Papal Canonizations, Part 3: More Questions than Answers

Pope Francis canonized Popes John XXII and John Paul II yesterday, formally acknowledging them as saints. In the weeks leading to yesterday’s six minute ceremony, questions have been furiously debated online, in print, and in person about what these canonizations mean for the Church today, how Pope Francis is viewing this event, and, most contentiously of all, whether one or both popes are indeed worthy of sainthood.

On Saturday, Bondings 2.0 covered the positive impact John XXIII had in calling for Vatican II and setting the conditions for greater openness in the Church, which you can read here. On Sunday, we covered the tremendous harm done to LGBT people and their loved ones under John Paul II’s 27-year papacy, which you can read about here. Today, we highlight some of the commentaries swirling around and, while not directly addressing LGBT topics, these articles are raising questions which impact our common efforts for a more inclusive, just church today.

Joshua McElwee’s reporting from Rome for the National Catholic Reporter notes that Pope Francis “wrapped up” the last 56 years of church history through the canonizations, but that “the implications of the saintings…are not so clear.” McElwee writes further:

“While the Vatican has sought this week to tie the popes together by their work shepherding the church through the 20th century — framing them as two bookends of church modernization and reform — Catholics in many parts of the world see John as the man who started that reform, but John Paul as the one who harnessed or even rolled parts of it back…

“Now that [Pope Francis] has sainted the man who opened the council and the man who over 27 years most shaped its reforms, how will he continue to direct its influence over the church?

“That answer may come most clearly during October’s meeting of bishops, which is expected to discuss a number of sometimes controversial subjects — including the question of communion for divorced and remarried persons.

“In other words, while Francis was able to wrap together 56 years in just six minutes Sunday it will likely be many years before we know the full impact of the council — and of the man now leading its continuing reforms.”

Also at NCR, Isabella Moyer wonders what Pope Francis actually thinks of these canonizations, and Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese states his belief that canonizing popes is a “dumb idea,” which makes those saints already in heaven have a good laugh. He writes further:

“I fear that the people pushing hardest for the canonization of a pope want him made a saint so he can be presented as the ideal pope that future popes should imitate. It is more about church politics than sanctity.

“Making a pope a saint is a way of strengthening his legacy, making it more difficult for future popes to change policies that he put in place. ‘How can you dare to change what St. Whoever established?’ …

Thirty years from now, another pope will preside over another double canonization, that for Blessed Benedict XVI and Blessed Francis I (yes, there will be a Francis II). I will not be around to be a party pooper, but if I am in heaven, I promise to organize a party for all these popes who, I am sure, will get a good laugh out of it.”

Fr. Reese is not the only person questioning the canonizations. US Catholic posted an article which called this process a “rush to sainthood,” and Emily Reimer-Barry of the the blog Catholic Moral Theology explores whether the canonization of saints is still relevant.

Finally, John Gehring of Faith in Public Life and Kim Daniels, formerly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, penned a piece together about these canonizations being a moment to bridge divides in the Church. They write:

“When Pope Francis canonizes Popes John Paul II and John XXIII on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, he will do more than honor the lives of towering figures that brought unique gifts to the Catholic church and the world. He will also send a powerful message of unity. By simultaneously declaring as saints these two men so often deployed as symbols for competing Catholic camps, Pope Francis is reminding us that the Gospel leaves no room for ideology…

“As the world watches the Catholic church with new eyes, we must strive for something better than internecine battles and gotcha rhetoric. Pope Francis is challenging us to build “a church of encounter” that goes to the margins where people are hurting and broken. A divided church will not meet that transcendent mission.”

What do these canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II mean for you? How do they impact the bridge building done by LGBT advocates worldwide to foster understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity? What impact will canonizing a pope who opened the doors to LGBT people indirectly and a pope who tried hard to close them mean for Pope Francis today? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Sharon Willey
    Sharon Willey says:

    I have a concern that the contributions of Pope Paul VI are being ignored. He was pope from 1963 – 1978. This is the man who had to see Vatican II through to its finish and to see to the implementation pf it. He is the one who started the traveling pope idea. He is the one who spoke to the UN. He is the one who worked for better relations with orthodox Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths. He was a quiet man of firm purpose who did his job as he saw it. Since his time we have seen some of the accomplishments of Vatican II rolled back. Let’s give credit where it is due.

    • Lynne Miller
      Lynne Miller says:

      it’s too soon! too soon for pope john paul as well. why not let a few decades roll by in order for the immediate popular feeling about the man to resolve into a well reasoned overview of the entire papacy before rushing into canonization. it’s a decision too quickly made, and there’s no protocol for un-canonizing someone if later reservations arise.


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