Canonization Doubleheader


I doubt that Pope Francis has heard of Ernie Banks, the Hall of Fame shortstop. But like “Mr. Cub,” whose love for baseball led him to exclaim “Let’s play two!” before Sunday doubleheaders in the 1950s, the pope from the end of the world seems to think that papal canonizations are better in tandem: hence the Sept. 30 announcement that Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II will be canonized together on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014.

Predictably, the decision caused some unhappiness in some quarters.

Some Poles wanted John Paul II canonized by himself. Some who welcomed the decision to canonize John XXIII are disgruntled that “their” pope has to share the billing with the pope they think hijacked John XXIII’s Vatican II. The aggrieved Poles should (and most will) recognize that, while John Paul II brought uniquely Polish insights and experiences to the papacy, he now belongs to the entire world Church. The aggravated partisans of John XXIII should, but probably won’t, concede that the “John XXIII” they’ve have constructed in their imaginations bears little resemblance to the real John XXIII, and that the charge of Council hijacking is ludicrous.

In fact, it might be reasonably speculated that Pope Francis liked the idea of a papal canonization doubleheader precisely because it will underscore the continuity between John XXIII’s intention and John Paul II’s authoritative interpretation of Vatican II: Vatican II was intended to prepare the Church for the challenges of evangelization in late modernity, an intention realized by John Paul II’s use of the Council’s teaching to launch the world Church into the new evangelization of the third millennium.

Vatican II differed from the previous 20 ecumenical councils in that it provided no authoritative keys for its proper interpretation. Unlike other councils, it defined no dogmas, condemned no heresies (or heretics), commissioned no catechism, wrote no new canons into the law of the Church. Vatican II did give the Church 16 documents of differing magisterial “weight,” but it provided no interpretive keys to its body of teaching. The result was 20 years of argument, sometimes quite bitter. And in those arguments, as Benedict XVI put it, the idea of Vatican-II-as-rupture-with-the-past (which seemed to detach the Church of the future from its historical and doctrinal moorings) contended with the idea of Vatican-II-as-development-of-the-authoritative-tradition-of-the-Church (the tradition providing the reference points for grasping the true meaning of the Council).

At the very outset of his pontificate in 1978, John Paul II said that the full implementation of Vatican II would be the program of his papacy. He kept that pledge, providing authoritative interpretations of virtually all of the Council’s documents through his own encyclicals, apostolic letters, and post-synodal apostolic exhortations. Perhaps most importantly, he called a special meeting of the world Synod of Bishops in 1985, to assess what had gone right, and what had gone not-so-right, in the 20 years since Vatican II closed on Dec. 8, 1965. That synod, in turn, offered the Church a connective thread with which the various pieces of Vatican II might be woven together into a full tapestry, by describing the Church as a communion of disciples in mission. Catholicism begins with Christ (hence discipleship); those disciples are joined in a community, a “communion,” that is different from any other association because it is the mystical body of Christ; that “communion” exists for mission—to spread the Gospel and offer men and women the possibility of friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

The liveliest parts of the world Church today are found where Catholics have embraced this vision of a communion of disciples in mission; the dying parts of the world Church are those that cling to the false idea of Vatican-II-as-rupture. Pope Francis, who urges the Church to avoid being “self-referential” and to get about the business of spreading the healing message of the Gospel, is very much a pope of the new evangelization, which he understands to be a fruit of Vatican II.

And that’s why it’s entirely appropriate for him to canonize John XXIII and John Paul II the same day.

Editor’s Note: This article originally published at the Denver Catholic Register.

image: Ken Wolter /

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • JMC

    How I needed this article! I never had a problem with the “doubleheader;” look how many people Pope John Paul II canonized in a single day…*routinely.* My problem was with Vatican II. For many, many years, all I ever saw of it was the confusion created by the things…some of them really “out there”…done in the name of the “spirit of Vatican II.” Over the years, I learned that when you heard that phrase, it was time to run in the other direction. Many writers bemoaned the fact that Modernists had hijacked the Council while it was still in progress, and posited that they were the reason no canon laws or anathemas were issued. Reading the documents, as the Pope encouraged us all to do, that we might understand what the Council had been all about, did not help; while the general gist of them was clear enough, many of the paragraphs seemed to spew words that didn’t really say anything. I had read about how Pope John XXIII agonized over the Council, seeing what was taking shape before it even convened. I had read that after he died, a candidate’s willingness to let the Council go forward was the primary consideration in the subsequent election process. I came to believe that Council was the “great evil” of our day. JPII’s encyclicals, especially Veritatis Splendor, finally allowed me to begin to see the truth. Your article today solidified it for me. If the Council bore evil fruit, it was not because the Council itself was evil, but because of what we sinful men made of it.

  • Peter Nyikos

    I have read elsewhere that Pope Francis waived the usual requirement of a second miracle for these two Popes. I would like to know why he did this, and whether we can expect a rethinking of the usual requirements for canonization in the light of this precedent. It is a major one: Father Damien of Molokai, for example, was beatified more than half a century after his death because of the lack of even a first miracle, and then his canonization took more than half an additional century because of the lack of a second miracle.

    Mother Teresa of Calcutta once tried to convince a Cardinal that the requirement of a second miracle be waived in the case of Father Damien because of his exemplary life of service and self-sacrifice. The Cardinal answered half-seriously that it would be easier for her to get God to perform the second miracle on behalf of Father Damien than it would be for the Church to waive the requirement of the second miracle. It seems from Pope Francis’s actions that Mother Teresa was talking to the wrong Cardinal.