Quin Hillyer has made an airtight case that Pope John Paul II was objectively a great man. As with any great man, there are aspects of his career that are difficult to understand in the light of his accomplishments.
Of course, the most important was his handling or mishandling of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Jason Berry, one of the journalists most responsible for shining a light on the abuses in the American Church, presents, in a book excerpt published in the Nation, a persuasive argument that the late Pope’s handling of the sex abuse scandal should at least slow down Catholics in a rush to declare JPII a saint. (He will be beatified on Sunday: beatification is the last step before canonization, which establishes sainthood.)
Not all of Berry’s criticisms are fair, but he identifies a real and serious shortcoming of JPII’s papacy. It’s one that is hard to square with Quin’s observations about JPII’s role in defeating Communism and also with more personal stories about him, such as this one from his longtime photographer:
VATICAN CITY (AP) – It was May 4, 1984 and Pope John Paul II was visiting Sorok Island off South Korea, a one-time leper colony where several hundred people with the disfiguring disease were receiving care.
Arturo Mari was there, as he was on all the pontiff’s trips, a silent witness to almost every papal audience, Mass, vacation and dinner party, public or private.
As the pope’s personal photographer, Mari had nearly unrestricted access to John Paul’s 27-year papacy, and his verdict as the pontiff’s beatification approaches is unwavering: He was a living saint.
The protocol that day in 1984 called for John Paul to enter the Sarok pavilion where the patients were gathered, give a brief speech on the meaning of suffering, then leave. But after surveying the scene, John Paul brushed aside a cardinal who tried to speed him along, and set to work.
“He touched them with his hands, caressed them, kissed each one,” Mari said. “Eight hundred lepers, one by one. One by one!”
“For me he was a man of God,” the 71-year-old Mari said in an interview this week inside his apartment just steps from the Vatican.
“I can guarantee you he was a living saint, because everything I could see with my eyes, hear with my ears, you cannot believe that this man could do so much.”
How could someone like this have as big a blind spot as JPII did to the sex scandal?