Historic canonization of two popes brings joy and controversy

Thu Apr 24, 2014 2:43am EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Two giants of Roman Catholicism in the 20th century will become saints on Sunday at an unprecedented twin canonization that has aroused both joy and controversy in the 1.2 billion member Church.

Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernizing Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis.

While John died half a century ago, critics say the canonization of John Paul - which sets a record for modern times of only nine years after his death - is too hasty. They also believe he was slow to grasp the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis that emerged towards the end of his pontificate.

Nevertheless, more than a million people are expected to flock to Rome - many of them to the Vatican - for the ceremony at which Francis will raise two of his predecessors to what the Church calls "the glory of the altars". Large TV screens have been set up around the city to spread out the crowds.

The Church will declare the popes who left an indelible mark on Catholicism led lives of holiness and are worthy of imitation by the faithful. Church investigators have credited them with interceding with God after their death to perform medically inexplicable miracle cures of sick people who prayed to them.

While the late Polish pope is hailed for his role in helping to bring about the fall of communism, critics have questioned his actions as the child abuse scandals - which have since shaken the moral authority of leaders of the world's largest religious denomination - began coming into the open.

Specifically, they have pressed the Vatican over what John Paul knew about sexual abuse by Father Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of a disgraced Catholic religious order, the Legionaries of Christ.

Maciel lived a double life for years as a pedophile, womanizer and drug addict while running the rich, conservative order he founded and being held up by the pope and his aides as an example of an outstanding religious leader.   Continued...

A monument of the late Pope John Paul II stands in Czestochowa, southern Poland April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel