A pair of popes headed toward sainthood

A pair of popes headed toward sainthood

Today, the popes came in pairs.

First, Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict met in the Vatican Gardens, where together they blessed a new statue of St. Michael the Archangel – a project approved by Benedict and brought to conclusion under Francis.

Next, the Vatican released what was termed Pope Francis’ “first encyclical,” Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), a text that was written primarily by Pope Benedict before his retirement. Although signed by Francis, the encyclical is clearly Benedict’s in style and substance.

And then the Vatican confirmed canonization plans – not only for Blessed Pope John Paul II, which had been expected, but also for Blessed Pope John XXIII. It’s not yet certain that the two popes will be declared saints together, but remarks by a Vatican spokesman seemed to suggest that may happen before the end of the year.

The action on John XXIII was unusual because it illustrated that the Vatican is willing to bend its own rules, specifically a procedural norm that calls for approval of two miracles before canonization – a first miracle before beatification and a second one before canonization.

For Blessed Pope John Paul II, that second miracle was studied at length and given final approval today. It involved a Costa Rican woman who recovered inexplicably from a brain aneurysm after prayers to John Paul.

But for Pope John XXIII, who was beatified in 2000, no second miracle was on the horizon. Nevertheless, the Congregation for Saints’ Causes recommended that Pope Francis proceed to canonization of John XXIII, and the pope agreed, subject to confirmation by a consistory of cardinals.

There are several likely reasons for waiving the second miracle requirement for the canonization of Pope John XXIII, and the first is timing. The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, noted the ongoing 50th anniversary of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, convened by John XXIII. The spokesman added that John XXIII was much loved throughout the church, and that “none of us has any doubts about John XXIII’s virtues.”

It’s hard to believe that this decision does not reflect Pope Francis’ priorities, and his eagerness to revitalize the spirit of dialogue and interaction with the world that was characteristic of Vatican II and John XXIII.

Canonizing the two popes together would also create a broad-based, unifying event for the Catholic Church at the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate. It would show that sainthood, like the church, has room for very different models of holiness. On a more practical level, I think dual canonization would mute some of the criticism of John Paul II, particularly by those who believe he did not do enough to counter clerical sex abuse.

As for the Vatican breaking its own rules, there’s no doubt that Pope Francis can dispense with the second miracle requirement, just as Pope Benedict dispensed with the five-year waiting period before the beatification of John Paul II.

But the move is bound to raise questions about how the Vatican’s saintmaking procedures are applied, especially in view of Father Lombardi’s remark that discussion will continue about the need for miracles in the canonization process. The church generally used to require four miracles before canonization. That was reduced to two under Pope John Paul II, and some are now arguing that one might be enough.

10 comments (Add your own)

1. Mena wrote:
In the Orthodox churches, no miracles are needed. People understand holiness when it is transparent. I have no quibble with the need for one or two, it does mean some very holy people, like Elizabeth of the Trinity, go unrecognized by many until that second miracle comes! And that's a shame.

Fri, July 5, 2013 @ 12:11 PM

2. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh wrote:
"The action on John XXIII was unusual because it illustrated that the Vatican is willing to bend its own rules, specifically a procedural norm that calls for approval of two miracles before canonization...."

It is good to learn that no miracles are needed in the Orthodox churches to declare a person a saint. I am a cradle Catholic and I wish the Roman Catholic Church was less Roman, meaning less legalistic. I believe that there may be much that we could learn from the Eastern church in regard to a much more human way of doing things, and there might be something that they might learn from us. The Second Vatican Council was so important to open our church to the need for being attentive to the signs of our times. The Jesuit Karl Rahner helped to elevate the laity when he wrote that we can all be mystics, lay and ordained alike.

I am grateful that Pope Francis is pastoral and inclusive of everyone. Thankyou, John Thavis, for pointing out that there is not a cookie-cutter type of holiness. Saints are unique in their own right as individuals.

In regard to the worldwide sexual abuse scandals, for centuries the culture of the Vatican has been to be secretive, to cover-up scandals, to protect predator priests, to re-victimize the victims of clergy sexual abuse, to act above the law, therefore both popes, as well as Pope Benedict XVI, were part of that culture and lacked the courage to do what Jesus would have done. In my view, many popes have been complicit in the continuation of the clergy sexual abuse scandals, so a low bar is being set for sainthood. The low bar might be wise, since we are all sinners in need of God's mercy and saved by faith.

Fri, July 5, 2013 @ 1:57 PM

3. Xander wrote:
Cardinal Suenens suggested to the Council Fathers at Vatican II that they canonize John by acclamation. However Pope Paul intervened. Now the church has done so; witness the pilgrims at his tomb each day.

Fri, July 5, 2013 @ 8:03 PM

4. Ryan wrote:
So, we're bending the rules for the mastermind of the Vatican II fiasco? Are we sure he wasn't a Freemason?

Sat, July 6, 2013 @ 4:42 AM

5. Bob Miller wrote:
Regarding JP II, I think it would be a miracle if he didn't know about the shenanigans of Marcial Maciel. It was amazing to me how swiftly B XVI moved after taking office. I always felt he was required to bite his tongue during the papacy of JP II. So a third miracle, maybe, for JP II.

Sat, July 6, 2013 @ 10:36 AM

6. R.C. wrote:
Now, now, Ryan.

We're trying to achieve escape velocity here, to punch out of the gravity-well of partisanship which is rending the body of Christ. Don't unnecessarily contribute to the problem. Don't sound like a sedevacantist if you can help it.

The problem with Vatican II was not John XXIII.

The problem was the hermeneutic of rupture.

The correct way to interpret the writings and meaning of that council, or of any other, is as follows: "The meanings of the whole, and of each clause, shall be construed so that it in no way contradicts, but only amplifies and further explicates, every article of faith which the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church believed, professed, and taught to be true in the centuries prior to the council." (For further information and context, read Newman's Essay on the Development of Doctrine.)

And of course many clauses of the writings of the council can be taken in two, or ten, or ten thousand ways -- much like Scripture, as the Protestant Reformation has helpfully shown us! -- but those same clauses can only be understood in one way, or at most a couple of ways, which in no wise contradict any element of the Catholic faith as understood before the council.

So, people who interpreted the council according to the hermeneutic of continuity interpreted it correctly. And their interpretation was thought (by popular media) to be boring in contrast to those who adopted the hermeneutic of rupture. Why? Because the correct interpretation didn't change much of anything, but only rediscovered and reiterated what had been said for centuries by the saints and doctors. (Like, for example, that every layperson can and should advance in prayer to the point of infused contemplation and even mystical union. That was old news even in the era of Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. But it needed reiteration by them, in their day, and by Vatican II, in ours.)

So the popular media, naturally, ignored the correct interpreters right out of existence, and focused on the fools who adopted the hermeneutic of rupture.

As a result, the average layperson never heard the correct interpretation for decades, if they ever did.

As a result, the average pastor really thought that clown masses, et cetera , were okay. That Protestants (a la Apollos) were not to be evangelized and taught the fullness of the faith (a la Priscilla and Aquilla). And so on. One can only act upon the information one has; and the correct interpretation, for 75% of Catholics, was never taught to them.

So, yes, a disaster.

But not a disaster of the council itself, let alone its initiators.

It was a disaster of faithless and careless catechesis, which gave judas priests and lefty theologians sufficient cover to believe and teach heresy.

Well, that's over, now. Now we all know; and if we encounter someone who doesn't, we can tell them.

Let's embrace the truth, and he who is the Truth.

Sat, July 6, 2013 @ 8:41 PM

7. Don wrote:
Rosemary is way off the mark regarding Benedict XVI, who did his utmost to clean up the Church.

Sun, July 7, 2013 @ 12:13 AM

8. Ark and Dove wrote:
When one considers St. Robert Bellarmine's declaration that for nothing is a pope so judged by God as for his naming of bishops, one might think that John Paul II is still in purgatory! But that the second miracle required--which must occur after a candidate for sainthood has been beatified--occurred while the beatification service was still going on, without delay, in other words, that is so impressive that-----well, let me say I am glad a second miracle is required. We would not have wanted to be robbed of this one.
On the days of beatifications and canonizations, I say to the new blessed/saint, "Heaven will be generous to you to today" and I ask him or her to pray for something. I got a wonderful answer to a prayer made on the day of St. Faustina Kowalska's beatification.

Sun, July 7, 2013 @ 4:44 PM

9. Jim McCrea wrote:
"Benedict XVI, who did his utmost to clean up the Church."

So his "utmost" was bowing out once he discovered how deep into the structure the rot, corruption and clericalism had drilled?

Not much "utmost" to me. Tell me how this "Supreme Pontiff" thing is supposed to work. It seems to me that he was pretty good at clamping down on the little guys and gals, but when it came to the entrenched big boys he was out of his league.

Sun, July 7, 2013 @ 10:54 PM

10. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn wrote:
John, thank you for this post. Your knowledge and experience offer us many gifts and insights. I am however saddened, as I always am, when I see the divisions of the Body lived out in the comment boxes of blogs. That all may be One...

Mon, July 8, 2013 @ 6:38 AM

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