are papal canonizations a good idea?


I love saints. I’ve enjoyed reading their stories and biographies since I was a child. Though I’m not a fan of gory displays of relics, I do get emotional when I visit the tombs or shrines of saints. Holy women and men who have gone before us are our heroes, our mentors, and our partners in prayer. We offer our intentions to them, knowing that they will pray with us.

I love saints, but am becoming more and more disillusioned with the saint making process. It is costly and bureaucratic. Official saint-dom comes to those who have supporters with the sufficient resources, both financial and human, to navigate the long process through the necessary Vatican channels. It is also becoming increasingly political, granting official recognition not only to the person being raised but to the ideologies and theological leanings of their followers.

My disillusionment is fed with the current trend putting almost all the 20th century popes on the track to sainthood. And, in the case of John Paul II, a questionably fast track. Here is a quick run-down. Pius X is already canonized. Causes have been opened for Popes Pius XII (questions of his WWII efforts have stymied its progress), Paul VI, and John Paul I. John XXIII and John Paul II have already been beatified.

The upcoming dual canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II is seen by some as an astute move by Pope Francis. We can only imagine the mountain of unfinished tasks that a new pope inherits. In one fell swoop, Francis has closed two high profile files on his desk. The shared ceremony is also seen as a bridge-builder between the more liberal supporters of John XXIII and the more conservative supporters of John Paul II.

Should we be in such a rush to canonize popes? Should they be canonized at all? I wrote a short piece for the NCR Today blog wondering what Pope Francis really thinks of these and other papal canonizations. I wonder, because Francis is constantly promoting a poorer, more simple and humble church and reminding church leaders to eschew all glory and excessive trappings. Beatifications and canonizations are not only expensive, but they are also all about status – granted, the heavenly kind.

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