The Catholic Thing
A Century of Great Popes Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Wednesday, 23 April 2014

John XXIII and John Paul II: not only two of the most consequential popes, but two of the most consequential men of the twentieth century – and beyond. What the Catholic Church or the world would look like without them is not easy to imagine. But it’s quite easy to see that, in multiple ways, Church and world would have been quite different. That fact and the conspicuous holiness of these two great modern leaders is why Pope Francis will canonize them, together, this Sunday.

And they’re far from alone. Since the great Leo XIII inaugurated modern Catholic social teaching and renewed the study of Thomism, very different men have occupied and exerted a powerful influence from the Chair of Peter. There have been scholars, diplomats, philosophers, even two mountain climbers (Pius XI and JPII). They wrestled with modern ideologies like Fascism, Nazism, and Communism – and came out on top, eventually. Pope Francis confronts the functional materialism and atheism of our time. But we shouldn’t think this unusual: all modern popes have faced serious challenges.

Still, as almost everyone, even non-Catholics, understand, John XXIII and John Paul II occupy special territory. John XXIII, for instance, was a lifelong Vatican diplomat who never served as a regular parish priest, but was undeniably a man of the people. He rightly saw the need for a more “pastoral” and evangelical Church – without the slightest inclination to change Catholic teaching in order to get there. But we know what came after Vatican II – great renewal and also great confusion. (I tried to sort out the different results here on the recent fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Council.)

People still debate Papa Roncalli’s intentions in calling the Council and what he might have thought of the results. But anyone who reads into his life – even the many biographies that tend to flack the “Spirit of Vatican II” – will have a hard time finding evidence that the pope intended the vast disruption in religious vocations, Mass attendance, and doctrinal teaching that ensued. He would have thought all that a disaster, had he lived to see it. It was his misfortune to have called the Council at the very moment when Western culture was about to shift from being residually Christian, a world he thought might be vigorously catechized, to one definitely post- and, to no small extent, anti-Christian.

That’s the culture in which we now live and in which the Church must now find its way.

John Paul II was an active young bishop at Vatican II and showed in his own diocese of Krakow what he and many others thought the Council really meant. He organized a series of synods in Krakow, still going on, which implemented the Council in a much more faithful and orderly way than anywhere else in the world. Besides Karol Wojtyla’s obviously large presence on the world stage and his role in defeating Communism – his fellow Pole Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz said he was the only world leader of his time who could have been one of Shakespeare’s kings – his steady hand in Rome over the last quarter of the twentieth century stabilized the whole Church.

We’re already seeing secular sources contending that his legacy is “stained” by a failure to deal with the priestly abuse crisis (JPII was badly deceived in his final years by Fr. Marcial Maciel as well.) But no one can do everything. Defeating Communism or restoring Church teaching would have been a full-time job for most people. JPII did both and much more. His papacy brought renewed respect for the Church and a recognition of his moral leadership that was unequalled by any other world figure in his day.

The Catholic Church very much needs a true integration of what’s best in the legacy of both these men as it seeks to deal with a world that can only be described as increasingly hostile to Catholicism. It was a stroke of genius by Pope Francis to declare these two very different men saints on the very same day, this coming Sunday.

The best outcome we might hope for from this gesture would be a return to the fullness of Catholicity, a Catholicism defined by loyalty to the whole of Catholic teaching and not by political or ideological agendas. Roncalli and Wojtyla were each confident enough about the faith to be willing to engage the modern world. They both also believed it was possible to do so without in any way compromising Catholic teaching.

We’ve had too long a debate over “pastoral” versus “doctrinal” approaches – and too partisan a tendency of assigning one or the other label to this or that pope. Popes John Paul I and II tried, with their very choice of names, to bridge the gap between the perceived openness of John XXIII and the agonized fidelity of Paul VI (whom Pope Francis resently characterized as "heroic" and "prophetic" for his holding the line on contraception). Taking the names didn't solve the problem; more work remains to be done.  

        We have to start by realizing that the pastoral is simply the doctrinal, applied intelligently and charitably. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: a pastoral approach without guidance from doctrine is like a doctor with a good bedside manner but little medical knowledge. If we wish to do good to others, we first have to know what is good for all of us. Clunky or rigid “application” of doctrine is not good theory or practice. “Knowledge carried to the heart,” in Cardinal Newman’s phrase, is the Catholic ideal. And JPII and John XXIII, for all their differences embodied that ideal. Let's hope the Church and the world understand that some day.

          Men of the century


I am on my way to Rome this morning and will be covering the canonization ceremonies and other events on EWTN television Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I’ll also be on the program at a conference organized by TCT’s own Austin Ruse of C-FAM on the legacy of John Paul II, which includes several friends of the late pope such as George Weigel, Michael Novak, and Rocco Buttiglione, among others.

We’ll also be publishing here at The Catholic Thing a daily Canonization File (look for a link in the listings to the left starting Thursday). We’ll keep you up to date on what’s happening over these days in Rome. Last year, during the conclave that elected Pope Francis, we did something similar and the response to that effort convinced us that many of you would like another series of reports.

All of which leads me to something else I have to bring up with you. We need to begin our Spring fundraising efforts this week as well. If you’re a habitué of this site, you know that we only ask twice a year for your help. The columns that we publish here – we are not a casual “blog,” but a site that seeks to bring you a daily series of well thought out columns by a distinguished set of writers – are what enable us to participate in larger Church events like those of this week.

Let me assure you, we’re not spending one penny of your donations for travel or expenses. All that has been covered by others who want us to help shape the public appreciation of such events – this year by the generous CEO of Newsmax, Chris Ruddy, who has also organized a delegation to Rome in honor of John Paul II.

All your donations are used for bread-and-butter needs: TCT writers, editorial and support staff, technical advisors, and the other costs that are probably invisible to you, even if you’re a regular reader. Everyone involved in this enterprise works out of commitment to the cause, not for financial gains. (Given what we can pay, that would be laughable anyway.)  But the efforts we make, make a difference, because of your efforts to help us.

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I know I don’t have to convince you, but I want to urge you to do your part in this effort. No one else will, if you do not. Reader contributions are a crucial part of our yearly budget. If you want The Catholic Thing to continue appearing here every morning and to have an influence on how Catholicism is seen in the world, please, donate to TCT today.

And come back, tomorrow and through the weekend, for coverage of the canonizations (and don’t forget about EWTN television – check local listings).

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the Westnow available in paperback from Encounter Books.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (20)Add Comment
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 23, 2014
About JPII, you write: "We’re already seeing secular sources contending that his legacy is “stained” by a failure to deal with the priestly abuse crisis (JPII was badly deceived in his final years by Fr. Marcial Maciel as well.)"

It is hardly likely during the period after 1980 when so many of the abuse accusations began to surface at the various chancery offices of dioceses in the USA, that bishops in their ad limina visits with JPII would be inclined to bring this matter up. I doubt whether Joseph Bernardin made this this the centerpiece of his discussions with the Holy Father. And I know for a fact that bishops were well aware of what was going on back in the early 90's since I attended meetings where this was discussed. You can be assured that Rome was blindsided. And, when the floodgates opened, my guess is that the moral decrepitude into which many of the clergy had fallen took its toll on JPII's health. This is why the vetting of candidates for the episcopacy should be a long and arduous process and not just an occasion to perpetuate ecclesiastical power blocks.
written by Richard A, April 23, 2014
It's helpful to consider, too, that in John Paul II's entire experience in Poland, false accusations of priestly abuse of altar boys was used by the government to undermine particularly effective priests. He didn't have the luxury we have, of knowing that our governments would never do such a thing here.
written by Richard A, April 23, 2014
BTW, for the irony-impaired, that last line was writ satirick.
written by grump, April 23, 2014
The recent run of good popes almost makes up for Leo X and the other Renaissance popes and their indulgences, simony, corruption, usury and pluralism, which led to Luther and the Big Split. Much of the sorry episode of the Church was covered in Barbara Tuchman's great book, "The March of Folly."
written by Jack,CT, April 23, 2014
Safe Travel! Dr Royal,
I gave a "Modest" donation
A few years back and felt so bad I sent a apology!

To My shock I rec. a wonderful eMAIL from Dr Royal
Thanking me and explaining no gift was "Too Small".
I will never forget this.
So I give my bi-annual gift with joy.

Anyway Great read!

Dr Royal What time (EST) will you be on EWTN?

God Bless ALl-

written by David Dickey, April 23, 2014
I am not happy about these canonizations. This is a cheap PR stunt by the church. The Catholic Church mistakenly thinks this will produce a wave of conversions.

You are wrong that there was great renewal after Vatican II, and there was more than confusion. There was the wreckage of a great many catholic lives.

And I don't mean the sexual abuse scandal. I mean the tens of millions of middle aged and elderly Catholics who had the Mass and their church taken from them.

The changes in the church crushed their spirits. The proponents of those changes have blood on their hands. A great many faithful Catholics lived out their lives in fear and disillusionment. Great wrong was done there and it can never be retrieved.
written by Manfred, April 23, 2014
No mention of Pius XII, or did I miss it? Isn't it strange that there were two popes canonized in seven hundred years (Pius V and Pius X)after rigorous examinations of their personal lives and their pontificates, and we have two popes canonized(?) on the same day with miracle requirements waived and their pontificates taken off the table? Instead of a concern with this pope's infallibility, the matter seems to reflect on his impeccability. The signal came when the Oath against Modernism was abrogated and the office of the Devil's Advocate was abandoned in the 1960s.
written by David Dickey, April 23, 2014
It is a disgrace that lightweights John XXIII and John Paul II should be canonized instead of a true saint and titan like Pope Pius XII. He was a far greater pope than the other two. I am frankly fed up with "The Good Pope", "John Paul the Great", and "The People's Pope". I Want PACELLI!
written by Jack,CT, April 23, 2014
Mr Dickey,
I suggest you venerate "PACLLI" in
your heart but please try not to be so angry
All our Popes are "The People's pope".
written by Jack,CT, April 23, 2014
Post script; St Therese I am sure was put under
some of the same critique but how
thankful we all are today for her-
written by Gina Nakagawa, April 23, 2014
When will Pope Pius XII receive the respectful recognition he so richly deserves? Is a play written by a lying Nazi atheist remain overshadowing the great and brave good that he did?
written by Matt, April 23, 2014
I fear for the faith.
Pope John XXIII dismissed the warning of Fatima and brought on VII. Pope John Paul II hosted idolatry at Assisi as a World Day of Prayer as abominations swept through the church.
Certainly Pope Francis will be fast-tracked faster than even John Paul II - if he ignores Christ's own words on adultery and divorce.
written by Chris in Maryland, April 23, 2014
In some "high" Catholic circles, the rushed, dual-canonizations have been officially stamped as first and foremost a political move.

Here is how the Catholic "player-umpire" John Allen, of the Boston Globe, sums it up:

"First, putting these two popes together amounts to a call for unity between the church’s liberal and conservative wings.

In the Catholic street, John XXIII is an icon of the left.... John Paul II is a hero to the right....the politically savvy Francis is aware of how these popes are seen, so the dual halos represent an invitation to left and right to come together. Had either pontiff been canonized individually, it might have come off as a victory lap for one side or the other."

John Allen is pleased that Pope Francis "stayed in bounds" and didn't make him throw a flag.
written by Chris in Maryland, April 24, 2014
Today, via the web site, and his article of 4 Nov 2013, entitled: "Pope John XXIII Traditionalist?" I read this:

It is safe to say that very few Catholics today would label Pope John XXIII as a traditionalist. After all, didn’t he first announce the need for a new council only three months into his papacy?

However, consider Veterum Sapientia, Pope John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution on the study of Latin which was released in February of 1962, just eight months before the opening of the Council....

Reading Veterum Sapientia today one might think they are studying the work of an ardent Traditionalist.

In order to provide a more accurate and complete picture of Pope John XXIII and his defense of tradition, it is important to look at the document which has been “completely wiped from memory” in the post-Conciliar years.

Veterum Sapientia -Selected Excerpts

“But amid this variety of languages a primary place must surely be given to that language which had its origins in Latium, and later proved so admirable a means for the spreading of Christianity throughout the West. And since in God’s special Providence this language united so many nations together under the authority of the Roman Empire — and that for so many centuries — it also became the rightful language of the Apostolic See. Preserved for posterity, it proved to be a bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe.”

“Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples….It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.”

“For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority “as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws…”

“These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable degree with the Church’s nature. “For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time … of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”

“Since every Church must assemble round the Roman Church, …it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal , especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite.”

“Furthermore, the Church’s language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings. But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. it has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use.”

“Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.”

“In addition, the Latin language “can be called truly catholic.” It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed “a treasure … of incomparable worth.”. It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching. It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity.”

“It will be quite clear from these considerations why the Roman Pontiffs have so often extolled the excellence and importance of Latin, and why they have prescribed its study and use by the secular and regular clergy, forecasting the dangers that would result from its neglect”.

“The employment of Latin has recently been contested in many quarters, and many are asking what the mind of the Apostolic See is in this matter. We have therefore decided to issue the timely directives…so as to ensure that the ancient and uninterrupted use of Latin be maintained and, where necessary, restored.”

“In the exercise of their paternal care they (Bishops and superiors-general of religious orders) shall be on their guard lest anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or in the Liturgy, or through prejudice makes light of the Holy See’s will in this regard or interprets it falsely.”

written by Manfred, April 24, 2014
Chris in Maryland: Being a proponent of Latin does not make one a good Catholic, and certainly not a saint. No miracles have been attributed to John XXIII, i.e., there has been no Divine sign that God wants this man elevated to sainthood. When the Church was Catholic, one needed TWO miracles to be beatified, and TWO miracles for sainthood. John XXIII disobeyed the Mother of God by not releasing the Third Secret in its entirety by 1960 as she had requested. I was an adult at that time and I can assure you what I just wrote is true.
John's punishment, and ours, is this fiction of "sainthood" for him and JP II (with Paul VI waiting in the "on deck circle"), when what is being "canonized" is Vatican II itself.
P.S. I am sure you have seen the report that "Father Bergoglio" phoned a divorced and remarried Argentine woman in response to her letter to him asking if she could receive Communion. You can guess his reported reply.
written by Chris in Maryland, April 24, 2014

I agree with you that being a proponent of Latin does not make one a good Catholic.

I simply agree with the quotes from John XXIII in Veterum Sapientia. And I think that the quotes, if they represent the mind and heart of John XXIII, say a lot of good things about him. At the same time, they contradict "The Council of the Media" (e.g., the John Allen interpretive lens).

I was hoping my comment on "the call" by John Allen would be read as some skepticism about the rush to canonize, and the politicization.

I have not yet seen the report that "Father Bergoglio" phoned a divorced and remarried Argentine woman in response to her letter to him asking if she could receive Communion, nor his reported reply.

Clearly, there are big problems with Vatican II, since it was basically a blank slate, rather than, as had been the case with other councils, a concrete response to one or more specific challenges or problems involving specified articles of faith. Because some of the documents are intentionally freighted with ambiguity (as Cardinal Kaspar has explained to us) and thus it offered the opportunity for mediocrity and mischief.

If it is the case that NO MIRACLES are attributed to John XXIII, then that leads me to certain unpleasant conclusions.
written by Hen, April 24, 2014
No, being a proponent of Latin doesn't make one a good Catholic in itself. But still we have to wonder what replaced Latin in the seminarians study for the priesthood. And quite importantly we also must consider how the abandonment of the discipline connected with such study coincided with the sex abuse scandal, and perhaps just as bad if not worse, the onset of the feminization of the liturgy
written by Manfred, April 24, 2014
Post Script: Thank you, Chris and Hen, for your thoughtful replies. As you may know from my comments over the years, my wife and I, as well as some of our children,joined an FSSP chapel a decade or more ago where we attend a traditional Latin Mass each week. It is the Mass, but more importantly the core of Catholic doctrine, which attracted us. With seven children (all adult now) we "stood out" in our Novus Ordo parish, while we are "normal" in a community where more than three children in a family is the norm.
The lines between the neo-catholics and the Roman Catholics have become rather clearly drawn. "By their fruits you shall know them" warned Christ so the heterodox and the (informal) heretics could be shunned lest they bring us into the Pit.
written by bill, April 25, 2014
The sex abuse scandal hit the national media in the 1980's with the case in Louisiana and with a magazine show on a main network doing a long spot on it. Court documents showed that the CDF office had an audio tape of Fr. Shanley's speech to the man boy love association in 1979. Weigel wrote in "Witness to Hope" that John Paul was "the most informed man on earth" then in his latest book, Weigel wrote that John Paul did not know of the extensiveness of the sins until 2002. Which is it? We've got more stories than Scheherazade. I think John Paul is in heaven but I think he first did time in Purgatory for not wanting to see or hear bad reports and signalling those around him that he did not want to hear bad things. Boys worldwide paid the price. While he was writing Theology of the Body lectures, boys were being abused sexually. The irony doesn't get worse than that. Millions of intelligent educated conversions were and will be prevented by that period.
He paid attention to what he wanted to pay attention to. His sainthood is about sainthood itself.
It says you can goof pretty bad and God will carry you alot.
written by Chris in Maryland, April 26, 2014

Surely, Pope John Paul II, as the head of the Church, bears responsibility for the homosexual abuse crisis, both that which is well documented in the US, and what is similar through the Church around the world, commensurate with his office.

Also, all of the popes preceding him, who likewise held office during the course of these crimes, are liable to judgment. Among these are included Pope Paul VI and Pope John XXIII.

Certainly also, as the Church is organized around its Bishops, of whom the Pope is "the first among equals," there are many, many Bishops, some serving even now, and many recently retired, prominent men known to us by name, who perpetrated the crime of cover-up, transferring the abusers secretly, to enable them to repeat their crimes.

Yet these have escaped disgrace and judgment (all except, to some extent, Cardinal Law in Boston).

Many "Catholic" journalists, commentators, Bishops, clergy and laity are apt to focus on one or more Popes about these crimes. Curiously, despite the system of collegiality so strongly asserted by Bishops and Catholic commentators around the world, no comparable attention is paid to the Bishops who clearly committed these crimes.

So I think that we the Catholic people, and the world contesting for our allegiance, are content to let these crimes be laid at the feet of whatever Pope they don't like. This is what the criminals need us to do, to escape disgrace, and they are pleased that they have carried off the slight-of-hand, and have seen to it that "The Pope" (whomever he is) is blamed for their crimes.

In Christus Veritas

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