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In many ways, the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI is something of a low-keyed rebuke of his predecessor, John Paul II. One of Pope Benedict’s first acts was to order the investigation of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, which led to the suspension of Maciel. See: "Fr. Maciel removed from ministry: reactions & commentary".
Maciel had been a favorite of John Paul II, and his intimacy with the Pope protected him from the long-overdue scrutiny that was later to prove his undoing.
Even before this action, while John Paul II was still alive but too ill to lead the Good Friday Stations of the Cross in Rome in 2005, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, standing in for the Pope, used the occasion to lament those who betrayed their priesthood. See: "Way of the Cross at the Colosseum".
One of the objections to John Paul II's imminent beatification comes from those who argue that his failure to address these scandals should bar him from such public honor. John Paul II is accused by some of what has been called "the worst sort of clericalism" in his handling of this crisis. He gave it little attention.
Pope Benedict also reversed the policy of John Paul II with regard to the Society of St. Pius X and the ancient Latin Liturgy. The lifting of the excommunications of the Society’s four bishops, which John Paul II defended in his apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, was in its way a rejection of the late Pope’s position. See: "Apostolic Letter ‘Ecclesia Dei’ of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II".
Summorum Pontificum (see: "Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI"), which freed the ancient Latin Liturgy from the restrictions John Paul II had maintained to curb its use, took the Liturgy in a direction very much opposed to that of the late Pope, who is still considered the patron of "inculturation," which treats the Mass as an experimental and malleable local usage rather than a universal patrimony.
The establishment of an ordinariate for Anglicans wishing to return to the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining all that is acceptable in their rites also strikes at ecumenism as practiced during the reign of John Paul II, as has been loudly noted by opponents of the new ordinariate, both within and without the Church. One need only look at the Vatican party line on ecumenism under John Paul II's pontificate, in which the emphasis was not on a return to the Catholic Church, but on what Cardinal Kaspar and others called "convergence."
Taking all the above into consideration, it may strike some as odd that Pope Benedict has chosen to beatify John Paul II and to do it so quickly. May 1 in Rome will be a grand occasion for devotees of the late Pope, as the Eternal City is expected to welcome about 2 million visitors for the ceremony in St. Peter's Square over which Pope Benedict will preside. See: "Pope John Paul to Be Beatified in May".
One can only speculate about Pope Benedict's motives. There are those who regard John Paul II to have been a model of personal sanctity, despite his failings in the governance and direction of the Church. But sainthood is about more than personal holiness; it is about public example. Is John Paul II to be honored and emulated for his public actions? This is the looming question.
Pope Benedict appears to have answered it in the affirmative, despite his reversal of so many of John Paul II's policies. The Pope has also announced that he will commemorate John Paul II's 1986 ecumenical prayer meeting at Assisi, which was a scandal to many, by holding a similar event. In 1986, then-Cardinal Ratzinger was conspicuous for his refusal to be present at the Assisi meeting. See: "Should We Follow Everything That the Pope Does?".
Pope Benedict has often been ambivalent about his attitude toward the Church’s recent history. He appears to be in a difficult position, desiring very much to reform the Church by returning to its doctrinal and liturgical traditions while maintaining continuity with the teachings of Vatican II, which can be, and are, variously interpreted.
He is much like a man holding the reins of two teams of horses pulling in opposite directions. It is easy to be a fervent advocate for one side or another; it is not always easy to bear in mind the tremendous pressures of the papacy. Pope Benedict wants to hold the Church together by reconciling internal tensions, while at the same time he is under constant attack by outside forces who would like to see the Church torn apart.
It may be a mistake to think that his pending beatification of John Paul II and the rehabilitation of the Assisi event represent a new direction for Pope Benedict. It may be that he is trying desperately to effect his "hermeneutic of continuity" in the face of much opposition.
In any event, the Holy Father needs our prayers. Blessed Jacinta of Fatima always urged us to pray for the Pope, for she saw that he will have much to suffer. No modern Pope has come under attack from so many different quarters as has Pope Benedict.
So, let us pray for him. And let us pray that he will, at long last, do the one thing that will ensure the healing of his wounded Church: Command his bishops to join him to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
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Latest Fatima Perspectives
The Church is Chastised in Iraq, Courtesy of the United States of America — In the wake of the slaughter of more than 50 Catholics in Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church, the news headline said it all: "Resurgent al-Qaida threatens Christians in Iraq with 'destruction'". Seven years after George Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on the deck of an aircraft carrier — the mission being to rid Iraq of the threat of terrorism — al-Qaida, which had no presence in Iraq before the American invasion of 2003, is resurgent there today.
The True Melting Pot — In 1905, Israel Zangwill was the toast of New York City, as his popular play The Melting Pot celebrated the ideal of America as a true utopia where the divisions and animosities of the Old World, based on religions and ethnicities, were dissolved in the fire of a new brotherhood of man. ... The extent to which Zangwill's play reflected the realities of the New World may be doubted, but the aspirations it represented were, and remain, quite real.
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