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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 2 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 18
A tale of two saints: Pope Francis splits the difference
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A tale of two saints: Pope Francis splits the difference

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Pope Francis canonized two of his predecessors on April 27 - one who began modernization of the tradition-bound Catholic Church, and one who brought that process to a halt.

'We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church,' Francis said in Latin at the climax of the ritual.

Francis's predecessor, Benedict XVI, attended the ceremony, as did 150 cardinals, 1,000 bishops, and some 6,000 priests.

Religious analysts say that the dual canonization reflects Francis's desire to create a 'big tent' church that includes both modernists and traditionalists.

John XXIII (1881-1963), convened the Second Vatican Council, a convention of church officials that sought to modernize Catholic ritual and dogma. Among other changes, Vatican II, as it came to be called, simplified the Catholic mass, ordered that it be conducted in modern languages rather than Latin, and opened dialogue with other Christian denominations, which had previously been shunned by Catholics.

Although he was Pope during some of the worst years of the Cold War, John XXIII issued the famous encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), in which he argued that nation states must be bound by the same moral laws as individuals are.

Chubby, round-faced, and humble, John XXIII also offered a sharp contrast in style with his predecessor, the austere and aristocratic Pius XII.

Needless to say, Pope John's approach horrified Catholic traditionalists, who formed opposition groups both within and outside of official church channels.

In a sense, John Paul II (1925-2005) was the traditionalists' revenge. Although he participated in Vatican II as Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, as Pope he moved decisively to rein in all the unruly tendencies John XXIII's Council had unleashed.

Working with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then chief disciplinarian of the church and later his successor as Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul reasserted Papal supremacy and sought to put an end to liberal tendencies.

A Polish nationalist and a protégé of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, once a prisoner of Poland's Communist government, John Paul II allied himself with President Ronald Reagan to defeat socialism in Eastern Europe and celebrated the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2004, President George W. Bush presented him with the Medal of Freedom, in recognition of his services against the Soviet bloc.

Within the Catholic Church itself, John Paul was also an enemy of so-called 'liberation theology,' the teaching that the struggle for human rights lay at the core of Christian doctrine.

In 1981, in what amounted to a palace coup, he seized control of the Jesuit order, said to be one of the principal defenders of liberation theology, especially in Latin America. After that, many Jesuits were reportedly forbidden to publish or even speak about their views.

In 2002, John Paul II canonized Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva, apparently because of Escriva's fanatical anti-Communism and his loyalty to the papacy, and in spite of the fact that Catholic officials had documents showing that Escriva had accepted bribes and regularly made anti-Semitic statements.

While John XXIII hoped to modernize church ritual and dogma, his views on sexuality were essentially traditionalist. He died before the Gay Liberation movement became a political force, and therefore rarely expressed himself on issues related to LGBT rights.

John Paul II, however, was a noted enemy of the LGBT community. Again working with Cardinal Ratzinger, John Paul initiated a drive to find and defrock Gay priests. He also characterized Gay people as 'objectively disordered,' and marriage equality as an 'ideology of evil.'

Shortly after becoming Pope in 2005, Benedict XVI fast-tracked John Paul's path to sainthood by eliminating waiting periods and reducing the number of miracles needed to canonize him from two to one. John XXIII was also canonized with only one miracle to his credit rather than the standard two.

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