another modern day papal saint….really???

I’ve already shared my thoughts about papal canonizations, especially the increasing desire to crown all recent popes with saintly honours. At the moment of their election, popes automatically become the most prominent and visible Catholic in the world. They are each greatly loved by some, and not so loved by others. When they die, they are memorialized in grand monuments and remembered in history books. Is it really necessary to beatify and canonize them also?

Politics have played too great a role behind these papal canonizations, as ideological groups in the church vie to have their heroes named as official saints. Now, Pope Paul VI is to be beatified by Pope Francis. The timing and location of the beatification has undeniable political overtones. Paul VI, the author of Humane Vitae, is to be beatified at the close of the Synod for the Family in October. Here is an excerpt from my latest Prairie Messenger column,

Pope Paul VI courageously oversaw the completion of the Second Vatican Council, which was no easy task. But, he is perhaps best known for the damning condemnation of all artificial means of birth control in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. The greater truth of the dignity and beauty of human sexuality that was meant to be the core of his teaching was overshadowed by the loud “thou shalt not” that was heard around the world. Women and men of faith were forced to choose between unbending moral teachings and the practical realities of life. Understanding priests tried to lessen fears of eternal damnation by counselling the right use of conscience. Eventually, most Catholics simply ignored the teaching.

Scheduling the beatification of Pope Paul VI at the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, whether intended or not, can be interpreted as once again closing the door on much-needed dialogue around the question of ethical and responsible reproduction. It also shifts the intended focus from families back to the hierarchical leadership. Paul VI was the pope who founded and promoted the modern Synod of Bishops, but the bishops are meant to meet not for their own sake and promotion, but for the service of the greater church. It seems rather disingenuous to speak of the importance of the family, only to cap off the synod with another papal beatification….read more

are papal canonizations a good idea?

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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.