As part of its attempts to turn back the clock in the Catholic Church, the Vatican drew 1.5 million of the devout to Rome on May 1 for the beatification ceremony of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. He may become the fastest declared saint in history.
The Vatican is also pushing the canonisation of Pius XII, who was pope during World War II.
While attention has been drawn to John Paul II’s woeful record on the issue of sexual abuse within the church, little has been said about the reasons for the rush to beatification and sainthood.
Australian Catholics have recently witnessed the forced retirement of Toowoomba’s Bishop Bill Morris for the crime of suggesting the church should allow married clergy. When compared to the scandalous non-punishment of sexual predator priests the world over, his treatment is glaring.
This drive to canonise popes from before and after the Second Vatican council (Vatican II) is a calculated slap in the face to all progressive Catholics and is an attempt to restore the most reactionary elements of Catholic heritage.
Vatican II, a gathering of all the world’s bishops that lasted for several years in the early 1960’s, was a breakthrough event in Catholic history. Before it the Church had been strongly committed to opposing the modern world.
“John Paul II is universally praised as someone who fought for peace and human rights,” the Los Angeles Times reported Swiss theologian Hans Kung told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.
“But his preaching to the outside world was in total contrast with the way he ran the church from inside, with an authoritarian pontificate which suppressed the rights of both women and theologians .... [Karol] Wojtyla (John Paul II) and [Joseph] Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) are the people most responsible for the chronic sickness of today's Catholic Church.”
A clue to the roots of the highly visual Catholic fervour on May 1 is found in the large contingents of Eastern European Catholics who flocked to St Peter’s Square.
John Paul II spent a great deal of energy assisting the overthrow of Stalinist governments, especially in his native Poland.
Capitalism has been painfully re-implanted in those countries, but the memories of Stalinist crimes still bring people to gratefully worship at the Church’s altar — though in smaller numbers that before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As the Church bleeds membership around the world, the Vatican has methodically set about organising disparate groupings of believers into mass events to draw media attention, such as World Youth Day and the May 1 beatification.
Key to this has been fostering an array of fanatical “movements” within the Church, such as the notorious Opus Dei and the bizarre Neocatechumenal Way.
The “Neo Cats” specialise in intervening in parishes to drive out liberal Catholics. For example, they made their mark in Redfern’s St Vincent’s church by refusing to serve communion to Aboriginal children or officiate at Aboriginal funerals.
John Paul II personally fostered these movements as shock troops in his war to drive the liberal legacy of Vatican II out of the Church.
The destruction of Vatican II is the impetus to fast track the canonization of John Paul II and Pius XII.
In 1870, Pope Pius IX had himself declared infallible by the First Vatican Council. The inflation of his spiritual power was a mirror image to the loss of his temporal power, having lost all the Papal States to the unification of Italy.
Pius IX also published a Syllabus of Errors that guided Catholicism well into the twentieth century. It taught that Catholics should not “reconcile and harmonise” themselves with “progress, with liberalism, and with recent civilization”.
The succeeding pope, Pius X (who has been sainted), took the hatred of progress one step further. He enforced an oath against modernism, which all Catholic bishops, priests and teachers had to swear until 1967.
Behind this wall of obscurantism the Church could safely shelter while the world went through the rise of Nazism. Before becoming Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, as Vatican ambassador, negotiated a notorious treaty — the Reichskonkordat — with Nazi Germany.
During World War II, the Vatican told the Nazi-backed Vichy regime in France that its “Jewish statutes” did not conflict with Catholic teachings. When US diplomat Harold Tittman asked Pius XII in 1941 to condemn the atrocities against Jews, the pope replied that the Vatican wished to remain “neutral”.
Against this background Vatican II stood out as a beacon. As Catholic priests, nuns and laity engaged with the world many were drawn towards radical conclusions.
The theological trend known as liberation theology was a fruit of this engagement and the Nicaraguan, Salvadoran and other Latin American revolutions were influenced by it.
The CIA-organised Contra death squads that ranged against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua often targeted liberationist peasants. Not only peasants; Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down in San Salvador in the middle of saying Mass.
Pope John Paul II and his henchman, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) were openly hostile to liberation theology.
Unfortunately, for them, liberation theology has escaped the confines of the Church and has blossomed in the Bolivarian revolution championed by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.
As Benedict XVI reveals more of his reactionary agenda it can be expected that more people will bail out of the Catholic Church. And we can expect more media circuses, designed to “circle the wagons” of the faithful against the modern world.