Friday, July 5, 2013

Pope John Paul II: Ersatz Sainthood, Anyone?

I had high hopes that Pope Francis, hailing from a scientific (chemistry)background, wouldn't fall for the folly of "sainthood". Let's be clear that this is all supernatural mumbo -jumbo and no one - be he pontiff, king or potentate, has any business deifying any mere mortal with this patently absurd term. Least of all, Pope John Paul II.  Yet, Francis appears to have succumbed to the cries and swoons of the "faithful" to give them this guy as a new saint.

According to the UK Guardian in a report this morning:

"The Vatican said the Argentinian pontiff had decided that the late pope John XXIII, who opened the landmark Second Vatican Council in 1962, should also be canonised, despite no second miracle having been approved in his case."

Note that the standard path to sainthood has always required two "miracles" - but in the case of John Paul II, even the first one attributed to him looks suspect. The original claim involves one Sister Marie Simon -Pierre (a nun of the Congregation of the Little Sisters) from Parkinson's Disease. The claim is that Sr. Simon-Pierre awakened one morning, 2 months after John Paul's death, to discover all her symptoms were gone. She insisted she'd prayed to the dead Pope and he "answered my prayers".

Maybe, but maybe not! While she does remain symptom-free there are loads more possible explanations for her recovery than that some dead pontiff performed or enabled a "miracle". The most plausible is that she never had Parkinson's disease in the first place. The only objective clinical diagnosis, in fact, rests on the pathology and identification of the accumulation of alpha-synuclein protein forming inclusions called Lewy bodies.

Since this identification requires autopsy, it means that at the very least the beatification phase ought not have progressed until Sr. Simon-Pierre's death. (In which case, canonization is postponed even longer.) Then, careful examination ought to reveal the abatement or diminution of the Lewy bodies. In addition, such examination would confirm she had Parkinson's rather than some other condition.

According to one AP report from two years ago: "Vatican-sponsored doctors simply determined that her cure had no known scientific explanation". But under pressure from the Vatican, how hard did they really look? Nice try, but it won't wash! What we need is the actual examination of the nun's brain for the presence of diminished Lewy Bodies (see image in link). That would confirm: a) she did have Parkinson's and b) that the primary source (Lewy bodies) had retreated. Then, the Vatican's medical experts or others could search the archives for any similar cases. If they exist, then what happened to the nun is not a miracle, merely an unusual and improbable happenstance.

Ironically, in the real world the actual plausible cure for Parkinson's rests with stem-call research which the Church foursquare opposes on the grounds that it uses and destroys human embryos. (In fact, the embryos are already allocated for destruction and most of them resulted from natural abortions or miscarriages).

Back to the Guardian report:

"No dates were given, but the ceremonies are expected to take place by the end of the year. There is some speculation that John Paul's could be scheduled for 22 October, his feast day and the anniversary of the liturgical inauguration of his 27-year-long papacy in 1978. Equally, however, 8 December – the feast of the immaculate conception – has been suggested as a fitting date.

The rapid process by which Karol Wojtyła has been propelled towards sainthood will be welcomed by many of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, who regard him as a towering figure who hastened the collapse of communism, encouraged inter-faith dialogue and brought charisma to the church."

The Guardian also aptly pointed out:

"But it is likely to be met with anger among his critics, including those who cite his record in handling the clerical sex abuse scandal. Some of them believe he should never be made a saint, let alone less than a decade after his death."

More disturbing is the evidence that J.P. II  actively and knowingly moved around pedophile padres to avoid their prosecution in numerous jurisdictions. When he died, that stratagem was passed on to "Pope Rat" aka Joseph Ratzinger. So how does such an action make this guy a "saint"? Maybe Francis needs to look again at the trove of documents which - if anything - don't support assigning any such label.

Arthur C. Clarke once referred to John Paul II as "the world's most dangerous man".  Why? Because of his active opposition to birth control, setting the stage for mass suffering across the third world, especially Africa - where he wouldn't even condone the use of condoms despite an AIDS-HIV epidemic. Indeed, this was the same disgusting hypocrite who preached that Catholics contracting AIDS was a lesser evil than using condoms.

AIDS! A disease of horrific and debilitating suffering! How is this guy remotely considered a "saint" as opposed to devil in disguise? Consider the implications just for this policy in Africa where nearly a fifth of the population of the continent are Catholics and where over 22 million people are living with HIV.

Apart from all these considerations, philosopher David Hume provided perhaps the best benchmark for what might supposedly be called a "miracle"

 "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish."

Consider the miracle claim of  Jesus “walking on water”. Prof. Hugh Schonfeld has a simple explanation for this:  a mistranslation of the Hebrew word “al” which can mean “by” or “on”. So, when a scribe really wrote “walking by the water” it was translated to “walking on the water”.

Applying the Hume test, one is led to ask:  Is the Schonfeld claim of mistranslation MORE or LESS miraculous than a man actually violating the law of gravity and walking on water?  It doesn’t require a lot of thought or effort to see that the mistranslation of a passage of the New Testament is LESS miraculous (or if you prefer, less improbable) than that a man actually, literally walked on water.

The same standards can be applied to Pope John Paul II's claimed miracles - especially the first - since no second miracle was found, so the Church has evidently violated its own standards and definitions for "sainthood". In the case of the first, it is far more plausible that Sr. Simon-Pierre enjoyed a partial, somewhat improbable recovery from her condition, than that J.P. II effected a nonlocal "cure" from the grave.

The Church's faithful also firmly believe that J.P. II did more than anyone to "bring down communism"  - but this is more ineffable bollocks and codswallop. The actual person most responsible (and it wasn't Ronnie Ray-gun) was Mikhail Gorbachev! See the book 'The Untold History of the United States' or hell - just investigate the downfall of the former Soviet Union on your own. Don't take my word for it!

But in the end, the 1.2 billion R.C. faithful will believe what they want. And hey, if it takes the flock's collective mind off the sexual travesties committed by padres the past 50 years (including on my brother John, btw) then so much the better!

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