Saturday, 15 January 2011

Pope John Paul II: beatification decisions are not an exercize of infallibility! **updated

The news that the Pope plans to beatify the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, on May I has caused consternation amongst many, myself included.

Holiness doesn't necessarily equate with competence and good judgment

While one can certainly point to precedents of Popes and other rulers whose personal holiness merited sainthood, but who were less than spectacular successes in their positions they held, they are fairly few and far between and in most cases exceptional circumstances applied.

Pope Celestine V, a Benedictine hermit, for example had a reputation for holiness before being made Pope - indeed that was why he was forced into the role, in order to break a deadlock.  And he spent only five months in it before finally being allowed to resign, with great personal consequences (he was hounded to death by his successor).

In other cases, such as founders of religious orders forced out of the lead role in their institutions, sometimes (though not always) for good reasons, they left a clear and important spiritual legacy behind them that survived the test of time not withstanding their weaknesses as leaders or administrators.

By contrast, Pope John Paul II spent a very long time indeed in the role, so on the face of it surely deserves to be judged in part for how well he carried out the duties of his state of life when assessing how appropriate a role model for holiness he is? And while Pope John Paul II still has a strong lobby of supporters, even many of those have gone quiet in the face of the continuing revelations of his mismanagement of the Marciel affair and abuse situation more generally, to take but one of many issues relating to his reign.

On the face of it, the best one can say, in my view, is that his true legacy needs more time to be properly assessed.

Beatification is just a step in the process however

It is important to be clear however that, whatever the situation in relation to canonisation (and this is debated, though the weight of opinion firmly favours the decision as infallible) a papal decision to beatify someone is not infallible.

Indeed, it was in order to make this distinction clear that Pope Benedict XVI decided not, in general, to preside at beatifications.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints set out the distinction thus, in announcing the new procedures:

Canonization is the supreme glorification by the Church of a Servant of God raised to the honours of the altar with a decree declared definitive and preceptive for the whole Church, involving the solemn Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff.

This is expressed unequivocally in the formula: "Ad honorem Sanctae et Individuae Trnitatis... auctoritate Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, beatorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli ac Nostra... Beatum N. N. Sanctum esse decernimus ac definimus, ac Sanctorum Catalogo adscribimus, statuentes eum in universa Ecclesia inter Sanctos pia devotione recoli debere".

Beatification, on the other hand, consists in the concession of a public cult in the form of an indult and limited to a Servant of God whose virtues to a heroic degree, or Martyrdom, have been duly recognized, as is pointed out by the respective formula: "...facultatem facimus ut Venerabilis Servus Dei N. N. Beati nomine in posterum appelletur, eiusque festum... in locis ac modis iure statutis quotannis celebrari possit".

**Prudential delays

Fr Zulsdorf has a good post up on the processes around the beatification and canonisation processes.

He points out that an extensive and proper process has occurred.  Fair enough, although I would suggest that assessments of evidence, jdgments and interpretations do tend to change with perspective and time.  Still, that's not the real issue here.

Fr Z concludes by arguing that if all the steps in the process suggest proceeding then in justice it should proceed:

If a good case has been made and the Congregation determines within reasonable doubt that what the actor proposed is true (a person lived a life of heroic virtue, there was a miracle obtained through some person’s intercession, that a person was killed out of hatred for Christ, the Church or some virtue that cannot be separated from them) then it would be wrong to delay moving to the next step.

But I'm not sure that follows at all.  Indeed, only a paragraph before Fr Z acknowledges that there is a prudential element involved here in the decision on whether or not to go forward - indeed it seems highly likely that the cause of Pius XII has been held up for exactly this reason. 

So a delay to take stock of the situation in relation to Pope John Paul II is not really out of court at all.

In any case, Pope John Paul II is one of those issues that makes clear the demarcation line between conservatives and traditionalists I suspect, and for once I'm with the curmudgeons on Fr Z's blog and Rorate !

5 comments:

Felix said...

I suggest that a speedy beatification will indicate that - surprise - the Vatican is not that concerned about traditional Catholics

Kate said...

True enough Felix.

Although on this particular topic there is a strange alignment views with the liberals as well!

It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the media.

Joshua said...

This is a bad example of Traddie contrariness.

The late John Paul II, whatever of his faults and failings, has been adjudged by our betters to not only have lived the virtues heroically, but to have obtained of God a miracle; and I for one would trust the judgement of Pope Benedict XVI, now gloriously reigning - who now deigns to celebrate his predecessor's beatification himself - over the sniping criticisms of Traddies.

Think of many saints who seemed to have "issues": St Jerome (ferocious temper), various Eastern Fathers (dodgy on certain dogmas later defined by the Church), St Benedict Joseph Labre (probably mentally ill), various lady mystics of the middle ages (troubled by eating disorders). None of these things were impediments to sanctity, rather God's grace triumphed in despite of these blots.

The very notion of Traddies and liberals/modernists in agreement as to rejecting (by their superior Magisterium, their own Protestant autonomy) is repugnant enough, and ought make one reject such an unholy alliance.

Will Traddies find a way to worm out of acknowledging JPII when (as seems likely) he is subsequently not just beatified but soon enough canonized?

Will Traddies extend a like hermeneutic of suspicion ("not infallibly in heaven at all, the dogs") toward all beati and beatae ("no prayers to that Newman creature here, thank you; not orthodox enough at all").

This reminds me of the warning in the Imitatio Christi, to the effect that many dispute proudly about the saints, while knowing not if they themselves will ever get to heaven.

I am disappointed, Terra.

Kate said...

Joshua - firstly, the main point I'm trying to make here is about the nature of beatification.

It seems to me that beatification (though not canonisation) is rather akin to the approval of Marian apparitions, where we are not required to believe in any specific such revelation.

The Church is saying that there is no harm in venerating the beatus, but not yet making a definitive judgment as to whether or not we have to believe that they are in fact a saint (there are obvious reasons why more than one miracle is required for this purpose).

So while the unlikely coincidence of views between liberals and traddies does indeed give me pause, I do think it is perfectly legitimate at this stage to take a different view. It is not at all an issue of being one's own magisterium.

That said, my own argument, as I thought I made clear is not that I dispute his sanctity - just whether he is an appropriate person to act as a role model in the Church at this moment in time.

And this is a prudential judgment that must be influenced by any number of factors.

There are any number of saints who remain unrecognised formally by the Church, including ones with both attested heroic virtue and recognised miracles to their name.

Why have or haven't specific causes proceeded (as yet)? Like any other pastoral issue, the laity are surely entitled to have views on this subject, and to make them known!

Leonard Crane said...

Thank you, Terra, for your well considered and prudent commentary on this vexing issue. "Joshua", whoever he may be, appears determined to knock down straw men; it's perhaps symptomatic that he simply ignores Terra's legitimate concerns about the late pontiff's "mismanagement of the Marciel [Maciel? - LC] affair and abuse situation more generally."