Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why are these canonizations being fast-tracked?

Is it "extreme" of me to ask that? While I never met Blessed John XXIII and don't know too much about him beyond the little I've read, Blessed John Paul II is the Pope under whom I was received into the Church, the only Pope with whom I've actually exchanged a handshake, and I have every reason to have loved and appreciated His Holiness during his earthly life and to appreciate him still. Here are some of the positive things being said in the mainstream media about the pending canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II:

Yet I have also scratched my head a bit over what seems a rather precipitous and fevered rush to canonize these two popes. My reservation has nothing to do with doubting the Church's authority to canonize them, doubting their presence in heaven, or thinking ill of these soon-to-be sainted popes who were in their earthly lives undoubtedly sinners just as we all are. (Indeed, we know that among the saints whose veneration the Church approves there were many that were never formally canonized at all, but are nevertheless recognized as saints by the Church.) Rather, in much the way that Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman questioned the timing of Vatican I's declaration of papal infallibility (without in any way questioning the declaration itself), I think there are those who wonder whether there are not reasons for finding the timing of these particular canonizations a trifle imprudent.

Secular and Jewish critics have complained that Pope Pius XII didn't do enough to help the Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust (though I think there's ample evidence to confute that silly conceit), and the Church has slowed down his case and continued to defer it despite very good reasons for promoting it. Critics have likewise complained that Blessed John Paul II did not do enough to help the victims of clerical sexual abuse, as in his alleged passivity if not complicity in the case of the founders of the Legionaries, Maciel Marcial (though I think there is good evidence against his knowing complicity), but administrators of his cause have not let these concerns deter them.

Other concerns have been raised as well. Professor Roberto de Mattei, for example, whose credentials are above dispute, suggests that when the Church canonizes one of the faithful, "it is not that she wants to assure us that the deceased is in the glory of Heaven," but rather that "She proposes them as a model of heroic virtue." The person proposed for canonization therefore might be an exemplary religious, pastor, father of a family, etc. In the case of a Pope, it is assumed that he must have exercised heroic virtue in performing his mission as Pontiff, as was for example, the case for Saint Pius V or Saint Pius X. That sounds like the bar is being set pretty high -- enough, at least, to give some pause in the present matter.

Now it is true that Mattei also goes on to offer reasons why he believes that the pontificate of John XXIII was "objectively harmful to the Church," which goes well beyond my competence to assay, although I have to wonder whether his analysis of the question of infallible judgments in the case of matters not directly pertaining to the doctrinal content of faith and morals does not touch on some significant considerations.

Finally, there is also this video during Holy Week by Michael Matt, which, in the final analysis, I think cannot be simply shrugged off as silly traddy nonsense. I think he is right that Blessed John Paul II would probably agree that his own canonization should not be fast-tracked, but time ought to be taken to set aside all grave doubts -- not only for the sake of the critics, but for the sake of the Church and the candidate for canonization himself. The consequences of not doing so, as he points out, could include providing substantial fodder for the enemies of the Church.

So put me down as an obedient son of the Church who will always happily submit to Mother Church, but a son who is a trifle less than enthusiastic about the timing of these canonizations. What can I say? Maybe it can be chalked up to having Blessed Cardinal Newman as my patron ... well, perhaps. (As I said at the outset, he was less than enthusiastic about the timing of Vatican I's declaration of papal infallibility.) In the end, these opinions aren't going to make any difference to what happens on Divine Mercy Sunday; but I'm grateful for a Church that allows for the expression of concerns by the laity, whatever they may be worth, and whoever may turn a deaf ear.

“The splendid absurdity of the coming event can be grasped when we recognize that John XXIII and John Paul II would both have been condemned for their ideas and their words had they expressed them when Pius IX was in power.”

Commonweal (August 11, 2000), two weeks before Pope John Paul II’s double beatification of Popes Pius IX and John XXIII


Conscientious Catholic said...

Just a note: In 1870 the Vatican Council infallibly defined that supernatural revelations which constitute the object of the Catholic Faith ended with the death of the last Apostle and that the Pope could only infallibly define these revelations on Faith and morals. Therefore the charism of papal infallibility applies only to doctrines on Faith and morals that were revealed to the Apostles. Consequently, the process of canonization cannot be infallible because it has no link with Tradition, no link with the revelations given to the Apostles. The canonization process was unknown to the Apostles and all the popes until the 9th or 10th century when popes started to canonize saints. Thus canonizations are not subject matter for papal infallibility because the process of canonization was not part of the revelations given to the Apostles. And, Bishop Vincent Gasser, a Bishop at the Vatican Council of 1870 who presented this treatise to that same Council, states: '...As successors of the Apostles and thus, as chief teachers in the Church, the bishops inherit this infallibility, not as individuals but as a collectivity 'when united' with the successor of Peter...' Therefore, any canonizations presented to us are NOT part of Doctrine, so we don't have to believe them; they are not subject for veneration by us unless we want to. I only have to repeat the words of Jesus: "By their fruits you shall know them." If the fruits of their actions are rotten, disregard the actions and words of those who are involved. In my opinion, the fruits of Vat. II are rotten to the core.

JM said...

What I do not get is the apparent contradiction here. On the one hand, the Pope is very concerned about our witness and the perception of the world. One would then think he would want to proceed with the utmost discretion in the saint making process, so those raised to the altar are vetted. But his first two canonizations are ones where he waives the miracle requirement! It simply seems to work against the credibility of the saint-making process. I as well can call Pope John Paul II the first pope I ever knew, and I revere his memory. As for Pope John, I simply do not get the cult around him, as he seems like a nice guy who had terrible timing in calling a council. But far be it from me to question the Vatican's ... is ti new clothes, or ecclesiastical judgement? At this point I am at a loss to know which. The accelerated process certainly does little to help. And in an age where surveys show the faithful routinely dissenting, I think the calls for "sainthood now!" loose much of their imperative.

Pertinacious Papist said...


Most canonists and theologians would suggest that papal canonizations of saints fall under the heading of "infallibility" in some sense, although it is clear that there is some significant disagreement over just what aspect of the canonization is infallible, and even over whether the matter should be understood as de fide, since it does not involve any definition of the dogmatic content of faith. See the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Beatification and Canonization"; and I think Mattei raises some considerations that have to be considered, as I mentioned in my post.

Anonymous Bosch said...

In your post on the case for the canonization of Pacelli (Pius XII), you present statistics showing a 213% growth in converts, and upwards of 250% growth in seminaries and numbers of seminarians during his pontificate (1939-1958).

After Vatican II, these statistics took an incontrovertible nose dive.

Yet REPEATEDLY I hear Catholic commentators in the media describing Vatican II as though it were the ANSWER TO PROBLEMS in the pre-conciliar Church. By any measure of the criterion suggested by our Lord's words, "By their fruits you shall know them," however, the Council must surely be implicated in the CAUSE OF THE PROBLEMS following the Council.

The Church could have done far better looking to Pius XII for the effective conversion of souls than to anything the conciliar modernist-accommodationists have had to offer.

These canonizations leave me feeling as queasy as the recent celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. There's not the ring of sobriety in them, let alone honesty and truth.