The Roncalli-Wojtyla compromise—meaning the balancing of the canonization as saints of John XXIII, the "good pope" beloved by many reform-minded people, with John Paul II, every conservative Catholic's favorite ecclesiastical fascist—has been in the works for some time. It's one of those deals favored by politicians, union leaders and the Mafia: a little bit for everyone, not enough for any one constituency and, most importantly, no power base gets rolled.
It's the sort of thing I would have expected from his predecessor, Pope Nazinger, the bemoaner at Auschwitz of how the poor Germans suffered (see here).
To be fair, Guiseppe Roncalli, aka John XXIII, could be called a good man. During the Holocaust, while he was a Vatican diplomat in Turkey, he personally forged hundreds of baptismal certificates to put under the protection of the pope a boatload of children being shipped to certain death by the Nazis. Years later, at the outset of the Second Vatican Council, he gathered the periti, or experts, in his office (one of them was Nazinger) giving them the warning: "the Church is not a museum."
Roncalli was an astute man of faith. He wanted to a faith that was alive. His view meshed with that of historian of religion Yaroslav Pelikan: "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Still, was he a saint?
No such doubt arises with the Polish pope, Karol Wojtyla, who was from the outset the false John Paul. The original one, John Paul I, died in still suspicious circumstances at the onset of a money laundering scandal affecting the Vatican Bank. He had adopted the papal name John Paul as a way of signalling that he would steer a middle course between the openness of John XXIII and the retrenchment of successor Paul VI. Instead, JP1 died, and Wojtyla was elected, after which he effectively closed every window Vatican II had opened.
Back came the enormous rugs under which to sweep the corruption of the clergy. Wojtyla was especially protective of one Marcial Maciel, founder of a religious order called the Legionnaires of Christ (tip: mistrust religious groups with military or monarchical names). Maciel was found to have operated what was essentially a seminarian man-on-boy rape mill.
As John Paul II's press secretary, an Opus Dei operative in the Vatican, put it, Wojtyla could not imagine such a thing because of "the purity of his thought." Right! A man who lived through World War II, precisely where some of the worst crimes of the Holocaust took place, could not imagine pedophile or sex-abusing priests.
I know for a fact altar boys knew about "funny priests" for at least the past half century. Also that particular U.S. bishops knew such a thing was going. One of them thought he was making a joke when he remarked behind closed doors and in my presence, "We have to make sure seminary rectors don't screw the Hispanic seminarians." That double meaning was intended was shown by his own laughter and that of his peers.
You're going to tell me the pope at that time did not know? I have nice bridge for you in Brooklyn at a bargain price.
The Vatican may not care about raped altar boys and the Roman Curia may not give a damn about Pope Francis' the blessed poor, but they sure care about tourism to Rome. So I learned when I received the one direct contact from the Vatican while I worked for the U.S. conference of bishops quite some time ago.
They sent an officious little man to see if I could help organize a "pilgrimage." Johann Tetzel, the infamous seller of indulgences who enraged Martin Luther, put the religious marketing in slightly different but no less mercenary terms: "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."
They're still selling indulgences of a sort in Rome. This week it has been the massive orgy of tourism and saint swag selling brought on by the canonization, or sainting, of Roncalli and Wojtyla.
This is not good Christian leadership. It's a bad imitation of Elmer Gantry: put on a show for the fools who will always go for one (and sell them travel and baubles). All "for God." Because God needs your pilgrimages and your shopping for saint cards.
Referencing the Vatican's own purported beliefs, sainthood merely means that a dead person is living in the presence of God. Add to that the theology in the Nicene Creed and you get "the communion of saints," in which those in heaven are believed (at least by Catholics) to be able to hear from and intercede for the living here on Earth.
This is what the whole Catholic saint shtick is all about. Johnny is incurably sick, they pray to St. Holyguy. So St. H goes to God, "Hey, Creator of All, Johnny's sick, how about you slip him one of those superduper aspirins of yours and make him better?" Presto! A miracle through the influence of St. H!
The notion of revering certain Christians goes back to when they were killed for their beliefs during the Roman Empire. To be a martyr meant to be a witness to the faith to heroic proportions. Vatican press releases to the contrary, neither Roncalli nor Wojtyla quite qualify. OK, but not all saints on the church calendar were martyrs.
Indeed, my favorite children's hymn in the Episcopal Hymn Book begins "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God":
I sing a song of the saints of God,Then it goes on to say that "one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green" and later "one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast." But my favorite part comes in the third verse:
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
You can meet them in school,And here's where Saints Roncalli and Woytyla make absolutely no sense as models. Who in this day and age can realistically draw for personal moral example from the deeds and circumstances of the chief gerontocrat of a worldwide religion of about 1 billion lemmings?
on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.
I mean, I'm not planning to issue an encyclical letter any time soon. Or ride around a 500-year-old piazza in a converted golf cart. O wear white dresses and a white yarmulke. What does a pope have to do with the problems and moral dilemmas facing thee and me?
Here's where Francis the rock-star pope has tripped up in his marketing of a faith we all now know he completely lacks. Pity. He had me fooled.