By Frances Demilio Associated Press
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI hailed the legacy of John Paul II on Monday five years after his death, while questions remain over the late pontiff’s record in combatting pedophile priests and whether a miracle needed for his sainthood really happened.
During an evening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to pay tribute to the late pope, Benedict told pilgrims from John Paul’s Polish homeland that his predecessor had “without interruption taught us to be faithful witnesses to faith, hope and love.”
Among attendees was Cardinal Bernard Law who, after resigning as Boston archbishop in the sex abuse scandal which rocked his diocese, was put in charge of a prestigious Rome basilica by the late pope.
The 84-year-old John Paul died April 2, 2005, after battling Parkinson’s disease. The commemoration was early because April 2 this year falls on Good Friday, when Benedict will preside over Lenten services at the Vatican and at the Colosseum in Rome.
Immediately after John Paul’s death, Catholics began clamoring for his sainthood, and Benedict in December signed a decree proclaiming his predecessor “venerable” for his holy virtues.
At first, the inexplicable healing of a young French nun from Parkinson’s disease had initially seemed like the miracle required for remarkably swift approval for beatification, the last formal step before canonization. The nun, who had prayed to John Paul for years, woke up one morning two months after his death, seemingly cured of the neurological disorder.
But a Polish newspaper recently reported that doubts had been cast about whether the nun had Parkinson’s at all. Without citing sources, Rzeczpospolita, one of Poland’s most respected and dailies, said the Vatican had summoned new experts to scrutinize the case.
The Vatican’s former head of its saint-making office, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, indicated two medical consultants might have had doubts.
According to the National Parkinson Foundation, an estimated 20 percent of patients thought to have the disease were found at autopsy not to have had it.
“Most movement-disorders experts would agree that miracle cures of Parkinson or other movement disorders usually have a psychogenic component to the illness,” the foundation’s Dr. Michael Okun said by e-mail.
While another possible miracle might be found from the many alleged healing experiences by those devoted to the late pope, a potentially more serious shadow has been cast on the beatification process. Intense scrutiny is being thrown on how the Vatican handled sex abuse cases from dioceses around the world, particularly an explosion of complaints from the U.S. during John Paul’s 26 year papacy.
The harsher look at the Vatican’s policy on sex abuse has come as Benedict’s own record on dealing with the problem is being scrutinized in his native Germany, when he was Munich archbishop, as well as his long tenure at the Vatican as John Paul’s watchdog for purity in the Catholic church.
John Paul’s transfer of Cardinal Law to St. Mary Major’s, one of Rome’s most storied basilicas, was seen by many abuse victims as rewarding, not punishing, the Boston cleric for a policy by which many molester priests were shuttled from parish to parish instead of removed from contact with children.
And John Paul held up as a model, the rigorously conservative founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was later revealed to have fathered a child and had molested seminarians.
The Vatican began investigating allegations against the Rev. Marcial Maciel of Mexico in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 2006, a year into Benedict’s pontificate, that the Vatican instructed Maciel to lead a “reserved life of prayer and penance” in response to the abuse allegations, effectively removing him from power.