“Do we really need to canonize popes? »

“Santo suddenly! » We remember the vox populi which had led Benedict XVI, in record time, to beatify John Paul II, his predecessor and friend. Nobody disputed, then, that the very popular Polish pope was a saint. The question arose fifteen years later, when the affair of the sexual abuse of minors in the Church broke out and people legitimately wondered about the attitude of John Paul II on the subject – in particular on his alleged complacency towards the sulphurous Father Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

Can we calmly examine the backstage of a pontificate when its holder has been declared a “saint”? Is it insulting the memory of Saint John Paul II to question more broadly the opportunity for a pope to canonize another pope? The question arises again about the beatification, by Pope Francis, of the sympathetic and ephemeral John Paul I. There again, there is no question of throwing any reproach on the short pontificate of Albino Luciani, but one is entitled to ask oneself, in all objectivity, what motivates this exceptional distinction.

To be elected to the throne of Saint Peter, to lead the Catholic Church, isn’t that already a tremendous honor bestowed on a man thus brought by his peers, during a solemn conclave, to supreme dignity? Is there not redundancy in wanting to elevate “on the altars” a pope, head of the universal Church and successor of Saint Peter, when his memory will remain, whatever happens, in the memory of men? ?

A great honor

If the Church gives herself saints, it is not to congratulate herself, but to give models of life to her hundreds of millions of faithful – and to the rest of humanity. John Paul II, precisely, had given many native saints to the Catholic communities of the Third World, which had long been asked to venerate Saints Martin, Saint Patrick and other Saint Geneviève who did not mean much to the children of Mexico, from Uganda or Bangladesh. The approach is even perfectly adapted to our time: what could be more modern, in a world where Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna or Lionel Messi are extolled, than to offer young people, spectacularly, the example of Mother Teresa or the monks of Tibhirine?

Another subject of perplexity: if we canonize this or that pope, how can we understand that we are not canonizing this or that other? Why, when Blessed Pope Pius IX (1846-1878), the author of the very damaging Syllabus, are we leaving in the shadows his successor Leo XIII (1878-1903), who made the Church take a prodigious and necessary leap into modernity? Why, when we have consecrated the heroic virtues of Pius X (1903-1914), the most reactionary pope of the 20th century, should we not do the same for Pius XI (1922-1939), who saved the honor of the Church by its encyclicals against Nazism, fascism and communism?

Political balance

Is it desirable to come up with this or that “political” balance by beatifying in the same movement an almost undisputed pope like John XXIII (1958-1963), who had the intuition of the Second Vatican Council, in same time as the above-named Pius IX, whose furious anti-modernist obsessions have been recalled? We know that the Church sanctifies a man, and not a pope, nor a fortiori his pontificate, but is there not a real temptation to bless, a posteriori, this or that pastoral or diplomatic orientation? What unanimously appreciated pontiff will be cautiously associated with the possible beatification of Pius XII, which will inevitably cause scandal if it ends up succeeding?

At a time when the Catholic Church, faced with an increasingly tempestuous world, wonders about the “clericalism” which has caused it so much harm, is it really reasonable to want to perpetuate the cult of a ” “holy father” exemplary, above the common, even irreproachable, at the risk of consolidating an ecclesiastical hierarchy excessively sacralized by centuries of tradition which is now obsolete?


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