“Unbelievers are more merciful and understanding than believers, as well as more rational. We do not believe that the pope will face judgment or eternal punishment for the millions who will die needlessly from AIDS, or for his excusing and sheltering of those who committed the unpardonable sin of raping and torturing children, or for the countless people whose sex lives have been ruined by guilt and shame and who are taught to respect the body only when it is a lifeless cadaver like that of Terri Schiavo. For us, this day is only the interment of an elderly and querulous celibate, who came too late and who stayed too long, and whose primitive ideology did not permit him the true self-criticism that could have saved him, and others less innocent, from so many errors and crimes.“
– Christopher Hitchens, writing shortly after John Paul II’s death
The Catholic Church is in dire need of heroes – rocked by various sex scandals and its faith population slowly dwindling worldwide, it needs an urgent solution. One way to solve this problem is to raise someone who has become something of a legend to the position of universal veneration – that of a Saint. And who better a candidate than the Political Pope, John Paul II! Praised the world-over for toppling communism and modernising the Church, he was a political tour de force whilst he was alive and seen as a liberator and a saviour. But the Catholic Church seems to be rushing through the paperwork to give him the title of Saint. He has only been dead for 8 years, and the process usually takes 100+ years, yet he could well be a saint by this year or next. It slightly whiffs of suspicion, and indeed when one scratches below the surface, this Pope may not be deserving of the reputation that was placed upon him.
His support for the rather shadowy group Opes Dei for one raises suspicion – an elitist, misogynist and very strange secretive group founded by a Catholic Priest, Josemaría Escrivá raises many questions. But one thing that really caught me off guard was that he raised its founder to the position of a Saint. Despite the fact that allegations have been levelled against Josemaría by his personal assistant, stating that he is both sympathetic to the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and a holocaust denier, these allegations were presented to John Paul the II during the beatification process – yet clearly were ignored. Indeed, the entire beatification process of Josemaría was labelled as inconsistent and, if anything, happened far too quickly, not giving time for proper criticism and examination. One wonders why Josemaría was wheeled through the beatification process, but then again so was, under Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa – who was described (rightly) by Christopher Hitchens as “a friend ofpoverty” and a “fanatic”, for her support and receiving of money from the fascist Duvalier family, and the horrific conditions of her homes for the dying. Yet John Paul II rushed Mother Teresa into sainthood, despite the fact her whole legacy is, at the very least, fabrication and deceit.
He was also hardly a moderniser – despite his role in toppling communism, which certainly he is deserving of credit for – he didn’t bring the liberty that he gave to former communist states into the Catholic Church itself. He continued to deny women the right to equality within the priesthood. His views on women are best summed up in this quote from the Catholic feminist Aisha Taylor who stated:
“John Paul II called for women to be included as decision makers in secular governments. However, when it came to bringing women into the decision making bodies of his church, he slammed the door in our faces, barring us from ordination and locking the door by stating the discussion about women’s ordination is closed.”
I dare say that anyone who closes off debate on a subject either has something to hide, is woefully ill-informed on the subject matter or is, to put it bluntly, a bigot.
Let us also not also forget his almost zealous defence of the Church’s approach to contraception. He flat-out refused to distribute condoms to Africa, an action that would have saved millions of lives. Indeed many Doctors have rightly said that John Paul’s position has led to countless deaths. Not only has it allowed for AIDs to run rampant, but it also leads to large families and doesn’t allow women the right to control over their own bodies – exacerbating the problems of poverty within Africa. The Catholic Church could have easily been a force for good if John Paul II allowed for the distribution of condoms and other contraceptives, not only helping to prevent AIDs but also giving women more control over their bodies and alleviating poverty. But the fact he defendedhis opposition to contraception speaks volumes about this man, who let swathes of people die as he chose not intervene in a meaningful way.
As well as this, the child sex abuse scandals also make me question why people want to make this man a Saint. The scale of the sex abuse scandals was horrific when revealed, and it exposed a shocking amount of corruption within the Vatican Church. The Pope could have used this revelation to purge the Priests who committed these shocking crimes and tighten laws within the institution to prevent this ever happening again. So what did he do? Why, he made a few speeches on the subject and the Church under his tenure could only issue pathetic and underwhelming excuses such as "probably caused by 'no more than 1 per cent' " of Priests. He even allowed Bishops to transfer Priests who committed the offences to other parishes, rather than subjecting them to the authorities! His attempts to deal with the sex abuse scandals could at best be described as bungling, and if anything is not the actions of one who will become the object of international praise once his speedy rise to sainthood is complete. The Catholic professor, Father Richard McBrien said that even he opposes the raising of John Paul II to sainthood because of his handling of the child sex abuse scandals – saying that “history will look unkindly on John Paul, who was in denial as the worst crisis since the Reformation happened in the church."
To sum up, I can’t think of any reason why John Paul II should be a Saint. Certainly, he made apologies for the 2000 years of suffering that the Church brought upon many different ethnic and faith groups, as well as its devastating effects on those who practiced science and reason in the past – a massive admittance to the damage the Catholic Church has done to the entirety of humanity throughout its history. However, I will only be impressed when the Catholic Church apologizes for its moronic position that condoms are worse than AIDs. He may also have toppled communism, but John Paul II is certainly more of a sinner than a saint. As explained above, he lay back, complacent, during the sex scandals and even sheltered priests who committed the offences. He simply brushed aside the growing calls for contraception due to the AIDs crisis that killed, and continues to kill, millions in Africa. He canonized huge swathes of people, including the founder of Opus Dei, who had a certain closeness with the fascist General Franco and Cardinal Stepinac, a Croatian who was close to the Pavelic regime, a puppet regime of the Nazis. To make these criminals Saints is a joke to those who suffered as a result of their actions. It’s disgraceful that those who suffered as a result of the Pope’s inaction are pushed aside so this man can have a reputation that he does not deserve – that of a Saint.
By Rory Claydon