Pope John Paul II's Quick Rise to Sainthood Under New Criticism

    17 November 2020

    Some Roman Catholics around the world are questioning the 2014 declaration of sainthood for Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.

    Last week, the Roman Catholic Church's administration, or the Vatican, issued a report on former church leader Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was expelled from the clergy last year after Vatican investigators found him guilty of sexual abuse and abuse of power.

    John Paul is connected to the case. He had placed McCarrick in a higher position in 2000, naming him archbishop of Washington, D.C.

    The Pope acted even though there were reports at the time that McCarrick had sexually abused people. The Pope believed the clergyman's denial of the accusations. The Roman Catholic leader's decision went against several top Church officials who had advised him against appointing McCarrick.

    The McCarrick report restarted a debate between John Paul's defenders and critics about his canonization - an official recognition that a person lived and died with so much moral goodness that they are with God in heaven and worthy of public worship across the Church.

    FILE - Pope John Paul II lies bleeding in his open car moments after he was shot by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca in 1981.
    FILE - Pope John Paul II lies bleeding in his open car moments after he was shot by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca in 1981.

    'A deplorable example'

    Papal biographer George Weigel wrote, "Saints are human beings, and saints, in their humanity, can be deceived." To "deceive" means to cause someone to believe something that is not true.

    The head of the Polish bishops' conference said McCarrick had "deceived" John Paul. However, not all Poles agree. In Warsaw, someone changed a street sign marking "John Paul II Avenue" to make it read "Victims of John Paul II Avenue."

    In the United States, the influential National Catholic Reporter newspaper urged bishops against naming schools and other places after John Paul II. The newspaper also said bishops should restrict worship of the saint to private settings.

    The newspaper argued that John Paul had destroyed the Church's credibility "and set a deplorable example for bishops in ignoring the accounts of abuse victims."

    Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no comment.

    The McCarrick report partly blamed John Paul's willingness to believe McCarrick on the pope's experience in his native Poland. The report said past leaders in that country used false accusations of abuse to weaken the Church.

    John Paul's defenders have offered the same explanation in answer to reports that he ignored the truth about Marcial Maciel, a powerful Catholic clergy leader in Mexico. Maciel established the Legion of Christ religious order in 1941. He came to be widely considered the Church's worst sexual abuser.

    Models to be followed

    "The problems that have arisen over John Paul's treatment of McCarrick prove that it is a mistake to be too hasty in canonizing anyone," said Catholic clergyman Tom Reese, an expert with the independent Religion News Service.

    John Paul canonized nearly 500 saints in his 27 years as leader. In the 600 years before him, only 300 saints were canonized. The Vatican under John Paul II was sometimes called "the saint factory."

    John Paul changed a time limit for canonization, permitting the process to begin as soon as five years after a possible candidate's death instead of 50 years.

    When Benedict XVI became pope in 2005, he changed the rule again, permitting canonization of John Paul to begin just weeks after his death.

    Catholic writer Dawn Eden Goldstein tweeted that the McCarrick report had not changed her belief that John Paul was a saint. But it had changed how she prays to him:

    "I now pray: Dear St. John Paul II, You broke it. You fix it."

    I'm Caty Weaver.

    Reuters reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted the story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    saint n. a person who is officially recognized by the Christian church as being very holy because of the way he or she lived

    credibility n. the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest

    hasty adj. ddone or made too quickly

    pray v. to speak to God especially in order to give thanks or to ask for something