Saturday, April 30, 2011


Blessed John Paul II chastises a Central American priest who leaned too much to the left and toward communistic liberation theology

Pope Benedict preparing to beatify his predecessor on Divine Mercy Sunday 2011

Is this an act of the scandal that is Divine Mercy being applied too liberally? Do we prefer a God of justice and retribution over the God of Divine Mercy and forgiveness? Is this the scandal of the cross?

Blessed John Paul II showing Divine Mercy to a less sinful man than the priest above?

Tomorrow, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope John Paul II will be beatified. He will now be called Blessed John Paul II until he is canonized a saint.

He was a man of immense holiness. People recognized his authenticity in this regard. They saw him as a disciplined man with his heart on fire for Jesus Christ and all people no matter what religion or no religion.

But there are some "doom and gloomers" out there who think he didn't do enough to address the crisis of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

It is amazing how short-sighted and bereft of memory so many are. In 1978 when Pope John Paul II was elected, the Catholic Church was in an unprecedented crisis of identity on two levels.

The first level was the crisis of identity of the priesthood itself that contributed to or exacerbated the crisis of Catholic identity of the laity which is the second level of this terrible crisis.

In just thirteen year after the closing of the Second Vatican Council, everything in the Church was up for grabs. A great Catholic culture of many little "t" traditions had been undermined and had all but collapsed. All of these little "t" traditions were very public and ingrained in the psyche of most Catholics.

What are these little "t" traditions? Latin as the official language of the Church and her formal liturgy. Hushed silence in Churches. Tabernacles front and center. Ornate churches. Rectories full of priests. Convents even fuller! Priests who were detached from the lifestyle of the laity. Nuns, monks, sisters, brothers in habits. Catholic schools staffed by religious. Catholic hospitals staffed by religious. Catholic social services staffed by religious. The clergy and religious very clear about their mission, apostolate and identity. Laity very clear about their identity and living their faith at home and in the work place. Marian piety, the Holy Rosary, novenas, Benediction, and religious processions.

These and much more contributed to a powerful Catholic identity.

But within that short 13 year period from the time the Second Vatican Council closed in 1965 and Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978, all of these "little t" traditions were challenged as "pre-Vatican II" and tossed into the trash bin of history. Theologians with a dubious agenda under the banner of the "spirit" of Vatican II exerted more sway and leadership than did the bishops themselves.In fact the bishops followed theologians' creativity and teachings. Priests and religious attending national workshops sponsored by liberal, left-leaning theologians brought home every innovative idea presented and implemented it on the parish level as soon as possible.

These "deconstructionist" practices included ripping out altar railings, forcing people to stand for Holy Communion and to receive in the hand, the multiplication of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, the stripping of ornate churches and altars and placing shabby, cheap accouterments in place of these, guitar Masses and super-creativity in the place of practiced tradition for the liturgy and prayer. Devotions to to the Blessed Virgin Mary was out as well as sacramentals used by Catholics. Friday abstinence was tossed aside and days of fast eliminated, such as ember days.

And then on top of all of that, priests, religious sisters and brothers thought that celibacy would be out. They were influenced and seduced by the sexual revolution of the 1960's and embraced it privately and publicly sometimes. Thousands of priests and nuns married each other which meant they dated each other while they were still in vows.

Every short of sexual innovation came into vogue especially those practices that were considered taboo. Living together without the benefit of marriage started to take root.

Those who had disciplined their abnormal sexual desires believed that the sexual revolution gave them a license to experiment too. This led to priests engaging in sexual relationships with teenagers and boundary violations with others. Bishops overwhelmed or influenced by the spirit of the times looked the other way, abdicated their responsibilities or sadly participated in the free for all. Even pathologically motivated clergy got away with murder sometimes molesting scores of children with out impunity. Sociopaths and the pathologically compulsive in their sexual appetites, while a tiny fraction of the clergy, contributed to thousands of molestations of prepubescent children. However the greatest problem existed with homosexually inclined priests who satisfied their appetites in an unbridled way with adult looking teenagers. While both forms of abuse are abhorrent,especially combined with the Godly authority that the clergy wielded, these are not equal in terms of the pathology.

In other words, Pope John Paul II inherited a mess. But with the help of his closest adviser, Cardinal Ratzinger, he made tremendous inroads in reestablishing a Catholic identity for the laity and for the priesthood and religious life. However, he did not take a punitive approach to aberrant behavior. It wasn't until judgment day began in earnest in the new millennium that more punitive action was to be developed and undertaken. Some believe now that the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction. Time will tell.

It only takes a few moments to let the toothpaste out of the tube. It takes much longer to put it back in. Pope John Paul began the process of putting the toothpaste back in the tube. This most important work continues today with Pope Benedict and will no doubt continue with his successor. The true teachings of the Second Vatican Council are now being espoused. There is also a recognition that not everything the Second Vatican Council taught was infallible or not subject to change. There is serious discernment concerning some errors taught by the Second Vatican Council. Apart from already defined truths that the Second Vatican Council points to, it was not a dogmatic council but rather a pastoral one. In this regard (pastoral) there can be little set in concrete never to be challenged or changed as time develops.

Pope John Paul was of heroic holiness and a hero of a reformer in a difficult time of transition for the Church. He will be a saint! He sought to reestablish the great discipline of the Church on celibacy, chastity, Marian devotion, clear doctrine in the areas of faith and morals and he disciplined errant theologians. That was a great beginning but much more must continue.


Henry said...

Fr. McDonald, there can be no doubt of Pope John Paul's saintly holiness, but I have never been able to understand how, throughout his long pontificate, so many seminaries were allowed to remain the corrupt and immoral cesspits that so many former seminarians (including ones I personally know and trust) have described. Can you offer an explanation?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The pope is a pastor not a dictator or autocrat. The principles of subsidiarity were and are at play that the local church, meaning the local bishop should take care of things on the lowest level. There was perhaps a naive belief in subsidiarity taking care of all things locally. However, keep in mind that Pope John Paul II initiated a review of seminaries in the early 1980's and there was a great tightening up of them following that. He did a similar thing with religious life in the 1980's in fact my former bishop, Bishop Raymond Lessard was a part of that "investigation" if you will. It bore less fruit than the seminary investigation. The Holy Father wrote extensively on the identity of priests and on seminary training. He asked religious in 1978 to get back into some kind of identifiable habit which fell on deaf ears. He laid the ground work for what we are experiencing today in terms of authentic renewal although much more has to happen. Oh, and doing all of this, he also found time to visit the world and bring down Communism.

Kent said...

Thank you. Good article. I, with others, have misgivings about the quickness of the beatification of John Paul II. Its not so much a question of his holiness. That is for others to decide. It just seems that things happened too fast; that there was rush. And that doesn't reflect well on the Church in the public eye.

I like your analogy of putting toothpaste back in the tube. It takes a long time and it's also messy. I read somewhere (Chant Cafe, I think) that it will take 100 years to get things back to the way they should be in the Church. A pity. In the meantime, we have to suffer through banal liturgies and the loss of all the little "t's" that you mentioned. Lord give us strength.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I do think the speed of John Paul's beatification certainly can be questioned. Mother Teresa's beatification too as well as Blessed John XXIII. There's no reason to do things so quickly other than even Rome must be getting a "fast food" "instant gratification" complex. But at his funeral, the people seem to speak and this sort of popular acclamation for sainthood has roots in the early Church.

Bill Meyer said...

I think that the concerns so often expressed about Pope John Paul II being beatified come as much as anything from two chief causes: first, that we in the laity may have a very incorrect view of how much power a pope wilds, and second, that we are impatient for the damages done to the Church to be corrected.

We mere mortals, of course, operate on real time, while God is timeless.

I have had my own problems with JPII and some of the many things he was not able to achieve during his years in the chair of Peter. But as I have learned more of the real nature of these problems, and as I have watched Pope Benedict moving slowly but indefatigably in the direction he knows is right, I have developed a somewhat greater patience.

The changes made to the liturgy were rapidly done, but will take many years to rectify. Just as we can fall into sin very quickly, and the struggle to turn away from sin is often slow, so must we recognize that there are limits to the speed of repairs.

Henry said...

"Oh, and doing all of this, he also found time to visit the world and bring down Communism."

Would you think, Father, that his understandable preoccupation with Communism might have contributed to his inattention to Church administration and (particularly) the appointment of bishops.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I remember in the 1980's a bishop saying to me that Pope John Paul II was not a good administrator or delegated too much of it away to others and that he was making bad appointments and decisions on the administrative level. So yes, there could have been a preoccupation with the larger world issues, traveling and meeting people. He was an extreme extrovert who gained energy by meeting so many people rather than being exhausted by it. I think administration probably exhausted him.

Anonymous said...

What a great article! I really appreciate your insights. Like others I am and was often frustrated with the lack of Church discipline. It seems that there were too many bishops appointed during PJP2's pontificate that were, shall we say, lacking. Although in the latter part of his papacy I think that this began to improve.

One other note: I wish you had not selected the picture of the Pope with Father Maciel. Or am I missing a point and this was done intentionally? What destruction this man (Maciel) caused!!!

Anonymous said...

It is possible that this mess was larger than we know. The common thread, it seems, with his opposition to Communism, the sex scandal, and the attack on traditions is his belief on the ability of people to do good. Wedded to that was his struggle to keep the Church from tearing itself apart. For if he had simply clamped down on the sponsors of these scandals then he would have had one or more schisms. I expect he and Benedict view these issues as much smaller than working to bring the other Christian churches back into communion. So a firm and nuanced hand was called for. I expect he did far better than most, if not anyone else, could have done with that situation.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I intentionally chose the photo with Maciel as this epitomizes why some feel Pope John Paul II should not be beatified. Two things may be operative, the pope was overly confident about the goodness of others and duped by Maciel or he was too lenient with Divine Mercy to the detriment of those who were harmed by Maciel's actions. Sometimes we are too sympathetic to the sinner forgetting those who are harmed by the sin. But Jesus' died for all, no?

Anonymous said...

It may be that mercy has different manifestations. JPII may have hoped or desired for his version of mercy to have the effect he desired. BXVI has seems to drop the other red shoe allowing that somethings have to change. I do think JPII showed tremendous strength of spirit in his life. I think he was and is saintly. I expect that whatever BXVI accomplishes he will have done so largely on JPII's foundations.


Gene said...

The unqualified belief in people's ability to do good, certainly to do good consistently and intentionally,needs revisiting and tempering by a close re-reading of St.Paul and St.Augustine. Dare I even mention a look at John Calvin...(duck and run)...

Anonymous said...

This morning during mass, as often happens, I had a thought. It may be that JPII was actually a prophet who simply and openly stated our sins and made some specific warnings. His lack of action was a last ditch effort to let us fix our personal mess. Now we have BXVI, who is making slightly more firm corrections. Who knows what is after that? It could be that JPII was not as trusting as hoping for mercy from God. Like Abraham he could have dropped the hammer, but instead interdicted, if only for a moment, so at least some could get their act together before we have to deal with the results of our foolishness.