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Can Pope John Paul II Still Become a Saint?

There are new charges that Pope John Paul II's Vatican tried to cover up sexual abuse in Ireland. Will they affect his shot at sainthood?

Pope John Paul II, dead for a little over five years now, is being “fast-tracked” on the path toward sainthood. The deceased pope himself loosened the restrictions on what it took to become a saint—including scrapping the “devil’s advocate” requirement—so it makes some sense that he’s being ushered through the process more quickly than most of his revered historical counterparts.

Were he to get sainthood, John Paul II would be one of just 59 former popes who have earned the title, including Saint Mark and Saint Peter. Ten other dead popes are currently considered “blesseds,” which means they’ve been beatified on their way toward sainthood. Saints are those who have performed two miracles deemed real by the Church, while blesseds have only performed one miracle thus far.

On May 1, it’s very likely John Paul II, having already been venerated as a paragon of Catholicism by Pope Benedict XVI, will be beatified. Though he performed no miracles while on Earth, according to some Catholics, he allegedly cured a French nun’s Parkinson’s immediately after passing in 2005. If Church authorities agree with the nun, and they pronounce the miracle real, the man at whose funeral people shouted “Santo subito!” (“Sainthood now!”) will be well on his way toward one of the most rarefied titles in history.

But what of new charges that, in 1997, then Pope John Paul II oversaw a Vatican that scolded Irish bishops for a policy requiring them to report to civil authorities all incidents of sexual abuse? While the evidence—a letter authenticated by the Vatican itself—appears to be damning, thus calling into question the virtues of one of the most beloved popes in memory, the ultimate problem is trying to break through the code of silence that surrounds the Catholic establishment. As it stands, despite the protestation of many victims, the Vatican refuses to acknowledge that the new evidence is at all out of the ordinary or “a smoking gun”:

Jeffrey S. Lena, a lawyer for the Vatican, said in a statement that the letter “has been deeply misunderstood.” He said that its primary purpose was to ensure that bishops used proper canonical procedures to discipline their priests so that the punishments were not overturned on technical grounds. He said the letter was also intended to question the validity of the Irish bishops’ policies, because they were issued merely as a “study document.”


If this revelation can’t knock John Paul II off of the fast-track to sainthood, it’s likely that nothing will. And if you’re surprised at the lax, forgiving nature of the Church in these matters, you shouldn’t be: Pope Urban II was beatified hundreds of years ago, and he basically ordered the crusades in order to kill Muslims.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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