Pope Francis and the Vatican’s assembly line of saints

[Pope] Francis and the Vatican’s assembly line of saints

By Anthony Faiola

Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa last Sunday, declaring the sainthood of a 20th-century figure renowned for her ministry to the poor and dying. Yet as the pope celebrated her sanctity, he also furthers a boom in the business of minting saints during his papacy.
Theologians and papal watchers say Francis is proclaiming new saints at a rate not seen since the heady days of John Paul II, the Church’s canonization champion. In his three-and-a-half years as pope, Francis has presided over 29 canonizations — 11 more than Benedict XVI, his predecessor, at the same point in his papacy. If you consider that one of Francis’ canonizations involved 813 15th-century Italian martyrs, he may even hold the record — a record the pope is said to have jokingly embraced.
It is not just the number that is notable but, in some cases, the speed and manner of canonizations, as well as Francis’ willingness to bless the causes of candidates touched by controversy. By doing so, he has sparked a measure of controversy himself.
“When John Paul II died, there was a very strong feeling that there had simply been too many saints made, that the process was being cheapened,” said Austen Ivereigh, author of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.
“I think there’s a feeling that Benedict deliberately slowed the whole thing down,” Ivereigh said. “He canonized fewer. I suppose what’s happening with Francis is that the pace we saw before Benedict is being resumed.”
In the Roman Catholic Church, the path to sainthood can take decades, frequently centuries. Yet Mother Teresa — who will now be officially known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta — reached the threshold of sainthood a relatively quick 19 years after death.
Francis, in fact, has now presided over three of the fastest canonizations in modern Church history —those of Mother Teresa, John Paul II and a Spanish nun who died in 1998 and was declared a saint last year. The blessing of such rapid sainthoods has irked critics who argue that the Vatican is in danger of becoming an assembly line of saints.
“A certain historical distance is required in order to properly examine the holiness of a person’s life,” said Edmund Arens, professor of fundamental theology at the University of Lucerne in Switzerland. “If a person led an exemplary life, why not take time to analyze it properly?”
Some also say that Francis may be favouring candidates who reflect his personal focus on inequality, mercy and the plight of the poor. They cite, for instance, last year’s beatification — an intermediary step to sainthood — of the Reverend Óscar Romero, a Salvadoran bishop assassinated in 1980.
Romero is seen by some as a leftist symbol in his native El Salvador, and his cause had been stalled for years. But in 2013, only a month after Francis assumed office, a senior Vatican official announced that the pope had “unblocked” Romero’s path to sainthood.
“This is very important, to do it quickly,” Francis said of Romero’s cause a year later.
‘Pastoral politics’
Some Vatican officials privately concede that the pope is playing “pastoral politics” — utilizing the saint system to leave his mark. Yet others strongly counter that the pope is not cherry-picking saints, adding that the system simply does not work that way.
Yes, the pope gives the ultimate up or down on candidates he is presented with. But, they say, he does not select his own.
“The final word is the pope’s, but the pope does not act in a vacuum,” said the Reverend Robert Sarno, a senior official in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. “He does not just reach back in time and look for saints.”
Many Catholic scholars see an added benefit in faster canonizations, especially for contemporary figures such as Mother Teresa and John Paul II who can seem more relevant to the lives of modern Catholics. Rather than study her life through arcane texts, the student of Mother Teresa can simply watch reruns of her television interviews on YouTube. Many Catholics still vividly recall the electric, stadium-size Masses of John Paul II.
“They lived under the same circumstances as we do, therefore they’re much closer to us,” said Manfred Becker-Huberti, a Catholic theologian at the Philosophical-Theological University of Vallendar in Germany. They “serve as role models. Someone like Mother Teresa can inspire people not just to worship her but to change their own lives.”
Like John Paul II, Francis has not shied away from candidates considered relatively controversial — including Mother Teresa, who laboured for most of her life in the slums of the Indian city then known as Calcutta (now Kolkata). She became perhaps best known for her hospices, where the poor and dying could pass with dignity.
“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of being unwanted,” she is quoted as saying in a 1971 biography.
Yet if her life’s work generated admirers and earned her a Nobel Prize, it also spawned critics who charged her missions with failing to embrace modern medicine to treat and ease the suffering of patients.
“The people she ‘saved’ were people in a graveyard waiting to be buried, people who were not given the right medications. People who suffered,” said Tariq Ali, a British journalist who co-produced a critical documentary on Mother Teresa in 1994. “That Francis is doing this is a regression in the sense that you just make all these people saints with dodgy records.”
By public opinion
Many theologians and Vatican watchers say Mother Teresa — a woman who often seemed to be canonized by public opinion while she lived — would have been on the fast track to sainthood regardless of who was pope.
Saints are lofty figures seen by practising Catholics as figures who can intercede with God on their behalf. Typically a cause, or case, for sainthood can start only five years after death. Candidates are generally forwarded to Vatican City from the diocese where they died, with postulators in Rome compiling reports to submit to a panel of Vatican authorities. Most candidates generally require two “proven” miracles, though figures who died for the faith need only one. Such claims are verified through exhaustive, if secretive, reviews.
In the case of Mother Teresa, John Paul II initially lifted the five-year rule, allowing her process to start early. Although the second miracle attributed to her intervention — a Brazilian man who recovered from a brain infection after praying to her — is alleged to have occurred in 2008, Vatican officials say they were not made aware of it until 2013, following Francis’ official trip to Brazil.
All Francis did to further her cause, officials suggest, was sign on the dotted line.
Yet in other instances, Francis has effectively waved the two-miracle rule, accepting only one, or even none, no fewer than eight times. In select cases, that has served to speed up sainthood.
They include the case of Peter Faber, one of the founders of Francis’ own Jesuit order and a figure viewed as a personal hero of the pope. Francis, on his own birthday, canonized Faber, earlier telling the Catholic magazine America the reasons he found him so worthy.
It was, the pope said, because of Faber’s “dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents, his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”

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4 comments on “Pope Francis and the Vatican’s assembly line of saints

  1. I am a former traditional Catholic, now an atheist (technically, an “agnostic atheist”). Pope Francis led me into atheism, and, in fact, I think that Francis is one of the greatest living witnesses in favor of atheism. Let’s face it, the arguments offered by individuals such as Dr. William Lane Craig are a wash; for every argument that Craig gives, atheistic naturalism provides a firm rebuttal. (For instance, Craig will appeal to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, but yet, within the scientific literature, there are beginning-less, eternal models of the Universe.)

    For me, the Papacy was a living witness to the presence of God (the Triune God) in our World, that is, one could look to the Office of the Pope as being the source of the One True Faith. One criticism of religion that atheistic naturalism puts forward is that all religions are man-made, because not only do they contradict each other, they also contradict themselves. With Francis, his teachings are now prima facie evidence that Catholicism is man-made and not divine. If God truly exists, then He must be a perfect Being, and therefore, without contradiction, which means that the Holy Spirit cannot possibly be “guiding” the Catholic Church. With the embracing of societal customs that the Catholic Church used to infallibly teach were mortal sins is proof positive that Catholicism is not divine, but man-made. No justifiable reason can be maintained for continuing to belief in it, much less profess it; as such, I have made the only logical transition possible.

    When James Joyce left the Catholic Church, he was, ostensibly, asked if he would now embrace some sort of Protestantism. His reply was, “I have lost my faith and not my mind.” I share his sentiments.

    • I understand but do not accept your view of atheism as a response to a pope such as Francis and the rest of the Modernist claptrap – rather than BLEEPery (AQ’s codename for S*d*v*c*ntism, which I regard as folly. I also regard atheism as folly – or worse, leading to cynicism, despair, and possible suicide. I have speculated on such options and their consequences. I can only leave you with the following observations on the current situation:

      If Your Faith is Endangered by Francis…

      Embed from Getty Images

      I see many people looking for a reason to finally commit to the belief that Francis is an antipope. Why? Why does this matter so much to you? Isn’t it enough to know that he is wrong and that he seeks ways — clever ways around the confines of his papal office — to lead the faithful astray?
      I responded to such a concern in the comments this morning with something that I will share again here.

      Francis is almost certainly a material heretic. Whether he is a formal heretic is not ours to prove. His opinions — not his teachings, since he is very careful not to exert an authentic magisterium that commands assent — do lead people to sin, and eventually hell.

      But he is, by every measurable standard, still the pope.

      The Christian faith is full of paradoxes, stumbling blocks, and hard sayings. We have had popes in history who had heretical beliefs; others who allowed heresy to flourish, and were thereby complicit. Others who lived such scandalous lives that they certainly — absolutely and without question — led others to sin, and likely to hell.

      They were still popes.

      Stop trying to solve this yourself. Is this your Church, or is it The Lord’s? Stop thinking that the tempest will sink the Barque, lest you be admonished, like the apostles were, “Oh ye of little faith…”

      He can calm the winds and the seas with a word.

      God is letting this happen. And God has established an authority structure in the Church that we must be docile to, insofar as we are able within the dictates of a well-formed conscience.

      If Francis is really an antipope, how does that change your daily life? Do you cease your prayers? Will you no longer attend Mass? Will you stop your spiritual reading? Will you give up on your faith?

      It certainly matters in the long run whether or not he is an authentic but diabolical pope or a false but diabolical pope. But either way, he is clearly in the service of the Prince of this World, not the King of Kings.

      Does he scandalize you? Good. He should. If you have faith, you recognize that he wants to destroy it. Whom resist ye, strong in faith.

      God. Is. Allowing. This. For. A. Reason. Do we trust Him or don’t we? Is it so important that we know the truth right at this moment to attain salvation?

      During the Avignon Papacy, St. Vincent Ferrer backed the wrong horse. He thought Clement was the real pope, where St. Catherine backed Urban (who actually was the real pope.) Either way, both were saints.

      Attend to the things of heaven. See to your sanctity and salvation. Stop worrying so much about this man who steals your peace. Yes, we need to know what he’s doing in the name of the Church, but we should not despair. The Scriptures made the fallibility of Peter in all but the authority of his office very clear for a reason. God knew we would face these times. Take heart. Have faith.

    • Who are William Lane Craig, Richard Dawkins, etc.? Persons with theories, as are you. Why do you seek out an authority, if indeed you are an “agnostic atheist?” Why must things make sense to you? How will you know when you have found the right teachers? How will you evaluate their opinions to accept the correct ones and reject or modify the rest? What example of a person has correctly achieved the right answers, and how will you be sure when you have arrived there?

      There is no point to making sense of anything unless it makes you happy to do so. Then again, if this becomes an overriding compulsion — as it has seemed to be for the human race — then you are treading into something beyond the mere firing of neurons according to the evolutionary haphazard chance that turns rocks into jet airliners and causes Hillary to have bad hair days.

      It seems that you once put stock in the papacy as the sure sign that God had come to Earth, but you attributed to him qualities that Our Lord never gave him. In fact, didn’t Our Lord proclaim that it is necessary that scandals must arise? Yes, necessary. Didn’t he also say that the end times would be shortened or else everyone would be lost? The implication of that clearly is that all semblance of guidance will be removed. He added that charlatans will arise everywhere. You have been had.

      Find the Lord you can trust, His friends throughout history who maintained His teachings and performed the signs to confirm their authority. And you will find nothing other than the Catholic Church.

      You have my prayers.

  2. Küng Fu: Modernism the Legend Continues

    Kwai Chang: Has Pope Francis proven that God does not exist, Master?

    Master Po: Ah, Grasshopper, there are many mysteries on the magic carpet ride of the shape-shifting and evolving magisterium which flies on the Hegelian dialectic of modernism. If Jeff Spicoli did not know his Enneagram number, could he pass Mr. Hand’s History exam at Ridgemont High School?

    Kwai Chang: I cannot be certain, Master.

    Master Po: How does a weasel know when to search for eggs, Grasshopper? If the mysteries of life did not require a leap of faith, how could we ever know them?

    Kwai Chang: I cannot be certain of that either, Master.

    Master Po: What can we know for certain, Grasshopper? If Barney Fife did not have a single bullet in his pocket, would he have enough confidence to draw his gun in the cycle of Samsāra, dharma, karma, and enlightenment?

    Deputy Barney Fife: Yikes! I don’t know that for certain either! Andy!

    Kwai Chang: I cannot be certain of that either, Master.

    Master Po: Ontological certitude is something which must be earned, Grasshopper. Faith requires challenges. If a donkey could guess the cosmological significance of every hexagram of the I Ching why would he have to make his living pulling a cart?

    Kwai Chang: This is a trick question, is it not, Master? It is like one of those annoying and puzzling Zen kōans like ‘if a tree falls in forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?’

    Master Po: Well, Grasshopper, if a mad man proclaims a new magisterium in the middle of the forest and no other modernist who has studied Teilhard de Chardin or phenomenology is around, does it make a sound?

    Hans Küng: I would like to address that…

    Kwai Chang: I do not know for certain, Master.

    Bob Dylan: It makes a sound, man, ’cause even though there are no Husserlian or Teilhard experts around in the forest, the squirrels and deer hear the sound, man.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Oh, very good, Bob. I hadn’t thought of that.
    I should point out that we did have extensive courses on the arguments for the existence of God at Fordham in the old days. Father Gannon insisted on that, particularly on the Five Ways of St. Thomas Aquinas. However, the progressive modernism or errors of Pope Francis have no bearing on whether God exists.

    Tom Wolfe: If Master Po or Father Mulcahy could tell Spicoli his Enneagram number we could have a more authentic modernist feel to the dialectic. That way Kwai Chang and Spicoli can trade back and forth with insights on the counterculture from the ’60s through the ’80s and the modernist dialectic in the society of the spectacle will be open for greater deconstruction and exegesis, with full knowledge of their Enneagram numbers.

    Spicoli: What’s an Enneagram?

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