The visitors’ focus on John Paul II’s closeness to God, and not his actions as pope, reflects the values of the canonization process. The Vatican body charged with investigating the “causes” — or cases — of potential saints is supposed to look into candidates’ spiritual depth, not their actions — even if those actions included helping to end communism or convening a council that made church theology much more open to other faiths.
So while some church-watchers see the picking of the two men — an unprecedented decision to canonize two popes at the same time — as Francis’s effort to placate Catholicism’s sometimes-divided progressive and conservative wings, experts Monday said politics are not a factor.
Kenneth Woodward, a religion author who has written extensively about Catholic saints, noted that of the many hundreds of people made saints in the past millenniums, only three were popes. Generally, their access to power and money made them seem like unlikely candidates.
“The message here is that even popes can be saints,” he said.
Longtime church chronicler Michael Sean Winters, who blogs for the National Catholic Reporter, noted that some Catholic groups are opposing John Paul II’s canonization because his pontificate included an extensive clergy sex-abuse cover-up.
“I’m not sure the skill set to be a good pope is the same as being a saint, which is about sanctity. I think of sanctity as lacking guile, and it takes some guile to be a pope,” he said. Their canonization “isn’t a verdict on the papacy of either man. Did I think it took incredible courage in the way John Paul faced his Parkinson’s? Yes. Was it good for the papacy to have a pope incapacitated for so long? It was a disaster.”
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, chief executive of the Catholic television network Salt and Light, said Monday that the two popes could be role models for regular Catholics because “they allowed God’s will to be done in their lives on a daily basis,” he wrote in an e-mail. Catholics and others can learn from them “how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time.”