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John Paul II: “Santo Subito” or “Aspetta Un Attimo?”

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

On January 14, 2011 The New York Times reported that the late Pope John Paul II will be beatified (able to be venerated, the last step before sainthood) this Spring by the Catholic Church.

Four days later the Times also reported disturbing news that should give the Church pause: On the late pontiff’s watch, the Vatican warned Irish bishops “…that the Vatican had reservations about mandatory reporting for both “moral and canonical” reasons” adding the threat that “bishops who failed to follow canon law procedures precisely might find that their decisions to defrock abusive clerics would be overturned on appeal by Vatican courts.”

When the late Pope John Paul II was being laid to rest some in the crowd in Saint Peter’s Square chanted “santo subito! – Italian for “sainthood now! But in light of recent news some of them might now be thinking “aspetta un attimo!” or, “wait a minute!”

As the Associated Press recently reported:

DUBLIN (AP) – A 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police – a disclosure that victims’ groups described as “the smoking gun” needed to show that the church enforced a worldwide culture of covering up crimes by pedophile priests.

The newly revealed letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican’s rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland’s first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits.

The letter undermines persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that Rome never instructed local bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church’s right to handle all child-abuse allegations and determine punishments in house rather than give that power to civil authorities.

Almost immediately, conservative spin machines such as Fox News and NewsBusters sprung into action, claiming that the letter was no smoking gun (NewsBusters is a project of the Media Research Center which was founded by Catholic Right activist L. Brent Bozell III). Other sources attributed the Times’s reading of the letter to “vagueness.”

But on January 20, 2011 the organization BishopAccountability.org released a 1984 letter to the Diocese of Tucson Arizona regarding an abusive priest that may well serve to clear up any vagueness:

“…under no condition whatever ought the afore-mentioned files be surrendered to any lawyer or judge whatsoever. The files of a Bishop concerning his priests are altogether private; their forced acquisition by civil authority would be an intolerable attack upon the free exercise of religion in the United States.”

“…make known immediately and with clarity that no priest’s files will be sent to any lawyer or judge whatever.”

More importantly, was John Paul II the source of these instructions? If so, there is no saintly quality to such directives.

It is true that John Paul was a charismatic leader. But he was also dogmatic and divisive. He also elevated Opus Dei and other secretive reactionary groups were elevated within the hierarchy. One of these, the Legionnaires of Christ, whose founder Marcial Maciel was a favorite of the late pontiff, was forced into retirement because of decades-long incidents of sexual abuse. This too was part and parcel of his papacy.

As I have argued in the past, the real issue is accountability, which, in turn, speaks to the issue of the separation of church and state. There are no exemptions from the criminal laws of the United States for religious leaders and institutions.

More than his immediate predecessors, John Paul II attempted to directly effect orthodox notions of morality upon secular societies, especially within the United States. Economic issues took a back seat to biological issues. Those politicians who supported more reckless forms of capitalism were often unchallenged by Church leaders as long as they tended to oppose abortion rights, marriage equality and embryonic stem cell research. And to that end, the late pontiff stacked the hierarchy with dogmatists — even those with backgrounds of rampant sexual abuse or the cover-up of abuses.

And that is why I say to those Catholics who still say of John Paul II. “santo subito”: Would a saint have ignored or covered-up priestly pedophilia?

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