Just Before Canonization, NBC Hypes John Paul II Critic Saying Many Felt 'Stomped On' During His Papacy

The Friday before the Catholic church would celebrate the canonization of two popes, NBC's Today hyped the "controversy" of the jubilant fans of Blessed John Paul II "drowning out dissent" from those who felt "stomped on" during his papacy.

Raining on the canonization parade, NBC's Anne Thompson said the crowds who chanted "sainthood now" at John Paul II's funeral were "drowning out dissent" from folks like, as leftist religion reporter David Gibson told NBC, "Voices of women, voices of sex abuse victims, voices of the more progressive folks in the church who felt they had gotten stomped on during the 26, almost 27 years of John Paul II's papacy." [Audio here; video below the jump]

NBC's airing of vicious criticism of John Paul II was the worst of the networks' coverage of the canonizations, although both CBS and ABC noted the "controversy" in the proceedings.

The headline on CBS This Morning blared that "controversy surrounds sainthood for two popes." The only "controversy" that CBS's Allen Pizzey noted, however, was John Paul II's speedy canonization process.

"Preparations are being made for as many as a million people to attend a ceremony that is controversial on several levels. Rules have been waived, or in the view of some, not given enough weight. John Paul II was put on the fast track of a process that usually takes decades if not centuries," Pizzey reported.

ABC's Terry Moran cited criticism of Blessed John Paul II's response to the sexual abuse scandals, but countered with his popularity and his helping end the Cold War:

"So fast, it stirred controversy, especially among many victims of sexual abuse by priests, a rancid church scandal that festered and deepened during John Paul's long papacy. But he towered over his times. His fierce resistance to tyranny seen as helping to end the Cold War. 'Santo subito,' the crowds chanted at his funeral in 2005, 'sainthood now,' and now it comes."

Below are transcripts of the segments:

NBC
TODAY
4/25/14
7:15 a.m. EDT

NATALIE MORALES: It is an important weekend for the world's one billion Catholics. Pope John Paul II will be made a saint along with Pope John XXIII in a historic event at the Vatican. But it's not without controversy. Anne Thompson is at the Vatican this morning. Anne, good morning.

ANNE THOMPSON: Good morning, Natalie. At capacity, St. Peter's Square behind me can hold 80,000 people. But officials are expecting ten times that number to come here and witness history, because on Sunday, the Catholic church for the first time will canonize two popes together.

(Video Clip)

THOMPSON: (voice over) All roads lead to Rome for the world's Catholics. This group from Chicago joining one million pilgrims expected to jam streets around the Vatican to see John XXIII and John II [sic] made saints. Pope John opened the windows of the church to the world in 1962, convening the Second Vatican Council that modernized this ancient faith. He led the church for just five years. John Paul II served for 26. A major figure on the world stage, the pope from Poland helped bring down communism. He was a charismatic leader with a more conservative approach to Catholic doctrine. At his funeral in 2005, millions chanted "sainthood now." Drowning out dissent.

DAVID GIBSON, Religion News Service: Voices of women, voices of sex abuse victims, voices of the more progressive folks in the church who felt they had gotten stomped on during the 26, almost 27 years of John Paul II's papacy.

THOMPSON: His failure to respond to the sex abuse crisis has some saying John Paul should not be made a saint. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. says sainthood does not mean perfection.

Cardinal DONALD WUERL, Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.: It's a declaration that the person is a virtuous and holy person.

THOMPSON: The historic ceremony will be broadcast in 3D and followed on social media. It even has its own Twitter handle. But for this group of Catholics from Brooklyn, there is nothing like being here.

MARY THOMPSON: We are the only people who could bring people together, one bread, one body, one lord of all. That's us.

(End Video Clip)

THOMPSON: Now, they will not only see two popes canonized, but they will also see two living popes. Pope Francis will preside over the mass. Pope Emeritus Benedict is expected to attend. It will kind of be like a Catholic all-star game. Matt?


(Laughter)

(Crosstalk)

MORALES: Anne Thompson, thank you.

MATT LAUER: That's one way to put it. It's been a remarkable week when you consider that the Vatican, last Sunday was Easter Sunday, so obviously a big event for Catholics. And now thousands and thousands expected to gather over this weekend.

MORALES: This is a big deal this weekend.

LAUER: No question about it. Let's bring in Vatican spokesman Greg Burke. Greg, good morning to you.

GREG BURKE, Vatican spokesman: Good morning, Matt, how are you?

LAUER: I'm doing well, thanks very much. A lot of people are asking this is the fastest process to saint hood in the history of the Catholic church for John Paul II. Why the rush? Why do it so quickly?

BURR: Well, I mean, "rush" is an opinionated word there, because there are things that have actually happened faster. The Pope can do whatever he wants. I think there are two important things here, Matt. One is, it's not a rush, but you have a number of people who wanted this. Pope Benedict really, we thought was one of the most conservative popes in the world until he resigned, of course. But obviously a very prudent man. Somebody who knew John Paul II for the better part and worked with him for the better part of 25 years. And he's the one who signed off on the normal five-year waiting thing. Five-year wait before a process actually starts. So Benedict did that. I think that's one sign that we were pretty safe. And the other one was just the enormous outpouring of people coming for John Paul's death. That's part of the saint-making process. It's not exactly a democratic process, but people do vote with their feet.

LAUER: When you go back and you look now at John XXIII and the canonization of that Pope, the normal procedure is two miracles are presented. With that pope, there's now been one miracle presented. I don't mean to make it an opinionated comment again, but, you know, why do away with the tradition there?

BURKE: Yeah, you're good on that. That's one for Pope Francis to answer. But the Pope essentially is allowed to do what he wants. John XXIII has certainly been one of the most revered figures. It's often been done in the past as well, Matt, where – so no controversy there. It's often been done in the past where a second miracle has been waived. It's waived all the time in the case of martyrs. I think it's the immense popularity, the immense importance of John XXIII for the church, and it's also just an incredible sign of unity having the two popes together.

(...)

ABC
GOOD MORNING AMERICA
4/25/14
7:12 a.m. EDT

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to turn to Vatican City now, when history will be made this Sunday when two popes will become saints at the same time. And two popes could also be on hand to witness the canonization, also a first. ABC's chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran is live at the Vatican right now. Good morning, Terry.

TERRY MORAN: Good morning, George. And it really is an extraordinary, and here on the streets of Rome, a joyful moment. The crowds are building up to a million pilgrims expected to join hundreds of bishops and cardinals and thousands of priests and world leaders, to celebrate the very ancient ritual of the canonization of saints, for two men who in their very different ways were rock stars of the modern era.

(Video Clip)

MORAN: (voice over) And so it begins. The crowds are just now pouring into the eternal city. Souvenir stands doing brisk business. Armies of city workers preparing the way. Up to a million pilgrims are expected. There's never been anything like this in the long history of the church. Two popes, one day to remember.

Father JOHN WAUCK, professor, University of Santa Croce: Probably the two popes who changed the church the most. These are lives that are recorded. We watched them. And now, they're saints.

MORAN: For John Paul II, it's been a fast track to sainthood. Just nine years. So fast, it stirred controversy, especially among many victims of sexual abuse by priests, a rancid church scandal that festered and deepened during John Paul's long papacy. But he towered over his times. His fierce resistance to tyranny seen as helping to end the Cold War. "Santo subito," the crowds chanted at his funeral in 2005, "sainthood now," and now it comes. John XXIII, "the peasant pope" they called him. He revolutionized the church when he summoned the Vatican II council and pushed for a fresher, more modern Catholicism.

WAUCK: The special thing about John XXIII was the calling of the council and his personality. He was a very jovial man. A fat and happy saint.         

(End Video Clip)

MORAN: Pope Francis is expected to be joined by Pope Benedict. That's never happened before. And this whole celebration, a moment of unity for the Catholic church. Pope John XXIII long seen as a liberal hero. John Paul II, a conservative hero. What Pope Francis is doing with this is saying that doesn't matter; it's about faith.

(...)

CBS
CBS THIS MORNING
4/25/14
7:32 a.m. EDT

ANTHONY MASON: Two former popes will become saints on Sunday.

HEADLINE: "Closer to God: Controversy surrounds sainthood for two popes"

MASON: Preparations are underway at the Vatican this morning where a large crowd is expected but as Allen Pizzey reports from the Vatican, there is controversy attached to the ceremony. Allen, good morning.

ALLEN PIZZEY, CBS News foreign correspondent: Good morning. Well, it's an event that may well never happen again. In effect, four popes in the same place at the same time. Pope Francis will declare that two of his predecessors are here in spirit as saints while the man he succeeded, Benedict XVI, looks on.

(Video Clip)

PIZZEY: (voice over) Preparations are being made for as many as a million people to attend a ceremony that is controversial on several levels. Rules have been waived, or in the view of some, not given enough weight. John Paul II was put on the fast track of a process that usually takes decades if not centuries.

In response to chants of "Santo Subito," "make him a saint now," at John Paul II's funeral, Pope Benedict XVI dispensed with the mandated five-year waiting period for the work on proving sainthood to begin. In the case of John XXIII, beloved by Catholics as "the good pope," his life of holiness was judged to be a substitute for one of the two miracles that are required for canonization.

A nun told the story of the now-deceased member of her order who said she was cured thanks to the intercession of John XXIII. In response to those who asked whether or not miracles can be proven, there was Floribeth Diaz who said she was cured of a brain aneurysm thanks to John Paul II. "A lot of people say that I'm crazy," she said. "But this crazy lady is healthy, and that's the most important thing for me."  John Paul II and John XXIII were seen as coming from opposite poles of a divided Catholic church. And some claim one is being canonized to balance out the other. Father Thomas Rosica disagrees.

Fr. THOMAS ROSICA: We have the liberal and the conservative, and all of those differences pale in reality. Because what is a canonization, what is a beatification? It's a declaration of holiness and proximity to God and people being offered up as role models for us.

PIZZEY: It's interesting to note that many of the people in the audience will have seen one, and in some cases both, of the new saints when they were still alive. And that's something that hasn't happened since saints were proclaimed by public acclamation centuries ago.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014