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Pope Francis should give us a break from this flurry of papal saints

2013 September 30

The Polish pope’s supporters are clear about his greatness. The globe-trotting rock-stadium pontiff was the most popular in modern times; 17 million people travelled to Rome to see him in his 26 years. He played a key role in the collapse of Communism. He was the first pope to visit a synagogue and mosque. He repeatedly begged forgiveness for centuries of Christian slander of the Jews. He apologised, finally, for the Crusades and the persecution of Galileo. And he gave dignity to the dying by his own protracted public final illness.

But if the first half of his papacy was good for the world, the second was bad for the Church. He suppressed debate, silenced theologians and outlawed discussion on women priests. He applied his condemnations of the “dictatorship of relativism” to pluralistic societies without qualification. The Vatican II doctrine of collegiality was changed to mean that bishops were being collegial if they agreed with him – and he appointed bishops who did that. And for decades he ignored the mounting evidence of priestly sex abuse even protecting the serial abuser Fr Marcial Maciel who founded the conservative Legionaries of Christ.

The skill-set for a pope and a saint are far from the same. But there is enough about JP2’s record to echo the conclusion many reached when Margaret Thatcher was awarded a virtual state funeral: some figures are too controversial and divisive to be accorded a universal acclaim.

There is, in any case, something dodgy about a Dead Pope’s Society, smacking as it does of heavenly joys for the boys. If we are to have saints they should, as JP2 to his credit understood, be drawn from the ranks of lay women and men not just the ordained.  Pope Francis should make it clear that, after this, there will be no more papal saints. Or, at the very least, put the whole business on hold for a couple of centuries.

The Guardian

Pope Francis – Untying the Knots by Paul Vallely is published by Bloomsbury

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