The Devil's Advocate has a necessary task but the late Pope's virtues outweigh his faults and errors of judgement

The late John Paul II is soon to be beatified. With this in mind, a friend has kindly pointed out to me an article in The Remnant online for March 21 which challenges the whole basis for the beatification. Reading it I see that the traditional and necessary office of the Devil’s Advocate has been doing its work. The article does not deny the late Pope’s personal holiness, but raises a number of points which will all be familiar to readers of “Christian Order” over here (and I note that Rod Pead, the Editor of CO, has added his signature to the list of those opposing the beatification, at the bottom of the Remnant article.)

The indictment against John Paul II states that “in the exercise of his exalted office as Pope” he did nothing to stop the abuses of the liturgy; he did not take the proper steps to investigate the sexual scandals of the priesthood – in particular those connected with the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ; he caused confusion by his “numerous theologically dubious apologies for the presumed sins of Catholics in prior epochs of Church history”; and he caused scandal by the gatherings at Assisi in 1986 and 2002, in which he prayed with animists and other pagans. The article even throws doubt on the miracle that was needed for the process of beatification to go forward.

The charges are grave and, as I said above, the task of the Devil’s Advocate is a necessary one. However, once everything has been weighed up, both in favour of John Paul’s pontificate and against it, and Rome has made its decision, is it not a little churlish at this late stage of the process to try to put a spanner in the works? Beatification does not assume impeccability; it investigates and assesses the heroic virtue of the candidate. In this case the late Pope’s virtues vastly outweigh, to my mind, his faults and errors of judgment.

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What springs to mind when I think of the late Holy Father? He was a magnificent defender of the sacredness of human life, marriage and family, and the dignity of women, in a host of inspiring encyclicals and other writings: Familiaris Consortio, Mulieris Dignitatem, Evangelium Vitae come to mind, but there are many others. Indeed, he was a great teaching Pope. He was hugely instrumental, along with President Ronald Reagan, in bringing about the fall of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. He was a wonderful communicator of the Faith to young people at the World Youth Days he instituted. How many young men and women have decided to dedicate themselves to the priesthood and religious life as a result of attending one of these occasions?

There is much more than could be cited in the Pope’s favour, but I will simply mention the Assisi gatherings.

I accept I might be biased here, as Francis of Assisi is my patron saint – but what is wrong with a Catholic leader praying alongside those of other faiths? I do not say you that pray ‘in unity’ with them as this is not possible; but to ask the Holy Spirit to come down and do His mysterious, grace-filled work at such a gathering: surely that is an act of charity towards those who, through no fault of their own, lack the fullness of truth?

This morning a Muslim lady taxi driver came to my house to take my daughter to her day centre. She happened to notice the tile stuck on the brickwork by the front door with the words (in Portuguese) “Our Lady of Fatima, bless this house”. “What does this mean?” she asked, pointing at the word ‘Fatima’. I explained that Our Lady had appeared at Fatima, adding I had once read that she had chosen to appear at this particular spot because the name ‘Fatima’ is very important to Muslims as the name of Muhammad’s daughter, and so that Catholics who reverence the shrine might pray especially for the followers of Islam. She was very pleased at this idea.

I then explained briefly (I was in my dressing –gown) about the Blessed Trinity, the role of Mary and the work of the Holy Spirit and we parted with much good will. I would gladly have prayed for her and alongside her if our dialogue had fallen out that way.

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