The Legacy of St. John Paul II: Is It Time to Be Afraid?
With that our second child was entrusted to the benevolent intercession of the only Pope my wife and I knew for the majority of our, then young, lives. Exactly one month later this same Pope was canonized to the heavenly hall of fame. An estimated four million pilgrims arrived in Rome for the canonization ceremony. I will be so bold as to proclaim that these pilgrims did not come simply to honor John XXIII's canonization (the second miracle perhaps being that he was in fact canonized). Pope Saint John Paul II was enshrined as a saint in heaven, and the rest is history.
Or so I thought. History takes time in revealing itself.
But it is best to start at the beginning. Pope John Paul II was a celebrity Pope much admired by Catholics such as myself. His personal holiness was inspiring. Knowing that the Pope said three rosaries daily, confessed most frequently, had a tender devotion to Our Lady, and even miraculously survived an assassination attempt, was a source of comfort and inspiritment. It did not hurt that even the impeccable Padre Pio once revealed that this Karol Wojtyla was destined for greatness in the Church. The Pope was not just a rock but a rock star.
This greatness was unabashedly promoted by Catholics throughout his pontificate. I recall hearing a homily by a priest who eagerly told us young Mass goers: "Do not be afraid!" To add zeal, the priest spoke these words in a pretend Polish accent. We listened fervently to the saying of our living saint. It never occurred to me that the priest was attempting to reach the people not through Christ's words to His apostles, but rather by John Paul II's introductory words of papal election. As if Our Lord was unable to reach our hearts the way that the Pope could. Admittedly there was a grain of truth to this. Nevertheless, the Pope's words, even as taken from Christ Himself, were of inestimable value and truly changed young people's lives.
A further consideration of Pope Saint John Paul II's esteemed greatness was found in his admirable writings. The depth and wisdom of Fides et Ratio, Veritatis Splendor, The Theology of the Body and many others works were sorely needed in the Spirit of Vatican II Catholicism which pervaded throughout his pontificate. I remember the intellectual wonderment I experienced as I first studied his writings while I attended Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Northern Ontario. I would open up Fides et Ratio and immediately encounter: "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth." With but a half sentence Pope John Paul II could forcefully counter the tenets of Luther or modern philosophy. Indeed, his writings were, and still are, fresh air to the Church. It seems like forever since we read the works of a Pope and immersed our minds in deep intellectual and spiritual truth, versus reading an encyclical in search of potential heresies.
It is during my undergraduate studies at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, located on a road called Karol Wojtyla Square, that Pope John Paul II passed from this world. I was instructed to ring the church bells to inform the local community. It was the second time I rang the bells for his death. The first time, if you remember, was when false reports came out of an earlier death. As a wise man once said: "I'm not dead yet!" But when I rang the bells for the final time it was a haunting feeling. A snowstorm was growing. The power was knocked out. The air felt electric. I congregated around a fireplace with some other male students late that night and we apocalyptically discussed the end of an era, and what would become of the Church. Our naive youthfulness believed that the Church would only ever have saintly pontiffs to guide us through these apprehensive times. Perhaps this wide-eyed belief was upheld weeks later, but not years later.
At the time of Pope John Paul II's death a student remarked that we now had a great intercessor in heaven. A wise and respected professor was nearby and he immediately took up issue with this claim of a guaranteed beatific vision for the Pope. The professor explained carefully that no man on earth has more responsibility than the Holy Father, and that even partial errors of judgment could have immense and far-reaching adverse effects on the Church and world. While initially being bothered by these comments, they nevertheless clung to me. Deep down I knew the professor was right. There were always lingering doubts about the changes in canon law, ever-present liturgical abuses, abhorrent bishop and cardinal appointments, and the sexual abuse scandal of 2002. Always these concerns were sidestepped. The Pope had been old and sick. He was not perfect.
Life flew by. I immensely enjoyed the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Pope Francis arrived. So did a shiny little pill, red in color. This brings us now to the present. It is in the midst of Francis' pontificate that the historical view of Pope John Paul II is now truly being revealed. Those many "lingering doubts" seem to be, in this year 2019, about to be brought to light. The corruption and filth within the Church is already being revealed at a torrential rate. How long until we discover why the Pope allowed Marcial Maciel immunity as head of the Legion of Christ until 2005? How long until we ascertain the true story of ex-Cardinal McCarrick, with the full revelation of his money trail and cover ups? How long until we grasp the changes in the 1983 canon law which relinquished treating consensual adult relationships of clergy as canonical crimes? It is only out of respect for Pope John Paul II that I limit these questions to three.
Inevitably we must ask: What should we do? I believe we must let it all play out. We just do not know enough. I have heard people argue that the old and sickly Pope John Paul II was simply used, like how Grima Wormtongue used King Théoden in The Lord of the Rings. Yet the profundity of Pope John Paul II's writings in and of themselves contradict the idea of his being lacking in mental capacity. I have also witnessed people argue that Pope John Paul II was used, willingly or unwillingly, by the infamous St. Gallen's Mafia, with claims going so far as declaring the Pope in partnership with communists. The spiritual works of the Pope also carry themselves contrary to these radical claims. Not to mention the fall of communism throughout his pontificate. No, I believe we simply let it all play out. Believe what you will for the moment, and I personally want to believe the best, or at least the best intentions, for the Polish Pope. Yet the truth must come out, whatever the truth may be.
For all that I have written, it is perhaps fitting to end by examining a story shared by James Grein. Now many now have seen Dr. Taylor Marshall's interviews with James Grein, Grein being the man who very courageously came forward with allegations of having suffered sexual abuse at the hands of "Uncle Teddy" McCarrick, starting when Grein was only eleven years old. In Dr. Marshall's January 3rd video Grein speaks of a private meeting he had with Pope John Paul II in 1987 concerning McCarrick:
"I told him [Pope John Paul II] everything I know. He had a moment of quiet. Said he'd do something about it. Gave me a crucifix. And a letter for my father. Blessed me. We sat there. Quiet meditation. Ten minutes. Quietly praying for what we just went through."Grein then goes on:
"The Pope was pretty sick that day. His mind's not all there. He told me that. He was having a hard time. And it was very difficult for him to do a lot of things by himself a lot. So we... I have compassion for him for that. And he said to me basically in his broken English, he says: 'Son you are a very strong man and some day this will all come to light for you, and you will be blessed. You have courage to come here, imagine what you're going to have when Jesus really enters your life.' And I've been living that. Waiting patiently for my day to come."As a caveat, James Grein admits to suffering PTSD stemming from the abuse he received, and at times his thoughts are not in perfect order. Yet I do believe the veracity of Grein's story, for it fits both narratives described above. One of a Pope who actually did little or nothing to stop abusers, nor punish them. Another of a holy man well acquainted with suffering and prayer who, for whatever reason we cannot say, was having a "hard time" getting things done. James Grein's little account reveals much, yet also speaks volumes for how little we do know.
In the end, I say stay watchful and continue to pray fervently this 2019. Additionally, remember that our own lives also will one day be revealed in the final judgment. As I glance over at my four year old, sweet but fiery John Paul, I understand now more than ever that these are gut-wrenching times to be a Catholic. All I can do is recall words long-echoed in my mind from my youth, words spoken first by Our Lord Himself: "Do not be afraid."