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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Fast-tracked Canonization: A Lamentable Lack of Prudence

By:   Father Celatus
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Ven. Pope Pius XII Ven. Pope Pius XII

Critics have complained that Pope Pius XII did nothing to help victims of Nazi atrocities; critics have complained that Pope John Paul II did nothing to help victims of clergy abuse. The irony is that the Vatican shows more sensitivity to Jewish concerns than it does to the victims of its own clergy.


Know anyone who always has to have the last word? I know of a bishop who always had to have the last word in his written correspondence. So one of his priests decided to test his endurance. He sent the bishop a thank you letter, to which the bishop responded with an acknowledgment, to which the priest responded with another thank you, to which the bishop responded again with another acknowledgment, etc, etc, etc. In the end, after much time and postage, the bishop prevailed.

So too, Father Celatus insists on having the last word about his “Last Word.” I concluded my recent article regarding the impending canonization of Pope John Paul II with these words:

As the Church Militant continues to lower the standard for heavenly evidence that souls are within the Church Triumphant, one wonders whether canonization is now more a matter of what man himself declares and less a discernment of what God determines. Jesus promised that what is bound on Earth is bound in Heaven but in these canonizations, might not the Church be forcing the hand of God?


Apparently many folks on Facebook interpret my text to mean that I deny the very validity of this canonization. Clearly not the case!

Rather, I am suggesting that in this case, the canonization may be more a matter of the permissive will of God which permits it rather than the active will of God. The active will of God refers to that which is objectively desirable as the true good; the permissive will of God refers to that which is allowed or tolerated which is less than or other than the ideal. Examples of this abound but one will suffice. As we read in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, on the permanency of marriage:

Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

So the active will of God regarding marriage is the two remain one but his permissive will tolerated divorce, for a time. Regarding the modern innovation of fast tracking candidates to sainthood, the streamlined process has been stripped of traditional elements such as the Devil’s Advocate, multiple miracles and the passage of a reasonable span of time. This raises the question whether the Church is properly discerning the active will of God or instead is pushing ahead with its own will and agenda. If God intends Santi Subiti, why is Heaven so slow to provide the Church irrefutable miracles?

Quite the contrary, some of the greatest canonized saints (including those who died by martyrdom) waited centuries to be formally declared to be Saints of Heaven. Here is a small sampling of the span of time required for some notable saints:

St. Thomas More: 400 Years

St. John Fisher: 400 Years

Saint Joan of Arc: 400 years

Saint Norbert: 448 years

Saint Agnes of Assisi: 500 years

Saint Agnes of Prague: 707 years

Saint Hermann Joseph: 717 years

In some cases, the canonization of candidates was delayed for prudential reasons, including political concerns. No doubt politics played a part in the case of Saint Joan of Arc, for instance, out of a concern for English opinion. It is alleged, in fact, that the pope took the unusual step of consulting Queen Victoria, a Protestant no less, to make sure that the English government had no objections. Similar prudential considerations delayed canonization for Thomas More and John Fisher.

The same is certainly true in the ongoing consideration of the candidacy of Venerable Pope Pius XII for canonization. Pope Pius XII died in 1958, his cause for canonization was opened in 1965 during the final session of the Second Vatican Council, he was made a Servant of God in 1990 by Pope John Paul II and declared Venerable in 2009 by Pope Benedict.

Reaction and public outcry from many Jewish individuals and groups was swift. As reported by one major magazine, “The inclusion of Pope Pius XII among the venerables brought howls of protest from Jewish groups across Europe and the world.” The cause was quietly put on hold and among the harshest critics, “Hitler’s Pope” became “Benedict’s Pope.”

But the cause for canonization of Pope Pius XII may be taken down from the pending Communion of Saints’ shelf soon and revisited. Bishop of Rome Francis may be interested in opening up the Vatican archives to address the still unresolved accusations that the Holy See turned a blind eye to Jewish persecution during the Holocaust.

Critics of Pope Pius XII have steadily maintained that he never condemned the Nazis or helped the Jews; supporters insist that the Pope saved many Jewish lives and concealed them within various Christian religious institutions. [As Cardinal Pacelli, Pius XII was such an opponent of the National Socialists that he in fact penned Pius XI’s great encyclical against the Nazis, Mit Brennender Sorge.] According to credible sources, the Bishop of Rome wants to release the Pius XII papers for study before determining whether to consider his controversial predecessor for canonization.

When he was still the ordinary of Buenos Aires, Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio wrote:

Opening the archives of the Shoah seems reasonable. Let them be opened up and let everything be cleared up. Let it be seen if church leaders could have done something to help and until what point they could have helped. If they made a mistake in any aspect of this, we would have to say: ‘We have erred.’ We don’t have to be scared of this—the truth has to be the goal.

Do not dismiss the cries of critics; allow sufficient time to pass and the truth to be told. Whether one agrees with the critics or not, the Church is exercising prudence in the cause of Pope Pius XII. It is precisely such prudence that is lacking in the impending canonization of Pope John Paul II.

Critics have complained that Pope Pius XII did nothing to help victims of Nazi atrocities; critics have complained that Pope John Paul II did nothing to help victims of clergy abuse. The irony is that the Vatican shows more sensitivity to Jewish concerns than it does to the victims of its own clergy.

Time and archives may one day exonerate Pope John Paul II, but for now the rush to canonize shows a lamentable lack of prudence.








Last modified on Wednesday, April 23, 2014