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“Those who question the sanctity of John Paul II don’t know what they’re talking about”

Some observations from Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who from 1991 until 2005 served Pope John Paul II as the papal Vicar for Rome.

Pope John Paul II laughs while speaking with Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini on board a papal flight in 1991. (CNS photo/Arturo Mari, L'Osservatore Romano)

From 1991 until 2005, Cardinal Camillo Ruini served Pope John Paul II as the papal Vicar for Rome – the man who handled the daily affairs of the diocese of which the Pope was, of course, bishop. Ruini was a creative cardinal-vicar who energized the Diocese of Rome for the New Evangelization – a concept he grasped perhaps better than any other Italian prelate. As president of the Italian bishops’ conference, he was committed to John Paul II’s program of “broadening the Tiber:” that is, getting the Italian Church out of its customary entanglements with partisan Italian politics and into the business of Catholic moral witness and the Christian transformation of culture. Had the College of Cardinals decided to elect an Italian to the papacy in 2005, Cardinal Ruini would have made an excellent choice.

I last spoke with the cardinal in October 2019. A few months short of his 89th birthday, he was, as ever, sharp, shrewd, candid, humorous, and well-informed about the Catholic situation around the world. So I was not surprised when Cardinal Ruini took to the pages of the newspaper Il Foglio last month in defense of the pontificate and sanctity of John Paul II, demonstrating that he had lost none of his vigor in the 13 months since we had seen each other. His responses to various attacks on John Paul’s character and competence since the publication of the McCarrick Report are worth recording for an English-language audience.

Why did John Paul II’s beatification and canonization cause begin immediately? Because, Cardinal Ruini explained, more than 80 cardinals had signed a petition to the “future pope” before the conclave of 2005, asking whoever was elected to waive the normal five-year waiting period before a cause begins. The petition was entrusted to Ruini, and the newly-elected Benedict XVI “immediately” agreed with the request when the cardinal, as Vicar of Rome, presented it to him at their first audience.

Why did the cause proceed so rapidly? The process unfolded “with absolute regularity, in compliance with all regulations.” Moreover, reports of miracles – “and what miracles!” – were pouring into the Vicariate of Rome even before the process began. Was the finger of God not to be seen in this?

What does the cardinal say when the holiness of John Paul II is questioned? Those who make this charge are “blinded by preconceptions and don’t know what they’re talking about.” The cardinal went on to discuss his “close contact” with the Polish pope over two decades and how he was “struck from the beginning by the intensity of his prayer: he immersed himself in it…totally…and nothing that happened around him distracted him.”

Was John Paul II an absentee manager who didn’t pay sufficient attention to administration? Not according to his longtime cardinal-vicar. “He carefully chose his closest collaborators” and then put his confidence in them. “At the same time, he had a very high sense of his own responsibility and mission, fully understanding the nature of governance.” Any charge that John Paul II’s management style was “superficial” is “false and deeply unfair: nothing in his way of being or operating was superficial.”

Was John Paul II intimidated by Theodore McCarrick’s exuberance and seeming power? “To think that McCarrick, or even people much more important than him, could intimidate John Paul II is simply ridiculous…..John Paul II was not afraid of anyone on earth….In his choices [John Paul] placed himself before God and made decisions not only in conscience but in the presence of God. All this does not mean that one or another decision could not have been wrong.” (As the decisions regarding McCarrick’s transfer to Washington and his cardinalate surely were). But it does mean John Paul never took decisions “lightly.”  

Shouldn’t the Church wait longer before canonizing popes? In measuring sanctity, Cardinal Ruini concluded, popes should be regarded “as far as possible like every other member of the Church, without preferential tracks and without penalties.”

As he got to know John Paul II, Cardinal Ruini came to be “amazed by [John Paul’s] extraordinary ability to forgive.” If life at the Throne of Grace is the perfection of virtues displayed in this life, then St. John Paul II has forgiven his recent detractors: those settling old ideological scores, and those who agree with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, that magic and crime both work by getting people to look the wrong way so that they don’t see what’s really going on. Knowing of his forgiveness, perhaps the John Paul II detractors will be moved to a similar generosity of spirit. I’m doubtful. But we may hope.


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About George Weigel 353 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

18 Comments

  1. Why at the funeral of St. John Paul ll, did the faithful shout “Santo Subito” non stop? Why has Rome been petitioned for St. John Paul ll to be given the tile of “The Great”? Its because there were many faithful who listened to him during his whole Pontificate, and admired his great wisdom and love for Our Lord Jesus Christ. The McCarrick report was written by some of those who hated Our Saint and constantly worked to undermine him while he was alive, and they haven’t stopped. Why was the Holy Father so much hated? Christ said, “If they hate you remember they hated me first”, this goes to show St. John Paul ll was in perfect union with Jesus Christ. I’ll never forget when His Holiness went to Fatima and The Servant of God Sr. Lucia Dos Santos for a long while caressed and kissed the hands of St. John Paul ll. Sister Lucia who often saw Our Lady knew how much Our Most Holy Lady loved and was well pleased with Her Papal servant, St. John Paul The Great.

  2. A pope’s job description, as with bishops, is to Teach, to Rule or Govern, and to Sanctify. That a pope may have made some mistakes in the ruling or governing, such as advancing deficient candidates to be bishops or cardinals, does not detract from his performance as teacher or sanctifier, or even his overall performance in governing. The criticisms I have seen of Pope John Paul II are almost all on his appointments and not at all on his sanctity.
    No pope can possibly know all the bishops or clergy to be advanced. Although I have to say that the current incumbent seems to have no difficulty in identifying those candidates on the same wavelength as him.
    As an aside, Cincinnati named a street after Pete Rose, based on his obvious accomplishments as a professional baseball player, but before knowing of other aspects of his conduct. I have no problem at all seeing John Paul II as a saint. But, I do believe that these things should not be rushed.
    Mr. Weigel’s position on St. John Paul II is well known, but I think it sometimes makes him overly defensive regarding any criticism at all about the pope.
    In conclusion I will say, I do love St. John Paul II.

  3. You can’t have it both ways.You can’t be supreme pastor without also taking supreme responsibility for what happens on your watch. JP2 is responsible for much of our current crisis (and that doesn’t get Benedict and Francis off the hook).

    While JP2 did much for the Church after Vatican 2 and gave the Church many great writings and the catechism, he also gave us an entirely corrupt Vatican, horrible bishops and some of the most disturbed predators the world has ever seen (i.e. McCarrick and Maciel). I think JP2 was a holy man BUT a lousy judge of character. He also helped foster the papal personality cult that we see continued under Francis. I think the Church should have waited on his canonization. It pains me to write this because in the 1990’s I was in university and a “JP2 I love you” Catholic. I know too much now to go back to those days.

    • Spot on, Mr. Williams. I don’t question this pope’s sanctity but I most certainly do have doubts about his wisdom at times. It seemed, in fact, to totally abandon him whenever he approached the town of Assisi and was frequently absent from his judgments concerning certain high-profile members of the Catholic clergy. Mr. Weigel here is trying to divert attention from these alarming papal lapses with the red herring of ‘sanctity’.

    • Amen to that Statement!! Pope John Paul was the Greatest Marian Saint, and He suffered enough to get us all — Salvation. “John Paul 2. We Love You” — and He loved us TOO!

  4. Again flogging the tired trope of (don’t forget to capitalize it!)”New Evangelization.” Like the “NE,” Weigel is long past his use-by date.

  5. I was a fan of St. Pope John Paul II and followed his path of love, grace and forgiveness and when he worked the crowds of the faithful. I would never be a detractor of John Paul, but one issue upsets me regarding McCarrick’s ascension to Archbishop when he was revealed a parasite during the reign of John Paul? The word “intimidation” does not apply. Anyone knowing John Paul’s meticulous Papal management may ask… “what did he know and when did he know it”.

    May St.John Paul’s legacy be honored with prayer.

  6. Canonization is measured by personal sanctity, not by perfect judgment in an imperfect world: So, TOTUS TUUS versus the DOUBLE LIFE/DOUBLE SPEAK. Pick one.

  7. Hindsight is always 20/20. Its easy for anyone here to talk about this now. Its not so easy in real life to accuse a Bishop of heinous sexual crimes such as McCarrick was accused of, with no evidence in hand, and only hearsay and innuendo. Slander is a sin and destroying the reputation of a high churchman must be done with indisputable evidence. It does not seem that John Paul had that given to him regarding McCarrick. Even in a place like the Vatican, there is political infighting and back-biting. And I would speculate some might not be too careful who they injure on their way to the top. Churchmen are not immune to sin, as we have seen. .

  8. If anything the McCarrick Report revealed a strained attempt at self exoneration of the living with an attempt to shift fault on the deceased and enfeebled. It’ll likely be argued until doomsday not whether John Paul II was responsible for McCarrick rather to what degree and with what responsibility. John Paul elevated McCarrick and other notorious men to the cardinalate. From a personal perspective John Paul’s writings came from the heart of a man with an innocent trust in human nature more naive than realistic. Some reference the theology of the body which I can’t speak to since what I’ve read seems balanced. During the years when I had contact, attended his liturgies 2000-3 his presence exuded goodness. His features distorted, struggling to speak, he was extremely compromised and appeared malleable. Heroic in his example of fortitude to priests. A required virtue during the current pontificate. His secretary Cardinal Dziwisz had the responsibility to monitor what was communicated. Finally we know saints had personality including management faults. Personal sanctity doesn’t require perfection in all matters. John Paul’s exceptional love of God was evident.

    • “Personal sanctity doesn’t require perfection in all matters”

      Yes I agree, nevertheless the canonization of John Paul 11 before the world media by Pope Francis and the Bishops was an act of emotional violence on those who have been abused and their families, by having to watch (relive) and see again the hypocrisy of so many of the elite in our Church who the majority of mankind believe contrived in the cover up and then to be seen participating in bestowing its highest Honour on the one man, who so many believe could have averted the untold suffering of so many innocent and vulnerable victims, this action has to call into question the integrity of the leadership of the Church and to some degree our Shepherds who stood by and permitted this act to happen.

      From my long post given by the link
      https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2020/11/full-text-of-the-mccarrick-report-published-today-in-rome/#comment-99310

      “Pope Francis and his Bishops would have been fully aware of the tens of thousands of derogatory articles and comments on the Canonization of John Paul 11 over the previous years and especially those made by the victims and they families of the child abuse scandal, was not their pain enough reason to delay the Canonizations of these two popes and facilitate the justifiable concerns of so many families and organizations that have assisted victims, their concerns were total disregarded, why?” So, I believe it would have been prudent for John Paul’s Canonization to have been delayed.

      John Paul himself did not ask to be Canonized rather we see internal politics at play which Pope Francis himself consented to; Yes, pressure was most probably put on him by the elite within the Hierarchy but without his consent we would still be waiting Pope John Pauls Canonisation.

      Pope John Paul most probably trusted his close friends/associates within the hierarchy while apparently showing little regard to the sufferings of the vulnerable within the flock. Similar to what Pope Francis did in giving his consent to Pope John Paul’s Canonization.

      kevin your brother
      In Christ

      • Kevin it’s quite possible, perhaps likely Pope Francis canonized John Paul II for the reasons you give. Although having met John Paul, studying his history and works it’s evident this was a man gifted by the Holy Spirit. We don’t yet know the full story as to why his secretary didn’t inform and protect him from the perverted enablers at the Vatican. At the same time I’m in full empathy with those who suffered because of the travesty that occurred during his pontificate.

  9. Methinks he Pole, like Weigel, protests too much. I have yet to meet anyone questioning JPII’s sanctity. The question is whether egregious lapses in governing judgment should weigh in canonizing popes. JPIIs cause was rushed through a system that had already been made easier by eliminating the Devil’s Advocate — on JPIIs own orders. How prudent was it to then do a rush job just because he had personal magnetism like Princess Di? Perhaps unfair, but those are the sort of objections rush jobs leave the Church open to. No one, ever, should be sainted before they are gone at least 50 years. And JPIIs defenders often sound like they belong to a cult. Saints are still just men and women. But when such is pointed out about JPII, his most zealous fans take offense.

  10. When a Saint is canonized, the Church makes an infallible declaration that that person is in heaven and enjoys the Beatific Vision. It isn’t intended to sanctify every aspect of said person’s life. St Celestine V was praised for his personal piety, but he was a subpar Pope who resigned after five months. Paul VI was known for his holiness by everyone who knew him, and he made genuine efforts to uphold Catholic teaching in the difficult times after Vatican II (such as issuing Humanae Vitae and ordering Fr. Hardon to write the Catholic Catechism to counter errors in religious instruction), but his Pontificate was nonetheless chaotic thanks to the aftermath of the aforementioned Council. Likewise, Pope John Paul was known for his holiness and integrity, helped curb the excesses of the aftermath of Vatican II, and he helped end Communism in Eastern Europe. His successes outweigh his (admittedly serious) failures.

  11. JPII was not responsible in the least for the abuse committed in the US Church. We have tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of church documents from the US in the public domain and there is no evidence that the Vatican let alone JPII personally was adequately informed of what was going on in the American Church.Victims are not made infallible in their judgments simply because they are victims.

  12. Sainthood is not like a Nobel Prize, given for political achievements (President Obama), but rather for holiness. Many of the saints were not accomplished in other areas. I would not question John Paul’s holiness.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. “Those who question the sanctity of John Paul II don’t know what they’re talking about” - Catholic Daily
  2. “Those who question the sanctity of John Paul II don’t know what they’re talking about” (Amen!) – On God's Payroll

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