Blogs > Saints and popes have flaws

27 April 2014 | by Michael Phelan

Saints and popes have flaws

Popes John XXIII (1958-1963) and John Paul II (1978-2005) will be canonised together today. As a cradle Catholic whose life has spanned the papacies from Popes Pius XII to Francis, I am concerned with the speed of both of these canonisations and the relatively new practice of modern popes proposing the canonisations of their recent predecessors. If many popes are canonised during my lifetime, is there perhaps a danger of this implying that there was something wrong with the very few who were not canonised.

For most saints since the Middle Ages, there has been a much longer post-mortem waiting period and more searching investigations into the candidates’ personal imperfections and sanctity. It is only nine years since John Paul II died. Both Popes who are to be canonised on 27 April were great and holy men who had tremendous impacts on the Church and society.

John XXIII called the great reforming Second Vatican Council and John Paul II was the great liberator of Poland from communism. However, they were both the subjects of some controversy during their lifetimes. Conservatives felt that the calling of the Council by John XXIII was a mistake and progressives that the rowing back of the Vatican II reforms by John XXIII was damaging to the Church. In a way, could the dual canonisations be regarded perhaps by some as a Vatican political fix?

The election of the charismatic John Paul II was greeted with much excitement but this was dented over time by his autocratic centralisation of power within the Roman curia, rowing back on episcopal collegiality and limitation of the powers of bishops’ conferences, investigation of theologians without any due process, and failure to deal with episcopal cover-ups during the paedophile crisis. On the other hand, there were many fine examples of John Paul II condemning war, seeking peace, and developing church teaching on capital punishment.

For me and many other Catholics, the Vatican II decrees strengthened my faith and brought into the Catholic Church many people of other faiths and none. However, some aspects of the encyclical Humanae Vitae under John XXIII’s successor Paul VI, who rejected the commission findings on birth control that he had set up, have caused an ongoing crisis of confidence in the authority of the Church, the draining away of some priests, and so-called cafeteria Catholicism. I pray that Francis, Bishop of Rome, will take us back to the reforms of Vatican II.

Michael Phelan is a permanent deacon in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Share this story

Article List

Post a Comment

You can post as a subscriber user ...

User Comments (2)

Comment by: Eagle1Eye
Posted: 01/05/2014 16:29:29

All things being equal, I should have felt joy as the canonizations approached but the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach was more a feeling of dread and disquietude than of joy and happiness.

Things are rarely equal and early on one finds out just how terribly unfair life can be.

My heart and soul were anguished as I thought of all those whom I had come to know because they had been sexually abused as children by those representing the Catholic Church, mostly clergymen. How would Sunday’s events affect them and how would they cope?

I was saddened as I thought of the parents I knew and whose sons had not survived. I remembered the funerals I had attended.

All those years ago the children thought they were safe but they were not safe. They were vulnerable and they were exploited, violated and used in the most insidious of ways.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

“The kingdom of heaven?”

Instead of being protected by those who had that responsibility, church hierarchs made a conscious decision to protect those who sexually abused innocent children in some misguided attempt to save a religious denomination from scandal often by covering-up suspicions of errant behavior by describing boundary violations, citing non-existent and the like.

And Pope John Paul II knew, he always knew.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish SNDdeN
New Castle, DE, USA

Comment by: Chris McDonnell
Posted: 29/04/2014 09:53:00

To quote Kevin Kelly, Vatican II was not an event but a continuing process.

Hans Kung was invited to attend a celebration of Fifty Years since the opening of the Council at the German Katholikentag in Mannheim. Four days before the congress was due to open, Kung responded, declining the invitation. “…. In my opinion there is no reason for a festive Council Gala but rather for an honest service of penance or a funeral service.”
The great hope that Francis offers the Church is the experience of living within that continuing process, experiencing the vision he showed the Church.
Not withstanding the historic events last Sunday the urgent mission of the Church is to continue the work of John XXIII after all the bumps and difficulties of recent years.


Sign up for our newsletter

Sign Up

Latest Issue
Digital/PDF Version

PDF version (iPad-friendly)

Previous Issues
Tablet Subscription

Manage my subcription here