Still reading Weigel's book on Pope John Paul, last night I finished the second section, bringing the biographical to an end: next part his legacy. Looking over some of the blogs and the response to the news that the pope could be beatified later this year I am amazed with the response. Many out on the blogosphere are out and out anti-John Paul II. Radical conservatives and radical liberals are fighting each other over his reign and when anyone in the middle ground raises their heads they are shot down from either side. For a good example of this ridiculous ideological war go to the comments box of the National Catholic Register.
Yes, I hear you say, it is to be expected: the saints polarise those who cannot figure them out. John Paul II is one such figure. To some in the Church, John Paul was a modernist, a heretic, who dismantled the Church triumphant and fully deserves the condemnation of damnation (or to the more charitable, a eternity in purgatory). To others he was the facilitator of abusers, one who dragged the Church from a glorious liberal future back into the bad old days of dogmatic Catholicism, denying many in the Church their rights and preventing the Church from engaging with the modern world in realistic terms.
Life is too short to be slopping around in all this. We have to look at the man's life and work objectively - outside the ideological colour scheme be it conservative, traditionalist, liberal, progressive, permissive etc. We also have to look at what the Church does when it beatifies. Reading the comments "heroic virtue" is being bandied about. There are those who hold it in such a high standard it is unreachable (verges on Jansenism?) - and so the Church should not be able to beatify anyone because they see heroic virtue as being perfection from the start, but it isn't. If we look at what heroic means it does not exclude a struggle, a growing: in fact it is part of it. A hero is one who does the heroic in spite of their weaknesses, difficulties and faults. Heroism emerges from weakness by means of a decision of the will to do the right and the good regardless of the cost and the effort. The person is transformed bit by bit, growing stronger and holier.
John Paul II made mistakes, as did all those the Church has already acknowledged as having heroic virtue. He had to grow into holiness. He struggled to live a virtuous life, and in that struggle he was transformed. His final struggle reveals the progress he made: he was heroic in his suffering and it revealed his holiness, so much so that even many of his critics were silenced.
As is pointed out time and time again with Causes, when the Church beatifies or canonises a person she is not beatifying or canonising every thing they did or said, nor every decision they made. Nor does the Church say that this person had a divine knowledge of everything and so if they were authentically holy they would not have made bad decisions or would not have been taken in by bad and manipulating people. Anyone who thinks that is plain naive. In fact when we read their lives, we see many of the saints were conned by bad people: it was the heroic virtue of charity in the saint which helped them endure or overcome betrayal by those bad people, or even made them sitting ducks for bad people.
John Paul II was fooled by Fr Macial, as was most of his order and numerous people in the Church. Horrific, yes, but not unknown. Hitler fooled the German people for a long time, and many intelligent people (does "Peace in our time" ring any bells?). And perhaps history will note that some of our modern politicians and leaders are fooling us now though many people may think them to be the bee's knees. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Should the Macial situation be examined? Yes, of course. Should the Cause be suspended to do so? If necessary. Is it possible that John Paul II was innocent, unaware and responded in the best way he could? Yes, it is. Does that mean he can be beatified? Yes, it does. And Pope Benedict will decide on that matter in the coming months.
One thing we can be sure of, the present Holy Father knows his history, he is cautious and wise, and he knows the pontificate of John Paul II from the inside, the weaknesses as much as the strengths - and he knows all about the Macial affair because he was doing all he could to get the abuser taken out. So I think we can trust Benedict on this one. And if Benedict sets a date to beatify John Paul, then we can take it that it is safe to proceed. And for his critics, go and read John Paul II - his biography, his works and the last years of his suffering. Look at the miracles God has been granting through his intercession, and then have a good hard look at where you are coming from.