Disrespecting Pope John Paul II's last wishes in a big way. Why is this permitted?

The late Pope John Paul II gave specific instructions as to the disposition of his papers. This instruction was given in 1979.

His personal secretary of 30 years has decided not to abide by this wish.

I find this to be completely abhorrent. They were his papers and should have been disposed of as per his wishes, upon his death.

This is a commmon occurrence but it’s made the world news because of whose papers these are. So, I offer a two-part debate:

  1. What right does anyone have to decide to ignore the wishes of a Pontiff who at the time of writing out this wish was very much in a clear state of mind?

  2. What do you do when someone in your family does this with a recently deceased loved one?

I put this in G.D. instead of IMHO because I wish to debate the fairness ( or lackof ) of this decision.


Just guessing here, but perhaps his directive was contrary to official Church policy?

Was the secretary making some sort of distinction between the late Pope’s personal papers and his official papers? Obviously anything official would need to be kept for the archives. This would extend I imagine even to working notes and drafts of encyclicals etc since it’s always useful after the event to see what was in the Pope’s mind.

I haven’t found another more exhaustive article. Heard the story on CNN, then saw this. Need to keep looking.

When you are in the position of a Pope, or President, how much of a disctinction can there be between personal papers and work papers?

The problem isn’t that the papers were published, it’s the missing eighteen-and-a-half Evangeliums that has everyone talking.

Good point. It would certainly be a very fine distinction. However, as an example I suppose that the Pope’s letters of greeting to family members on their birthdays wouldn’t be considered of such importance that they would need to be archived.

Since was Pope he could alter church policy as he wished.

Keep in mind, I’m no expert in Church doctrine when it comes to subjects like this, but the above post is pretty close to what I’ve learned in my life as a Catholic.

The Pope is the mortal link between the Church and God/Christ for Catholocism. If it isn’t specifically spelled out in Scripture, it falls to the Pope to determine what is right for the Church. Hence the historic importance of the Papacy. One man influences, ahem, a SHITLOAD of people.

It comes down to this. If the Pope says it is, it is. No amount of service gives anyone in the Church, aside from future Popes, authority to go against a direct order from a Pope. When JP the Deuce directed his papers be destroyed upon his death, those papers are to be destroyed upon his death. That’s all there is to it. No debate. That’s what is to be done.

I won’t go off on a tangent of today’s world being insistant on knowing everything about a person’s life, but when the head of the See issues a directive to his aides, that directive must be followed to maintain order in the hierarchy. If, forgive the term, an underling can thwart the derective of the leader after his death with impunity, what’s the point of placing trust in them? It seems to be a recipe for even more secrecy.

IMHO, for shits and giggles, I’d only be satisfied if the Archbishop were excommunicated. Otherwise, us Catholics must view all Archbishops as being equal to the Pope. In that case, what’s the point of having a Pope?

Thanks for following through that one. I hope it made sense. I’m putting in a lot of hours at work. :slight_smile:

I was taken aback by the report when I read it, but I could understand.

You’re entrusted with the papers of an important person you revere & respect.
They pass away, with instructions to burn them. You see nothing scandalous in them & instead see they are a treasure trove of the best about that person. Could you go ahead with the instructions?

Now- if & when he starts making book deals, THEN it can hit the fan!

This is sort of another side of Schiavo, ain’t it?

Many argued that Schiavo’s wishes should have been ignored, or at least very strong proof of them required. Here people are suggesting that a will provision should be followed irrespective of its consequences.

What are the limits to the principle that last wishes should be respected?

Let’s look at some easy cases of bequests:

Bequest #1: Give five bucks to my old buddy GW Bush. That’s an easy one, right? Well it is as long as the Pontiff’s estate has five bucks in it. If it does, GW gets the cash. If he doesn’t, the bequest

**Bequest #2: Shoot GW Bush in the face when he comes to my funeral. **Ok. Nobody really has a problem with this one not being enforced, right? Do I need to explain why?

**Bequest #3: Destroy all of the writings of Pope Urban I. **The Pope does not own the writings (he doesn’t, right?), and therefore cannot give them away.

**Bequest #4: Give my writings to Hillary Clinton, but only if she divorces her cheating husband. **. Most US courts would not enforce this provision because it encourages divorce. I’m betting the relevant law here is similar.

Bequest #5: Use my entire estate to buy WMD’s for the terrorist group of your choice. Much like #2.

Now for some challenging ones.

**Bequest #6: (written around 1938) Sell my writings at auction and give the money to Adolph Hitler to support his efforts regarding the Jews.

Bequest #7: If I’m ever in a persistent vegetative state, I don’t want feeding tubes.

Bequest #8: $100,000 to my executor, but only if he publishes a totally false biography of me.

Bequest #9: Destroy my entire collection of religious artifacts.**

IAAL, but IANACL (or a Catholic, for that matter). Therefore, I may totally full of shit.

Didn’t he also request to be buried in the earth? What’s that fancy sarcophagus in the Vatican about, then?

Seems like lots of famous folks make this directive and have it ignored by their successor to the eventual benefit of mankind. Emily Dickenson wanted all her poems burned, Kafka instructed Max Brod to burn his unpublished manuscripts, Ceasar Augustus himself intervened to prevent Virgil’s unfinished Aeneid from being burned in accordance with the poets wishes, and I’m sure there are a few others I’m forgetting. Should their wishes have been followed to the detriment of generations to come?

I guess that’s what’s called a “test of faith”? And has already been pointed out, ignoring papal decisions isn’t something a Catholic can do lightly. IMHO, anybody who defends the general principles of the Catholic church, or who describes themselves as Catholic, and who can nonetheless find a way to create this minor exception, needs to have a long hard think.

Within limits, a will and other such stuff is an expression of the wished of the deceased. They should be respected, but once a person is dead, they are ‘no longer here,’ and it falls to us, the living to do the best we can given the guidance left behind and our judgment of the current situation.

As far as I know there are no laws which dictate that we must enforce the wishes of dead people. How does this non-destruction harm the Pope?

Do you think that it hurts society in some way to ignore those wishes? Does the offense arise because he was the Pope?

If we know what is really at issue here it will be a better debate.


Well, I don’t think it hurts society in any real way. About 4 out of 5 people on Earth are non-Catholic. And a relative large number of Catholics (especially Western) are secular to the point of not caring too deeply.

The way I see it, it has everything to do with him being Pope. Again, in the Church the Pope has final say when it comes to us mortals. His word is earthly law. To accept an archbishop’s decision to override a directive from the Pope lessens the Pope’s authority. Not the man elected Pope, but the office of Pope, as it were.

In regards to society as a whole, it’s not a very pressing concern. However, within the Church, it will open the door to changing the fundamental basis of the papacy.
I can see it quickly undermining the authority of the Pope in the Church. Now, that’s opinion and speculation on my part, granted. But this is exactly how such major changes begin.

I know many here would just as soon like to see the Church as a whole fall. I would remind you that being Catholic is a choice. Hence Confirmation. If the desire is to see drastic change in the Church, there are many, many other denominations that offer salvation through Christ if that’s the belief. And almost all are very different in approach to the Vatican. Those that decide the Church is for them, it’s because of the structure and “rules” in place.

The Pope has final say for Catholics. That’s why he has so much power and influence. What bugs me is that with this situation, an archbishop suddenly has more influence than the Pope.

I hope I’ve beaten that enough to make it clear, but based on my history, probably not. Any clarification needed, either ask here without hijacking, e-mail me or open a new thread.

Thanks for listening

I don’t know how the non-destruction of the papers will be regarded in a religious context, but I am sure that were I the pope now, I would not trust the aide who did not burn the papers. Regardless of the benefit of the action, not burning the papers was a betrayal of trust.

There was a discussion about this on BBC radio 4 last night.

In short it depends on the wording of the will, if it was a request that the papers are burned then the executor can act or not upon it as he woujld on any other request. However if it was an instruction such as “my private papers shall be burned in the event of my death” then there is a legal obligation to follow tis to the letter.

Of course if JPII didn’t want his papers made public he could always have burned them himself, to prevent this happening in case of sudden unexpected demise.

And bear in mind that it was hardly a “sudden unexpected demise”… it was pretty clear that he was in a bad way when he had his throat operation (or arguably for several months previously); I’m surprised that he didn’t set the wheels in motion then if it meant that much to him.

On the overall theme of whether the wishes of the deceased should be granted, my feeling is that unless there is a clear legal implication to following or not-following directives it makes no moral difference, as the deceased isn’t around to know about it.

The concern should instead be for those left living - if offence would be caused by either course (following or not-following) I would disregard those wishes. If the Pope has a problem he can come tell me.

My mum insists that she wants to be buried, rather than cremated… but that’s just because she’s got a dislike of the idea of beign burnt (fair enough!).

But when she does pass away, her wishes become irrelevant and it’s what will make her passing easier for the rest of the family that counts.

Sounds kinda callous, but it’s the only really logical way to look at it. Once you’re dead you cease to have an opinion.

The following is based on my understanding of the governance of Vatican City. Please correct me if I interpret it wrong. I’m in no way an expert.
e-logic, correct me if I’m misreading your post. It seems as though you’re looking at the will from a legal standpoint. What you have to keep in mind is that Vatican City is an independent country governed by its own laws. As far as I know, things like wills and the like are governed by the See. IOW laws concerning wills don’t follow the same laws of say Italy, U.K., U.S., French or any other laws.

I’m starting to think there are actually two ways to approach this debate. One to look at it from a legal standpoint based on probate law of other countries, and one to look at it from a Catholic standpoint. I keep looking at it from the latter. That being the authority of the Pope within the Church and how it can be the start of undermining the role the Pope plays within the Church.

I could be reading more or less into this debate than intended by the OP. So I’ll bow out now having given my opinion on it and hope it somehow made sense.