The late pope John Paul II was put on the path to sainthood this Sunday. Polish-born Karol Wojtyla who died in 2005, received a beatification mass in Saint Peter's Square that gave him the status of "blessed" which leaves him just one step away from sainthood.
John Paul's years in the Vatican were certainly controversial. He lived through interesting times, as the saying goes, and like any Pope worth his salt involved himself in world political affairs when it was convenient to do so and made acquaintances with many world leaders. He, for instance, referred to Chilean dictator, Pinochet, and his wife as "an exemplary Christian couple". When this enemy of Chilean democracy, who had killed thousands of his opponents, was arrested and charged with crimes against humanity, the Pope waded in on his defence demanding his release, stating that as a Chilean leader at the time of his crimes he was entitled to immunity - a kind of papal infallibility for fascists. Throughout South America, John Paul sided with the forces of reaction, supporting right wing elites and restraining any priest who saw themselves as on the side of the impoverished masses. The papal nuncios to the Chilean and Argentinean military dictatorships he promoted to cardinals.
The rise of Solidarity and working class militancy in Poland at the beginning of the 1980s panicked governments aroundm the world. The 'communists' of eastern Europe feared a growing threat to their rule, while the governments of the West saw the mobilisation of an angry section of society that could only inspire militancy in their own countries. While John Paul wished to see the end of Stalinist rule, he was keen this should not be via violent revolution and, moreover, at the hands of left wing sections of Polish society, but by the right. In 1980 John Paul granted an audience to a group headed by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and in the coming years the Vatican would find tens of millions of dollars to finance Solidarity's struggle. Make no mistake; the Vatican was not openly supporting the demands of the workers in their struggle against an undemocratic, unaccountable Stalinist bureaucracy. After all, what was the Vatican if not undemocratic, unaccountable and bureaucratic? Instead, its aim was to contain the movement, to see it had the guidance of nationalistic and right-leaning Catholic ideologues and to ensure its confrontation with the Polish leadership did not get out of hand and win larger international support from workers. Many saw John Paul as a champion of democracy and human rights. The truth is he was a conscientious defender of the established order of western-style class privilege.
473 beatifications were made under the John Paul papacy, a figure that is twice the number of saints made in the previous 400 years. Among those he beatified and elevated to the ranks of the saints by John Paul II was the anti-Semite Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XII, the latter being the same Pius who collaborated with the fascist regimes in Spain, Italy and Germany. Pius XII ordered the Catholic Church in Nazi Germany to steer clear of political activity, to close its political parties and to stifle its newspapers. Hitler would refer to this Papal move as "a great achievement" and of enormous advantage in the "fight against international Jewry". Also elevated to sainthood was Josemaria Escrivç, the founder of the hierarchical and clandestine Opus Dei in Madrid in 1928, and described by Hitler as "the saviour of the Spanish church" John Paul beatified the 1940s archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who was imprisoned by the Tito government as a Nazi collaborate and as a wartime sympathiser with the pro-Nazi government of Croatia, which killed tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies
Then, of course, there this Pope's policy of protecting children from the sexual abuse by priests and Church officials. John Paul was involved in the cover-up and was complicit in attempting to conceal it, issuing an edict demanding Church secrecy in child abuse allegations and his ruling on the matter was felt to be so conclusive that one leader of a Spanish seminary persuaded his scholars that he had the Pope's blessing to masturbate them.
While covering up the excesses of a child abusing clergy, John Paul was ever ready to pronounce papal verdicts condemning homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, divorce, abortion and the use of birth control. In spite of a growing Aids epidemic John Paul referred to the use of condoms as a 'culture of death'.Undoubtedly, millions who looked to John Paul for guidance, who declined the use of protection during sex, were handed a death sentence. Perhaps millions of women were forced, by fear of the flames of hell, to bring young families into a world of abject poverty and early death through disease and hunger.
Pope John Paul was just another reactionary agent of oppression, like all of his predecessors. And the Vatican's reactionary credentials are nothing new.