If you like the social aspect of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, you feel warmed and filled after the recent canonizations:
Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II can rightly be called “the human rights popes.” In their teaching and their actions, they did more to advance the church’s teaching on human rights and to promote the dignity and rights of the human person globally than any other pope. Blessed John’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris brought about a sea change in the Roman Catholic tradition. It declared for the first time the Catholic Church’s full commitment to the modern human rights agenda, encompassing democratic freedoms and economic, social, and cultural rights. Blessed John Paul built on the foundation of John XXIII by unremittingly reminding the world of the inviolable dignity of the human person and her rights on pastoral visits all over the world. This is why in 2011 the United Nations honored him as a “consistent promoter of peace and human rights.” He trenchantly reminded Christians not to dismiss human rights as a product of the Enlightenment, or a “wish list” of political parties. Rather, argued the pontiff, Jesus Christ and his Gospel are the ultimate source of human rights. Moreover, John Paul argued that the rights of the poor and marginalized cannot be postponed because affluent nations and individuals think their “freedom” entitles them to hyper-consumption (see Redemptor Hominis, no.16). He also penned the Church’s most complete ethic and spirituality of labor, Laborem Exercens. John Paul maintained that the Son of God became a carpenter, thereby revealing that all work possesses equal dignity because it is done by a human being. All workers – not just those highly valued by the market – must be guaranteed rights such as a just wage, affordable healthcare, rest, retirement pensions, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, maternity leave, and safe working conditions (no. 19).
But if you are concerned about liturgy and piety, then cool and unsatisfied:
Then we have the canonization of John Paul II, which is being treated in media accounts as the Traditionalist half of a political process. On the same Sunday, both John Paul II and the liberal hero Pope John XXIII will be canonized. We are told that Pope Francis is trying to effect the reconciliation of two spheres in the Catholic world, and consolidate the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, which sought to bring the church up to date with the modern world. This narrative leaves me cold.
Like a lot of Catholic Traditionalists, I have extremely mixed feelings about John Paul II. He inspired many of the best men in todays’s church to join the priesthood. But I do not consider him a representative of Traditionalist views. He made additions to the Rosary, which have been thankfully ignored by the faithful. His allowance for the Traditional Latin Mass was insultingly ungenerous. He made bold ecumenical gestures that seem impossible to reconcile not only with the texts of Vatican II, but also with the teachings of the pre-conciliar church.
I find that John Paul’s writings are alternately inspiring, opaque, and incomprehensible. His governance of the church was lax in the extreme, to the point of negligence. Even before his death, my view was that here was a celebrity pope who traveled while Rome burned in scandal.
John Paul II’s record on sexual abuse was abysmal, full stop, even if there may be some room to doubt his personal culpability. I’ve sometimes wondered if his personal charisma blinded him to the obviously un-Catholic spirit of personal obedience written into the heart of the Legion of Christ, led by the noted abuser, liar, womanizer, and drug-addict Marcial Maciel. Or if his view of priestly abuse allegations were shaped by his experience in Poland, where communist authorities routinely accused priests in order to undermine the church. But for over two decades he was the supreme authority in the church, and he did next to nothing to abate this crisis.
There is still much goodness and grace in the church today, and much growth and heroism among its members in Africa and Asia. But for the Western world, the post-Vatican II era, the one that is supposedly being consolidated and sanctified by these canonizations, has been one of shocking decline in Catholic practice, weakness of faith, and demoralizing immorality. Why the rush to canonize those who initiated and oversaw it?