Monday, April 12, 2010

The Better Pope?

...But there’s another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.

The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.

So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.
Read the rest here.

I could (and do) disagree with some of this article. But in general I would call it the first reasonably fair piece I have seen in the Times on this tragic subject. +Benedict was not, and is not perfect. He made mistakes. But unlike so many others the mistakes in his case were exceptions and not the rule. And unlike so many others he seems to have grasped the great danger to his church fairly early on and tried to attack it.

John Paul II was without doubt a great Pope who did much and whose personal sanctity has been much spoken of. But great leaders and even saints are sometimes not appreciated as such during their lifetime. More than a few have been reviled and suffered false and unfair accusations. With the passage of time I think history will be much kinder to +Benedict XVI than some now expect. He may indeed, as the author suggests, be remembered as the better Pope.

1 comment:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

John Paul II was charismatic, apparently, but hardly great. He approved the bombing of Serbia (after first having called for a peaceful solution), pushed for the admittance of Turkey into the European Union, beatified Cardinal Stepinac, pulled a fast one on Archbishop Christodoulos with the world's worst "apology" - for starters.