Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Will legacy of John Paul II be a blessing or a curse?

An alliance of Church establishment and popular piety marched triumphantly in Rome at the weekend as a throng of cardinals, bishops and hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful applauded Pope Benedict XVI's elevation of his Polish predecessor to heavenly status as Blessed John Paul.

The German Pontiff and a global 'people of God' overrode wide disquiet among the Catholic population at the sheer speed of John Paul II's beatification - just six years after his death.

Yet the former Karol Wojtyla officially joined the hallowed ranks when Pope Benedict proclaimed in Latin: "From now on Pope John Paul shall be called 'Blessed'."

With these timeless words, Pope Benedict, who had waived the customary five-year rule before the initiation of a cause for sainthood, magisterially silenced concerned critics who urged delaying the advancement of the beatification process.

Their point of departure was that it was too soon for a proper investigation of John Paul's handling of clerical child abuse scandals during his 27-year-long stewardship of the Holy See.

Numerous theologians claim Pope Benedict is ignoring evidence that John Paul shielded the notorious paedophile Fr Marcial Maciel - the Mexican founder of the wealthy Legionaries of Christ.

The American National Catholic Reporter has published well-sourced articles showing how the late Maciel had multiple affairs with women that produced out-of-wedlock children. He also sexually abused some of his own children, as well as seminarians.

Acknowledging doubts were raised about the appropriateness and timing of the beatification, the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, was adamant the first Slav Pope was now present with God in the other world above.

In even greater certitude of mind and body, a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, told a large crowd in Rome on Saturday evening of how her praying for healing to John Paul cured her.

Even though medical doubts remain about the inexplicability of the cure, it was the Church's approval of this claimed miracle as absolute divine truth that constituted the grounds for John Paul's beatification - the last stage before sainthood.

The immortality of John Paul was declared beside his mortal remains, which were placed prominently in front of the main altar of St Peter's on Sunday. The biggest crowd in Rome since his death thundered acclaim just seconds after Benedict read out the beatification proclamation, followed by unveiling of a Hollywood-style tapestry displaying the beamingly benign smile of John Paul.

The Vatican does Hollywood better than Hollywood. A touch of Alfred Hitchcock mystery came earlier when John Paul's coffin was exhumed. Poland's Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz exclaimed: "He is no longer in the tomb. The tomb has remained empty because he is here again."

Meanwhile, John Paul's remains will be moved to a new crypt under a side chapel altar near Michelangelo's statue of La Pieta - Karolus Magnus alongside Jesus, Mary and Michelangelo.

The beatification will soon be upstaged by his canonisation. Some argue the Church should move promptly to canonise John Paul. Meanwhile in the shadows is Bishop John Magee - John Paul's former secretary - as we await the Murphy Report into his handling of abuse allegations in the diocese of Cloyne.

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