former Senator Jesse Helms once said, something to the effect that I don’t care what the Times writes and the people I care about does not care what they write.

But to imply that Pope John Paul did not care about the scandal is simply not true.  Dowd writes this:

Given the searing damage the scandal has done to so many lives and to the church, that rationalization doesn’t have a prayer. He needed to recognize the scope of the misconduct and do something, not play the globe-trotting ostrich.

The church is giving its biggest prize to the person who could have fixed the spreading stain and did nothing. The buck, or in this case, the Communion wafer, doesn’t stop here. There is something wounding and ugly about the church signaling that those thousands of betrayed, damaged victims are now taken for granted as a slowly fading asterisk.  (Emphasis added)

So I decided to look it up to see how this new saint handled the crisis.  In 2002,  Pope John Paul II called the US cardinals to Rome to deal with this issue (if you don’t like the Vatican news service, how about CNN!):

VATICAN CITY (CNN) — Stepping into a controversy that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II has summoned U.S. cardinals to Rome for a meeting at the Vatican to discuss the problem of priests who molest children, a Vatican official said Monday.

One theologian in the United States described the highly unusual call by the pope as a visit to the “woodshed” for the U.S. cardinals.

And the American church did act.  They issued rules on how future cases are to be handled before John Paul II died.

Believe the New York Times:  At the time John Paul II was calling the US cardinals to the woodshed, he ordered Nigerian church leaders to deal with sexual abuse promptly:

On Saturday he told a meeting of Nigerian bishops to ”diligently investigate” accusations of misbehavior by priests and to take ”firm steps to correct it where it is found to exist.” His Wednesday general audience offers the pope the chance to say more; he might use it to issue a clear apology to victims of sexual abuse. It is in John Paul’s character to do so. His gift for the perfect public gesture is not mere showmanship; his acts are so successful because they are so heartfelt.

Maybe Maureen Dowd should research better before she attacks another public figure.  But her real gripe is that the Catholic Church is rigid in its beliefs in a way that she does not like:

Perhaps trying to balance the choice of John Paul, who made conservatives jump for joy because he ran a Vatican that tolerated no dissent, the newly christened Pope Francis tried to placate progressives by cutting the miracle requirement from two to one to rush John XXIII’s canonization. That pope was known as “il papa buono,” the good pope. He reached out with Vatican II, embraced Jews and opened a conversation on birth control.

“This is a political balancing act,” said Kenneth Briggs, the noted religion writer. “Unfortunately, the comparisons are invidious. John opened up the church to the world and J.P. II began to close it down again, make it into a more restricted community, putting boundaries up.”

The Church has to take a stand for the right.  It has no choice.  In fact, we Christians are commanded to be salt and light to the world.  Matthew 5:13 (KJV):

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

And the next verse:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Much of the world wants to see the Christian message diluted.  But the Church cannot do so.  Dowd is wrong on the merits as to the specific example of father Marcial Maciel Degollado, former head of the Legion of Christ:

Another unforgivable breach was the pope’s stubborn defense of the dastardly Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, a pedophile, womanizer, embezzler and drug addict.

Here is the news report from the National Catholic Reporter on how the new saint dealt with the allegations of the former head of the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel Degollado, who Benedict XVI exiled to a life of penitence.

Specifically, Navarro-Valls said, procedures against Maciel “began during the pontificate of John Paul II.”

***

Navarro-Valls said Friday that John Paul II was not able to act more quickly in Maciel’s case because the pope was dying while an investigation he ordered was being concluded. As part of that investigation, Navarro-Valls said, John Paul II had sent Charles Scicluna, then an official at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now an auxiliary bishop in Malta, to collect testimony in places around the world.

“The pope knew that the investigation was underway but was not informed of the results” because it was only concluded as he was dying in 2005, Navarro-Valls said.

The former spokesperson also said he met with Pope Benedict in the “first days of his pontificate” to discuss the findings in the Maciel investigation.

***

Maciel was not publicly punished until 2006, after John Paul II’s death, when Pope Benedict XVI ordered the priest to a life of penance.

John Paul II refused to compromise Catholic doctrine and thus he will be criticized.  Dowd is offensive in citing the UN to criticize the Catholic Church:

The statement followed a United Nations report upbraiding the church for turning a blind eye to child abuse by priests and the sins of Father Maciel, who had serially abused adolescent seminarians, some as young as 12, and had several children with at least two women. His sons also claimed he abused them.

Maybe some will say he could have or should have done more to stop sexual abuse or protect victims.  Maybe so.  No one is perfect.  Sainthood is not a title of perfection.  It is a recognition that they are now with the Lord.  Again, I say to my readers, if you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, repent of your sins, and walk in the light, you too are a saint and if you endure to the end, you will be in heaven.  See I John 1:7 (KJV):

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

Believe in Him today.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood “Sandy” Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia’s first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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