I’m struck, when talking to conservative Catholic friends, by the strange animus they feel towards Pope John Paul II. You expect liberal types to loathe him — Misogynist! Spreading Aids! Complicit in child rape! — and many do. So far, however, the media’s treatment of John Paul’s canonisation has been relatively free from hostility. The Independent has done something about the “sexual abuse that festered under his watch” and the Telegraph has run the headline “Pope John Paul II was no saint but man who covered up sin”, another reference to paedophile priests. But I haven’t seen much else. Perhaps the papers are keeping their powder dry for some explosive “Wojtyla exposed” weekend coverage. Perhaps they now consider the notion of sainthood as beneath contempt.
But it’s funny how many Catholic traddies feel, almost as strongly as the secularist Left, that John Paul II was not a good thing — though few dare say it in print. His poetry was incomprehensible! Too close to the pervert Marcial Maciel! He let the Curia run riot! No respect for the liturgy! In Rome last year, I was struck by how many priests talked about John Paul’s papacy as if they were ashamed of it, somehow. Poor Pope Benedict had to try to tackle the mess he left behind, they would say, or words to that effect. There’s an element of snobbery, too, against the popular adoration for John Paul II. The pious masses may adore him, bless them, but they have fallen for his cult of personality to the detriment of the Church. They say that he is benefiting from the very “sainthood inflation” which he started by “fast-tracking” so many causes.
It is always tempting, in a perverse way, to cast aspersions on a much-loved figure, and it is of course true that John Paul II’s 27-year papacy was far from perfect. But the Church’s recognition of human sanctity is not a leadership skills award. John Paul II is the great hero of post-war Catholicism and his critics — Left and Right — can get stuffed. He really did help overthrow Communism. The leitmotif of his papacy – “Do not be afraid!” – is an inspiration for anyone who wants to believe in God in a secular world. He inspired young people at a time when religion seemed to be out of date. He defied what he called the “culture of death”, which has brought us mass abortion, among other horrors. If any figure deserves to be “fast-tracked” to canonisation, it is the fast-tracker himself. So Santo Subito, and shut it sceptics.