Should John Paul II be made a saint? The case for and against

John Paul II is set to be canonised on Sunday. Is it too soon to make the divisive pope a saint?

Pope John Paul II
(Image credit: GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

FLORIBETH MORA was languishing in hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm when her gaze settled on a picture of the late Pope John Paul II in a newspaper by her bed. The image came to life, she says, and urged her to "stand up", telling her: "Don't be afraid". Mora did as the picture said, according to the Daily Mail, and miraculously her aneurysm disappeared.

This is the story that fast-tracked John Paul II towards canonisation. On Sunday, the late pope will be made a saint in a ceremony at the Vatican, just nine years after he died. Many candidates wait for hundreds of years, and nobody has been canonised more quickly.

Below we examine the cases for and against the canonisation of the controversial figure of Pope John Paul II.

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The case for canonising Pope John Paul IISainthood is "the most democratic process in the catholic church", says the Boston Globe. It begins at a grass-roots level and requires significant "public devotion". The popularity of John Paul II has never been in doubt, and was evident from the moment he passed away, when crowds chanted "Santo subito!", or "sainthood now," at his funeral Mass. John Paul II's broad popularity led his successor, Benedict XVI to waive the usual five-year waiting period so his sainthood could be fast-tracked.

In a move some regard as an effort to maintain political harmony within the church, John Paul II will be canonised alongside another popular former pope, John XXIII. Many see the twin-canonisation as a peacemaking gesture by Pope Francis to try to bring together the liberal side of the church, which identifies with John XXIII, with the conservative one, which favours John Paul II.

Although John Paul II is regarded as a conservative force within the Catholic Church, many people celebrate his broad moral leadership, including his role in the downfall of communism and his simultaneous criticism of the excesses of capitalism.

Many people also praised his sense of duty. John Paul II suffered a long, slow and very public decline in health. In 2001, after years of speculation, it was finally confirmed that the pope was suffering from Parkinson's disease. Rather than stepping down, John Paul II chose to remain as the head of the church until his death in 2005.

The most frequent criticism levelled against John Paul II was that he ignored allegations about sexual abuse within the church, particularly in the case of Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of a powerful Catholic movement. But at a Vatican press conference this week, papal spokesman Federico Lombardi told the Irish Times that sainthood did not mean perfection.

"Of course in a 27-year long pontificate, there are going to be controversial issues," Lombardi said. "The point is that the church sees the saint as a great model, someone who bore witness to the Christian life in an outstanding way... but that does not mean that he was perfect in every single thing he did."

The case against canonising Pope John Paul IICritics say that it is impossible for supporters of John Paul II to sweep the sexual abuse scandal under the carpet. The Independent says that fact that he and his top advisers failed to grasp the severity of the problem until the end of his 26-year papacy "remains a stain on his legacy".

Juan Vaca, who claims he was one of Marcial Maciel's victims, says he cannot understand the canonisation of a pope who oversaw so much abuse.

"I feel once more outraged, furious with feelings of deception and rebellion at the circus process to make 'saint' a pope who did nothing to preserve the Catholic Church and society from the horrendous crisis inflicted upon them by the Catholic clergy sexual abuse," Vaca said.

Sainthood is too high an accolade to be given to someone so mired in controversy, says Maureen Dowd in the New York Times: "The church is giving its biggest prize to the person who could have fixed the spreading stain and did nothing," Dowd writes.

Kenneth Briggs, a noted writer on religion agrees. Unlike John XXIII, John Paul II has a "cloud hanging over his papacy", Briggs says.

John Thavis, a Vatican specialist and author of The Vatican Diaries tells the Daily Beast that the Catholic Church now faces a huge public relations challenge. On the one hand, the Vatican wants to highlight John Paul II's achievements and acknowledge his broad popularity, but on the other, it wishes to emphasise that his canonisation should not be seen as an endorsement of every decision he made. "In other words," Thavis says, "canonisation is supposed to be about personal holiness, not papal performance. But that is precisely how many people view it".

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