On a recent trip to Rome, to take a photograph for the
BCN, the present writer queued as usual for an hour to get in to St Peters.
However, having been cleared by security, it was a
surprise to be presented with a choice, either to proceed to the great basilica
of St Peter or join another lengthy queue into the Vatican grottoes.
Nearly everybody chose the grottoes in order to file
past the tomb of the last Pope, John Paul II. As the photograph shows, few by
comparison simply visited the basilica. No doubt the scenes in St Peter’s
Square after the last Pope died, when the crowd chanted “Santo Subito Santo
Subito” (make him a saint at once), were fresh in the memory of those choosing
to subject themselves to the further long wait.
Pius XII, Hitler’s Pope, notorious for
his silence during the Jewish holocaust, was similarly lauded after his death. But
little by little contrary voices were heard and they grew into the deafening
uproar that we hear today. Similarly, murmurings without, and even within, the
Vatican, might yet make John Paul II’s progress to sainthood less than a done
The traditional protestant view is that of John Wycliffe:
“In the court of Rome is the head of antichrist, and in prelates is the
body of antichrist but in those clouted sects as monks, canons and friars is
the venomous tail of antichrist,” and that settled the matter for those outside
the fold of Rome. But today the opinion of the masses can be swayed by all
sorts of considerations, as the Da Vinci Code affair illustrates.
Roman Catholic anger
In a recent article in The Guardian entitled,
“Whatever happened to the canonising of John Paul II?”, reporter lain
Hollinghead pointed out that while many are “serenely confident” that his
canonisation will take place soon ‑ and “dozens” of the necessary papal
“miracles” are already on file – “not everyone in the Catholic church is
So perhaps those queuing to file past his tomb could
be in for a surprise. There are many issues connected with the late Pope that
Roman Catholics are angry about. For instance the Italian daily La Republica
reported in April that there were rumblings of a change of heart by the
Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health and Pastoral Care over the use of
condoms by married couples in the third world where Aids is prevalent. Benedict
XVI has called for a detailed report. The Times of India commented.
“It’s likely that the pope is now willing to shift,
if only for couples,
the Church’s opposition to condoms . .... Retired (Jesuit) Cardinal Carlo
Maria Martini, suggested (with casuistry Loyola himself would be proud of) that
married couples where one partner has HIV might use condoms against infection.
Although this contradicts the idea that contraception is against God’s will
and natural law, this was, the archbishop suggested, ‘a lesser evil’ than
passing on the virus.”
John Paul II, for whom his own Encyclical Veritatis
Splendor was absolute truth, regarded condoms as part of the “culture of
death” and their use even in marriage as an immoral act. Terry Eagleton,
Professor of Cultural theory at Manchester University, stated, “The Pope has
blood on his hands,” and he added that this Pope was more of a disaster for
Christianity than Charles Darwin. Prof Eagleton regarded the pope’s views as a
“grotesque irony” whereby “he condemned millions, many helpless children, to an
agonising AIDS death . . . The Pope goes to his eternal reward with those
deaths on his hands.”
Yet on world Youth Day 2000 an estimated two million
young people gathered to camp at Tor Vergata near Rome. They seem to have been
less intimidated by priestly threats of purgatory and hell than their third
world brethren, for it is rumoured that cleaners were afterwards faced with
clearing up “drifts” of used condoms.
Era of disgraceful revelations
Many hold John Paul II personally responsible for
failure to act decisively in the worldwide paedophilia scandal. He was notably
tardy in seeing culprits brought to book. The case of Cardinal Bernard Law of
Boston, a “man who had knowingly reassigned dangerous and sadistic criminals to
positions where they would be able to exploit the defenceless”, came to
symbolise this whole disgraceful era of revelations. The Pope’s reluctance to
accept Law’s equally reluctantly tendered resignation in 2002, despite Law’s
glaring culpability over many years when he relentlessly covering up the tracks
of numerous rabid paedophiles, still sticks in the throat of many.
Far from an honest ‘hands up we’re guilty’ response,
John Paul II acted deviously. In May 2001, by “changing the rules” to cover
Vatican backs, he made “each case a pontifical secret ... Bishops could no
longer investigate child abuse in their area, as each case had to be referred
immediately to the Vatican”. This gave the Vatican carte blanche to sweep
allegations under the carpet.
Under John Paul II’s leadership, the Archdiocese of
Portland and the Dioceses of Tucson and Spokane in America all cynically
declared bankruptcy, Portland only hours before two trials began, to evade or
minimise eventual pay outs to victims.
Likewise John Paul II must bear sole responsibility
for the plush sinecure that the sacked Law was given in the Roman Curia, “supervising
priestly discipline - yes! ‑ and the appointment of diocesan bishops,”
along with the prestigious post of Arch priest of the extraterritorial Santa
Maria Maggiore, one of Rome’s seven major basilicas and Rome’s premier marian
Even in death John Paul II’s arrogance was evident.
He had named Law as one of those to conduct requiem masses for his soul.
Barbara Blaine together with another leader of a support group for those abused
by Roman Catholic priests, attempted to stage a protest in St Peters Square
during the mass. They intended to distribute leaflets but were rapidly
removed by Italian police, no doubt following a Vatican tip off. For a Pope
who saw himself as champion of the oppressed, this was bad press indeed.
Another stream of criticism centres around the self
aggrandisement he engineered by his fixation with sickness and suffering.
A Pole is on record as telling the BBC that, “John
Paul II is the greatest man in the history of the Roman Catholic religion”. A
wit replied acidly, “Surely there is one other man who trumps John Paul on that
front? Graham Greene (the RC novelist and writer) once dreamed of a newspaper
headline that said, ‘Pope canonises Jesus Christ,’ so perhaps the greatest man
in the history of Catholicism will get around to that once he passes through
the pearly gates”!
Pope Redeemer of the world
But there is a serious side to all this. The former
athlete Pope, besides his assassination injuries, soon faced colon surgery for
a benign tumour. This was followed by a fall and dislocated shoulder, and then
soon afterwards by another fall and a fractured femur, and then an appendectomy
in 1996. By this time his self assumed, and greatly inflated, martyr
consciousness was buzzing big time. Then came his Parkinson’s disease so
publicly promoted by the Vatican.
But long before this, back in 1984, on the basis of
his own unhappy childhood, he promulgated the decree Salvifici Doloris (the
saving effect of pain and suffering). His opening statement already sounds the
alarm: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the
sake of his body, that is, the Church”.
On 13th May 1992 ‑ the anniversary of the day
when Our Lady of Fatima, in his opinion, diverted an assassin’s bullet, ‑
he instituted a World Day of the Sick. He wrote endlessly on the subject of
pain and suffering. In his thinking, he gradually moved Christ sideways whilst
he himself took on the world’s salvation:
“But I saw that this was not enough
[,this, being the traditional activities of previous Popes]. I must lead her
(the Church) with suffering. Precisely because the family is threatened, the
family is attacked the Pope must be attacked, the Pope must suffer, so that
every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher
gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future”.
Hence when the old man slipped into depression, and
then, according to some, sensory delusions with paranoid content fuelled by the
imagery of the Book of Revelation, and finally a drug and illness induced semi‑coma,
the Vatican was forced to go along with this bizarre nonsense. Who dare gainsay
an act of papal salvation for the masses? The more he suffered, the more
mankind was being redeemed. Increasingly large sums of money were spent on ever
new, bright ideas from hydraulic engineers for hoisting and swivelling,
lowering and moving, retrieving and depositing the now almost senseless,
cadaveric Pope from place to place. Defibrillators, oxygen and blood were
The truth is that the Vatican and its billion
adherents were in a bind. As with the emperor’s new clothes, no‑one was
brave enough to blow the whistle on this apparently courageous struggle to
redeem “families” and “the world”. It is said that after Archbishop Rowan
Williams and his party had been ushered out from the presence of John Paul II
in October 2003, having exchanged blessings and presents, swopped statements
and mutually kissed rings, the poor old chap asked his aides, “Tell me who were
those people?” The Conservatives, particularly Opus Dei, were drawn in deeper
and ever deeper, whilst liberals cringed and writhed with embarrassment. But
the old Pope scolded doubters “Christ did not come down from the cross” till he
had procured salvation so I am definitely not budging until my “last breath”.
The bizarre result of all this, and the thing that
infuriated many in the Vatican where hatreds run long, was that the Polish
nobody, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who had been the Pope’s secretary and inseparable
companion since the Pope’s days as bishop of Cracow, suddenly became gatekeeper
to the papal presence. This was a position that Dziwisz, now all powerful
revelled in. He was totally impervious to the feelings of the Vatican high and
mighty, and he barred the way into the papal presence of whomsoever he wished.
A further irony was that the prominence given to this
theology of salvific suffering was the, platform upon which Mel Gibson’s
seriously inaccurate and “sadomasochistic” film The Passion of Christ
was launched. Yet, at the same time, this very film became the matter in which
Dziwisz took on the Vatican and won. Apparently the ailing Pope either saw or
slept through the film in private showings over several nights. To the delight
of the publicity greedy film company, according to Dziwisz, the Pope said of
the film’s portrayal of Christ’s passion “it is as it was”.
This was the ultimate dream endorsement that money
could not buy. But as soon as it appeared in the world’s media, well pushed by
the film company, Dziwisz denied it. Unfortunately, haughty Opus Dei Vatican
Press Officer Joaquin Navarro‑Valls had been flattered by all this
attention from film moguls. He had already categorically confirmed more than
once that these were indeed the Pope’s words. When finally forced into an
ignominious climb down by Dziwisz’s denials, even Opus must have privately seen
the ludicrous plight to which John Paul II had reduced the Vatican.
All this would probably not of itself prevail in the
face of a billion people driven by religious fervour and intent on creating a
St John Paul the Great. However there is one other significant aspect of John
Paul II’s pontificate which is provoking increasing comment from the
thoughtful, and which has already proved itself capable of tying the hands of
Vatican Saint Makers. This we hope to cover in the next issue.