Faggioli: Stop Canonizing Popes!

Faggioli: Stop Canonizing Popes! March 15, 2019

The writer and Vatican watcher Massimo Faggioli writes in The Washington Post: 

If the Catholic Church wants to see the growth in discernment that Pope Francis has called for in response to the sex abuse crisis, the institution must stop canonizing popes.

Proclaiming the sainthood of the men who are elected bishops of Rome by the conclave of cardinals is at the same time old and recent. Of the first 48 popes who died before the year 500, 47 are saints; half of them were martyrs. The canonization of popes who reigned in the following 15 centuries is rare.

The real change began in the 19th century with the “Romanization” or “papalization” of Catholicism and especially with the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) and its proclamation of papal primacy and infallibility. This produced a more pope-centered way of governing the church but also a devotion to the person of the pope.

…From 2000-2019, there have been beatifications and canonizations for the three post-Vatican-II popes (John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II). The process for the canonization of John Paul I, who was pope for only 33 days, is already underway.

During the last century, beginning with Pius X and not counting Benedict XVI and Francis, there have been eight popes. Half of them are already saints. The last three popes have been made saints almost in sequence.

The trend inaugurated in the 20th century has to stop.

One reason is that canonization of the popes means canonization of the papacy by popes in the Vatican. The canonization process (technically, it is a trial) used to be less controlled by the Vatican, but during the Counter-Reformation in the 17th century the Roman Curia became much more in charge. It was a time when canonization of popes was an exception.

Now the papacy is canonizing itself absent an extended, churchwide discernment on the wisdom of canonizing the pope. It can be seen as a way to shield the papacy from moral and historical judgment, something like boosting the claims made by Vatican I about the papacy.

The second reason is the role church politics play in deciding whether to canonize a pope.

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