The joint canonisation of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII is a clever move by Pope Francis to balance the celebration of the life of two such different figures, writes The Tablet in an editorial.
The Pope who called the Second Vatican Council is esteemed in large parts of the Church as a reformist. Most of the rest would regard Pope John Paul II as nearer their ideal pope, a star player on the world stage who, while narrowing the definition of orthodoxy at home, challenged the might of the Soviet empire abroad and hastened its downfall.
A joint canonisation ould serve another useful purpose. There are three other popes in the canonisation pipeline: Pius IX, Pius XII and Paul VI. Each of their causes is favoured by a particular faction, and those factions are not so different from the one that is enthusiastic about John Paul II. So Francis has an opportunity to put a stop to a practice – the canonisation of recent popes – that is doing the Catholic Church’s reputation no good.
Having given something to each side by canonising the rival heroes, John XXIII and John Paul II, he could – and should – order the suspension of the canonisation causes of the other three for a century or two. Otherwise, they can look like an unedifying exercise in papal self-congratulation.
Canonisations are supposed to perform the public good of holding up a holy person’s life for admiration and imitation. They do not affect the basic question of whether that person’s soul is in heaven, though they add a degree of certainty to it. Pope St Pius X, who died in 1914 and was canonised 40 years later, was the first pontiff to be canonised since St Pius V, who was raised to the altars in 1712. He was famous for the disastrous excommunication of Elizabeth I of England in 1570, which, at a stroke, turned English Catholics into traitors.
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