News / Europe

Papal Canonizations a Lesson in Subtle Art of Catholic Politics

The tapestries showing the late Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII hang from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica as faithful and pilgrims crowd St. Peter's Square, April 25, 2014.
The tapestries showing the late Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII hang from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica as faithful and pilgrims crowd St. Peter's Square, April 25, 2014.
Reuters
When the late Popes John XXIII and John Paul II are declared saints on Sunday, the Vatican ceremony will be both a spiritual event for Roman Catholicism and a lesson in the subtle politics of the world's largest church.
 
Most of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will generally agree that these two men, in their own ways, were holy and charismatic pastors who helped their 2,000-year-old Church confront challenges of the modern era.
 
When it comes to details, though, opinions will diverge.

The debates are long and complex, but the popular notion of John as a liberal champion and John Paul as a conservative stalwart gives a rough outline of how they are seen.
 
As such, they symbolize two groups in the Catholic Church that have disagreed for decades, sometimes bitterly, over how to interpret the results of the reforming Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 that John launched and John Paul largely implemented.
 
By canonizing both, Argentine-born Pope Francis will be using the symbolism of unity to urge Catholics to look beyond these divisions to join together in following the Gospel.
 
“These two popes represent different wings of the Church,” said Ashley McGuire of the Catholic Association, a Washington-based lay group that defends Catholic views on public issues.
 
“Unity is a big theme of Pope Francis's papacy,"  McGuire said. "He's saying we're all Catholics, we're on a common journey together.”
 
Unity, diversity
 
While popes symbolize the unity of the Church, each one has his own priorities. Some are put into words in sermons and encyclicals, others into deeds in appointments of bishops and cardinals or choices of candidates to declare as saints.

“Canonizing popes can be politically divisive in the Church when it is an attempt by one faction to impose its model of the papacy on the future by bolstering the legacy of its favorite pope,” Rev. Thomas Reese, a prolific U.S. Jesuit analyst of Vatican affairs, said of the canonizations.
 
“Francis's solution is brilliant ... since the men are so different, it does not canonize either model of being pope. It leaves him free to follow his own path.”
 
John, who was born in Italy in 1881 and reigned from 1958 to 1963, is best remembered for convening the Council and promoting “aggiornamento” [updating] to open the Church to modern times.
 
He died after the first of the Council's four sessions and did not witness its far-reaching changes — including the end of Latin at Mass, use of modern music and challenges to Vatican authority — that appealed to reformers but alienated those more at home with the traditional ways.
 
Polish-born John Paul, born in 1920 in Wadowice, Poland, and pope from 1978 to 2005, upheld many Council reforms, but shifted the emphasis toward a more centralized Church, with clearer condemnations of wayward theologians and sexual freedom and a more assertive expression of Catholic identity in a strongly secularized world.
 
That more conservative turn was amplified by his German successor Benedict XVI, pope from 2005 to 2013, who brought back an older liturgical style and readmitted ultra-traditionalists who reject the Council and were excommunicated by John Paul.
 
In addition to debates over the Council, the scandal of clerical sexual abuse of children hangs over the last two pontificates, creating additional fault lines within the Church.
 
Twinning popes

Twinning papal candidates for sainthood has developed in recent decades as canonizations — once less frequent and less visible to the world's Catholics — have become events immediately broadcast around the globe.
 
“It goes back to Pope Paul VI,” said church historian Massimo Faggioli, author of the new book John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy, referring to the pontiff from 1963 to 1978.

In 1963, following John's death, several cardinals asked his successor if the Vatican Council could declare the late pope a saint by acclamation, as was the custom in the early Church.

Paul cautiously waited until the Council's end in 1965 and then started  the procedures for beatification — the step before sainthood — for John and his conservative predecessor Pius XII.
 
Pius's case bogged down in controversy over his role during the Holocaust, when critics said he ignored the fate of the Jews while defenders said he did all he could to save them.
 
When in 2000 John Paul beatified John, he twinned him with Pius IX, the pope who convened the First Vatican Council in 1869-1870 but whose long papacy (1846-1878) was marred by reactionary politics and accusations of anti-Semitism.
 
Pope Benedict put John Paul on the fast-track to beatification and canonization and had Pius XII declared “venerable,” the step before beatification -- two acts seen as  underlining the conservative emphasis of his pontificate.
 
“In 2010-2011, the rumor in Rome was that the couple [to be canonized] under Pope Benedict would be John Paul and Pius,” said Faggioli.

You May Like

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriagei
X
May 21, 2015 4:14 AM
The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.
Video

Video Women to March for Peace Between Koreas

Prominent female activists from around the world plan to march through the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea to call for peace between the two neighbors, divided for more than 60 years. The event, taking place May 24, marks the International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament and has been approved by both Koreas. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan Following Record High Poppy Crops

Afghanistan has seen record high poppy crops during the last few years - and the result has been an alarming rise in illegal drug use and addiction in the war-torn country. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem has this report from Kabul.
Video

Video America’s Front Lawn Gets Overhaul

America’s front yard is getting a much-needed overhaul. Almost two kilometers of lawn stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. But the expanse of grass known as the National Mall has taken a beating over the years. Now workers are in the middle of restoring the lush, green carpet that fronts some of Washington’s best-known sights. VOA’s Steve Baragona took a look.

VOA Blogs