The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Here’s a pope quiz: how many are saints?

Not as many as you may think — and David Gibson raises a few interesting issues in his New York Times piece:

pius12.jpgWhen Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree last month that nudged nearer to sainthood his controversial wartime predecessor, Pius XII, he sparked another round of the sort of Jewish-Catholic disputations that have marked his papacy, and even cast doubt on whether his trip to Rome’s main synagogue, set for Sunday, would go on.


The Vatican paired the announcement of Pius XII’s “heroic virtue” — the step before beatification, which would be followed by canonization, or sainthood — with a similar declaration about Pope John Paul II, who was considered a great friend to the Jews. No matter. Jewish leaders were furious, though Rome’s Jews decided to go ahead with the papal visit.

Pope Benedict’s decision of course renewed the longstanding debate over Pius’s World War II legacy (was he “silent” or even complicit in the Nazi extermination of the Jews?), but there is another question here that goes beyond Pius:

Should any pope be made a saint?

The church counts less than a third of all 264 dead popes as saints, and most were canonized by popular acclaim in the first centuries of Christianity, often because they were martyrs. Only five were canonized in the entire second millennium, and when Pius X, who died in 1914, was made a saint in 1954 — by Pius XII — he was the first pope so honored in nearly 400 years.


Now nearly every recent pope is on the canonization track. John Paul II beatified Pius IX, the 19th-century pope who is a polarizing figure because of his belief in the power of the papacy and his views on Judaism. But like Benedict, John Paul did a little ticket-balancing. He simultaneously beatified the popular John XXIII, who convened the liberalizing Second Vatican Council in 1962. The canonization process for Paul VI, who followed John XXIII, is underway, and there is a campaign to beatify John Paul I, who reigned a mere 33 days before his death in 1978.

This trend, by some accounts, is creating several problems.

Read on to find out what those problems are.

Comments read comments(6)
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Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

posted January 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm

David Gibson’s piece is outstanding!

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posted January 18, 2010 at 12:01 am

David Gibson + NYT + Richard Mc Brien + Pius XII = oye ve!

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posted January 18, 2010 at 1:47 am


posted January 18, 2010 at 9:07 am

First, Popes don’t make saints saints – the saint does and there is a vetting process. This is not discussed and by not discussing it – it implies that this is corrupt. If it is corrupt for Popes – is it corrupt for all?
Second, no saint is a perfect human being and most live somewhat ordinary lives. A Pope is not ordinary – the heroism of any Pope to be a good pope is extraordinary even if he is flawed.
Third, Gibson says “by some accounts”, the issue is causing a problem. Then, his article cites dissenting theologians. No more needs to be said.
Fourth, most of these theologians and David Gibson promote more laity involvement. Well, if the laity think these Popes are saints – is that a problem? I don’t think so.
Finally, David Gibson dislikes Pope Benedict and this is clear in most of his writing. One of his stated problems is that the continuing saint machine might mean all future Popes have to be nominated as saints. – So, let’s not think of Pope Benedict that way guys…
I used to count on David Gibson for information when Benedict became Pope. I find most of his articles about Benedict to lack the context that others do – including John Allen. Most of the time, Gibson is speaking to his ready made audience and clearly it is not me.

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Dcn Scott

posted January 18, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I agree that Gibson’s piece is a very good insight into a development we should all be concerned about. I remember reading- about 15 years ago- an article in which the late, great Yves Cardinal Congar, OP wrote wherein he warned about popes canonizing popes. For anyone who wants to gain good insight into how saints are made, truly a case of Weberian routinization of charisma, Kenneth Woodward’s book ‘Making Saints: How The Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn’t, And Why’ remains the best book in English. When it comes to saints, true traditionalists are all about bottom up! To that end Eric Stoltz has some good suggestions.

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