I am what you might call a “liberal” Catholic. I am also a fan of Blessed John Paul II.
Those two things may seem at odds, especially with the consternation (in some circles) about the perceived “rush” of his beatification. In short: the Vatican waived the normal five-year waiting period before beginning the process. There have also been legitimate concerns about whether he should be honored in light of what are seen as his errors as pope. Chief among these was his support of the now-disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, revealed to be perhaps the worst of all abusive priests.
As for the rush, and as someone who has written about the saints, I’m in favor of every candidate going through the same process. Otherwise it may seem like corners were cut, possibly sullying the saint’s reputation for future generations. On the other hand, a miracle attributed to the pope’s intercession (that is, his prayers to God from his post in heaven) has been authenticated by the Vatican. So God seems to be in favor of the rush.
As for disagreements over his papacy, even I had my differences with Pope John Paul II. He wasn’t always the biggest fan of the Jesuits (my religious order), though some of his suspicions seem to have originated with his advisers. When he replaced Pedro Arrupe, the beloved leader of the Jesuits, many Jesuits were angered. John Paul, suspicious of the Jesuits’ work in “liberation theology” (an approach emphasizing the liberation of the poor from suffering, as Jesus had), was told that the Jesuits would be disobedient after the sacking of Arrupe. We were not. John Paul was surprised at our fidelity, and pleased.
Nonetheless, I’m an admirer of the man. How can this be? Well, let me point out two things missing from much of the critical commentary.
First, the saints weren’t perfect. They were human. Holiness always makes it home in humanity. And sanctity does not mean perfection. Second, you don’t have to agree with everything a saint does to admire him (or her). One of my favorite saints is Thomas More, the English martyr, who many people know from the film “A Man for All Seasons.” But I don’t agree with--to put it mildly--his support of the wholesale burning of “heretics” (i.e., non-Christians).
One Vatican official noted that Pope Benedict XVI is beatifying John Paul for who he was as a person, not as a pope. In short, he’s not being named “Blessed” for his administrative record as pope. This makes sense. Beatification does not mean that everything he did as pope is now beyond critique. (Any more than everything St. Thomas More did is beyond critique.) On the other hand, that line of thinking is not entirely convincing: for you cannot separate a person’s actions from his personal life.
But the emphasis on the personal life is important. We beatify a Christian, not an administrator. In that light, John Paul II clearly deserves to be a blessed and, later, a saint. He led a life of “heroic sanctity,” as the traditional phrase goes; he was faithful to God in the most difficult of situations (Nazism, communism, consumerism); he was a tireless “evangelist,” that is, a promoter of the Gospel; and he worked ardently for the world’s poor, as Jesus asked his followers to do. And, in my eyes, anyone who visits the prison cell of his would-be assassin to forgive the man is a saint.
After his beatification, I’ll be praying to the late pope for his intercession. From his heavenly post, he’ll understand if I didn’t always agree with him. In fact, in company with Jesus, Mary and the saints, that will be the very last thing that Blessed John Paul II will probably be thinking about.