Tuesday, April 4
I'll say that, though my love for John Paul the Great be undying, The Cornell Catholic Circle advocates "John Paul the Fair."
They point to the obvious shortfalls of the papacy, on the theory, I think, that the title "Great" ought be confounded with "the Perfect." With these criticisms, I largely agree. I think they should give JPG more credit for the creation of the concept of granting indults for a retro-dated Roman Missal, which was a complete innovation in Catholic polity. A good one: Low Mass in the Roman FSSP chapel is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Ever. So, while I hope even now that Benedict really has signed a universal indult for the Old Mass, it was JPG who--for the first time ever--granted that an "Old Mass" could exist alongside a "New Mass" in what is technically the same Rite. But yes, there are many other instances where JPG's policy was neither sufficiently detailed nor enforced.
I agree, obviously, with their critique that history, will be what judges John Paul as "Great."* But, it is with an eye to history that I advocate his greatness be recognized. No pontiff will ever be "the perfect pontiff," nor will any pope ever leave the Church is the ideal state upon his death. Benedict XVI won't, nor whoever follows him.
*(Interestingly, they give Pius X a title, "Hammer of Modernists," which while true in intent, is not really borne out by the history after his reign)
So, I challenge our Cornell friends to go to their campus library and read some Catholic magazines from the 1970's. Headlines such as "Will Confirmation Still be a Sacrament in the Year 2000?" will abound. They will find editorials calling for the removal of tabernacles as "harkening back to the age when people worshipped the Euchraist instead of recieving it." They will learn that cardinals and bishops called for the permenant revocation of any "Canon Law," that Cardinal Bernadin was the most conservative figure in Catholic education (he thought students should actually memorize the Beatitudes!), that the Breviary was temporarily abolished, that as early as 1967 the Bishop's Synod had decided that liturgical experimentation could no longer be controlled. They will probably not find a single mention of Paul VI after about 1972. If they read accounts of the election of John Paul I, they will find the expectation that the bishop of Rome would very quickly limit himself to being bishop over Rome (and perhaps occasional cheerleader). If they find any reference to the CDF, please send them to me. Because, frankly, the Vatican's governance over the Church--and the expectation that the Vatican should govern the Church--had completely dissipated by the time JP2 was elected.
The fact that we have this expectation today is the second biggest testimony to John Paul's greatness. The biggest testimony to his greatness is that he renewed this expectation in the hearts of millions of the young faithful without stricture, without anathema, without the detailed policies he failed to implement: he regained this young, devoted following to Christ by the force of his magnaminity, the work of the Holy Spirit in his words, heart, and presence.