August 8, 2020

The dark legacy of John Paul II in the Church today

This Monday marks the centenary of the birth of Karol Wojtyla, today Saint John Paul II. The Polish Pope, the third longest-running pontiff in the history of the Church and the most influential in recent centuries. Obsessed with communism, the Polish Pope was key in the end of the Cold War, but also in the restoration of a rigid and orthodox Church model, in the face of the winds of reform that emerged after the Second Vatican Council.

And it is that, over three decades, John Paul II – with the invaluable help of his right-hand man and successor, Joseph Ratzinger – dedicated himself thoroughly to dynamiting that Church “on the way out” that today Pope Francis is trying to claim, among growing difficulties for the most ultra-conservative groups. The ‘losers of the Council’, among which were Wojtyla and Ratzinger, managed to exalt the most conservative theses, and put an end to the hopes of renewal of the Catholic Church. At least until now.

Wojtyla’s ‘legacy’

What is the legacy of the traveling Pope today? In the opinion of the theologian Juan José Tamayo, “John Paul II, with the ideological advice of Cardinal Ratzinger, turned the theological spring of Vatican II into a long winter. He condemned the most creative trends in theology: liberation theology, feminist theology, theology of religious pluralism, imposed censorship on the books of these theology, removed our books from the chair, removed us from the chairs. “

Along with this, Wojtyla gave the power of the Church to the most conservative movements, from Opus Dei to the Neocatechumenal Way, passing through Communion and Liberation or the Legionaries of Christ, whose leader, the pedophile Martial Maciel, the Polish Pope came to consider ‘apostle of youth’, turning a deaf ear to the growing accusations of sexual abuse against the Mexican religious.

Because, in addition to persecuting progressive theologians, the other great heritage of John Paul II was silence in the face of the drama of pedophilia in the Church. For decades, the ecclesiastical hierarchy undervalued and concealed child abuse by clerics worldwide, and protected abusers. That of Maciel was the most paradigmatic case, but the list of predators that emerged unscathed during the years of pontificate of Juan Pablo II (1978-2005) is innumerable.

His pontificate was marked by the block struggle: communism-capitalism, conservative-progressives, right orthodoxy-Liberation theology. John Paul II was a straight, hard Pope, with very clear ideas. “Do not be afraid!” He proclaimed at the beginning of his Papacy. But there were many who ended up fearing Wojtyla a lot.

Eliminate dissent

Both Wojtyla and Ratzinger went out of their way to eliminate all dissent, especially in Latin America, where Liberation Theology had become a danger to the winds that were then blowing in Rome. Famous were his ‘quarrels’ with Archbishop Óscar Romero – just before his murder in El Salvador – or with the recently deceased Ernesto Cardenal for being part of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, or his lack of reaction to the murders of Ellacuría and colleagues Jesuits at the UCA in 1989.

John Paul II passed away on April 2, 2005, after several months of intense suffering. After his death, the proclamation as ‘sudden saint’, his early beatification and subsequent canonization made him a mythical being. Ratzinger’s choice as his successor seemed to assume that everything was tied up and well tied up in the Church, but the historic resignation of Benedict XVI made possible a change in the Sistine Chapel.

Francis is, probably in spite of himself, a kind of ‘revenge’ of the History of the Church, which is returning, half a century later (the times of the institution are a mystery) to that Council that was frozen during the decades of power of Wojtyla.

At the same time, the image of a holy Pope has been overshadowed by the drama of sexual abuse, and the feeling – more and more, the certainty – that Rome knew and did not want to do anything about it other than washing the dirty laundry. .

The example of the predator Marcial Maciel, friend and collaborator of Pope Wojtyla is the most evident in a list of cases that, today we know, had the Vatican’s deadbolt. No one investigated, no one wanted to know. Did John Paul II really know nothing? The victims ask themselves, who have come to demand that their declaration of holiness be revoked, something impossible (and unthinkable) in the Catholic Church.

Do you deserve to be holy?

On Sunday Francis celebrated his morning mass – the last to be broadcast online, as the Italian and Vatican churches reopen this Monday – at the altar of his holy predecessor. But does he deserve to continue to be considered holy?

The priest Celso Alcaina was a Vatican official in the 1970s. In charge, among other things, of the causes of Roman beatification, he believes that “the rejection of many faithful towards John Paul II has not been taken into account, particularly – but not only– because of the involution carried out with respect to the Second Vatican Council. Also because of its well-known laziness or complacency in the treatment of pedophile ecclesiastics.

“He was a man of God, but it is not necessary to make him holy,” said Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the only counterweight with a certain level that, for decades, had the Wojytla-Ratzinger tandem in Italy. The Archbishop of Milan was one of the 114 witnesses called to give a statement during the process of canonization of John Paul II and, as the historian Andrea Riccardi reveals, he observed with suspicion that John Paul II was to be proclaimed a saint. Bergoglio himself, who was ultimately the one who signed Wojytla’s canonization decree, once gave testimony in the canonization process and admitted not sharing much of the Polish pope.

With his canonization, it seems that a whole pontificate was blessed, marked by the repression of progressive theologians, the restoration of the pre-Council model and the emergence of a Church of condemnation instead of proposal.

For Tamayo, the canonization of John Paul II “does not free him from those very serious errors that he had throughout his 33 years of pontificate.” “The two most perverse behaviors of the last century in the Catholic Church were the silence of Pius XII before the Holocaust, and the silence and complicity of the Vatican, and of broad sectors of the world, in relation to pedophilia.”

For the theologian, “the abuse was a cancer with metastasis that began in the 1940s and was never eradicated. Both behaviors reflect a lack of mercy and compassion for victims who need a sentence from history.”

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