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Naming Saints Isn’t an Easy or Quick Process

By KIM LAWTON
c. 2011 Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

NEW YORK (RNS) Pope John Paul II will move one step closer to sainthood when he is beatified during an elaborate Vatican ceremony on Sunday (May 1). While the Roman Catholic Church has held up heroes, patrons, intercessors and spiritual companions for centuries, the path to sainthood is never easy or quick.

“The lives of the saints show us that God makes holiness out of all sorts of different materials,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of My Life with the Saints.

While many religious traditions honor people who are considered especially holy, the Catholic Church has a uniquely complex system for declaring someone a saint. The multi-step canonization process has evolved since the 13th century.

“The Catholic Church has a more complicated process than anyone else on almost any topic,” Martin told the PBS program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. “I think it’s important for people to know that when we hold up someone for public veneration or as an example, that their life has been thoroughly investigated and looked at by the Vatican.”

The process usually begins in the region where the potential saint lived or is buried. After local Catholics show a particular devotion to the person, the bishop opens an investigation into the case or “cause” for sainthood.

Normally there’s a five-year waiting period after the person’s death before sainthood can be considered. In the cases of both John Paul and Mother Teresa, however, that waiting period was waived.

“Some people have argued ‘Why rush them? You know, what’s the rush? I mean, they’ll be a saint in 10 years, or 20 years, or 30 years, so why not let the process go its normal route?”‘ Martin said.

“On the other hand, people say, ‘The pope is responding to the desires of people,’ which is what people always want the Vatican to do.”

The sainthood cause is overseen by a “postulator,” or advocate. The Rev. Gabriel O’Donnell, academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, has served as postulator for two different causes: the Rev. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, and more recently, Rose Hawthorne, the daughter of 19th-century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, who cared for low-income cancer patients.

“The first thing you have to do is research anything the person has written or published. And then you begin studying anything they have left behind in terms of documentation. You have to go to archives,” said O’Donnell, who admits it can be tedious work.

In order to be a saint, someone must have lived a life of “heroic virtue.” According to O’Donnell, the postulator looks for evidence that the person was “holy and good” in his or her personal life.

“You’re also looking for the flaws, because the whole idea of the saint is that they’ve overcome their difficulties,” he added, “not that they didn’t have any.”

O’Donnell said the church “is very strong” in its belief that any negative aspects of the potential saint must also be revealed. “You can’t hide anything because the point is to make it as transparent as possible,” he said.

Until 1983, the church would appoint someone to argue against the cause — the “devil’s advocate.” The position was eliminated by John Paul in 1983.

If all the assembled evidence is approved by the Vatican, the potential saint is declared “venerable,” or worthy of consideration. At that point, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints takes over.

That’s when the search begins for a miracle attributed to the person’s intercession after his or her death, as evidence that the person is indeed in heaven.

“The church is looking for some sign from God, so it’s what we call the ‘digitus dei’ or the finger of God (that) says `Yeah,”‘ O’Donnell said.

Any reported miracles — most are unexplained healings — are subjected to rigorous review by a panel of scientists and doctors.

“The miracle … must be instantaneous. It must be nonrecurring. It must be not attributable to any other treatment basically, and it must just be the result of praying to that one saint, and it must be medically verifiable,” Martin said.

If the pope declares that a miracle did indeed occur, the person is eligible for beatification and is given the title “Blessed.” Martyrs who die for the faith can be beatified without a verified miracle.

“It’s a recognition of the person’s holiness and importance for the worldwide church,” said Martin.

A second miracle — occurring after beatification — must also be verified before sainthood can be declared. And that can take years.

According to O’Donnell, the concept of intercession by the saints is often misunderstood.

“The idea of a saint is that he or she is before the throne of God in heaven, and that one asks them to intercede and pray for us. So we’re all praying to God together, because we believe that they are with God, they’re the friends of God,” he said.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    I’m guessing that the rigor went out of when they eliminated the Devil’s Advocate. Possibly (I’m guessing) because some DA’s took their job too seriously. If they took the job seriously now JPII, protector of child abusers, would not be considered. But he was popular with a lot of people so clearly he needs to make it; the sooner the better.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jen

    Good article. Actually, JP2 was the one who put abuse investigations to the most rigorous investigative and disciplinary committee he had, and chamges rules so that the process of removing abusive priests from ministry was expedited.

    Besides, beatification is not a judgment on every decision _ everyone makes mistakes – but how he overcame flaws is important, and what we is that in the last years, even when he had Parkinsons, he was doing the most, even overcoming his basic trust in people. Remember, under communist Poland, accusing priest of abuse was a tactic the SB (polish version of Stasi) used in disinformation.

    You also have to look at what he did for the new generation of priests. Most if not all of the abuse cases were by men ordained during the 1970s or earlier. Very few from JP2’s time as pope.

    I think in great part because of his attention to priestly formation. I would hate to be blamed for the crazy woodstock 1970s which were before my time.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    I don’t think Woodstock had anything to do with the priestly child abuse epidemic, but conservative desire to protect the reputation of the Church had a lot to do with it.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment RGH

    I think the most important thing to remember is that of what the Apostles and Joshua (Jesus the Christ really taught. We are the Saints, the followers of “The Way” there is no real christianity, that is a named coined by false prophets calling themselves catholics. Eloah, the Creator of Angels (to include Lucifer & Jesus) and the God of man has already supplied us with a Decalogue, called the Law and Commandments. If you read your Bible for the truth and not some trinitarian translation you will discover what is real and what is lies and deceptions.

    It is available for each person who seek, knocks, and absorbs truth without some phony priest or prophet telling you what tto think and what to do in your faith. Joshua died for you, if you don’t understand the simplicity of Christ as Paul stated, you will never gain nothing to save your soul.

    The only Saints around here are those you see following Gods Holy Days andFeast not some man-nade religious day called christmas. valentines, easter, haloween, etc. Read your bible (even in these trinitarian false translations you can understand what God has instructed, and how to follow him, and you won’t find it in the catholics, evangelicans, JW’s, mormons, or SDA. ony true Unitarian Churches are offering the truth, and the challenge is to disprove their reseach, it has all been done for your salvation.

    There are many sites for believers to go to, and start with: CCG.org, and assemblyofeloah.org.

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