As the Catholic Church prepares for the canonization of the late popes John Paul II and John XXIII in what is being called a “Popapalooza” on April 27, concern that it may be too soon to elevate John Paul II — given his role in the ongoing child sex abuse scandal — is growing.
On Monday, the Associated Press published excerpts from 212 Vatican documents exposed in the book The Will to Not Know. They mostly concern the Reverend Marcial Maciel, leader of the troubled Order of the Legion of Christ, who possessed “a certain moral lassitude” and lived a life that “wasn’t very pious and at the same time quite comfortable.”
According to the documents, the Vatican knew about Rev. Maciel’s weaknesses beginning in 1948, and was complicit in hiding his crimes from the general public. An October 20, 1976 letter from Rev. Juan Vaca described the “disgrace and moral torment” that began when Rev. Maciel abused him one night in 1949 and listed 20 other Legion of Christ seminarians that Rev. Maciel also sexually abused.
A December 24, 1978 affidavit from another priest, Felix Alarcon, backed Rev. Vaca’s story, and added that “the fact that the drug-related and homosexual activity of the founder could occur for such a long period of time without correction is only a signal of the deeper problem of the congregation itself. The congregation is a ‘cult’ of regimented and indoctrinated followers dependent slavishly on a central dependent-figure.”
As Jason Berry, author of Render Unto Rome, told The Daily Beast, what John Paul II “did to the Church internally is a sadder story, most strikingly in his failure on the abuse crisis. Sheltering Maciel was an act of blind hubris. By elevating [John Paul II] to the same status as ‘good Pope John,’ Francis will draw groans from both sides of the Catholic divide.”
“Good Pope John” refers to John XXIII, who despite only having one miracle to his name, is going to be canonized anyway via papal fiat. “Pope Francis made a calculated political decision on canonizing the two popes, trying to bring some unity to a fractured church,” Berry said.
Pope Francis is drawing criticism for allowing John Paul II’s canonization in view of the increasing evidence that he was, at the very least, complicit in hiding evidence of wide-ranging sexual abuse among clergy. But the blame, such that it is, for John Paul II’s canonization may not rest entirely at Francis’s feet.
“In a sense, Francis inherited the sainthood cause of John Paul II. For most Catholics, his canonization was a foregone conclusion and is not going to be seen as a Pope Francis initiative,” said John Thavis, Vatican specialist and author of The Vatican Diaries. “In fact, had Francis intervened to delay or stop the canonization because of criticism of John Paul’s record on sex abuse, it would have been seen by many as unforgivable meddling, and an undoing of John Paul’s legacy.”