Santo subito! — “Sainthood now!” That was the urgent plea of the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square in April, 2005, as Pope John Paul II lay dying. If the crowd had had its way, he would have been proclaimed a saint the very moment he died. And in truth, the canonization process has been extremely brisk. Pope John Paul II has been dead only nine years and the Church stands ready to canonize him on April 27.
The passage of years, however, has allowed for a more sober assessment of his pontificate. For sure, John Paul II did things that make him worthy of canonization. There is no question that he was a deeply prayerful man who authored profound reflections on the meaning of Jesus and his mission. He provided a great witness to courage, first when he was shot in May, 1981, and then, two decades later, as an elderly victim of Parkinson’s. He rallied Poland and Eastern Europe in the Cold War. Where others might have been intemperate, his messages always encouraged resolute, peaceful, non-violent resistance.
Still, the perspective of time allows us to realize that his pontificate had the effect not of strengthening but rather of weakening the Church in a number of crucial respects. And we would be a friend to history — and to the Church — if we acknowledged these flaws, for they are not insignificant.