Since we will have to experience this surreal celebration of the last 50 years of post-conciliar destruction and witness masses of “Santo Subito” Catholics celebrating pontificates that brought about mass confusion and disorder in the Church, what are we to think? Is there any hope of making sense of this that does not end in despair?
What Does the Infallibility of a Canonization Mean?
First, let’s take a step back to see this entire event in perspective. Although there have been some interesting arguments made for at least doubting the validity of these canonizations, lets assume for the sake of argument that they are valid. If so, what are we, as Catholics, required to believe about them?
The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us. It asks:
What is the object of this infallible judgment of the pope? Does he define that the person canonized is in heaven or only that he has practiced Christian virtues in an heroic degree? I have never seen this question discussed; my own opinion is that nothing else is defined than that the person canonized is in heaven. The formula used in the act of canonization has nothing more than this:
"In honour of . . . we decree and define that Blessed N. is a Saint, and we inscribe his name in the catalogue of saints, and order that his memory by devoutly and piously celebrated yearly on the . . . day of . . . his feast."
There is no question of heroic virtue in this formula; on the other hand, sanctity does not necessarily imply the exercise of heroic virtue, since one who had not hitherto practised heroic virtue would, by the one transient heroic act in which he yielded up his life for Christ, have justly deserved to be considered a saint…
From this I think we can deduce something important. In a canonization there are two judgments made by the Church. One judgment is that the canonized person is in Heaven. The other is that the canonized person practiced heroic virtue and is to be held up as an example and role model of holiness for the faithful.
The first judgment is, as the Catholic Encyclopedia points out, infallible. For the indefectibility of the Church requires that She not command all of the faithful to recognize someone as a Saint who is in Hell.
The second judgment, however, is a prudential one. It is one that the Church has to make through human means, i.e. investigating historical facts and evidence of the candidate’s life. It is this judgment, which will determine whether the candidate exercised the heroic virtue necessary to hold him or her up as an example to the universal Church. It is for this reason that the Church used to hold to a very rigorous process of vetting all potential candidates for sainthood.
The traditional canonization process involved lengthy and thorough investigations of a candidate’s life, holiness, sanctity, and virtue. It assigned a devil’s advocate to bring to light all of the reasons why the candidate should not be considered a saint. In addition, it required a lengthy number of years after the candidate’s death before a decision was made. This allowed time for anything hidden about the candidate’s life to come to light. It also allowed for a more sober historical judgment once the heat of the moment had passed.
Since 1983, when John Paul II replaced the Traditional process, the devil’s advocate has been eliminated, the waiting period for canonization after a candidate’s death has been drastically reduced, and, in the case of John XXIII one of the required miracles was even waived. In addition, an entirely new concept of “virtue” has appeared in Conciliar circles that isn’t necessarily equated with the Traditional concept of virtue. For instance, ecumenism is now apparently treated as a virtue!
In any case, due to the meticulous detail and high standards of the previous canonization process, Catholics used to be able to rely on the lives of canonized saints to be models of inspiration. Because of this track record, I believe many Catholics came to believe that the pope’s judgment of heroic virtue and good example may be infallible as well. Instead, however, the accuracy of this second judgment is based on the prudence and care of the pope and the human element of the Church at any given time.
Implications of Heaven
As stated previously, we must believe a canonized saint is in Heaven. So what do we know about Heaven? Well, in order to get to Heaven, one must die in a state of grace. For a baptized Catholic, this means one must have repented and been forgiven of all mortal sins one has committed in one’s life before death.
Now, we all know the most serious and troublesome actions of both John XXIII and John Paul II’s pontificates. They caused much scandal and suffering for the Church. Thus, if either pontiff were morally culpable for any of these acts, they would need to repent of these before death and ask forgiveness in order to die in the state of grace.
In this regard, it is interesting that both popes began to see the harm being done to the Church in the last stages of their lives. In the case of John XXIII, a reader wrote in to EWTN back in 2002 asking if a certain report he read about John XXIII was true. The report stated, in relevant part:
…the Second Vatican Council was apparently a great disappointment to the pope. According to Anne Muggeridge, the daughter-in-law of the famous British Catholic convert and journalist Malcolm Muggeridge), in The Desolate City, John Cardinal Heenan of Westminster reported that when, during the rebellious first session of the Council, the pope realized that the papacy had lost control of the process, he attempted to organize a group of bishops to try to force it to an end. Malcolm Muggeridge, who reported from Rome on the Second Vatican Council for the British Broadcasting Corporation, considered Pope John "politically naive and unduly influenced by the handful of 'liberal' clerics with whom he is in close contact." In a 1985 interview, he gave his assessment of the pope thus: Really Pope John -- who was built up as a saintly and perfect pope, the good man of our time -- whether consciously or unconsciously, did more damage to the Church than possibly any other individual man had ever done in the whole of its history.... It seemed almost as though Pope John was operating on behalf of the devil without being in any way conscious of it. Whatever Pope John's disposition was, however, before the second session of the council could open, he died. His last words on his deathbed, as reported by Jean Guitton, the only Catholic layman to serve as a peritus at the Council, were: "Stop the Council; stop the Council."
The EWTN expert’s response included the following surprising answer, “I have heard that report and it is probably true.”
As for John Paul II, less than two years before his death, in his final apostolic exhortation, he lamented the loss of Faith in Europe:
At the root of this loss of hope is an attempt to promote a vision of man apart from God and apart from Christ. This sort of thinking has led to man being considered as “the absolute centre of reality, a view which makes him occupy – falsely – the place of God and which forgets that it is not man who creates God, but rather God who creates man. Forgetfulness of God led to the abandonment of man”. It is therefore “no wonder that in this context a vast field has opened for the unrestrained development of nihilism in philosophy, of relativism in values and morality, and of pragmatism – and even a cynical hedonism – in daily life”. European culture gives the impression of “silent apostasy” on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist.
We also know that John Paul II died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, shortly after a Mass said in his apartment for that particular devotion. The source of the devotion, the diary of St. Faustina, includes stories of sinners saved on their deathbed. Thus it is not hard to imagine the late pontiff saying a Chaplet of Divine Mercy or having one said for him that night. As a devout follower of the devotion he was no doubt familiar with the following words of St. Faustina:
When I entered my solitude, I heard these words: At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same. When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person, God’s anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops the soul, and the very depths of My tender mercy are moved for the sake of the sorrowful Passion of My Son.
Regardless, the point is that both John XXIII and John Paul II must have both repented for any bad actions of their papacies and paid for any temporal punishment for sin in purgatory before either man could enter Heaven. Once in Heaven, the souls of both men will have been completely transformed into a perfect state including perfect knowledge of the Truth. As the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:
To enable it to see God, the intellect of the blessed is supernaturally perfected by the light of glory (lumen gloriae). This was defined by the Council of Vienne in 1311 (Denz., n. 475; old, n. 403); and it is also evident from the supernatural character of the beatific vision. For the beatific vision transcends the natural powers of the intellect; therefore, to see God the intellect stands in need of some supernatural strength, not merely transient, but permanent as the vision itself. This permanent invigoration is called the "light of glory", because it enables the souls in glory to see God with their intellect, just as material light enables our bodily eyes to see corporeal objects.
As for the will of those in Heaven:
The blessed are confirmed in good; they can no longer commit even the slightest venial sin; every wish of their heart is inspired by the purest love of God. That is, beyond doubt, Catholic doctrine. Moreover this impossibility of sinning is physical. The blessed have no longer the power of choosing to do evil actions; they cannot but love God; they are merely free to show that love by one good action in preference to another.
Therefore, as saints, both John XXIII and John Paul II will not only have repented of any evil done in their pontificates, but their intellects will have perfect knowledge of the Truth and their wills can will nothing but the will of God.
New Saints for Tradition?
As Catholics we know that the perfect truth they will attain includes perfect truth regarding Catholic doctrine. This doctrine of course includes Church doctrine on such subjects as religious liberty, ecumenism, collegiality, and the objective superiority of the Traditional Latin Mass as a Catholic Rite over the Novus Ordo. In other words, these two pontiffs will be truly Catholic in their thinking. But more than that, having been shown the errors of their pontificates and having already repented deeply for them, either in this life or in purgatory, they, even more than us will, with renewed vigor, and the zeal of the newly converted, wish to see the final restoration of the Church. Indeed their wills will be one with God, who, as we know, desires the conversion of His Church. Put another way, they will have finally become what many of us so often prayed they would become on earth: Traditionalists.
Thus, it is truly fitting, as John Paul II’s own postulator remarked, that he is not being canonized for his papacy. Nor would he want to be. And when you see all of the people at the canonizations, and when you hear the commentators praising the papacies these men have repented of, know this. These former pontiffs are now changed men. They do not wish praise of their pontificates. They only wish for the restoration, and as soon as possible.
Because of this, these popes, soon to be St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II could ironically be great intercessors on behalf of the Traditional cause. For, far from trying to call Vatican III in Heaven, John XXIII must now regret he called it. Far from trying to assemble Assisi IV in Heaven, John Paul II must now regret assembling the two that he did. For the saints in Heaven do not celebrate Vatican II or its fruits, but lament them.
Some Precedent for Lack of Exemplary Life of Saints
As for the lamentable lack of very much good example in their pontificates for us to follow, we can remember that there are at least some cases of a past saints that can put this in perspective. One is St. Dismas, the good thief. St. Dismas is infallibly a saint. We know from Christ’s own words, he is in Heaven. However, as far as we know, St. Dismas’ entire life was spent in thievery and sin. It was not until the last minutes of his life that he made an act of trust and Faith in Christ. Thus St. Dismas stands as an example of a saint who is in Heaven and yet his life, minus his dying conversion, doesn’t serve as a very good example to us.
Similarly, there is St. Hippolytus of Rome. St. Hippolytus has the unique distinction of being a saint and an antipope. After a time as a theologian and bishop, Hippolytus became an antipope and remained one for almost twenty years through the reigns of three popes. The Roman Emporer then banished him to the island of Sardinia (a death sentence) along with the true pope at the time, Pontian. Pontian resigned his pontificate shortly thereafter. St. Hippolytus then finally reconciled with the Church before his death in Sardinia.
This means that Hippolytus had a 20-year reign as anti-pope before reconciling with the Church soon before his death. Yet he is still a Catholic Saint, primarily because of his theological writings before he became an anti-pope together with the fact he was martyred for his faith. Therefore one thing this episode can teach us is that if even a 20-year antipope can be a saint, we can understand if two legitimate, yet deeply flawed popes can become ones.
In any case, to end my guide in the spirit of the canonizations, I’ve composed a traditional Catholic prayer for the occasion. May it provide at least some consolation to you during the festivities:
Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, being now deeply regretful of the aftermath of Vatican II, the errors of religious liberty, collegiality and ecumenism and the persecution of the Traditional Mass, please act as our ablest intercessors to Our Heavenly Father in calling for the swift restoration of Tradition to Holy Mother Church. Sainted popes, please pray for the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass to all of our Churches. Please pray for the restoration of the rights of Jesus Christ Our King over society. Please pray that all men may recognize the One True Church of Christ and convert. Please pray that our current pope and all future popes reclaim the true rights of the papacy over the entire Church. Please pray for an eradication of every form of Modernism in our time, and finally please pray that our Catholic priests, bishops, Pope come to see clearly and swiftly that one perfect Catholic Truth you both now finally enjoy in Heaven. Amen.