Feast of St. Benedict
The impending beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011 has aroused serious concern among not a few Catholics around the world, who are concerned about the condition of the Church and the scandals that have afflicted her in recent years—scandals that prompted the future Benedict XVI to exclaim on Good Friday 2005: “How much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, in the priesthood, should belong entirely to Him.” We give voice to our own concern in this public way in keeping with the law of the Church, which provides:
In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, the Christian faithful have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons. [CIC (1983), Can. 212, § 3.]
We are compelled by what we believe in conscience to be the common good of the Church to express our reservations concerning this beatification. We do so on the following grounds, among others that could be brought forth.
The Real Question
We stress at the outset that we do not present these considerations as an argument against the personal piety or integrity of John Paul II, which ought to be presumed. The question is not personal piety or integrity as such, but rather whether there is, objectively speaking, a basis for the claim that John Paul exhibited such heroic virtue in the exercise of his exalted office as Pope that he should be placed immediately on the road to sainthood as a Pope to be emulated by all his successors.
The Church has always recognized that the matter of heroic virtue involved in a beatification is inextricably bound up with whether the candidate performed heroically the duties of his station in life. As Pope Benedict XIV (1675-1758) explained in his teaching on beatification, the heroic performance of duties involves acts so difficult they are “above the common strength of man,” are “accomplished promptly, easily,” “with holy joy” and “quite frequently, when the occasion to do so presents itself.” [Cf. De servorum Dei beatificatione, Bk. III, chap. 21 in Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of Interior Life, Vol. 2, p. 443].
Suppose the father of a large family were a candidate for beatification. One would hardly expect his cause to advance if it were the case that, while pious, he consistently failed to discipline and properly form his children, who habitually disobeyed him and fomented disorder in the home, even openly opposing the Faith while living under his roof; or if, while attentive to his prayers and spiritual duties, he neglected the industrious support of his family and allowed his household to fall into disarray.
When the candidate for beatification is a Pope—the Holy Father of the universal Church—the question is not simply his personal piety and holiness, but also his care of the vast household of the Faith that God has entrusted to him, for which purpose God grants the Pope extraordinary graces of state. This is the real question: Did John Paul II perform heroically his duties as Supreme Pontiff in the manner of the sainted predecessors we will mention here: opposing error, swiftly and courageously defending the flock from the ravening wolves who spread it, and protecting the integrity of the Church’s doctrine and sacred worship? We fear that under the circumstances surrounding this “fast track” beatification the real question has not received the careful and unhurried consideration it deserves.
Undue Popular Pressure
Among the circumstances that concern us is the unseemly pressure of “popular demand” for this beatification as manifested by the slogan “Santo Subito!”—“Saint Immediately!” It is precisely in order to avoid the influence of ephemeral popular sentiment, and to allow the perspective of a sober historical judgment to form, that the law of the Church wisely prescribes a five-year waiting period before a process for beatification can even begin. Yet in this case that prudent waiting period has been dispensed with. Thus a process that should barely have commenced by now is already nearly at an end, as if to provide immediate gratification of the popular will, even if that is not the intention.
We are aware of the role of popular acclamation even in the canonization of saints in exceptional cases. Pope Saint Gregory the Great, for example, was canonized by popular acclamation almost immediately after his death. But that towering Roman Pontiff was nothing less than a builder of Christian civilization, laying down both spiritual and organizational foundations for the Church and Christendom that endured for century upon century.
Likewise, Pope Saint Nicholas I, the last of the Popes the Church has denominated “Great,” was instrumental in the reform of the Church during a great crisis of faith and discipline, afflicting especially the upper hierarchy whose corrupt members he fearlessly opposed, and is rightly regarded as a veritable savior of Christian civilization at a time when its very survival was in doubt.
Further, the popular acclamation of beati and saints belongs to a time when the people were overwhelmingly faithful and submissive to the Church. We must ask: Of what value is popular demand for this beatification in an epoch when the vast majority of nominal Catholics simply reject any teaching on faith and morals they deem unacceptable—above all the infallible teaching of the Magisterium on marriage and procreation?