Scholar and papal biographer George Weigel batted aside criticism of John Paul II's speedy canonization process, saying accusations that the pontiff is responsible for scandals that took place under his watch are ultimately unfounded.
“The investigation into John Paul II's life has been very thorough, and the results fill four thick volumes,” Weigel told CNA in an April 25 interview.
Author of the 1999 biography of John Paul II, “Witness to Hope,” Weigel first countered the claim that the late pontiff's canonization process has moved too quickly.
“John Paul himself waived the five-year waiting period usually prescribed between someone's death and the official opening of a beatification process in the case of Mother Teresa – another instance where there was great popular conviction about the deceased's sanctity,” he said.
Weigel also took on the argument that the sex abuse scandals which came to light during Pope John Paul's pontificate –as well as the problems that began to surface with Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ – are disqualifying factors.
“As a matter of fact, in the U.S. and elsewhere, the majority of abuses cases did not happen on John Paul II's watch, although the revelations of them did,” he explained.
“John Paul II was a great reformer of the priesthood, and the Church's ordained ministry is in far better shape today, because of him, than it was in 1978.”
“Unless one understands that, one is not in a very secure position from which to assess how John Paul handled the abuse crisis when it burst into public view in 2002,” he added.
Weigel acknowledged that certain Vatican offices, especially the Congregation for the Clergy, “were slower than they ought to have been in recognizing the nature of the problem in the United States and in devising appropriate remedies for it.”
However, as for Pope John Paul himself, “once it became clear, in April 2002, that this could not be handled by the American bishops themselves and that a papal intervention was required, he intervened and made unmistakably clear that 'there is no place in the priesthood for those who would harm the young.'”
As for the Pope's relationship with Fr. Maciel, Weigel said that John Paul II was “deceived” by the ex-priest, along with “many, many people.”
The papal biographer said that the only relevant questions with respect to the beatification are “whether John Paul II’s failure to see through Maciel’s deceptions was willful or venal or malicious.”
Weigel explained that the first situation would mean “he knew about Maciel’s perfidies and did nothing about the situation,” and the second would mean “he knew that Maciel was a sociopathic fraud and didn’t care.”
“There isn’t a shred of evidence that would sustain a positive answer to any of those questions,” he stressed. “To even think that such could be the case is to utterly miss the character of the late Pope.”
Weigel added that it's “grotesquely disproportionate, from any serious historical point of view” to “focus so much attention on Maciel at the time of John Paul II's beatification, as if his case offered a privileged window into a twenty-six and a half year pontificate that changed the history of the Church and the world.”
Weigel also addressed the criticism that Pope John Paul failed in his duties, given the decline of Christianity in Europe in recent decades as well as the scandals under his pontificate.
“He didn't fail, and those who suggest that he did are living in a very strange place,” he said.
“John Paul II’s radical Christian discipleship and his remarkable capacity to let that commitment shine through his words and his actions, made Christianity interesting and compelling again in a world that thought it had outgrown its 'need' for religious faith.”
The late Pope “was a man of extraordinary courage,” the papal biographer said. “Against the cultural conventions of his time, John Paul demonstrated that young people want to be challenged to live lives of heroism.”
“He lifted up the dignity of the human person,” and he “proclaimed the universality of human rights in a way that helped bring down the greatest tyranny in human history.”
“If this is papal 'failure,' I don't know what papal success would look like,” Weigel said.