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They Do Hate JP II, Don’t They?

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Little birdies sing in the sunshiny day. And heterodox Catholics possess a shocking enmity toward Pope John Paul II. The Associated Press, calling JPII “a universally beloved figure,” reported just yesterday that Benedict XVI may announce today the beatification of his predecessor. But the reaction was quite different when John Allen first broke this story last week in the pages of the National Catholic Reporter.

Within minutes of his report the comment boxes at NCR sputtered with outrage. Immediately, someone wrote, “Evidence that corruption is active at the highest levels. A disgrace.” Followed by, “John Paul 2 [sic] sat as the Head [sic] of the Roman Catholic Church and allowed rapists to continue to prey on their victims.” Third comment, “How do you say ‘what a farce’ in Latin? Is there ANYTHING [sic] credible in institutional Catholicism?”

Another advocate of the church of peace, love, and social justice added, “I’ll tell you what a REAL [sic] miracle would be . . . Mr. Ratzinger drops dead tomorrow so they can bring on the next stooge.”

John Allen does not share these views. And blog commenters are not necessarily representative of the editorial content of a website. Certainly, every website has its own nuts in the comment boxes. But these types of comments are common at NCR and echo the point and tone of many NCR contributors, e.g., almost any Eugene Kennedy column.

Commonweal – a slightly more responsible, slightly more respectable, and certainly more crafty among heterodox outlets – linked to the Allen piece on its blog. The debate over JPII went on for five days. The comments were not so blood-in-the-teeth as NCR’s. Commonweal contributors and followers specialize in what they consider to be a more thoughtful critique, which becomes therefore even more insidious as they persistently undermine confidence in the Church and Her teaching. There does not seem to be a Church figure – except dissident nuns – or a Church teaching – except maybe transubstantiation – they do not question.

The initial commenters were in basic agreement: “Has Rome no shame?” “Many catholics [sic] on the left will perceive this as another move to glorify hierachs [sic], especially popes, who move the Church to a more ‘purer’ [sic] standing.”  “Groan, say it isn’t so. Does Rome want the pews emptying any faster than they already are?” “Do the concepts of credibility and integrity have ANY meaning to the Vatican anymore?”

John Paul II: Why do heterodox Catholics oppose his path to sainthood?

Not all the dotCommonwealers criticized JPII. One lauded his accomplishments including “his dancing with African natives in the liturgy.” And the aggressively orthodox also have their odd commenters, one of whom drifted over to dotCommonweal to say that John Paul II’s “burial face was the look of a man who had come to realize at the last that much of his life’s work was in error.”

You have to wonder why they are so angry, bitter, and sometimes unhinged. They will say their complaints are legitimate. They wonder why the rush to beatification. Six years is rapid. Rather than trusting the Church, which they do not, they see this as nothing more than a political sop to conservatives. And one gets the feeling they want more time so that they can sully his reputation, looking for a Pius XII moment that will forever scar him.

Some seem angry that he presided over the papacy at the time the sex-abuse scandal reared its ugly head, believing he was, at best, willfully ignorant. Others are angry that he was friends with and largely ignored the charges leveled at the now thoroughly shamed founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

Does any of this speak to his lack of heroic virtue? Folks like Cathy Kaveny of Notre Dame and dotCommonweal will doubtless cite theological chapter and ecclesial verse – oh so chin-scratchingly thoughtful – about how these problems suggest – perhaps, maybe, one might think, only speculating here – that JPII might lack heroic virtue. But it seems as if they would be gleeful to know that he is not in Heaven.

Their real anger, and they are quite open about it, is that one of his primary projects was the proper implementation of Vatican II, which means taking the Council at its word and reining in the “spirit of Vatican II” that has so pleased the heterodox and so vexed the Church in recent decades. They are especially troubled about the new generation of JPII bishops now beginning to sprout orthodox wings.

The country is debating about our sometimes fractious political discourse, but it is especially disappointing to see it erupt in the Catholic blogosphere. I am not immune from the temptation. I’ve weighed in aggressively at various left-wing Catholic blogs including dotCommonweal, where I was eventually banned for I’m not sure what.

I think the anger is a sign that they see it all slipping away, all their hopes and dreams. How else to explain their giddiness over the Holy Father’s supposed blessing of condom use by homosexual prostitutes and other attempts at catching at straws? Has the liberal project fallen so low? Well, yes, read the comment section of National Catholic Reporter and dotCommonweal and, in an odd sort of a way, you will see that their anger and frustration is a barometer of the health of the orthodox project.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.