News / Europe

Sex Abuse Scandal Casting Shadow Over Pope John Paul II's Sainthood

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
Sabina Castelfranco

Five years ago Catholics around the world were mourning the death of Pope John Paul II, who headed the church for 27 years. Now questions have arisen over his record combating pedophile priests and it appears his fast track to sainthood may be slowing down.

Catholics around the world are marking Good Friday but at the same time also the fifth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II, the most popular pontiff of the modern age and a prime candidate for sainthood.

Thousands who took part in the Polish pope's funeral in 2005 shouted "Santo Subito!" (Sainthood Now). Just two months later, Benedict XVI, the new pope and a longtime associate of Pope John Paul II, waived the traditional five-year waiting period to kick off the sainthood process for the Polish pope.

Now there are questions over whether Pope John Paul II's fast track to sainthood may be slowing down. His beatification process is very close to its end, but is turning out to be more complicated than anticipated.

There is more than one reason for this.

One has to do with the miracle needed for Pope John Paul II to be declared "blessed". The inexplicable cure of a young French nun from Parkinson's disease had initially seemed like the perfect case. But now there are doubts over whether she has in fact completely recovered and whether she suffered from Parkinson's in the first place.

The other reasons have do with the child sex abuse scandal by priests currently engulfing the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II's record in combating pedophile priests is being questioned and a battle has erupted in the Vatican over how he should be remembered.

New shadows on Pope John Paul II's image have been cast as revelations about new cases of child sex abuse by priests during his papacy emerge. Victims say he had to be aware and should have done more to stop what was happening.

Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit and Vatican observer, says Europe must learn from what occurred in the United States because the child sex abuse scandals have been extremely damaging to the image of the Catholic Church.

"Well, I think there is no question that this has been the worst crisis that the United States church has experienced in its history," said Thomas Reese. "It was terrible for the poor victims who were abused, it shocked the people in the pews and really hurt the credibility of the clergy and the bishops."

Speculation has circulated that Pope Benedict may address the issue during the Good Friday ceremonies at Rome's ancient Colosseum. Shortly before Benedict became pope in 2005, he used meditations he wrote for the Way of the Cross services to denounce "filth" in the church.

Now that he is pope and the crisis is at its worst, many are hoping the pope will again to use this opportunity to issue a mea culpa and take responsibility for the scandal.

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