Debate: Did John Paul II fundamentally renew Catholicism?

John Paul II greets a crowd while on holiday in Val D'Aosta, Italy (CNS/ Arturo Mari)

A great outpouring of devotion followed Pope John Paul II’s death in 2005. There were calls for him to be beatified quickly, both in St Peter’s Square and inside the conclave itself. Pope Benedict XVI, in his inauguration homily, said the “wonderful experience of these days” was evidence of the Church’s deep vitality. “The Church is alive and we are seeing it,” he said. “We are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised his followers.”

Now, six years later, John Paul II is to be beatified, and the mood is somewhat different. Many have criticised the speed of the process. Others point to possible shortcomings in his handling of liturgy or the clerical abuse crisis. Even his most vocal supporters have seemed apprehensive: George Weigel, his biographer, says he is worried the title “Blessed” will make the late pope a more remote figure.

In 2005, the consensus was that John Paul II fundamentally revived the Church. Is that still the case? Did he really renew the Church, or did his charm, his popularity, lead to only a superficial kind of renewal?