Under the sensational headline “Vatican halts John Paul II’s ’saint factory’,” The Independent in Great Britain reports today that Pope Benedict XVI “wants the congregation to pay ‘maximum attention’ in its evaluation of documents supporting a candidate’s claim, with ’scrupulous observation’ of ecclesiastical norms. The Pope himself reads every file page by page, according to the archbishop, and until he is personally satisfied with the miracles accredited to a candidate, no progress is possible.”
The paper goes on to note that such scrupulous observation may stall the most anticipated canonizations — that of Mother Teresa and of Pope John Paul II, who critics accused of running a “saint-making factory” during his 26-year pontificate. The entire story is here online.
Some context, in defense of JPII. Yes, he is responsible for naming 482 saints, more than all popes combined in the previous 400 years. Yes, he changed the rules regarding canonizations in 1983, eliminating the office of the Devil’s Advocate, and reducing the number of miracles needed from four to two.
Now some additional context: some 380 of the saints JPII named were canonized as martyrs, some in groups as large as 100 at a time in a single ceremony. The late pope canonized 103 individual saints, or roughly four per year for 26 years, a ratio not that much greater than his many, many predecessors.
But the real defense is this: JPII rightly saw the saint-naming process as too laborious, too bogged down, and too focused on holy men and women from another age and era. Saints are named, first and foremost, to be role models for the faithful, and particularly for those struggling with their faith. Sometimes it’s hard to draw much inspiration from a 15th century cleric from Germany or France. So JPII encouraged archbishops to bring him contemporaries who had lived lives of heroic virtue, and from all over the world — not just western Europe. And as I write in Chapter 1 of my book, it was his encouragement that led to a humble priest from Reggio Calabria being presented for sainthood in the first place. And the Catholic faith is richer because of it.
I am proud to say that Padre Gaetano Catanoso was among the last of the five saints to be approved by JPII before he died, and among the very first to be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, now seemingly intent on slowing the process down. Benedict has every right to defend and protect this most sacred and ancient Catholic honor. But it is both unfair, and largely inaccurate to castigate John Paul as Benedict considers his own changes to the canonization process.
What do you think?