Is the Holy See “copyrighting” Ven. Pope John Paul’s name?

 From VIS:


Recent years have witnessed a great increase of affection and esteem for the person of the Holy Father. There has also been a desire to use the Pope’s name in the title of universities, schools or cultural institutions, as well as associations, foundations and other groups.

In light of this fact, the Holy See hereby declares that it alone has the right to ensure the respect due to the Successors of Peter, and, therefore, to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church. Occasionally, in fact, attempts have been made to attribute credibility and authority to initiatives by using ecclesiastical or papal symbols and logos.

Consequently, the use of anything referring directly to the person or office of the Supreme Pontiff (his name, his picture or his coat of arms), and/or the use of the title "Pontifical", must receive previous and express authorization from the Holy See.

I’m curious.

Has anyone seen misuse of John Paul’s name for any institution?


Could this have to do with the penchant some people have for calling him John Paul "the Great" and even naming, for example, schools after him with that tag?

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  1. DavidJ says:

    Not JPII, but years ago, there was a “Mother Teresa American Catholic Church” not too far from my parents house. There was actually a lawsuit brought by, if my memory serves me, both the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Missionaries of Charity for misuse of her name, which they won.

    Unfortunately, nowadays you have to be proactive about these things.

  2. Eric says:

    I consider these inappropriate.



  3. ljc says:

    It doesn’t look like the article is necesarily refering to Ven. John Paul II, does it? Unless there is another part which you haven’t posted. It looks more like its a reference to the current Pontiff.

  4. GPQuartano says:

    I haven’t seen his name misused, but it doesn’t take a great imagination to see that the same people who came up with “Voice of the Faithful” could come up with all sorts of mischief.

  5. Eric: I wonder if perhaps the issue of calling Pope John Paul “the Great” in connection with an institution isn’t the issue.

  6. I agree with Eric. Yes, there was a time when the crowds would declare a Pope a saint or to be labeled “the Great.” Has anyone noticed that eventually THEY STOPPED??? We have a process now, one that investigates the life of a candidate for sainthood. One of the advantages of this process, is that it determines whether someone’s life of virtue was worthy of being called “Great” or … well, maybe good, but NOT so great.

    So if we are to attach that attribution to the name of the late pontiff, I should think it prudent to actually canonize the guy first.

    After all, once he’s raised to the altar, we can be more certain that he’s “great” than if we didn’t.

  7. Sorry, Father, your comment went through while I was writing mine. Without your guidance on the matter, I would have thought the issue germaine, as apparently did Eric.

  8. tiggermom says:

    Eric – I am no expert in many things but am quite familiar with many people involved in JPGreat University in San Diego and do not find that their naming of the University in any way inappropriate especially considering the focused nature of the Catholic mission to educate and evangelize using the new media that JPII called the young to harness for good. Those involved in the university are devout Catholics and the students are excellent. It would be helpful if you could be more specific as to why you see the names of these institutions as problematic – lest others be unnecessarily concerned about their orthodoxy or see it in some way as disparaging. I don’t doubt that perhaps a better process for naming institutions which are or purport to be Catholic should be in place however certainly much of the duty and authority to ensure the Catholic label is used properly falls to the bishop. I am glad that the Vatican is being pro-active about these things – I would certainly hate to see a group like Catholics for Choice invoke his name or any other Papal sort of legitimacy.

  9. Philippus says:

    I certainly think that the cultural center in Washington, DC loanin itself to use by leftist groups and people including Michael Novak is certainly a situation that is inappropriate. It has become a haven to inter-religious gatherers and indifferentism.

  10. Eric says:

    Yes. “The Great” is the problem I have. I in no way meant to disparage the people involved with these institutions.

    “The Great” imho would be something added at the time of cannonization.

    I hope I didn’t send this thread in the wrong direction.

  11. Thomas G. says:

    But surely the appellation “X the Great” is a secular title, awarded by general consensus by the judgment of history based on the departed’s positive impact on the life of the Church as a whole, e.g., great reformers like Gregory . . . .

    Sainthood may be a necessary condition of calling a churchman “the Great”, but it is not a sufficient condition, is it? We don’t say “Mother Teresa the Great”.

    Anyway, for JPII, it seems a bit premature. Some historical distance from his pontificate seems to be needed.

  12. Eric: I think this issue might be in part a reason for this statement.

  13. Random Friar says:

    Not in the US or Europe so much, but in other countries I have seen parks and preparatory schools, especially, named after Pope John Paul II. This seems to happen mostly where he has visited.

  14. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    I’m no expert…but wouldn’t popular use of the title “Great” be acceptable? Now, it’s not precisely the same thing but I would compare it, on certain levels, to identifying Pope Benedict as the “Pope of Christian Unity”. I don’t know about any process there is to use the term “Great” but is there something wrong with a popular usage?

  15. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    P.S. I am just thrilled at the news about these two Popes. HH Pius XII has always intrigued me; being young I did not know his Ponitificate, but I’ve come to have a great devotion to him.

  16. jpacold says:

    There is a church named for him in Montana:

    I really don’t know whether it’s normally permitted to name a church after someone before canonization (though this at least seems to have the approval and participation of the local bishop).

  17. Henry Edwards says:

    Shouldn’t the issues of saintliness and papal greatness be separated? Canonical process aside, the possession of saintly virtue may seem immediately apparent to many contemporary observers, whereas a judgment of greatness as a pope or statesman may require the perspective of decades or centuries rather than mere years.

  18. Geoffrey says:

    I don’t think “the Great” has anything to do with this declaration. My guess is that it is to try and stop any improper capitalization by using Venerable Pope John Paul the Great’s name, well-known coat of arms, etc., but an organization or institution that is less than Catholic.

  19. Peggy R says:

    A lot of Call To Action groups use John XXIII as their patron and use his image on web sites. Eg, see Fellowship of Southern Ilinois Laity (appropriately called “FOSIL”) web site. FOSIL is a certified (and certifiable!) affiliate of CTA in the Belleville IL diocese.

    Ok. I don’t see John XXIII’s image any longer, but here is a “Mission Statement” they attribute to John XXIII:
    Pope John XXIII
    FOSIL – Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity – is an organization of lay Catholics working, in the tradition of the early Christian community, to keep the voice of prophecy alive.
    FOSIL recognizes our call from Scripture and The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People from Vatican II to extend Christian social action to every sector of life.
    By providing and promoting adult education, FOSIL works to further the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church and to ensure justice, equality, and dignity for all people.
    They also have 8 blue taper candles as their logo right now. Is this some reference to Hanukkah?

    CTA includes an affiliate called the John XXIII Society in Bloomington, IN.

  20. Dave N. says:

    I think this pronouncement probably IS due to inappropriate use of “The Great” title with John Paul II. While I’m sure they mean no harm, remember the old expression about good intentions.

    As near as I can tell, only three other popes have been given the title (Leo, Gregory and Nicholas) but I’d love to hear of more if this inaccurate. The title is based on the judgment of history and not some sort of popularity or longevity contest. Is John Paul II worthy? I think any judgment regarding such a rare appellation will be responsibility of our descendants.

  21. bookworm says:

    Peggy: some years ago (early 90s) there was a progressive/left leaning group in the Diocese of Peoria that called itself the Roncalli Society, after Pope John XXIII’s given name (he was Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, patriarch of Venice, before he was elected pope). Then-Bishop John Myers (now of Newark) banned them from meeting in any Catholic church, school or parish institution in the diocese. They ended up having to go to sympathetic Protestant churches to meet. I don’t know if they still exist or not.

    Also, some Catholic instutions have taken the given names of popes, for example, Montini High School in suburban Chicago (named after Pope Paul VI).

  22. Melody says:

    As others have mentioned, there have been previous troubles regarding the use of Mother’s Teresa’s name. I’d say it’s a nice thing to see the Church one step ahead.

  23. rotaa says:

    From an legal standpoint, one cannot ‘copyright’ a name because it is not a creative work. However, they can ‘trademark’ a name.

  24. Peggy R says:

    Yep. I’ve been reading a Roncalli bio for a couple of years now. There is also a Paul VI school in Arlington VA, but that is a diocesan school. Presumably, a church affilated/owned operation may use such names?

  25. dcs says:

    Shouldn’t the issues of saintliness and papal greatness be separated?

    Indeed, Pope St. Celestine V was a holy man, but not a good Pope at all.

  26. bookworm says:

    “Pope St. Celestine V was a holy man, but not a good Pope at all.”

    In the third canto of Dante’s Inferno, which describes the “vestibule” of Hell in which opportunists who refused to make necessary decisions and stood neither for good nor evil are punished, Dante refers to one of the damned souls as a man “who in his cowardice made the Great Denial.”

    Some scholars believe Dante was referring to Pope Celestine, who resigned from the papacy after only a few months, allegedly because he feared the job would endanger his salvation(!). His successor was Pope Boniface VIII, whom Dante despised for numerous reasons. According to these scholars, Dante saw Celestine’s decision as selfishly motivated and made all the worse by the fact that it opened the door to one of the most corrupt papacies ever. (Dante placed at least 3 other popes in the circle of Hell reserved for “simoniacs,” those who bought, sold, or otherwise horse-traded ecclesial offices for political or personal reasons.)

    Other scholars, however, think the “coward” who made the “Great Denial” was Pontius Pilate, who literally washed his hands of responsibility for Christ’s crucifixion. Since Celestine’s personal sanctity and sincerity were well known, they doubt that Dante really intended to place him in Hell.

  27. nicholasfonte says:

    I can shed light on these “the Great” concerns that some have. I work at Pope John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, VA.

    First, Bishop Paul Loverde named the diocesan school.

    Second, our Director of Marketing is in constant contact with the Vatican’s Public Relations guy, because we have to get every official image/logo/whatever that bears the Venerable Holy Father’s name approved by the Vatican before we can publically use it.

    The Vatican is both aware of and has approved the use of the title “the Great” with our late Holy Father’s name.

  28. Grabski says:

    My wife and I have been granting a $1,000 scholarship at our local grade school to the 8th grader who best reflects the characteristics of JP II. Would we be ‘grandfathered’?

  29. bookworm says:

    Another reason to be careful what you name after a saint: the Cabrini Green public housing project in Chicago, named after St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who died in Chicago in 1917. Originally built during WWII it was initially populated by many Italian immigrant families; over time, of course, it became more heavily populated by poor blacks and Hispanics, and notorious for violent crime and gang activity. Most of the complex has since been demolished. Unfortunately, for Chicago area residents, it made the name “Cabrini” synonymous with crime ridden housing projects.

  30. The Cobbler says:

    “…who resigned from the papacy after only a few months, allegedly because he feared the job would endanger his salvation(!)”
    Dude? Unless we’re talking about irrational scruples, that’s more likely to be saintly than damning: for imagine the hubris it would take to think one ought to lead the Church as a mortal sinner!

    Speaking of hubris, I took this one to mean that certain groups should stop claiming to be endorsed by the Pope, particularly if all his holiness did was make a polite acknowledgement as is common in European high culture that the Church herself retains. However, perhaps “the Pope loves us” is a bit too abstract for this fairly specific announcement.

  31. moon1234 says:

    I would have to agree that JPII should NOT have the title of Great after his name. It is inappropriate to use such a title before he is even a saint. I think people are emotionally attached to him and therefore want to affix the “Great” title as well.

    This is not the proper way to attach such titles.

  32. David2 says:

    I really don’t know whether it’s normally permitted to name a church after someone before canonization.

    Apparrently there’s a “Church of Adam and Eve” in Dublin. I wasn’t aware that they are saints!

    As far as I’m aware, Canon law requires that our churches, oratories and private chapels) must be blessed or dedicated and given a title of (1) the name of the Trinity, or (2) the name of Christ, invoked under a mystery of his life or under his name already used in the Mass, or (3) the name of the Holy Spirit, or (4) the name of Mary, under a given title already found in the Mass, or (5) the name of the Angels, or (6) the name of a canonized Saint in the Roman Martyrology, or (7) the name of a Blessed provided the Apostolic See has given it’s permission.

    I don’t think Adam and Eve qualify!

  33. chonak says:

    Is this perhaps Pope Benedict’s way of discouraging Pope merchandise and of downplaying the rock-star treatment of the Pope?

  34. Thomas G. says:

    nicholasfonte – I was totally unaware that a “John Paul the Great” high school was in Dumfries, VA, just a stone’s throw from where I live (Alexandria, VA). While I count myself in the crowd that feels it is too soon to use “the Great” with John Paul II, it is nevertheless good to see a Catholic High School in the area. May you thrive . . .!

  35. Oleksander says:

    David2, Adam and Eve are venerated as saints in the Byzantine Rite because they were resurrected to heaven with the other just of the Old Law just after the easter (anyone in heaven is a saint)

  36. Nan says:

    I don’t see this as a copyright or trademark issue but rather control of name, image or likeness; much like deceased secular celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe or Elvis, whose estates have the right to determine who may use the name or likeness of the deceased. The Holy See is simply the entity controlling the use of any deceased Pope’s name, image or likeness.

  37. Northern Ox says:

    Rather like the “Spirit of Vatican II” crowd, some people seem to want to read their personal likes and dislikes into this statement, rather than just reading what the document says.

    What the document says the reason for this is: “to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church.”

    It goes on to note that “Occasionally, in fact, attempts have been made to attribute credibility and authority to initiatives by using ecclesiastical or papal symbols and logos.”

    I don’t see “the secret reason for this is that we don’t like ‘the Great'” in there anywhere.

  38. Rob F. says:

    Adam and Eve are in the Roman martyrology; their feast day is coming up soon. Traditionally, apples were put on Christmas trees to celebrate their feast.

  39. Sorbonnetoga says:

    Just to clarify: Adam & Eve’s Franciscan church & friary on Merchant’s Quay in Dublin city is actually dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. In Penal times a pub stood on the site called “Adam & Eve’s Tavern”. Mass was celebrated in the back room of the pub; anyone who has ever had to fight their way through a crowded Irish pub will know what a good camoflage that is for almost anything, including Mass! The name of the old tavern was commemorated in the Church but it’s really more of a nickname than anything else. Joyce afficionados will recognise the reference, of course.

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