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Maureen Dowd Has Opinions About John Paul II

Listen up, everyone, because Maureen Dowd has some serious thoughts about this weekend's big double canonization. You'll find them in her April 23 column: "A Saint, He Ain't" (which, fortuitously, was published just after Alex Pareene's latest blog post detailing "Why Friedman, Brooks, and Dowd Must Go"). It's got all of that trademark Dowd style, which is what makes it so darn awful.

The trouble with Dowd's column is not that she is (as you have probably guessed) critical of the decision to canonize John Paul II. The trouble is that she's writing about it the way she writes about everything else: analysis via insult. Shallow thinking applied to serious subjects is her metier. It's bad enough when her topic is politics -- Pareene's latest post reminds readers of the time she turned a misquotation of John Kerry into a meme, and it is depressing to contemplate just how prominently her smart-alecky-potshot approach figured in the 2004 presidential campaign.

But Dowd's cute turns of phrase and offhand way with facts are particularly painful when she turns to writing about the church, as she does now and then, from her not-that-I-care-but-you-should-care-what-I-think perspective -- and I find her shallow arguments especially irritating when I more or less agree with her basic conclusions.

In this case: Dowd thinks John Paul's failure to act more decisively to address the sex-abuse scandal during his papacy should be counted against his legacy. So do I. She thinks canonizing him now reads as a sign that making things right after the scandal still doesn't rank as the priority it should in Rome. So do I. But I'm not prepared to go so far as to say "he ain't no saint," as she does, and not just because I don't think in rhyming punch lines. "Saint" is a term that has a number of different, overlapping connotations. Being a saint -- that is, being in heaven -- is one thing. Being officially declared a saint by the church is another. You can believe with all your heart that John Paul has gone to the Father's house and still question the wisdom of a ceremony celebrating that fact not ten years after his death. And then there is the question, a fraught one, of how the policy successes and failures of a papacy should figure into a man's case for sainthood.

So, the trouble I have with Dowd's taking this topic on is not that she's completely wrong, but that she's not thinking or writing seriously about something that I think deserves serious comment. It's not that she's scornful or dismissive of the whole charade -- she wants to take on what she knows is a grave subject, but without any proportionate gravity in her approach.

John Paul was a charmer, and a great man in many ways. But given that he presided over the Catholic Church during nearly three decades of a gruesome pedophilia scandal and grotesque cover-up, he ain't no saint.

The first sentence alone demonstrates how this column's subject and style are at war: it starts out snide, and then it's as if Dowd suddenly remembered to try to sound like she wants to be taken seriously. And the second sentence has the form but not the content of an argument: is it given that the sex-abuse crisis having happened during John Paul II's papacy means he is not a saint? Things would be a lot simpler if it were. But listing the things that went on while John Paul was pope, and then vaguely asserting his direct responsibility for them, doesn't do the trick. It's hard not to conclude that the rhyming conclusion here is leading the analysis instead of the other way around.

Dowd's breezy summary of the issues -- John Paul's appeal to conservatives and neoconservatives, Benedict XVI's role in promoting his cause, the Marcial Maciel Degollado affair, as well as John XXIII's contrasting legacy, John Paul II's not-so-neoconservative moments, and even the recent United Nations report (but of course) -- covers a lot of ground and brings up a lot of relevant points, but never convinces me that she's really reflected much on what it all means. And there are bum notes throughout: "The Vatican had a hard time drumming up the requisite two miracles" for John Paul, she says, making you wonder what she expected -- if they had brought forward five immediate claims of miraculous healings, would she have said, "Well then, that seems convincing"? And nine years is pretty quick; how long did she think this should have taken? And most significantly, does she know that the Vatican actually did not drum up the requisite two miracles for John XXIII? Yes, she does, because she writes about that later in the column: "the newly christened Pope Francis" -- Hey "christened" is a religious word, right, so it'd probably be clever to use it here -- "tried to placate progressives by cutting the miracle requirement from two to one to rush John XXIII's canonization." Dowd doesn't seem to mind that decision. But she didn't go back and change her suggestive line about "drumming up" the miracles for JPII, either.

In the same sentence about JPII, she refers to "Pope Benedict XVI, known as John Paul's Rasputin." Was he? By whom? Do you think she meant "rottweiler"? Is she aware of what it usually means when you compare someone to Rasputin? I am honestly not sure. She also, later, refers to Maciel as "the dastardly Mexican priest," which is an awfully cutesy way to characterize his crimes.

The personal holiness of John Paul II, and his theological teachings, never come up, though they are usually cited as the basis for his reputation for sanctity among the faithful. I am very sympathetic to an argument that such factors shouldn't outweigh the practical legacy of his papacy when it comes to canonization. But Dowd doesn't even touch on them. Her concept of what it means to call someone a "saint" is completely secular.

The church is giving its biggest prize to the person who could have fixed the spreading stain and did nothing. The buck, or in this case, the Communion wafer, doesn't stop here.

"Its biggest prize" is a pretty shallow way to think about what sainthood is, but this is a Maureen Dowd column, so that's to be expected. But that second sentence is the one I'll quote back at you if you write to me to convince me that Dowd -- who, let's not forget, has received journalism's biggest prize for commentary -- is a great or even a pretty good opinion columnist. This is what happens when you take a topic like religion and sexual abuse and try to run it through the Maureen-Dowd-column-generator. The Dowdian template calls for a jokey line, optimally a turn of phrase related to some cliche. And so we get "The buck, or in this case, the Communion wafer..." The trouble is, first, right when you're laying blame for the sex-abuse crisis at the feet of the former pope and present candidate for sainthood is actually not a good place for a joke, at all. And second, this is not actually a joke. It is at best a reference designed to make it sound like you know what you're talking about that ends up doing the opposite -- kind of like the "newly christened Pope Francis" line, or the bit at the beginning establishing that Maureen Dowd went to Mass on Easter Sunday, and they sang "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "Danny Boy." (How...would that even work?)

There is a sentence in the column that suggested, for me, the worthwhile analysis we might have had, in a better world that expected more from its newspaper columnists. Noting that "spectacular" mistakes can overshadow even the greatest accomplishments when we evaluate a leader, Dowd writes, "Lyndon Johnson deserves to be secularly canonized for his work on civil rights, but he never will be because of the war in Vietnam." That got me thinking: what would it mean to "secularly canonize" someone? Is it even possible for presidents, or have we shut the door on that after Lincoln (with a cut-down-in-his prime exception for Kennedy)? Reflecting on that could be a way in to examining the political side of non-secular canonization, which is the only side Dowd seems to be interested in anyway. She doesn't seem to notice, though, that when she quotes Kenneth Briggs saying that John XXIII came out of his five-year papacy "free and clear" while John Paul is under a cloud, she is naming one big reason the sainthood call is less fraught for Good Pope John: his papacy was short. Had he presided over the aftermath of the council he began, or had he been in the papal chair for another twenty years of upheaval in the church and in the world, he too might have a cloudier legacy.

There are a lot of good reasons to criticize, doubt, or argue about the decisions to canonize these two popes. Or any popes, for that matter. Maureen Dowd even mentioned some of the big ones in her column. But it's still an awful column. Opinion writers have to be more than basically right about the big stuff; they have to think things through carefully and then bring the rest of us along in doing likewise. They have to know when to be cute and when to be careful. Because when they're reductive and glib, and especially when they're prominent and (for some reason) taken seriously as Thought Leaders, they contribute to a general dumbing-down of discourse about things that are important. Dowd ends this column by characterizing the canonization of John Paul II as the church "winking at the hell it caused for so many children and young people in its care." But it's hard to take that indictment seriously coming from someone who doesn't ever seem to have a problem with winking.



Commenting Guidelines

Mollie: If you were a great, award-winning columnist you obviously woud have written one more sentence: "Winking ain't thinking."

Great analysis, Mollie.  Anger and snideness grow wearisome after a while - at least I'm tired of it today.  I wish Maureen Down could clothe her passionate convictions in a fuller range of expression.

A few other random thoughts on the canonizations:

First of all, it has had me scratching my head for some time that the canonization of John Paul II seems to be "crowding out", in public consciousness, the canonization of John XXIII.  Has Roncalli faded from our collective memories already as the years have passed?

Second: neither man needs the church authorities to affirm his sainthood.  In both cases, large segments of the faithful already are firmly convinced he's in heaven, and those folks presumably already are praying to him and honoring his legacy in many ways.  That should be enough for now.  I do think it's a bit unseemly to do this big organization-foisted hoopla thing so soon.  I don't need the church authorities to tell me that Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day are saints, and I don't need the church to tell me that John XXIII is a saint.

Third: most of us may not have known much, or anything, about John XXIII before he became pope, but it's become clear to us that the man's holiness is not only to be found within the five years he sat on the chair of Peter.  His whole life is a sort of lucid exposition of Christian witness.  I expect the same can be said about Karol Wojtyla.  

Fourth: I don't think the fact that John Paul may have not risen to the occasion, and perhaps even committed sins of omission in regard to sexual abuse, should be an all-purpose conversation-stopper or canonization-stopper.  (And I would say the same about Pius XII and the Shoah.)  That JPII  wasn't perfect in every way does not diminish the great things he did and the effect he had on people.  He changed a lot of people's lives for the better.  Could he have changed even more lives for the better had he better understood the sex-abuse scandal and more energetically pursued reforms?  Undoubtedly.  But if ignoring that aspect of his legacy is a whitewash, then reducing his legacy only to that is a "blackwash".   That his legacy has some stains and even some ugly dents, may lead us to some more serious reflection on what it means to be a saint.  Maybe?


Auuugh, Tom, now I will forever regret not thinking of that. The Pulitzer recedes ever farther from my grasp...

The dogs bark and the caravan moves! 

Surprise, Maureen's channeling her inner brat again.  Agree with Jim P., "That his legacy has some stains and even some ugly dents, may lead us to some more serious reflectionon what it means to be a saint." Didn't there used to be some sort of 50 year rule for canonizations; that the person had to have been dead at least 50 years?  I actually think that was a good idea; some time gone by leads to greater objectivity about someone's life and legacy. I agree with Mollie that, "You can believe with all your heart that John Paul II has gone to the Father's house and still question the wisdom of a ceremony celebrating that fact not ten years after his death."


Dowd is more a satirist than a opinion writer. In the satire there are opinions. But the satire is the main event. We may agree with a satirist as you do with Maureen on several points. But when they hit our hot buttons our admiration softens. Does Pareene have to slam the pope before you sour on him. As you note Dowd makes some good points while you may not like the phrases she couches them in. You seem to admire Pareene. But he  just throws epithet after epithet on the wall. Never coming close to the depth that Dowd has. And the Kerry quote???  Ok she should have used quotes. But her parapharase was as close to a quote as you can get. 

And she is an equal opportunity critic. She has gone after Obama many times. Since you make it a point I will address it since I consider Dowd a great columnist. Maybe, like Francis, I could accuse you of clericalism.  Or more precisely,  "waferism."  Perhaps Dowd should write about that because it is waferism or clericalism which has falsely exalted priests as if they are the ones who make Jesus present. Ergo we must bow and give them all kinds of titles. 

Your objection to the language "he aint no saint"  invites further reflection. After all isn't the opinion of John Paul IIs personal holiness more offensive. Why? Because he prayed with his eyes closed. His eyes were certainly closed to the suffering of thousands of victims in the midst of conclusive evidence. Why because that would stain his papacy? Which it did anyway.  

So Maybe Maureen is more accurate and more necessary. With all this back and forth about John Paul II because he took a zillion plane trips. Perhaps it can be argued that he became a narcissist on the world's greatest stage. What else can explain this blindness to the pain of children and censuring of so many good people. 

Maybe we don't need all the heming and hawing. "He aint not saint." might say it best, after all. 


@ MWR:  I can't believe I going to defend Maureen Dowd.  Mainly because I have multiple problems with her gadfly approach to opinion journalism.  

I was waiting as I read "A Saint, He Ain't" for her to make one of those insipid sexual allusions like Dowd frequently does whenever she writes about Bill or Hillary Clinton.  Or, when she tries to suggest that President Obama is never quite black enough calling him by his childhood nickname 'Barry.'

Yet, isn't the issue you have with her is that Dowd has a much larger media platform from which to spew her not-too-well-considered opinions?  Perhaps I detect more than a slight professional "size" envy here?  

It's OK, MWR, you're not the first woman to resent what seems to come too easily for one of the "cheerleader girls."

Besides, you and Dowd write for very different audiences.  She speaks to the world from the newspaper of record.  You speak to the very tiny, and frankly peculiar, world of dotCommonweal.

I skimmed through the blog comments that were written as addendum to her column.  I think the broad auidence of the general public gets that this sainthood for JP2 is problematic at best.  

Face it, the legacy of JP2 evokes both ambivalence and controversy from almost every quarter of the public - excluding the hords of his rabid sycophants.  Now that for internal political reasons the Vatican - and most definitely Papa Francesco - has decided to move prematurely with this canonization, we Catholics will have to live with this dubious decision for a long time.

The wisdom of this canonization at this time escapes me.  We may well learn something else, something new, about JP2 that has yet to come to public attention that would further tarnish our Polish prince.

This double canonization of both JP2 and J23 is born of Papa Francesco's political gambit to move the church's agenda in a different direction.  We'll have to see how well he wears and wields that papal infallibility  cloak. 

I believe it used to take about 100 years to become a saint, and the devil's advocate job has been done away with, which makes it easier now.  Even guys like the founder of Opus Dei can make the grade, sigh  :(  I think that in many cases, the people who have been chosen as saints were chosen not because they were morally outstanding but because they and their examples were useful in some way to the church.  I don't think either of the popes to be made saints are really saint material.

Maureen Dowd went to Mass on Easter Sunday, and they sang "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "Danny Boy." (How...would that even work?)

Great question. I've been working on that for three hours. I missed it in her column because I was musing about her half-empty church contrasting with my own SRO. But since you brought it up, I don't think it can work. I can't make it anyway. Now I wonder if Dowd confused some other familiar tune with "Danny Boy," which would be like lauding Clark Gable for his work in Casablanca. Or did the lyrics come from a hymn other than "Amazing Grace"? I don't think we are going to solve this problem but I do know it will bother me all night.

Tom --

Why don't you go over to Pray Tell, the liturgy blog, and ask the expert musicians there?  Then they can stay up all nigh with you :-)  (No, the words and melody just don't match!!)


I agree with Bill Mazella.  Dowd has a style and yet she makes points that should be raised about the canonization of JP II.  You come off as having an animus against Dodd that clouds your ability to have critical distace from what she wrote.  Dowd should be given credit for asking the hard questions about wherther he is really the saint the Church will proclaim him to be.  Would that more journalists, including those at Commonweal, would ask the same questions.


I could find nothing objectively false in Ms Dowd's piece and the critique here deals more with style than substance. John Paul II should not be canonized for many reasons: Nicaragua, gays, women, appointment of bad bishops and extreme centralization of appointment process, abortion of the Vatican II process, stonewalling on celibacy, contraception and other such issues, Stalinist suspicion and repression in regard to theologians that has greatly depleted Catholic theology, governance of the Church through a combination of cult of personality and curial skulduggery, mishandling of child abuse scandals. All of these things get whitewashed by the "Saint" title, the highest the Church can bestow (unless they add "Doctor of the Church" in view of his neognostic Theology of the Body).

This is not a trick question - is a Catholic obligated to believe that anybody is a Saint and in heaven because they have been declared a Saint by the Church?

I was once told (perhaps incorrectly), that Catholics only recognize two human beings (excluding Jesus) as being in heaven for sure - one is the Virgin Mary and the other is the thief who Jesus told that he would be with him in paradise that day.  I understood that people were free to believe in the Saints but this was not an obligation.

Re: Maureen Dowd - IMHO her biggest weakness as a journalist is that she is so predictable - she rehashes headlines.  I never really see any original thinking. IMHO. 

Re: charmer. She's just reversing the tide by indulging a sexist remark. It comes off as irritating to the people she wants to bug, plus a few more.

Re: sainthood. JP2 wasn't perfect. Saints aren't perfect. None of them. I don't have a problem with Sunday's big party if they don't mind me dropping a local saint or two in the litany last Saturday.

I have a bigger problem wth a lack of normal people among the canonized saints. Not enough lay people. Too many clergy and religious. One or two more priests isn't going to make that much difference to me.  

About JP II and Maciel --  It seems quite credible to me that JP II was conned by Maciel who was very obviously aworld-class con man.  Many others were, including others in high places,  why not JP II?  Also, it seems beyond doubt that JP loved young people, and I can conceive his loving them so much that it was just inconceivable to him that such a "nice man" as Maciel would ever even think of abusing a young person. Further, we know from JP's behavior in other matters that JP's strength of character included a large amount of plain stubbornness, a stubbornness that served the Church and the West well when he was dealing with Moscow.  Once he made up his mind abou Maciel I'm sure he would naturally have mightily resisted changing his mind.  This wasn't admirable in him, but it would help explain his bad judgment about Maciel which had such catastrophic consequences.  In other words, JP probably didn't realize that his judgment was wrong, and so he shouldn't be held morally responsible for it..

Tom Blackburn, Ann Olivier et al.: I have learned from a reliable source that there does in fact exist a setting of "Amazing Grace" sung to the tune of "Danny Boy." (That source is my husband, who recalls hearing a church choir sing it years ago.)

So let's give Maureen Dowd credit where it is due: she has good enough taste to be put off by that. Meanwhile, we may have solved that other puzzle: my parish was SRO on Easter Sunday too, but if that's a typical music choice, I can understand why hers wasn't!

No, you can't sing the text "Amazing Grace" to "O Danny Boy"'s tune*.  They don't fit - they have different syllable counts.  It's like trying to write a 10- or 11-letter word in a crossword puzzle space for eight letters.

Btw, church musicians know that you can mix and match different texts and tunes when the syllables and stresses do line up.  You can sing "Amazing Grace" a lot of other hymn tunes, like the one used for "O God Our Help In Ages Past".   You can sing it to "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle". You can kinda, sorta sing it to "House of the Rising Sun".  And you can fit all those lyrics into the tune of "Amazing Grace".  This is what passes for diversion and humor in church choirs.

* Because apparently the universe would not be complete without it, there exists a web page entitled "Nine Hymns of the Church with Lyrics Set to the tune of "Danny Boy"".  One of them is by Timothy Dudley-Smith, whose texts usually reward attentiveness.  And there is another whose first two words are, "Amazing grace ...", but the rest of it is pretty different than the text we've all sung a gazillion times, and in fact it mentions Calvary rather than Easter.  Even so, maybe that's what Maureen Dowd heard.


I was bemused to hear a hymn sung to the tune of "O Waley, Waley" this Easter.

Amazing Grace to The House of the Rising Sun sounds marvelous! 

"To Thee, O Heart of Jesus" and "The Church's One Foundation" use exactly the same melody, but the words make them sound like two different melodies.


Another example



It's like trying to write a 10- or 11-letter word in a crossword puzzle space for eight letters.

It's modern times. Nothing could be easier: accentu8, str8ened, 2bercul8




I've heard you can sing all of Emily Dickinson's poems to the music of The Yellow Rose of Texas  :)

Sure, some songs can absorb lyrics besides their own. Some hymnals will note, at the top of a hymn, something like 6,6,7,6, which means any poem with lines of six, six, seven and six syllables can be sung to them. However:

Amazing Grace, how sweet, how sweet the so-ow-ow-ownd..


Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, the sound, the sound...

It has to be one or the other (I've lost sleep over this), and bioth do violence to the lyric even before you get to the second line, which is where it becomes a case of a round peg in a square hole.

Call me Thomas, I won't believe it until I hear it sung.

In most hymnals (not the disposable music editions in the pews) there are at least  four indexes.  As Tom B. mentioned, one of them is a metric index, which facilitates swapping out words.  Another is the tune index, which lists all the songs having the same tune.  I think the one with the most is Hyfrydol; which is "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus", among many others.  O Waly Waly, is "As the Deer Longs", as well as a couple of other responsorial psalms. In fine print at the top or bottom of the hymn is information about who wrote the lyrics, and who composed the tune (if known) also the dates for both. Lots of fun information if you are a music nerd.


It still being National Poetry Month, perhaps now's the time to point out that most of Emily Dickinson's poetry, as well as Amazing Grace, The Yellow Rose of Texas, and House of the Rising Sun, are written in Common Meter - alternating lines of imabic tetrameter and trimeter, or 8-6-8-6 - used in ballads (Common Meter with the rhyme scheme ABCB) and many hyms (usually ABAB). No wonder you can fit so many lyrics into such tunes. 

Here endeth the lesson.



One can endlessly discuss the merits of sainthood of John Paul II, but Dowd puts it in the proper perspective when she writes. "There is something wounding and ugly about the church signaling that those thousands of betrayed, damaged victims are now taken for granted as a slowly fading asterisk" The Church continues to abuse victims when it praises its leader while at the same time keeps all of its dirty secrets. The vast majority of victims remain anonymous. Making John Paul II a saint does nothing to help victims, but releasing all of its information about the cover-up will aid in their healing.


Maureen Dowd in limited space gives due praise and criticism of the life of John Paul II.  But her issue is not with John Paul.  It is with an institution that dismisses the lives of millions of children who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests.  A ten year old child who was abused fifty years ago is now sixty years old and every day suffers (often quietly and anonymously) from the abuse. It sends the wrong message to survivors and the faithful when it rushes to canonize its leader while it is dreadfully slow in revealing its knowledge of sexually abusive priests and those who covered it up? 


Maureen Dowd in limited space gives due praise and criticism of the life of John Paul II.  But her issue is not with John Paul.  It is with an institution that dismisses the lives of millions of children who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests.  A ten year old child who was abused fifty years ago is now sixty years old and every day suffers (often quietly and anonymously) from the abuse. It sends the wrong message to survivors and the faithful when it rushes to canonize its leader while it is dreadfully slow in revealing its knowledge of sexually abusive priests and those who covered it up? 


  First I read Mo, then I read Mollie, then I read the comments, and all of you missed it.

  Obviously they’re cannonizing JPII because he saved the Church from your turning it Protestant.  Of course he had help from his friend Rotzputin, and the Holy Spirit directed both, but he da man (and Ratz’s next).

Thank you, Joseph O'Leary, for summarizing so well the many reasons why John Paul II is not a saint and should not be canonized.

Neither should John XXIII. Their joint decisions to avoid protecting children over predatory priests outweighs whatever good they did.







So many of us feel disapointed and disillusioned by the manner of John Paul's inactions and actions with the clerical sex abuse issue, his supression of thchallenging theologians, and his episcopal appointments that it is sometiomes hard to remembver his breakthroughs and other initiatives. The current issue of America has an insightful article written by John Thavis in 2003 ( just as the sex abuse controversy in the US had begun to emerge in its most public forms) and by Rabbi Noam  about the effect that he and John XXIII had on changing relations with the Jewish community. These and other accomplishments cannot be minimized even in our anger about what he did do, did not do, and- inexcusably- ignored. 

I stopped reading Dowd a couple years ago.  She can obviously craft an interesting sentence and build an argument, but the substance is just so vacuous -- as O'Reilly demonstrated so well.


That's the best line I've heard in a long time.  Thanks, Crystal, for a true laughing out loud moment in my day.

Brilliant, funny comment. Thank you!

I just went to my hard drive to look for a column of Dowd’s that I saved.  She wrote it shortly before the invasion of Iraq.    Excerpts:

March 16, 2003


Maureen Dowd

WASHINGTON — Everyone thinks the Bush diplomacy on Iraq is a wreck.

It isn't. It's a success because it was never meant to succeed. ...The Bush hawks never intended to give peace a chance. They intended to give pre-emption a chance.

They never wanted to merely disarm the slimy Saddam. They wanted to dislodge and dispose of him.

The president's slapped-together Azores summit is not meant to "go the last mile" on diplomacy, as Ari Fleischer put it.

If Mr. Bush really wanted to do that, he'd try to persuade some leaders who disagree with him; he'd confront the antiwar throngs in London, Paris or Berlin and not leave poor, exhausted Tony Blair to always make the case.

The hidden huddle in the Azores is trompe l'oeil diplomacy, giving Mr. Blair a little cover, making Poppy Bush a little happy. Just three pals feigning sitting around the campfire singing "Kumbaya," as the final U.S. troops and matériel move into place in the Persian Gulf and the president's "Interim Iraqi Authority" postwar occupation plan is collated.

The hawks despise the U.N. and if they'd gotten its support, they never would have been able to establish the principle that the U.S. can act wherever and whenever it wants to — a Lone Ranger, no Tontos.

Cheney, Rummy, Wolfy, etc. never wanted Colin Powell to find a diplomatic solution. They hate diplomatic solutions. That's why they gleefully junked so many international treaties, multilateral exercises and trans-Atlantic engagements. ….We'll soon know if the hawks' ambitious foreign policy experiment has a miraculous result, or an anarchic one.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that a classified State Department report debunks the hawks' domino theory and expresses doubt that installing a new regime in Iraq will foster democracy. . . .


"It's OK, MWR, you're not the first woman to resent what seems to come too easily for one of the 'cheerleader girls.'"

This sexist ad hominem comment adds nothing to your credibility.


I kind of diagree with Molly's take on this, even though I loath sticking up for Dowd.*

But Jim Jenkins' remark is pure misogyny.




*I even recommended a Katie Roiphe article to someone a few weeks ago, so maybe I'm losing my edge.

Speaking of music, did you know that Ricky Nelson's hit "Hello Mary Lou" was written by a Catholic priest? That song has been covered by an amazing array of musicians over the decades. The songwriter is a Dominican, and they take a vow of poverty, so all the profits have gone to the order, not to him.

If Maureen Dowd wants to crank out cute columns whose major purpose is to show off her own cleverness, that's the kind of topic she should write about. Mollie O'Reilly makes an excellent point when she says that the style and subject matter of a column should fit. Dowd's snarky satire was perfectly suited to the absurditties of the Clinton impeachment, during which she mocked not only the president but his pursuers. Particularly hilarious and on-point were her eviscerations of Kenneth Starr and the House Republican sex investigators, whom she aptly referred to as "Torquemadas of the birds and bees." She won and deserved the Pulitizer for her work that year.

Dowd is capable of writing straightforwardly and seriously about topics deserving of such treatment. She has produced some powerful non-satirical columns over the years, and their impact was increased by their atypical (for her) style. She seems to have dashed off her column on the Popes reflexively and carelessly rather than thoughtfully.


Jim Jenkins:

You wrote to Mollie,

. . . [I]sn't the issue you have with her . . . that Dowd has a much larger media platform from which to spew her not-too-well-considered opinions?  Perhaps I detect more than a slight professional "size" envy here?  

I find that disappointing.  There's nothing in Mollie’s post that would support it.  What if you posted something about your experience with the San Francisco review board, and it was greeted by a comment similar to yours here – “similar” in the sense that it was pure, ungrounded speculation -- and hostile. Would you feel that you’d been treated fairly?

"A man has been crushed to death after a giant crucifix dedicated to Pope John Paul II collapsed, just days before a historic Papal canonisation in Rome."  ITV

The canonization of any person springs, in part, from the spontaneous movement of a large portion of people. At the death of John Paul II, there were shouts of Santo Subito that erupted. This, of course, can be chalked up to the sentiment of the moment and a kind of group think. Granted, there needs to be a level of discernment before we assess the full impact of a person's natural strength and character and how they opted to use the grace available to them. Still, the outpouring cannot be denied and not every person will have this level of affection shown. Doubt we will see it with Ratzinger, for example. Did not see it with Paul VI or even John XXIII but will probably see it with Francis.

,There is no question that many people were drawn to him by the sheer force of his charism. And this is part of natural dispostion and part grace. Good looking, athletic, fully engaged, he certainly commanded attention. Not unlike Francis whose charism differs in some respects. We cannot just dismiss these traits because they are gifts and I have seen people (men and women) use their gifts in this area to seduce, manipulate and hurt people in relationships. But, there is no indication that he did this at all to anybody either privately or publicly. Maureen Dowd is a good looking, bright, articulate, and gifted writer but her sarcasm does not serve her well and is not endearing.

And as for his accomplishments, his rapproachement with the Jewish community, given the sordid history we have had with them troughout the millenia is nothing short of miraculous.

His apology for the sins of the Church in anticipation of the millenium was also a good step forward. Granted not specific enough but certainly important to acknowledge.

HIs outreach to the youth was also important and while many criticize it, it is important to offer youth an attractive vibrant church.

His outreach to non-Christians and prayers with them for peace at Assisi notwithstanding the reactionary criticism by some including Ratzinger.

His many encyclicals and writings which have some excellent points and are accessible and offer useful fruit for ongoing reflection.

His reconfiguring the Church as missionary and the role of the papacy as a moral voice and compass on behalf of the world and not just the institution (I think he handed the instituion to curia folks and the problems with abuse lays, in large measure, with these senior leaders). I agree with Ann in her assessment of what occurred with Maciel. JP II wanted to see the church alive and saw new movments as the means to achieve this. The old guard was and is dying.

Agree with an over-reaction to liberation theology but Boff still can publish books and we can read those. Ditto for many, many others. Good heavens this is not the middle ages where the Vatican can control the press. There are many secular and non-Catholic presses and there is, of course the internet. 

Post is too long but that is my thoughts. I like to think that the Pope would say much the same that the great Indian leader Ishi said.

When I am dead, cry for me a little. Think of me sometimes, but not too much. It is not good for you or your wife or your husband or your children to allow your thoughts to dwell too long on the dead. Think of me now and again as I was in life, at some moment which is pleasant to recall, but not for long. Leave me in peace as I shall leave you, too, in peace. While you live, let your thoughts be with the living.

I opt to think well of the dead (hard as that is for some!)


"A man has been crushed to death after a giant crucifix dedicated to Pope John Paul II collapsed, just days before a historic Papal canonisation in Rome."

Isn't that kind of the opposite of a miracle? Something like a sign from the heavens: "Church! Church! Do not do the least thing to this case!"


What is the word for the opposite of a miracle?

The victim lived on John XXIII Street. I'd call the whole thing off.


Personally, I agree with Mollie that this was a typical Maureen Dowd piece, but on the other hand, you don't expect much more really, do you?  As to the specific points, though, I think the case for holding John Paul II up for special recognition, as canonization does, is extremely weak.  Beyond weak, really.  In my mind, he should have been "disqualified" if that is the correct term, first and foremost not because he ignored the Maciel situation, but because he actively protected that criminal and indeed held him out a "model."  His handling of the whole sexual abuse crisis was inept, to be chariable.  But looking even further, by virtually every measure, the Church post John Paul II was worse of than when he arrived.  Mass attendance declined throughout his papacy.  It finally stablized during the Benedict papacy. Same with priests.  Certainly in the west the numbers declined dramatically during his papacy.  And while some people wll point to the increases in priests in Africa and Asia, their numbers are relatively small considering the base they begin from and they don't even dent the need.  The number of Catholics per preist is twice as high in Africa as in Western Europe or the US.     The divides within the church, liberal vs conservative, right left, Commonweal Catholics vs Fr Z Catholics, however you want to catagorize them, they were worse by the end of his papacy than at the beginning, and he didn't seem to care much about what he was doing to the Church, the damage he did with his my way or no way approach and his appointment of largely yes men to various bishop posts.  In my view, the rush to canonize John Paul was both unseemely and led to bad decisison-making all the way through.  None of that is to say that he isn't a small "s" saint, just that he should not be held up as a model to be emulated. 



Maureen Dowd is a complex person who certainly does not get justice in this thread. I understand Molly being annoyed at her "apparent"  irreverence in using "wafer" instead of buck. But the cavalier dismissing of Dowd as a writer is shallow at best and misogynist at worst. Remember this is a person who had people like Clinton, W Bush, Chaney, Kenneth Starr, American Bishops,  Rumsfeld, executives at the NY Times, Obama and many others running for cover from her powerful pen. She is in no way superficial. In my opinion a giant of our time. .Remember she did  all this while mixing in with leaders who held her in contempt for her modest social origin. .She may not be a saint. But she embodies many qualities that too many of us immersed in clericalism (not you, Mollie) can benefit from. 

Here is an article that is very comprehensive about Dowd. We may not agree with some of it. But it exposes us to more material than most of us apparently are aware of.

Here's more fuel to add to the fire.  Joaquin Navarro-Valls, JPII's press secretary, has spoken in an interview about what JPII knew about the sex abuse cases, when he knew it, and what he did about it.  This one is for the history books.  Much of what Navarro-Valls says is simply incredible.  


"During the press conference, Navarro also talked about Wojtyla’s reaction to the first cases of clerical sex abuse against minors, which the Vatican started receiving in 2000. He recognised that Wojtylas did not realise just how serious the problem was, immediately, because “no one had grasped this at that time.”"


Surely the Vatican must have known what was emerging as early as the '80s.  The first big case to hit the media began in 1985 in Louisiana.  I myself knew the bishop involved and I know for a fact that he was a particularly highly regarded priest who had started to climb the hierarchical ladder quickly.  It is inconceivable that the Vatican didn't find out about him until years later.  And, of course, there were dozens of other serious cases being reported in the15 years between 1985 and 2000.  


Here's more nonsense:

"“This cancer began in a specific geographical place, the United States, in the form of isolated cases. The isolated cases which surfaced at the time referred to incidents which had taken place a long time ago - about 30 years ago. This did not make the problem any less serious but that was how things were. As the number of cases began to slowly rise, the Pope started to get very concerned. His thinking was so pure that it was impossible for him to accept that all this was real; Navarro explained."


"it was unbelievable, but he accepted it" -- does Navarro-Valls expect anyone in his right mind to accept his blatant self-contradiction???


He says nothing about Ratzinger's urging JPII to take action and JPII's refusing, but says, rather, 

" The Pope’s initial reaction, Navarro said, was to take decisions immediately."  In fact, when Ratzinger urged him to take action against Maciel, JPII refused.


What I find particularly reprehensible about Navarro=Valls is that the man is a psychiatrist, and he, if not the bishops, surely must have known *from the beginning* how devastating sexual abuse of children can be.  What kind of man must he be that he could keep his mouth shut about it???  


There's more nonsense at:  

John Paul II knew about the Vatican investigation into the Maciel case - Vatican Insider



Maureen Dowd writes for the common man, like me. She makes her points clearly and with a certain amount humor. I agree with her article 100%. She's not trying to write an erudite thesis on canonization. She's giving her point of view on some of the contradictons in this canonizaton. She'll be read and understood by thousands. As far as the" turn of a phrase". I think it's geat. Maybe we all have to loosen up a bit.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly.
Perhaps it requires a certain subtlety of mind to appreciate the work of satirists in communicating their reflections on the human condition. Steve Colbert, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart don't provide tightly reasoned arguments when skewering the oligarchs, their media apologists, their bought politicians and their tea party pawns. Yet their wry, sometimes joyous, sometimes biting humor possibly conveys the reality of politics and economics to their listeners better than the more cautious researched columns of the New York Times which aren't widely read.

After shallowly criticizing Dowd for shallowness, you write, "I more or less agree with her basic conclusions." Why, then, didn't you write a column for Commonweal expressing your conclusions which are basically the same as Dowd's and provide the closely reasoned and aptly expressed arguments that support your conclusions. Far easier and safer to be a critic who eschews satire.