Pope John Paul II
In the face of an ever-emerging “culture of death,” the ancient truth that death is a mystery and not a “problem” is needed more than ever. To designate death as a problem implicitly suggests a need for a remedy, which underlines the modern assumption of possession of the resources necessary to exercise technical mastery over the “problem”—in this case, death. The predominance of the technical solution over the respectful awe rightly due in the face of something greater than us puts mankind in quite a predicament.
The Church, as Pope John Paul II attentively reminded us in Redemptor Hominis, is the guardian of transcendence. This image of the Church is particular fitting in dealing with complex ethical questions of life and death. In recent times, the very mystery of death—real death—has been debated extensively as it relates to the theory of “brain death,” which is effectively interrelated to ethical questions regarding organ donation.
Catholics see death in the light of divine revelation. Death, the fruit of original sin, now exists as the means by which we participate in the Passover of Our Lord, passing from death into new life. Death is not the end of our human existence; to say otherwise would be an embrace of the fallacious pagan trap of modern philosophical thought overflowing with agnostic existential anxiety over this very unsettling question.
At a time when so many are down on the Church, it’s interesting to see through the eyes of a young girl — a blind girl who had mystical vision.
Dr. Lerma has had tremendous experiences with these patients — documenting the many who see angels or deceased loved ones and have glimpses of the eternal as they approach the threshold.
But what we’d like to focus on today is a different kind of supernatural experience that occurred when a ten-year-old girl named Sarah who had been blind since birth as a result of atrophic optic nerves was taken to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This was an Easter Sunday nearly two decades ago.
“I marveled at the multitude of loving sounds that Bernini’s dramatic design was exuding,” recalled Sarah nineteen years later as she lay dying of cancer. “As I walked through the towering, ornate door of St. Peter’s Basilica, I was drawn by an alluring vibration toward the chapel to my right.
“What I was allowed to hear was beyond awe.
“The vibrations and frequencies, now a part of my entire being, were the remnant echoing sounds of sadness replaced by utter joy and exuberant love from the statue where Jesus was heard to be lying on His mother’s lap after being crucified. I knew I was now standing in front of Michelangelo’s most honored statue, the ‘Pieta.’ Feeling some unfamiliar loving force take hold of my hand, I took hold of my mother’s and followed with total faith. I told my mom not to worry and to trust me, as there was an angel leading us to our next spiritual experience.”
I’ve been asking myself that question as I’ve read the discussions about the sex abuse scandal and asked it again while I read Ross Douthat’s editorial at the NYT this morning. The most pertinent part is this:
But there’s another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.
The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.
Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.
This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.
So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.
Douthat is not alone here; most have pointed out (including Rod Dreher, who left the Church b/c of his disappointment w/ the abuse scandals) that Benedict has gone to great lengths to clean up the mess that his predecessor made. But does a “great” make that kind of mess?
Now I certainly think that JPII is a saint. I don’t think that’s in question. Interestingly enough, I have not gathered from the media’s coverage that they would disagree with that. In fact, I would say that he probably merits very serious consideration as a doctor of the Church for Fides et Ratio and “man and Woman He Created Them: a theology of the body” Heck, I even have a poster of him in my living room (which is useful for showing to Mormon missionaries when they ask if I’m religious).
But having the title of “the great” means something extra than sainthood, doesn’t it?
Of course, this is difficult b/c “the great” title has no requirements, no set guidelines. This can be a big deal, as often the rules determine the result (for example: the importance you attach to Superbowl wins affects whether you think Manning or Brady is superior. of course this question is irrelevant b/c Brees is better than both of them but I digress).
Adding further difficulty is determining how significant this scandal is. While I’m sure this has profoundly affected those who have suffered from child abuse, I’m not sure if this will be a big deal thirty, fifty, a hundred years down the road. Right now of course it seems huge but how many people will be aware of it in the coming generations?
For JPII to not be determined great, it would have to be that the sex abuse scandal made enough of a dent in his legacy. This is not a minor feat, as JPII deserves significant credit for stabilizing the Church following Vatican II (setting the stage for the current traditonalist revival), excellent contributions to theology (including Fides et Ratio and Theology of the Body), an excellent charismatic approach that changed the nature of the papacy, and-oh yeah-helping to peacefully bring down the Soviet Union.
I tend to think that in the end, he will be deemed great though for the moment I hesitate to use the term. In the end, I think this storm will pass and we’ll be left with the memories of a great man with great accomplishments. But I think it’s possible that in reflecting on the failures of JPII’s papacy that perhaps we’ll choose not to use the term, and that’s not a possibility many were entertaining 5 years ago when JPII came into eternal life.
I would really like to know how other people are approaching this problem. Please leave comments.
Of course, one has to think that if Benedict is doing better than JPII, and JPII is “the great”, ought perhaps Benedict be up for the term? Food for thought.
In light of the fascinating discussion of personal and social sin kicked off most recently by Darwin here (make sure and read the comments) and followed up by Joe here, I thought it would be worth posting article 16 of John Paul the Great’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, entitled “Personal and Social Sin”. It’s obviously very pertinent, yet unless I missed it, no one has referenced it yet. The actual text is below the break. As the reader will note, one point relevant to the discussion here is that sin properly speaking is an act on the part of an individual person. Yet while social sin is such only in an analogous sense, JPII makes clear that it does describe something real. Now, on to the text.
The entire country, including and especially the blogosphere, is ablaze with commentary, debate, and verbal warfare over the merits and potential consequences of Obamacare’s passage into law on Tuesday. Among us Catholics debate has been particularly intense, since the American Church played a key role in opposing Obamacare due to its anti-life provisions, though I can’t say that I agree at all with the bishops when they suggest that the bill was otherwise acceptable.
I opposed, and continue to oppose Obamacare for many reasons, abortion funding being only one of them. Indeed, while the absence of the Hyde language from the bill is certainly troubling, the truth is that Catholic taxpayers have been funding “medically necessary” or “exceptional” abortions at the state level through Medicaid for decades – abortions which are still offenses against life according to the teaching of the Church. Some Catholics have also been doing so through their participation in private health care plans that cover abortion. In modern America, we may as well forget about any kind of meaningful “conscience protection.”
It occurs to me that there are – among several others – two major problems that I have not seen adequate coverage of in the news that will result from Obamacare, though I admit, I can’t read everything, so if someone can direct me to analysis of these issues, I would be grateful.
A traditional Anglican priest-theologian observing the internal life of the American Catholic Church from the outside commented that American Catholicism is becoming increasingly just another form of Protestant Christianity. This suggestion gave me pause and in fact, for quite some time, this observation has remained in the forefront of my thoughts.
The Anglican clergyman in question observed that the America, as far as he could ascertain, really had no cultural identity. What does it mean to be an American? What exactly are “American values?” There probably are as many answers to this question as there are American people. “We the people…” have never been monolithic in our way of life.
The American political experiment and social ethos is by and large a Protestant experiment. There was never a point where Protestant Christianity had to establish itself against innumerable generations of Catholic intellectual, spiritual, and moral heritage as was the case in Europe. This is a characteristic that is very unique to America, both for good and for ill. Protestant Christians share with Roman Catholics a great deal, but certain Protestant tendencies, for the lack of a better term, such as an emphasis on freedom, individual conscience, self-determination (versus self-discovery), etc, which sets itself against, historically speaking, the authority of the Church with a sola scriptura mentality has imprinted a certain social individualist ethos on the American experiment. This, of course, inevitably affects Catholics living within the United States.
This has been a long time coming and should be comprehensive and decisive.
It has been said that the late Pope John Paul II wanted to believe in the Marian apparitions while Pope Benedict has withheld judgment with reservation. We know Pope Benedict has visited Medjugorje incognito in the past.
Medjugorje has been controversial from the very beginning and it will be interesting to see what the CDF has to say.
There are some whom denigrate soldiers and policemen and the plan God has for them in Salvation. I disagree completely and there are many examples of saints and popes who have honored the soldier and policeman in defense of justice and peace.
“The great French Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.”
As we work our way through Lent 2009, we need to rejoice in the turning tide. Though there has been much negative news about the Catholic Church this past decade, much of the negative news had its roots in actions taken during the 1960s and 1970s. Yet, the seeds of the good news planted during the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI is just now seeing its shoots and blossoms become visible to the naked eye.
What are the shoots and blossoms? They can be seen in increasing vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the strong orthodox nature of these new, young priests. A new crop of Catholic bishops is also boldly showing their orthodoxy, which often befuddles and mystifies the mainstream media and the secular culture in which we live. In addition to this, many in the laity have for years now been writing and blogging about the desperate need for Catholic orthodoxy in a world full of hurt and self absorption. Many ask how can the Church possibly grow when the Church’s active laity, especially the young along with those who serve her in ordained and professed ministries, are so different from the culture in which they live? It is that culture in which they live that causes them to see the wisdom in Christ’s words and the Church He started through the first pope, the Apostle Saint Peter.
There were fewer shoots and blossoms in the 1970s when the seriousness of the Catholicism was questioned after the Church seemed to be trying to be relative, whether it was related or not, thousands of priests and nuns left their vocations. However, starting in 1978 with the election of Pope John Paul II, the tide began to turn. All of the Polish pontiff’s hard work began to be seen in the shoots and blossoms of events like World Youth Day 1993, which was held in Denver. Later in his pontificate thanks to events like World Youth Day, vocations to the priesthood and religious life began to increase.
If You Want The Political Left To Run Governments, Look At What The Religious Left Has Done To Religion (Left It In Tatters)
There is a undercurrent in American society that somehow believes that if the mafia ran things, the country would be better off. There was one city (Newark, New Jersey) where the mafia once controlled much of the city. When their grip on power was done, the city was in tatters. The same could be said for liberals running religion.
The so-called American conservative movement is not conservative in the sense that many of its proponents would suggest. In reality, American conservatism, in many ways seeks to preserve and reassert classical liberalism. In fact, the entirety of the American political spectrum is liberal in different ways and varying degrees—but it is unmistakably and manifestly liberal.
This should come as no surprise since many of the Founding Fathers were men of the Enlightenment and there is no more obvious case than that of Thomas Jefferson, the author of that quintessential Enlightenment masterpiece The Declaration of Independence. The philosophical paradigm by 1776 had already shifted—anthropology was evolving toward an increasingly false view of man and the natural law (because the philosophical concept of “nature” was changing) was something different than that articulated by classical philosophers, which had been incorporated into the Christian tradition.
The American legal tradition seeking to adhere to the letter of the social contract, i.e. The Constitution of the United States of America, seems to have individual liberty at issue in every question of law. This, to be sure, is not something to be regarded as a problem in and of itself, insofar as the operative definition of liberty is not philosophically false and the norms of justice, in the classical sense, are not contradicted.
To the learned mind, it is patently clear that the predominant philosophical paradigm, anthropological assumptions on human nature, concept of the nation-state, view of society, of freedom, of responsibility, and so forth found in the Western world is undoubtedly borne of Enlightenment thinking. The United States is most certainly no exception. In America, across the political spectrum, there is a dubious philosophical premise, that of an abstract ideal of autonomy, which, no matter how admirable or attractive it may seem, is radically incomplete. Indeed, man does possess a free will, but the form of freedom requires content. Continue reading
Last week I posted a reaction to House Speaker Pelosi’s interview in Newsweek (cross-posted to First Things‘ “First Thoughts”). Perusing the comments, I discovered that the author of No Hidden Magenta — a blog with the daunting task of “bridging the gap between ‘Red and Blue State’ groupthink” — has responded with fury and dismay:
At least one reason why neither the Pope nor the Archbishop have denied Pelosi Holy Communion–despite having ample opportunity to do so–is because prudential judgments about how best to reflect a moral principle in public policy involved technical considerations of practical reason that do not go to the heart of what it means to be a Roman Catholic; in other words, they are not about the central value at stake. If Speaker Pelosi believes that abortion is a positive good that should be promoted by the state (rather than as a privacy right for all women) that is one thing (and her recent actions with regard to Stupak suggest that she doesn’t think this), but there are any number of good reasons for supporting less-than-perfect public policy as she claims to be doing in trying to reduce the number of abortions while not supporting an abortion ban. …
Now, we can and should have debate about this question–and I think Pelosi is profoundly mistaken in her position on public policy–but let’s be clear: both the Pope and her Archbishop do not think such a position puts her status as a Roman Catholic or as a communicant in jeopardy. And those who think it does would do well to follow their example in distinguishing between ‘moral principle’ and ‘public policy.’
I’m relieved that the author believes Pelosi is “profoundly mistaken” in her position on public policy. I’m less convinced, however, that “the Pope and her Archbishop do not think such a position puts her status as a Roman Catholic or as a communicant in jeopardy”, and the author’s explanation for why they allegedly do not think so.
In a recent post to Vox Nova, Michael Iafrate (aka. “The Catholic Anarchist”) offers a welcome reminder concerning Pope Benedict’s admonishment to the Brazilian bishops of “more or less visible consequences, of rebellion, division, dissent, offense, anarchy are still being felt, creating amidst your diocesan communities great pain and a grave loss of living strength”, stemming from “he non-critical import, made by some theologians, of theses and methodologies originating from Marxism.” To which Michael replies:
No where in this document, nor in either of the Vatican’s other two documents on liberation theology, does the Church condemn liberation theology as a whole. Nor does the Church even condemn all of the ideas of Marxism. John Paul II in fact used Marx very clearly in his encyclical Laborem Exercens. Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Marxian themes can see Marx’s influence on John Paul II. Paul VI affirmed the compatibility of some forms of socialism with Catholicism and used Marxian terminology in his encyclical Populorum Progressio. In fact, by warning against “a-critical” uses of Marxism, the Church implies that critical use of Marxism is in fact acceptable, and this is what most liberation theologians in fact do. Indeed this is what official Catholic social teaching has done since the Second Vatican Council.
Once again, this is not a condemnation of liberation theology. It is merely a warning against certain tendencies. The only way one would know this, though, is to know the history of the disputes and to know the Vatican’s two previous texts on liberation theology neither of which condemn liberation theology in toto.
Finally, it is important to consider not only this message to the Brazilian bishops, but a message to the same bishops delivered by the Venerable John Paul II who insisted that liberation theology is “both useful and necessary.”
Michael is certainly right that the Church has never condemned liberation theology in toto. (Nor has it condemned capitalism or capital punishment or sexual relations in toto, howbeit that is the impression one often receives reading the rantings of the fringe left and/or right, or even many presentations within the mainstream press which abandon, for the sake of a catchy headline or a cheap soundbyte, the carefully-nuanced position of the Catholic Church.
At any rate, as Michael wisely suggests, on the matter of “liberation theology” the remedy here would be a close study of the texts. For our readers’ benefit, a compilation of texts by Pope John Paul II himself.
I’ve never had much use for Jimmy Carter. I view him as in the running with James Buchanan for the title of worst President of the United States, and he has always struck me as a mean and spiteful little man. Now he adds the title of bigot to his list of dishonors. In an address to the World Parliament of Religions (You know that has to give God a good laugh!) the Solon of Plains is reported to have unloaded on both Southern Baptists and Catholics.
In opposition to the vast majority of authentic scholars and historians, Carter asserted: “It’s clear that during the early Christian era women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets.” He added: “It wasn’t until the 4th century or the 3rd at the earliest that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant position within the religious hierarchy.”
Contrary to the theorizing of Carter, Pope John Paul II taught, “The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.” He added: “the Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1577)
Carter singled out the Southern Baptist Convention and Roman Catholic Church, claiming that they “view that the Almighty considers women to be inferior to men.” However, both Christian faiths hold to the Scriptural truth that God created men and women equal.
Carter suggests that only in permitting women to become priests and pastors could male religious leaders choose to interpret teachings to exalt rather than subjugate women. “They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter, subjugation,” he said.
“Their continuing choice provides a foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world,” said Carter. Carter goes on to list horrific violations against women such as rape, genital mutilation, abortion of female embryos and spousal battery.
Ed Stoddard of Reuters’ religion blog Faithworld carries a roundup of the skirmish between Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin.
In conclusion, Stoddard asks:
This leads to a question about the consistency of views in the U.S. Catholic Church leadership. The Church opposes abortion and therefore liberal politicians who support abortion rights risk being refused communion. The Church supports a healthcare overhaul that would make the system more equitable. So does a conservative Catholic politician who opposes this reform risk being denied communion for ignoring the Catholic social teaching that justifies it?
How about support for capital punishment, which the Vatican says is unjustified in almost all possible cases, or for war? In the build-up to the Iraq war, Pope John Paul was so opposed to the plan that he sent a personal envoy to Washington to argue against it. Did bishops threaten any measures against Catholic politicians who energetically supported that war despite Vatican opposition?
The author’s questions reveal an elementary ignorance concerning the moral issues in question and their relationship to varying levels of Church teaching. While I am disappointed by his answer (Faithworld is generally one of the better and more educational “religion blogs” in the secular media), it is understandable — as even many Catholics find themselves confused on this matter. Continue reading