Catholics Rethink Pope John Paul II's Legacy After Vatican's McCarrick Report A Vatican investigation into church leaders' failings that allowed the rise of a now-disgraced former U.S. cardinal has led some Catholics to call for "difficult reckoning" with the sainted pope.
NPR logo

Vatican's McCarrick Report Casts A Dark Cloud Over Pope John Paul II's Legacy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/937981411/939532377" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Vatican's McCarrick Report Casts A Dark Cloud Over Pope John Paul II's Legacy

Vatican's McCarrick Report Casts A Dark Cloud Over Pope John Paul II's Legacy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/937981411/939532377" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Pope John Paul II was one of the most beloved popes in recent memory. But a recent report from the Vatican has cast him in a new light. A two-year long investigation into how a disgraced American cardinal rose up the ranks despite allegations of sexual misconduct lays the blame largely at the feet of John Paul. Now some Catholics are rethinking his legacy. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: When John Paul died in 2005 after a 26-year reign, his funeral drew millions to St. Peter's Square.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Santo subito. Santo subito. Santo subito. Santo subito.

POGGIOLI: Chanting Santo subito - make him a saint immediately. Put on the fast track, he became a saint a record nine years later. Now many Catholics are asking, was that too hasty? The Vatican report shows that in 2000, John Paul appointed Theodore McCarrick archbishop of Washington despite repeated warnings about allegations of sexual misconduct. Papal biographer George Weigel was quick, however, to defend John Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE WEIGEL: There is no problem in saying a saint can be deceived. Saints are human beings. Human beings can be deceived by pathological liars. And John Paul II was.

POGGIOLI: Heidi Schlumpf, editor of the liberal National Catholic Reporter, disagrees.

HEIDI SCHLUMPF: Saints are not perfect, but they are models. And I don't think John Paul II is a model of how our church should be dealing with clergy sex abuse.

POGGIOLI: Following the McCarrick report, the publication called for the suppression of the cult of Saint John Paul II. In Catholicism, says Schlumpf, cult means the commemoration and veneration of a saint. Suppression would mean schools and churches should not be named after him and devotion should be private. The editorial said this man undermined the global church's witness, shattered its credibility as an institution and set a deplorable example for bishops in ignoring the accounts of abuse victims.

Massimo Faggioli, Villanova University professor of theology, says suppression of the cult is unlikely in the U.S. As an anti-communist champion, he says, John Paul's influence was vast, not only among conservative American Catholics.

MASSIMO FAGGIOLI: But also Catholics that are middle-of-the-road because he was a larger-than-life person. And he is icon. His name mean here much more than to Catholics in other countries.

POGGIOLI: McCarrick isn't the only sexual predator John Paul turned a blind eye to. Father Marcial Maciel, who abused numerous minors and fathered children, was punished by the Vatican only after John Paul's death. The McCarrick report suggests John Paul's experience with the secret police in communist Poland may have convinced him that allegations of clerical sex abuse were fabricated to damage the Catholic Church. That may explain his blind spot in not believing the accusations, says Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst at Religion News Service, but does not excuse it.

THOMAS REESE: John Paul II was incapable of believing that his friends and supporters could be involved in sexual abuse. He thought they were doing wonderful things for the church, and he just could not imagine that they could be doing such vile deeds.

POGGIOLI: Catholic author Dawn Eden Goldstein still believes John Paul is a saint.

DAWN EDEN GOLDSTEIN: I'm a Catholic theologian, and I personally believe that canonizations are infallible.

POGGIOLI: But will she continue to pray to him?

GOLDSTEIN: I have a lot of saints whose intercession I prefer to ask before I ask John Paul's.

POGGIOLI: Nowhere has the criticism of John Paul's legacy hit so hard as in his native Poland, a country that is now grappling with a growing clerical sex abuse scandal of its own. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.