With all the magnificent perversity for which its renowned, the Roman Catholic Church has confirmed moves to make saints of two Popes, Pius X11 and the John Paul 11, both fabled for putting first their absolute defence of the Church as an institution. This is the very posture that incubated the world wide paedophile cover-up scandals, contributed to the world Aids crisis and led to the catastrophic failure (shared by Lutherans and others ), to challenge the rise of Hitler and resist the growing persecution of Jews that led to the Holocaust. By adopting a different position on its role in the great issues of the recent past, the Church is putting itself at odds with prevailing verdicts of history. Which side will win out in the longer term remains to be seen. But the Church also makes claims on the world as it is today and it is hard to see these how strange medieval gestures advance its genuine moral purposes. To grapple with the thinking behind the moves, we have to try to understand that for the Vatican, the Church is no mere institution that serves humanity. It is the Bride of Christ linked to His Body. Beatification leading to sanctification therefore proclaims a holy ideal, however far mere mortals fall short. 2010 will be a big year for Catholic saints. The Pope will mark Cardinal Newmans elevation by a subdued visit to Great Britain in September. But he wont be nipping over to Ireland to apologise for the paedophile scandal. The message seems clear enough. The eternal Church believes it operates on a plane above human frailty. But to the rest of us, a stark example of human frailty lies in these perverse preoccupations of Benedict XVI and his cohorts, supported by mumbo-jumbo about miracles. This debases the very causes the Church seeks to proclaim. Meanwhile the flocks give a shrug and the gap between them and the elderly male arbiters of their faith grows ever wider. People make make up their own minds about who is saintly and who is not.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London