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A Hero of History Is Beatified

The Catholic world has been abuzz since it was announced that, after a nun’s miraculous cure from Parkinson’s disease was attributed to his intercession, Pope John Paul II would be beatified on the first day of May of this year. To some, John Paul’s beatification couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. To others, it came too soon. And to yet others, it shouldn’t have come at all. Even in death, the man whose pontificate spanned twenty-six years remains a polarizing figure.

When Karol Wojtyla, cardinal archbishop of Krakow, Poland, assumed the throne of Peter in 1978, he was, to the majority of the Church, an unknown quantity. Yet, by the end of his pontificate, he had assumed a larger-than-life public persona — and he came to symbolize, for many Catholics, all that was wrong with the Church. He was either a modernist or a reactionary pontiff, depending on whom you asked. To traditionalists he was a pope whose recklessness and novel ideas sped the Church along the road to ruin. To progressivists he was a pope whose closed-mindedness and fear of change prevented the birthing of a new Church in the spirit of Vatican II. Either way, he was the wrong man for the wrong time.

Naturally, the news of his beatification has been accompanied by a good deal of grumbling in both the traditionalist and progressivist corners of the Church. Although their lists of objections are long and varied — as are their theological disagreements — both think more time ought to have been devoted to study and discernment before his beatification was finalized. Consider these two quotes:

– “We…implore the Holy Father to defer the beatification of John Paul II to a time when the grounds for that solemn act may be assessed objectively and dispassionately in the light of history.”
– “The least the Church could do…is to let the perspective of time decide whether or not canonization is in order.”

These quotes could have come from the same pen. But no: The first is from Michael Matt, editor of The Remnant, a traditionalist publication. The second is from Sr. Joan Chittister (often referred to as “Pope Joan”) of the progressivist National Catholic Reporter. Both are spokesmen for groups who see eye-to-eye on almost nothing — yet it’s uncanny how alike Matt and Chittister sound. Finally, something has united these two warring groups: their mutual contempt for John Paul II. Chalk up another miracle for the Pope!

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