Such modern heresies as democratic government

Garry Wills takes a jaundiced look at the current pope’s fastracking of “sainthood” for a recent one.

He starts with John Paul’s beatification of the horrible Piux IX.

Pius IX was a polarizing figure. He wrested from the Vatican Council a declaration of his own infallibility; he condemned such modern heresies as democratic government; he took a Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, from his family—on the grounds that Edgardo’s Christian nurse had baptized him as an infant, making him belong to the church, not to his infidel parents.

So he beatified someone a little bit nicer at the same time. Clever wheeze.

Now Pope Francis has come up with another ablutionary pairing. He is canonizing John Paul II in record time (Benedict XVI had already waived the normal five-years-after-death period to allow the beatifying process to begin.) Though John Paul II is not as hotly resented by liberals as Pius IX, he is still subject to deep criticism. He presided over the church during its worldwide pedophile scandal, and he gave the handling of that problem to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith—the very man who, succeeding him, would waive the time-lapse needed to begin his predecessor’s canonization. (Who can think that a saint in heaven ever protected a predatory priest?) John Paul had treated as “irreversible” his stands on matters such as homosexuality, married priests, and women priests.

And his stands on those matters were all bad.

But—not to worry—the “good Pope John” is again being pressed into service. He was beatified to take the sting out of Pius IX’s promotion. He is now being canonized to make a joint heavenly pair with John Paul II. To rush John XXIII forward, Pope Francis is even waiving the normal requirement of a second miracle for canonization. John XXIII is the feel-good pope in a time of turmoil, even though he is being used to sanction the turmoil caused by John Paul II.

It’s all such a con-game.

The Vatican no doubt feels that combining a liberal hero with a conservative hero shows how big a tent its sacred baldacchino is; the holy institution transcends earthly politics. Besides, the modern canonization process is supposed to have inoculated sainthood from politics, basing it on objective evidence, provided by documents, interrogation, medical examinations, scientific certification—all Enlightenment techniques used to sanction a pre-Enlightenment concept. But, after all this lengthy preparation, only the pope can declare that a supernatural miracle happened—and to say who worked it, the particular address in heaven to which prayers for it had been sent. The pope knows the address, and certifies its reception by the right party. That is knowing a whole lot.

In other words it’s complete nonsense, a fairy tale, with “documents, interrogation, medical examinations, scientific certification” pasted on for the sake of appearances. It’s annoying that grownups take this seriously.



  1. Brian E says

    But evidence of absence isn’t abscence of evidence, and ineffability! So there!

  2. dmcclean says

    In fairness the baldacchino is a pretty fucking enormous tent.

    Why you need a tent indoors remains an open question.

  3. says

    The pope knows the address, and certifies its reception by the right party. That is knowing a whole lot.

    So…. the Pope is a pointer to objects of the saint struct? 😀 Quick, somebody call free() on him.

    I guess the catholic church has got to do something to shore up flagging numbers and public opinion. Cranking out saints will probably work for a while.

  4. lpetrich says

    So they’ve decided that a saint only has to work one miracle? Present-day miracles are so paltry by the standards of the Bible and the Middle Ages. Where did all the big miracles go?

    David Hume noted that dearth of miracles 250 years ago in his Essay on Miracles, and his observation is even more true today.

    Did Mother Teresa sic some stray dogs on some kids who teased her about being a wrinkled old hag?

    Did she ever miraculously recharge some dead batteries?

    Did she speak in several languages without having to learn them?

    Did she poof into existence a huge pile of food for her followers?


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