This morning Pope Francis declared that two of his predecessors John Paul II, and Pope John XXIII, will have their jersey numbers retired and hung in the Vatican rafters this year, when they will be declared saints. For John Paul II, it’s one of the fastest turnarounds from pope to super-pope in church history – he was beatified, one of the first steps on the way to sainthood, merely six years after his death. Everything is sped-up in our instant gratification age, of course, but it’s been a rough couple of seasons for the Catholic Church, PR-wise, so this is the equivalent of a faltering sports club bringing back an aging superstar from decades’ past and wheeling them out onto the field for one last ceremonial trot around the stadium.
Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, was, after all, the Michael Jordan of popes. GOAT!, the crowds chanted throughout the world, or would have, if anyone involved in the Church knew any hip hop slang. Truly a global brand, he traveled far and wide spreading the Church’s message of peace, and doubling and tripling-down on its staunch refusal to even consider the benefits of condoms in combatting the spread of AIDS in Africa. JPII, as the hip Catholics called him, said encouraging the use of condoms was a moral failing, and that the only solution to the grave pandemic and the vast swaths of suffering and death was trying not to be such slutty sinners all the time. “The Church is convinced that without a resurgence of moral responsibility and a reaffirmation of fundamental moral values any program of prevention based on information alone will be ineffective and even counterproductive,” was one common canard in his, ahem, pontificating on the topic throughout the 90s. Perhaps that might be true when you’re using the type of information he was selling, namely that condom use didn’t even staunch the spread of AIDS anyway, so what’s the point? Information has never been the Church’s strong suit.
As bad as that was, it may not have even been the pope’s most memorable achievement. That honor goes to his mishandling, or, as it’s otherwise known, blatant stonewalling and inaction when it came to the clergy molestation scandals that rocked the Church in the last decade. This was all despite the fact that he had numerous memos sitting on his desk for years that were the equivalent of “Catholic Bin Laden determined to attack on American boys soil.” Faced with the exposure of the systemic abuse, to his credit, he eventually rooted out the source of the problem in the Church, and condemned the criminals involved. Just kidding, he blamed it on Satan and homosexuals.
But, on the other hand, where he did fail millions in Africa and tens of thousands of young children, he did cure a French nun of Parkinson’s disease, as the statistics on the back of his pope-y trading card will eventually read. He apparently did not have the power to cure himself of that same disease, but that doesn’t seem entirely relevant when we’re dealing with matters of the faith. He also reportedly cured a woman in Costa Rica from a brain injury after she prayed to him. Praying to the pope is its own form of brain injury, but still not seeing many real world results on that whole thing either. Nonetheless, these both seem like pretty solid case swhen you look at the facts. Not, you know, condoms-don’t-work solid, evidence-wise, but close enough.
Joining John Paul II up on the dais will be John XXIII, best known for calling the Second Vatican Council in 1962. For his part the magic-based bullshit requirement for his saintly bonafides have been hand-waved off, which makes a tidy bit of sense since Vatican II was largely credited with dragging the Catholic Church, kicking and screaming, into modernity. Although given the last few decades of evidence, particularly in the case of John Paul II’s business-as-usual, that notion seems kind of laughable in retrospect.
Perhaps it sounds like I’m judging John Paul II a bit harshly here. He was no doubt trying to do the best he could under difficult circumstances. He was, after all, just like the rest of us: a fallible human being. A fallible, hateful, destructive human being more concerned with the reputation of his product than the lives of actual human beings. It’s not like he was a saint or anything. Not until now.