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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid