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Sunday’s beatification will be of a holy pope who began the fightback against the smoke of Satan

It will take 100 years to recover from the 1960s and 70s: but John Paul set us back on course

By on Thursday, 28 April 2011

John Paul II's greatest achievement was to defend the stable and objective character of Catholic teaching (Photo: CNS)

John Paul II's greatest achievement was to defend the stable and objective character of Catholic teaching (Photo: CNS)

We have short memories; we take our recent history too easily for granted. Few people, it seems – at least among those who imply that the problems we still face as a Church were actually Pope John Paul’s fault – remember the state of the Catholic Church at the end of the reign of the unhappy Pope Paul VI, during which forces of disintegration were unleashed within the Church which brought it to the edge of losing all credibility as a defender of basic Christian orthodoxy.

This work of darkness was brought about, not by the Council itself, but by some of those, certainly, who had attended it. It was certainly not the work, as some still confidently claim, of a liberal pope: for if Pope Paul was such a convinced liberal, what about Humanae Vitae? What happened during his pontificate was clearly far from his intention. At a homily he preached in 1972, he is reported as saying, now famously, that he had “believed that after the Council would come a day of sunshine in the history of the Church. But instead there has come a day of clouds and storms, and of darkness … And how did this come about? We will confide to you the thought that … there has been a power, an adversary power. Let us call him by his name: the devil. It is as if from some mysterious crack… the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”

He was speaking particularly about the liturgy: but just as disastrous was the unchallenged rise during his pontificate of the so-called “alternative magisterium” of Küng, Schillebeeckx and the rest of their malign brood. It was a time of great destruction; and to destroy is always easier than to rebuild. Recovering from the aftermath of the Council will take 100 years. But Pope John Paul began the fightback: he set the barque of Peter, and the Church with it, firmly back on course.

His greatest achievement, as I have already written in this column, was that he did more than any pope of the last century to defend and reassert beyond any doubt the stable and objective character of Catholic teaching. He saw off the alternative magisterium, not by suppressing individuals (though Küng, for instance, had his licence to teach Catholic doctrine removed) but by clear and unequivocal teaching: and as I wrote when the beatification was announced, as a result he made it possible for hundreds of thousands of non-Catholics like myself, tired of the uncertainties of secularised versions of Christianity, to come into full communion with the Holy See.

If you doubt me when I say that he made it possible for many to become Catholics, despite their own perception of the deep attractions of the Catholic tradition, consider the case of Malcolm Muggeridge. In Something Beautiful for God, an explanation of why he resisted becoming a Catholic, despite even the urging of Mother Teresa, he pointed to the circumstance

“…that the Church, for inscrutable reasons of its own, has decided to have a reformation just when the previous one – Luther’s – is finally running into the sand.

“I make no judgment about something which, as a non-member, is no concern of mine; but if I were a member, then I should be forced to say that, in my opinion, if men were to be stationed at the doors of churches with whips to drive worshippers away, or inside the religious orders specifically to discourage vocations, or among the clergy to spread alarm and despondency, they could not hope to be as effective in achieving these ends as are trends and policies seemingly now dominant within the Church.

“Feeling so, it would be preposterous to seek admission, more particularly as, if the ecumenical course is fully run, luminaries of the Church to which I nominally belong, like the former Bishop of Woolwich, for whom – putting it mildly – I have little regard, will in due course take their place in the Roman Catholic hierarchy among the heirs of St Peter.”

But then, Karol Wojtyla became pope. The old indiscriminate ecumenism was allowed quietly to run into the sands; the mists of uncertainty were blown away, and the Magisterium was revealed, still standing, firm on the rock of Peter; and within a very few years, Muggeridge became a Catholic at last. So did many others, including myself.

That is why I was elated at the news of his beatification: because of his re-establishment of the simple fact of the Church’s authority to declare the objective truth of Catholic doctrine (Veritatis Splendor, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and on and on), I had been enabled at last to come home, to escape finally from a Church in which there was absolutely no means of coming to a mind about anything, a Church which actually requires of its clergy no more than a formal acceptance of the creeds – not as declarations of beliefs held to be actually true, but as what the C of E sanctimoniously calls part of a “heritage of faith”. That is why I was at first so depressed by the hostility in some quarters, even within the Church, to the announcement of Sunday’s beatification. I had thought, in Pope John Paul’s final years, that we had moved beyond all that.

Simply remember. It wasn’t just that he recalled the Church to itself: he showed the power of the faith by his astonishing geopolitical achievement in finally giving the answer to Stalin’s contemptuous question “how many divisions has the pope?” This is how George Weigel summed up this part of his achievement:

In 1978, no one expected that the defining figure of the last quarter of the 20th century would be a Polish priest and bishop. Christianity was finished as a world-shaping force, according to the opinion-leaders of the time; it might endure as a vehicle of personal piety, but Christian conviction would play no role in shaping the 21st-century world. Yet within six months of his election, John Paul II had demonstrated the dramatic capacity of Christian conviction to create a revolution of conscience that, in turn, created a new and powerful form of politics – the politics that eventually led to the revolutions of 1989 and the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe.

We know that he made mistakes: all popes do. But on any reasonable assessment, both in the Church and in the world his achievements were immensely more significant than his errors. His was a flawed greatness, perhaps; but it was greatness, nevertheless.

As I wrote when Sunday’s big event was first announced, however, Pope John Paul is being beatified not because of his greatness but because of his heroic sanctity. The five-year waiting period to begin the Cause was waived on account of what the Congregation for the Causes of Saints described as the “imposing fame for holiness” enjoyed by John Paul II during his lifetime. And on Sunday, that holiness (undisputed by any who really knew him, and affirmed most clearly by the present Holy Father, who knew him better than most) will be all that we need to remember.

  • Peter

    Many of the priests who commit liturgical abuse are from seminaries in the 60′s ad 70′s where the training, influenced by modernism, was lax. Thankfully more recent generations of priests are better trained and adhere strictly to the liturgical norms.

  • AJ

    Amen to that Peter. The confusion and abuses where mostly from the liberal clergy to advance their selfish agenda that is why we have the Catechism to guide the catholic faithful to the true catholic Teaching and the Church is relentlessly pursuing those who abuse the Liturgy and others.

    However 2 things to remember because the pendulum of disobedience always swings both ways to the extreme “left” and “right”.

    The key is we must give our full assent and submission to the Teaching ratified by the FULL MAGISTERIAL AUTHORITY of the Church (composed of the Pope and Bishops in communion with him) good examples of Vatican II, Novus Ordo Mass etc.

    That we can during deliberations of any Church event to criticize and even play Devil’s advocate BUT WHEN The Church passed a judgment and say IT IS CLOSE, then it is CLOSED, not subject to any more criticism and denigration or else fall into excommunication and schism.

    The abuses have nothing to do with the Teaching (e.g. Vatt2) but has everything to do with sins of men who distort the Teaching to fit their liking or else we would end up blaming the Council of Trent because it also bore “bad fruits” when it gave rise to Martin Luther who used and interpreted the Doctrines of Purgatory and Indulgences as false well in fact it was due to the abusive clergy. IT WAS NOT the Council nor Doctrine.

  • Anonymous

    History will laugh at our folly, ignorance, delusion and self-deception.

    Why don’t we face a few facts – just as Dr Oddie has.

    Primarily the enemy was, is, and always will be the same – Call it what you will but the old names are most apposite and one encompasses it all – Our adversary: Satan!

    But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking this was all the fault of a Vatican council gone awry – the problem is nearly a century older.

    Nietzsche had a mandatory criterion for the possibility of God, meaning to Life etc ; and that was Love being eternal….

    He could not believe it ; and I truly believe that the major source of the crisis in the Church is the simple fact that despite wanting to believe it, and all the verbiage and innovative ritual attempting to compensate or paper over the hints of disbelief, this lack of belief is prevalent.

    But the unbelief isn’t the disease, it’s merely a symptom of something a lot more subtle.

    The cause ? We need to go back a century and beyond…to the age of presumption and arrogance. Italy , France and Germany were beginning to settle down after generations of crisis; Britain and Ireland were beginning to reap the benefits of the decades-long struggle to re-integrate catholicism, The US was gaining the security in the power of money and distance from warring europe – and catholicism leapt on the bandwagon grasping the opportunity to thrive espcialy among the millions of immigrants, the British Empire was stealing a quarter of the world from its rightful owners and instigating ‘peace’ down the barrel of a gun and utilising every available natural resource – and we resided in the shadow of that effect ; The Church was gaining ground, there were no significant adversaries and theological/scriptural/moral/canonical and clerical spheres were beginning to become effective and powerful influences within societies; the social teaching of Leo XIII made this even more of a concrete visible active prevailing force – we built churches, hospitals, schools, junior and senior seminaries bulging at the seams – and it’s here we begin to see the first signs of complacency…

    I’m not going to go through a history lesson – it’s all readily available to anyone interested – but the first major test to the Church in the new century was modernism. Now Pius X was truly a saint and he sought to remedy a crisis in a specific way – suppression of the questionable ; and the re-emphasising and reformed expression of age old dogmas and their doctrinal implementation and consequences – almost every available resource was oriented towards what the church teaches and how it is to be taught….

    You see the problem ? It’s very subtle , but here’s the root of what followed – we were complacent in that we presumed that society and the individual were not going to significantly change in their outlooks and lifestyles…

    Inadvertently we’d become contaminated with Hegelianism – we’d catholicized his notion of the Geist – the development and progression of society and the Church along a certain path – all that was required was a reiteration of ‘the what and the how’ of Church teaching ; the ‘why?’ we believe or act wasn’t exactly ignored, but it was never deemed an absolute intrinsic necessity towards understanding and living the catholic faith – and anyway, catholic society possessed the capabilities to deduce the ‘why’ from the hearts and minds of those who thrived in the overwhelming thrall of the Church. Because we had a surplus of understanding ‘the why’ among the average cleric or devout parishioner, we merely assumed that feeding the faithful [and the trainee clergy] with ‘the what and the how’ was more than amply enough for doctrine and praxis to be sustained. We presumed that the monolith of the teaching authority of the church would suffice. We were negligent because we failed to notice the idol of ‘Church authority’ had feet of clay.

    Thus the message of the ‘why we believe and live that belief’ was neglected and compromised; and in a way it became distorted and obfuscated into being perceived as not primarily a spiritual authority ; but more a regimented temporal [albeit religious] one…it was seen as ‘surplus to requirement’ to do anything other than ‘state the faith’, not continually prove it…it was seen as an unnecessary exigency to do anything other than ‘show love of neighbour’ through teaching, healing, feeding, housing, consoling and caring – very little effort was made to emphasise the ‘why we love’ or to validate or prove or remind the faithful ‘what business we are about and why’

    This negligence only took three generations to wreak havoc -war irreparably altered society and the clergy were already being contaminated by this black hole in their catechesis and training; the ignorance manifested itself in two ways:

    a] questioning every aspect of the Church and the faith it professed and the morality it demanded; failing to realise that one was not personally equipped or experienced or educated enough to assess or discern the core motives and reasonings of the fundamental teachings, these people decided that they could work out their own , personalised theology, morality and ecclesiology – or sought answers from sources external to the church [regularly of the protestant ilk like Bultmann, Barth or Tillich]

    b] defiantly refusing to contemplate the possibilities of the motives or reasonings behind the church teachings [possibly out of fear or a sense of possibly losing the newly acquired temporal power within a parish/diocese] and rather than attempt to understand the why ; instead blindly following what the church says to the letter [and possibly adding a more rigorist or pietistic flavour to it in the process] – ‘Just do what you’re told and stop asking questions!!!’

    It was a lack of education, a dearth of understanding , and a childish arrogance [something only truly present among the ignorant] that led to the initial divergence of what we perceive now as progressive/liberal/neo marxist and the Ultra-traditionalist ‘fascist’.

    rather than being a Faith ; this ignorance allowed ideology to pervade and contaminate the ranks of the clergy.

    …my arguments allong these lines continue on and the following two posts…

    Now I could write tens of thousands of words on His Holiness of Blessed memory – but it wouldn’t do a blind bit of good until we realise one crucial thing: We’re at war – and His Holiness to many extents exercised both damage limitation and in major battles he held the line – but he realised that – no – that’s not true – he recognised that he did not possess or wield the spiritual power and authority required to take the batle to them – that was for a later time – he was surrounded by traitors and renegades and he dwelt in a Polish siege mentality – the important thing was staying alive and waiting for both opportunity in temporal circumstances and waiting – for God to do the work or use others to actuate it. Malachi Martin declared the Blessed JPII lived by a single mantra ‘My Czekamy’ [we are waiting] and his message of solace for the faithful during that wait was ‘be not afraid’.

    We were all backseat drivers declaring ‘The Pope should do this – how dare he allow this to happen etc etc’ But we have no idea what battles he was fighting for us behind the scenes – Ye gods let’s face one incontrovertible fact made absolutely clear at his assassination attempt – Mehmet Ali Agca went through NINE frontiers as a wanted criminal and he was allowed through by western security forces – the power brokers in the shadows IN THE WEST wanted His Holiness dead in the form of a public lynching – this was the followers of the Prince of this World telling the Church to know its place and stay out of both politics and their affairs. But Hs Holiness was enmeshed in existentialism and community siege-politics against totalitarianism – he recognised evil, malice and cruelty spawning from godlessness – but he simply couldn’t understand [and how could a Pole so subsumed in Catholicity as a mark of human dignity in a sociocultural identity] how fallen the world had become – he saw our beauty and our good intentions and our loneliness and our struggle with our own weakneses – and envisaged that socio-political change would bring about the best in us – look at his writings – he simply never got it! He never dreamed that his theology of the Body would be warped into a replacement for fundamental Catholic moral teaching; or that his Virtue Ethics would be twisted by duplicitous scholars and overenthusiastic modernists into a bastardised form of preference utilitarianism, pragmatism, situationism, intentionalism and ultimately relativism – he thought his ‘conditionals and qualifications and supplementaries to traditional catholic doctrinal and moral teaching would be pastoral and evangelical tools – instead they were used against the very teaching itself by ingrates and fools and academic progressives and clerical/lay professional intellectuals.

    He saw us as childlike children who needed guidance – in reality we were childish adolescents who needed discipline and instruction on the very basics before we could attain any degree of understanding his message to us…he gave us an inch – we stole a mile and always demanded more….

    He is BLESSED – He IS a Saint – we ingrates didn’t deserve him or appreciate him – but one thing is certain – we needed him and we need his prayers and intercessions for us even more now – because his succesor has built on the foundation he maintained – has barricaded the defences he resolutely kept for us….There would be no Benedictine revolution without the Blessed John Paul the Second.

    Certainly it would be ignorant and foolish not to recognise the mistakes and the regrets – but most of them were ours – he was always more sinned against than sinner.

  • Michel Roi

    Actually Justin, the teaching of Humanae Vitae IS infallible as it reflects what the Church has taught “quod semper, quod ubique et quod omnibus” from the earliest centuries. As someone who takes it upon himself to judge the authenticity of other Catholic’s faith, you should know that. Beatification is authoritative to the extent that it authorizes veneraton of the one beatified. That’s what it means so…No argument.

    I for the life of me don’t know what I said that’s unfriendly to the Church. A Church that my bishop, who’s considered very orthodox, believes I’ve served well for many, many years. Do you believe that uncertainty about the governance of a pope is neccesarily indicative of unfriendliness to the Church? Hmmm. Strange attitude given that papal governance is not covered by the charism of infallibility.

    You would do well to read some classic apologetics. Hillaire Belloc is one of my favorites of the old time apologists. He said of the Church “An institution governed with such navish imbecility, that were it not of God, it would have dissapeared in a fortnight.” And before you accuse him of being “unfriendly” to the Church, read up on him and other good orthodox apologists who did not confuse the recognition of the failures and sins of the Church’s leaders with the fact that She is the living Body of Christ. Catholic thought is nuanced, profound and very beautiful. It is ill served by thoughtless and uncharitable fundamentalism.

  • Michel Roi

    Justin, do you actually read other peoples’ comments in any sort of thoughtful manner? You repeated what I said about the Pope as if I didn’t say it.

    He is the succesor of St. Peter, and the vicar of Christ on Earth. The Pope is our chief shepherd and teacher and his authority extends immediately to every member of the Church. He is absolutely neccesary as the visible principle of Catholic unity in space and through time. He holds us together in one Church. The one, true Church of Christ. That’s what I believe but…oh yeah, I believe in a “false gospel”.

  • Michel Roi

    P.S. For what it’s worth, I do believe that John Paul II was not only a man of deep prayer and sanctity but also that he’s in Heaven. He gave wonderful example of filial devotion to the Mother of God and always celebrated his Masses with obvious love and fervor. He was kind to me when I met him many years ago and gave me a gift I deeply treasured.

    In my work counseling and teaching I have heard many Canadian Catholics, English as well as French, speak of how they were touched in various ways by JP II’s ministry. I have no problem with any of that and rejoice in how God used this man.

    I and others simply question aspects of his govermnance of the Church (not in any way a matter of infallibility or assent) and believe that estimates of him as a Pope (not as a man or Christian) need more historical perspective to be accurate.

  • Auricularis

    It should also be noted that Paul Likoudis is a writer for “The Wanderer” newspaper that provides wax-lyrical articles for John Paul II.

  • Pdudek

    we would like to inform you, that the famous polish bestseller
    “He liked Tuesdays best. The story of everyday life of John Paul II”
    is now available in english version on the bookstore and website