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Friday, March 28, 2014

From the Devil’s Advocate: Will Saint John Paul Open the Door to Non-Catholic “Saints”?

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If all religions can lead to God and there may not be any souls in hell, couldn't it be argued that all departed men and women are, in fact, already enjoying eternal beatitude? And if that were the case, then obviously it would render canonization quite redundant.  What exactly does the post-conciliar Vatican mean by salvation, sanctity and canonization? Devil's advocates everywhere would like to know.


As the days go by, we are getting closer to the scheduled canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II. Most Catholics, unaware of the true significance of this event, are looking forward to a worldwide celebration of these two popular popes. John XXIII is remembered by older generations as “Good Pope John”, a moniker given due to both his affectionate demeanor and media praise for opening the Church to the world.

Similarly, John Paul II was, and is still, very popular due to his personal charisma, globetrotting travels, and fantastical World Youth Days. Thus, a certain cult of personality has developed around both men. In the case of Blessed John Paul, the fervor for his canonization has not subsided from the time of his death in 2005.



Beyond personal popularity with the world, however, lie deeper questions over whether either of these men would meet the Traditional standards for beatification or canonization. This is due to the unprecedented and novel acts of both popes, as well as the undeniably disastrous fruits of both of their pontificates. Even the Vatican recognizes the problematic aspects of Blessed John Paul’s pontificate. So much so that on April 1, 2011 Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes took the unprecedented step of clarifying the reason for John Paul II’s beatification:

Pope John Paul II is being beatified not because of his impact on history or on the Catholic Church, but because of the way he lived the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love.

The Remnant Newspaper summarized these troubling questions regarding John Paul II’s beatification in A Statement of Reservations Concerning the Impending Beatification of Pope John Paul IIon March 21, 2011. This statement garnered thousands of signatures in less than a month and was eventually presented to Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The Devolution of the Canonization Process

Since their issuance in 1983, John Paul II’s new beatification and canonization procedures have been meticulously studied by various publications. Essentially, John Paul II’s new procedures obliterated 400 years of precedent from the time of Sixtus V, the pope who introduced the “Devil’s Advocate” in order to ensure each candidate’s case was thoroughly tested. Sixtus V’s canonization laws had themselves developed over the previous 350 years from the time when Gregory IX had first established investigations into the life and miracles of candidates. These investigations were needed in the wake of erroneous beatifications having been scandalously proclaimed by local bishops.

After Paul VI had already “simplified” these canonical procedures in the 1960’s, John Paul II did not simply “revise” them; he abrogated (replaced) them wholesale with his own. John Paul II cited previous organic changes to the norms of canonization through the centuries, just as Paul VI had cited changes regarding the Traditional Mass, as a pretext to issue his own “changes.” Except, rather than trying to build upon the existing system, John Paul II’s “changes” destroyed the previous system.

Among many other modifications, John Paul II eliminated the 400-year-old position of Devil’s Advocate, drastically reduced the amount of time a candidate had to wait before the canonization process could be initiated, and shifted the vast majority of the process back down to the diocesan and episcopal levels where it had been before the time of Gregory IX. Thus John Paul II’s “changes” bring us back towards the bishop-led canonization processes of the 1200’s—a time when a diocese in Sweden once canonized an intoxicated monk who was killed in a drunken brawl.

The devolution of the Catholic Church’s canonization procedure has thus raised questions as to the reliability of the new and improved process, and whether papal canonizations based on such a streamlined procedure are still infallible. One such detailed study, written by Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, SSPX, can be found here. Studies like these form an important contribution to the effort to make sense of the matter from theological and canonical perspectives. That said, I wonder whether the issue can’t be solved on a much more fundamental level.

A Lutheran Saint?

For all of the persuasiveness of the canonical, theological, and doctrinal arguments regarding whether the upcoming canonizations are infallible, they all seem to make one fundamental assumption: that Pope Francis understands the concept of Sainthood in accord with the Tradition of the Church and will intend to confer such Sainthood on April 27, 2014. But is this a safe assumption to make?

Consider the following statement of Pope Francis, given during his interview with Andrea Tornielli on December 10, 2013:

…I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: “I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s.” This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in. We need to take these facts into consideration.

lutheranThus Francis seems very open to the possibility of the beatification and potential canonization of a Lutheran pastor. Francis may have been referring here to the case of Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink. Stellbrink and three Catholic priests were beheaded in quick succession as a result of speaking out against the Nazi regime in Germany. The causes of beatification for the three Catholic priests went forward under Benedict in 2011, but not for Stellbrink. This created a rift in German Lutheran relations:

…the Vatican's decision to beatify the three priests on June 25 -- but not Stellbrink -- is testing that ecumenical spirit, and has some religious leaders worried that the event could drive a wedge between the two communities.

"People worry that the priests who are beatified will be seen as higher than Stellbrink, and that the focus will be on the three, not the four," said the Rev. Constanze Maase, pastor of Luther Church in Luebeck.

"Many Christians, including me, are disappointed that the current pope seems to be doing little for the ecumenical solidarity of churches, especially regarding Lutherans," wrote retired Lutheran pastor Heinz Russmann in an editorial published by a Luebeck news website.

"All four should be beatified," said Russmann, a veteran of the city's ecumenical dialogue. "When that doesn't go, then none!"

Could Francis be the man to finally raise Stellbrink to the altars in a grand ecumenical gesture? Could canonizing John XXIII, the man who called Vatican II, and John Paul II, who presided over the most ecumenical pontificate in history pave the way? After all, once these popes are Saints shouldn’t we follow their example?

St. Martin Luther King?

Regardless of whether Francis takes this step, many Catholic bishops, priests and faithful already honor certain non-Catholics as de facto Saints, even putting this “duty” above apparent lesser duties such as opposing the slaughter of the unborn. In 2010 Cardinal Daniel DiNardo served as the Head of the USCCB’s Pro-Life Office and the Archbishop of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese. That same year Planned Parenthood spent $26 million dollars on a seven story facility three miles from the Cardinal’s Co-Cathedral, one entire story of which was to serve as an abortuary. According to Houston Coalition for Life, this complex in Houston is the largest abortion facility in the Western Hemisphere.

Abortion Mega-Center 3.2 miles from Houston’s Co-Cathedral


In January of 2010 pro-life leaders organized the first large protest of the site on Martin Luther King Day; a tribute to the fact that the facility was built in a predominately Hispanic and black area allowing it to more effectively target minority women for abortions. Various African-American and minority religious leaders participated in the protest in honor of Dr. King’s legacy. In addition, numerous other religious leaders and pro-life organizations and speakers attended. Protesters numbered in the thousands.

One prominent Houston religious leader who was not present at the protest, however, was Cardinal DiNardo. Yet the Cardinal head of the USCCB Pro-Life Office did find time, the day before the protest, to say a Mass in honor of the non-Catholic Martin Luther King. As the Archdiocese advertised on their website that week:

…Catholics from across the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this Sunday and remember his timeless call to achieve peace through service to one another.

…Cardinal DiNardo will celebrate the Archdiocesan MLK Mass, and Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza will preach the homily…

Praise dancers will perform just before the start of Mass at 3 p.m.

Non-obstructive photography and general videotaping (b-roll) at certain locations inside the Co-Cathedral are permitted during Mass…

Thus the Cardinal head of the USCCB’s Pro-Life Office and chief shepherd of the Catholic flock in Houston chose to say a Catholic Mass for a non-Catholic religious leader, while failing to join Protestant followers of said religious leader, as well as his fellow Catholics, in protesting a $26 million dollar abortion facility three miles from his own cathedral. Two years later, November 2013, the same Cardinal DiNardo was rewarded by his confreres as they elected him Vice-President of the USCCB.

If one thinks that Catholic clerics giving saint-like honor to Dr. King and other Protestant figures is a rarity, one has apparently not assisted at one of the thousands of suburban Novus Ordo folk-Masses in the U.S. “presided” over by liberal “social justice” priests. Consider this question from a Catholic woman in Missouri, submitted to EWTN:

Q: Is it permitted to place a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. in the church proper during the time when the U.S. celebrates the holiday in his honor? Many times the picture is decorated and may even have one or more candles lit around it. This seems to violate Canon 1187 which states that only those saints and blessed which the Church has approved are to be venerated. This seems to be more common here in the U.S. I have even encountered this during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament when his picture was placed in the sanctuary near the altar with lit candles. — L.S., O'Fallon, Missouri

Although the EWTN expert did not think this practice was a particularly good idea, a follow-up question he received caused him to do some research on the matter. He eventually discovered a 1998 letter of the Ecumenical Commission of the Central Committee of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 to the corresponding national commissions, which can be found on the Vatican website. The letter states the following:

The witness of faith given by Christians, even to the shedding of their blood, deserves particular attention in view of the Jubilee. This testimony has become the common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants. The Christian community cannot allow the memory of these witnesses to Christ to perish, for they demonstrate the presence and efficacy of the Holy Spirit in the different Churches and ecclesial Communities. This voice from the 'communio sanctorum' is louder and more convincing than the elements of division. The memory of their testimony and faith is a pledge of hope for the future. To this end, it could be useful to compile a 'common calendar' or an 'ecumenical martyrology,' a compendium of Christians — Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant — who have rendered testimony to Christ our Savior, sometimes even by shedding their blood.

And later under the notable subheading “Communion of Saints” it states:

In many places Christians have acknowledged in their midst martyrs and exemplary confessors of faith, hope and charity — both men and women. Some of these, such as Francis of Assisi, Roublev, Johann Sebastian Bach, Monsignor Romero, Elizabeth Seton, the martyr Anuarite of Zaire, and Martin Luther King, have been for various reasons recognized beyond confessional boundaries. Ecumenical groups could look at the example of some of these witnesses with a view to identifying how the work of the Holy Spirit can be distinguished in them and what their role might be in the promotion of full communion.

Further, a “New Martyrs” Commission within the Committee for the Great Jubilee “provided a list of martyrs and witnesses to the faith with representatives of many Christian denominations.” Although the EWTN expert admits that Dr. King’s name was on this list, he assures the reader that “he was not explicitly mentioned at the event attended by the Holy Father.” There was an event attended by the Holy Father (John Paul II) regarding this matter, you ask? Yes.

Pope John Paul II’s “Ecumenism of the Witnesses to the Faith”

 Opening the Holy Door, Jubilee Year in 2000


At the event in question John Paul II stated the following in his homily:

…In our century 'the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants' ('Tertio Millennio Adveniente,' 37)…And there are so many of them! They must not be forgotten, rather they must be remembered and their lives documented…The presence of representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities gives today's celebration particular significance and eloquence in this Jubilee Year 2000. It shows that the example of the heroic witnesses to the faith is truly precious for all Christians. In the 20th century, almost all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities have known persecution, uniting Christians in their places of suffering and making their shared sacrifice a sign of hope for times still to come….These brothers and sisters of ours in faith, to whom we turn today in gratitude and veneration, stand as a vast panorama of Christian humanity in the 20th century, a panorama of the Gospel of the Beatitudes, lived even to the shedding of blood…'Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life' (John 12:25)…

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the precious heritage which these courageous witnesses have passed down to us is a patrimony shared by all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities. It is a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division. The ecumenism of the martyrs and the witnesses to the faith is the most convincing of all; to the Christians of the 21st century it shows the path to unity. It is the heritage of the Cross lived in the light of Easter: a heritage which enriches and sustains Christians as they go forward into the new millennium.

The “ecumenism of the martyrs”? The “ecumenism of the witnesses to the faith”? If “St. John Paul II” becomes a reality, Francis would be able to use these words as a rallying cry for the canonizations of non-Catholic martyrs and saints. What better way to advance on the “path to unity?”

Not to be outdone in the cause for “unity”, it seems the other pope in the canonization equation, John XXIII, might just be named its patron saint! In a March 24, 2014 article entitled, “St. John XXIII, patron saint of Christian unity?” Vatican Insider reports:

Influential representatives of the Orthodox Church were among the first to recognize John XXIII’s saintliness in the days of the Second Vatican Council. They even wanted to proclaim the good Pope a “patron” saint of the ecumenical path…

…Now Pope Francis has decided to proclaim John XXIII a saint pro gratia, based on valid reasons which are a sound alternative to a scientifically and theologically proven miracle. One of the pastoral reasons Francis has decided to proclaim Roncalli a saint, is the modern-day relevance of his ecumenical vision.

Indeed, ecumenical fever is moving fast. Fr. Kenneth Doyle, a prominent columnist for Southwestern Indiana’s Diocesan newspaper, is already ahead of the game. On March 11, he stated that not only would he “have no problem” praying for the intercession of such heroes as the Baptist Martin Luther King and the Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his private prayer, he also sees no problem praying for the intercession of Gandhi, just as he does with deceased members of his own family. 

In frightening moments such as these, it is often helpful to turn to that Neo-Catholic bastion of orthodoxy, Catholic Answers for reassurance that such a thing can never happen. Unfortunately, what I found was not so reassuring. When a Catholic Answers apologetics “expert” was asked the question, “Could a non-Catholic be canonized by the Catholic Church?” the expert responded as follows:

It is theoretically possible that the Church could canonize a non-Catholic, because canonization is simply an official acknowledgment that a particular person is in heaven. But to date the Church has done so only with its own members. This is because one of the purposes of canonization is to set forth for Catholics a model of Catholic Christian holiness.

Conciliar Concept of Sainthood

So what does all this mean? I think it means that we need to ask whether the post-Conciliar concept of canonized sainthood is identical to the perennial Catholic concept of canonized sainthood. For if Pope Francis and the Neo-Catholic "magisterium" see the canonization of non-Catholics as a real possibility, then their entire notion of “sainthood” itself has to be suspect.

If, on April 27, 2014 Pope Francis declares John Paul II to be a “saint”, but by “saint” he means an “ecumenical witness to the Faith” which could just as well be someone like the Baptist Martin Luther King or the Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is he truly intending to use papal infallibility to bind what the Church has always bound in a canonization? Or is he rather formally recognizing ecumenical examples whose lives he believes we can learn from? As Pope Francis himself stated, one of the reasons he is canonizing John XXIIII is because of the “modern- day relevance of his ecumenical vision.”

Conciliar Concept of Infallibility

The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

…all the arguments of theologians for papal infallibility in the canonization of saints are based on the fact that on such occasions the popes believe and assert that the decision which they publish is infallible.

Thus, we should also ask what the conciliar concept of infallibility is. Is it a collegial notion of infallibility, separate and apart from the Catholic notion that ties infallibility directly to the papal office? Furthermore, in this ecumenical post-Conciliar era, where infallibility is never invoked, does Francis believe canonization declarations to be truly infallible in the Catholic meaning of the term? What about past canonized saints of the pre-Conciliar Church who are now “embarrassing” to post-Conciliar ecumenical popes? Would Francis tell his Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant brothers and sisters that the canonizations of these very “unecumenical” pre-Conciliar saints were infallibly correct? And if he would not, how could he believe his own canonizations are infallible?

Conciliar Concept of Salvation

Further, since Canonized Saints must be in Heaven, the issue of salvation comes into play. Is the post-Conciliar concept of salvation identical to the Catholic one? One test would be whether Francis or the post-Conciliar popes truly agree with Pius IX when he condemned the following notions as error:

That man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation. That good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ.

Do the condemnations of these statements sound in any way compatible with the idea of salvation expressed by future “Saint” John Paul II during his Wednesday audience in 1999:

Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it.

Like John Paul II, priests like Fr. Robert Barron as well as Bishop Michael Olson, both considered orthodox in conservative circles, are very much open to the idea that Hell is devoid of any human souls. Holding this Conciliar view of a possible universal salvation, it is easy to see how a Catholic Answers “expert” or Pope Francis would have no problem canonizing a non-Catholic, as they are just as likely in Heaven as everyone else. Plus they could hold up the canonized non-Catholic as a good example of human and natural virtues.

For a Catholic, however, this notion of salvation and sainthood is entirely anathema. Though the Church does not discount the theoretical possibility that non-Catholics in invincible ignorance might be saved, She hardly holds “good hope” for this, as the only sure and certain means She allows for salvation were given to Her by Jesus Christ. Thus, for a Catholic, the idea of a Pope canonizing a non-Catholic would be utterly impossible. By doing so, the Pope would go beyond saying that there is a possibility of the salvation of non-Catholics to saying that the salvation of some non-Catholics is infallibly certain.

Further, the entire premise of canonized Sainthood itself has always been based on the concept of martyrdom for the one true Catholic Faith and heroic virtue and sanctity within the one true Catholic Faith. John Paul II spoke of the “ecumenism of the martyrs” and Francis speaks of the “ecumenism of blood,” as if the Church teaches that non-Catholics who are killed for virtuous reasons are certainly and immediately saved. This is not the case. As the Council of Florence teaches:

No one, no matter how much he has given in alms and even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has persevered in the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church (Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, Cantate Domino, Session 11, Feb. 4, 1442).

Similarly, many great Saints have spoken out against the idea of ecumenical Christian martyrs:

True martyrs are found only in the Catholic Church; for, since there is but one true faith, there is but one true martyrdom. - St. Irenaeus of Lyons

Heretics or schismatics, being placed outside the Church and cut off from unity and charity, even though one should be slain for the name of Christ, he could not be crowned in death. - St. Cyprian

Thus, at the very least, Pope Francis cannot assume that a non-Catholic who is killed in the name of Christ is automatically saved, much less non-Catholics who are killed for living virtuous lives.

Therefore, it is certain that no truly Catholic concept of canonized Sainthood can include non-Catholics. Catholic Saints are supposed to be heroic examples of what we the faithful should strive to be in order to save our souls. The Saints were not only Catholic to the core, but built on this solid foundation to achieve spiritual heights. The idea of holding up a non-Catholic as an example to save one’s soul would not only have been considered unthinkable but blasphemous at any point in Church history before our own.


In the final analysis, the problem is much more serious and dire than whether Pope Francis dots his canonical i’s and crosses his t’s on April 27th. The problem goes to the very root of what it means to be a “Saint” and to be “saved” in the Catholic Church. In the end it may very well be that the coming canonizations on April 27th and perhaps many other Conciliar canonizations will be judged as invalid at a future time in the Church. But if they are, it is doubtful they will be declared so due to a lack of procedure or form. Instead, it will be on the grounds that a large part of the faithful, priests, bishops and cardinals all the way up to the Pope, had simply lost all sense of what true Catholic sainthood even meant.






Last modified on Monday, March 31, 2014