National Catholic Register


Popes Wilt Doubts

BY Tom Hoopes

| Posted 7/26/09 at 9:10 AM


A WSJ article about one failure of the Church in Ireland ended up becoming an article about the power of the Church — and of Peter.

This time, it’s Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt. After becoming disenchanted with (and antagonistic to) Catholicism, “Mr. McCourt felt it was impossible to fully divorce himself from the Church.”

In July 24’s “The Faith of Frank McCourt” Peter Duffy explains:

“So when he stood before Pope John Paul II in 2002, accompanying a delegation of 40 mayors from around the world, the little Irish-Catholic boy in him took over. He knelt, took the pontiff’s hand and kissed his ring.

“’I got up and he’s looking at me with his dazzling blue Polish eyes and extraordinary complexion,’ Mr. McCourt told the Commonwealth Club of California. ‘I had a feeling he knew. He knew what a fraud and a phony I was. Then I walked away. And I have to admit, as turbulent as my relationship with the church has been (although they don’t know it and they don’t care), I was walking on water practically. I was walking on air.’”

It’s easy to attribute this to the celebrity status of John Paul II. Many people have reported how seeing him had that effect: Tim Russert, Bono from U2, and people each of us can name from our circle of acquaintances.

But there is evidence against this:

—Peggy Noonan reported the phenomenon when meeting John Paul in the aging, dying stage of his life. So did friends who went to Rome as newlyweds.

—When people met Pope Benedict XVI, they reported the same phenomenon.

My own theory: The grace that we see in the Biblical account of Peter is the same grace we see in journalistic accounts of his most recent successor.