A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Just posted: The saintly politics of Francis

Just posted on the website: E. J. Dionne Jr. comments on the announcement by Pope Francis that John Paul II and John XXIII will be canonized together:

Pope Francis is proving himself to be a genuinely holy man, a brilliant politician and a leader who knows that reform requires a keen understanding of how creating a better future demands sophisticated invocations of the past.

Nothing demonstrated all three traits better than Francis' announcement that he would make both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII saints. The obvious political analysis here is correct: On the whole, conservative Catholics will cheer swift sainthood for John Paul while progressive Catholics will welcome the news that an overly long process of elevating John to the same status had reached its culmination. One for one side, one for the other – it’s a good formula for harmony, something Catholicism needs right now....

[E]xcept among the ranks of scholars and older progressive Catholics, Vatican II is so often a dim memory. Moreover, there are conservative voices in the church that have sought to play down just how important the council was in opening Catholicism to the modern world. Pope John embraced modernity and the lessons it had to teach Catholics even as he was critical of modernity’s failings.

By lifting up John, Pope Francis is telling Catholics to embrace this legacy again -- beginning by paying attention to it. In so doing, he will reinforce comparisons already being made between himself and Pope John.

Read the whole thing here.

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

To reinforce the idea that Francis wants us to embrace the legacy of John XXIII's engagement with modernity we have today's homily:

“In the Christian life, even in the life of the Church, there are old structures, passing structures: it is necessary to renew them! And the Church has always been attentive to this, with dialogue with cultures . . . It always allows itself to be renewed according to places, times, and persons. The Church has always done this! From the very first moment, we remember the first theological battle: was it necessary to carry out all of the Jewish practices in order to be Christian? No! They said no! The gentiles could enter as they are: gentiles . . . Entering into the Church and receiving Baptism. A first renewal of the structures. . . . And so the Church always goes forward, giving space to the Holy Spirit that renews these structures, structures of the churches. Don’t be afraid of that! Don’t be afraid of the newness of the Gospel! Don’t be afraid of the newness that the Holy Spirit works in us! Don’t be afraid of the renewal of structures!”

The Church, he said, “is free: the Holy Spirit carries her forward.” The Gospel teaches this: “the liberty to always find the newness of the Gospel in us, in our life, and even in our structures.” The Pope then re-iterated the importance of the “freedom to choose new wineskins for this newness.” He added that the Christian is free, “with that liberty” that Jesus gives us. A Christian “is not a slave of habits, of structures. . . . The Spirit carries [the Christian] forward.” The Pope then recalled that on the day of Pentecost, the Madonna was there with the disciples:

“And where the mother is, the children are safe! All of them! Let us ask for the grace of not being afraid of the newness of the Gospel, of not being afraid of the renewal that the Holy Spirit brings, of not being afraid to let go of the passing structures that imprison us. If we are afraid, we know that the Mother is with us. And like children who are a little afraid, let us go to her – and she, as the ancient antiphon says, – ‘will protect us with her cloak, with her motherly protection.’ Amen.




If that isn't a warning to the Curia of what is in store for it, what would be?  It's so emphatic I'm starting to wonder just how radical the changes will be.

Everyone is so eager for a change from the last 2 pontificates that we need to keep our wits about us and wait to see what is done as opposed to just hope for what we want to be done.

The proof remains in the pudding.

But wishful hope is still a pleasant change.

How soon before a movement gathers steam to name John Paul II a Doctor of the Church?

Am I alone in feeling that there ought to be a moratorium on canonizing any more popes who have lived in the last three centuries or so. All of these recent canonizations have the feel of the old Greek apotheosis or Roman Divinization of emperors.

Yes, do need the canonization of modern saints, but there's more than enough adulation of popes as it is without having to canonize so many of the recent holders of the office. Somehow, I think that John XXIII would agree. Maybe Francis too.

Bernard, I fully agree. What's the rush? Who are they models for? Not too many of us are going to become pope, are we? Maybe you will, but not me at least.


I've just noticed that Fr.Francis Clooney, SJ has posted on the "America" blog site his own view that there is something "unseemly" about having a pope canonize his recent predecessor or predecessors.

I think that both John XXIII and John Paul II certainly will go down as extraordinary leaders in the fullest sense of the word. John XXIII by seeing the importance of a postive message and the need to elminate some dead wood from the barque. John Paul II because he was keenly aware of the importance of symbols and had a charismatic, theatrical presence well suited to the television age. He brought the institution of the Church into the world in a pretty significant manner in terms of active engagement. While there is no doubt disagreement with some specifics, he is an important and effective leader in that regard.

That said, those qualities in and of themselves, while important, are not necessarily criteria for saintliness. I am not sure what saintliness looks like in the modern world and perhaps that is why we need contemporary examples. On the other hand, a certain historical distance needs to occur before a definitive judgement can be rendered. I found his writings to be illuminative and liked the flair and tone of the texts. I was also attracted to phenomenology and while he distanced himself a bit, it was good to see a modern pope with a philosophical operating system other than the dried timber of some of the scholastics.

Still, time and distance is good before rushing quickly to canonization.

I agree with Fr Clooney. And I also think the following makes good points:

I agree with Fr Clooney. And I also think the following makes good points:

I will start paying attention to the making of saints when there are more ordinary people being recognized for leading extraordinary lives, rather than a preponderance of people who one expects to be extraordinary by virtue of their calling, but whose lives fall short of even the virtues of so many of the ordinary.

I'm pointing explcititly to JPII.  His failure to deal with rampant clericalism, financial skullduggery and structural corruption was and remains shocking.

If someone is a saint, in our estimation, we needn't wait for the church leadership to put its formal stamp of approval on it.  One of the appealing things about traditional canonization is that it was the essence of popular spirituality: the people decided.  I believe having a popular devotion is still an important criterion today. 

People loved John XXIII.  No need to wait centuries for the hierarchy to confirm what people already know in their hearts.  And if the church hierarchy decides to dispense with the waiting period - fine. 


I don't think that John Paul II can be blamed completely for all of the issues facing the Church or Latin America. If there is clericalism (and I am not even sure there really is), whose fault is that? As far as abuse allegations go, absolutely! But even here, on this board, when reforms such as removing the statute of limitations for criminal charges against adults who abuse children have been raised, these legal reforms have been met by opposition. Multiply that by 100 and you can see what any leader faces. We (and I mean the Church as in we lay people) cannot even prevent the child sex trade industry through international law and interdiction. More money is spent on the war on "terror" than the real war agains women and children through the sex trade. So where is the saints who are addressing this through legislation?

The plight of the poor in Latin American countries has a lot of roots including, and probably especially, the NAFTA agreements signed by the leaders of Canada and the United States (Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative). I did not see the pope's signature on any of those documents. Nor did I see a groundswell of opposition from the main parties.

In the modern world, the Church is a moral force and this is why the abuse crisis is among the most serious. I think Francis understands this intuitively. As for reforming the institution, Paul VI did a lot in that regard and is underappreciated for his work in that area. PJP II was less interested in the inner working and his mind was elsewhere and he let the apparatus run on auto-pilot. The mandarin figure was Ratzinger and his thing was liturgy an scripture.

Reforming entrenched institutions is difficult. A friend of mine quoted Mao when I told him that the expectation was that Francis could reform the Curia. Mao is reported to have said that he wanted to change a country but only was able to change two blocks!

I think its a great idea to propose the canonization of both J23 and JP2 at the same time constituting a brilliant stroke of both pastoral and political leadership from the new pope.

It demonstrates that Papa Francesco has a real deft political sense about him. That is good news for progressives who seek reform in the church.

[E. J. Dionne has written an insightful op-ed in the Washington Post about this very issue - required reading for all progressives.]

By nominating JP2 at this time, it will only serve to highlight that, despite all the historic character of JP's papacy for late 20th century world history, he was essentially a vacuous, even feckless, leader when it came to the greatest calamity to befall the church since the crusades and the Inquisition: the wanton, serial rape and sodomy of children by priests.

That is a tough cross for any would-be saint to carry. I don't think that it will prevent JP2 - and his rabid "sancto subito" reactionary supporters - from making the final step up the sainthood ladder.

But, I do think that it will bring enormous pressure to bear upon the Vatican to demonstrate convincingly that JP's laissez-faire attitude toward massive sexual abuse by priests and bishops is a thing of the past. Good move, Papa Francesco!

[An example of all that Jesuit training??? Maybe survivors will finally get their due from the church???]

By pushing forward the canonization of Papa Giovanni at this time, the dying embers of hope and optimism of Vatican2 may just be ignited again into a Pentecost fire for the church. Maybe, a new Easter fire in the early morning darkness?!?

Papa Francesco in one fell stroke has reclaimed the legacy of perhaps arguably the greatest apostle since Peter and Paul: John XXIII. Papa Giovanni, n. Angelo Roncalli, remains for us today a true genius of the human heart.

Papa Giovanni's prayer when he called the Council ["Restore the face of Christ to the Church"] as yet still remains unrealized - mostly because of revisionists in the hierarchy like Wojtyla and Ratzinger who cling to their power and money at all costs.

I dare say we will not see the likes of another John XXIII for at least another millennium. But, just maybe (?), the Holy Spirit has brought us another Francesco to put his shoulder to bolstering a crumbling church.

Francis of Assisi's famous words seem very apropo today for our Francesco, and those of us who are desparate for his new leadership: "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

Pope Francis may well have a sincere respect for both sainthood candidates' holiness. But if he is offering them as a matched set to mollify Catholics who might object to one or the other, as is suggested here and elsewhere, which in his mind would be the saint, and which the sop?

Just a reminder:  "Canonization is a precept of the Roman Pontiff commanding public veneration to be paid an individual by the Universal Church."

And from that same article in the Catholic Encyclopedia:  "Canonization, therefore, creates a cultus which is universal and obligatory."

And:  "Is the pope infallible in issuing a decree of canonization? Most theologians answer in the affirmative."

And:  "In honour of . . . we decree and define that Blessed N. is a Saint, and we inscribe his name in the catalogue of saints, and order that his memory by devoutly and piously celebrated yearly on the . . . day of . . . his feast."


(There's no picking and choosing.  Catholics are obliged to venerate/celebrate those defined as saints.)


Gerelyn --

I don't know where it appears in the official teachings, but I've read many times that Catholics are not tobliged to accept any particular person as a saint (except, i would imagine those in the Gospels).  What you quote just indicates that the Church is not always consistent in its teachings.

A recent example of a pope imposing the obligation would be John Paul's Decree of Canonization of Escriva.  


No one is exempt, whatever s/he may imagine s/he has read many times.

". . . We inscribe his name in the catalogue of the Saints, ordaining that, throughout the universal Church, he be devoutly honored among the Saints.



Gerelyn:  that obligation .... and $3.00 .... will buy you a mediocre cup of ersatz coffee at Starbucks.


(Much obliged, as Grandpa used to say.)


I never go to Starbucks.  I could count the paper cups of mediocre Starbucks coffee I've had on one hand.  Too weak.  The coffee I grind and make at home is sooo much better, so much hotter.  

(I think it's funny that some people imagine they are not obliged to provide due dulia.)

I wish Francis would just canonize everyone whose cause is in the pipeline.  Or, better yet, just declare that everyone who ever lived is a saint and must be venerated.


I agree w. Dionne. Canonization of both Popes simultaneously is a brilliant stroke, designed to bring together both progressive and conservative Catholics. If this gap can be bridged, we will be a stronger Church and a more effective voice in a secularized world.

I suppose it's good for Catholics to have a large number of saints to choose from, so that everyone who seeks may find a congenial model of holiness and an appealing object of veneration. And Catholics do in fact choose the saints they wish to honor and pray to.

But commanding veneration is psychologically absurd. It smacks of bullying, the exercise of power over others merely to show that one has it. People used to submit to that; now they mostly turn away.

I would like to see Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli canonized.

And the Servant of God Edward Flanagan.

"How soon before a movement gathers steam to name John Paul II a Doctor of the Church?"

God forbid, but if something like that JUST HAS TO HAPPEN, then Benedict would be the more likely choice.

Gerelyn:  way to go re:  Mazzuchelli!  I was born and raised within 5 miles of his grave.  He also founded the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters who were my grade school teachers and many of whom remain close friends even these days.

I didn't know that anyone who posts here had even heard of him.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment