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Pope John Paul II and his Canonizations

  • Michael J. Walsh (a1)


In his much quoted article ‘How to be a Counter-Reformation Saint’, Professor Peter Burke remarks on the ‘crisis of canonisations’ which afflicted the papacy in the middle years of the sixteenth century. That particular crisis, of course, was that there were no canonizations. As the veneration of saints came under attack from the reformers, successive pontiffs thought it politic to refrain from creating yet more. In the long pontificate of the late Pope John Paul II (1978—2005), the longest in papal history apart from that of Pope Pius IX (1846–78) — whom John Paul beatified, along with Pope John XXIII, on 3 September 2000 — there was another crisis of canonizations. In this instance, however, there were, in the eyes of some, far too many of them, devaluing the currency. Even the then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was heard to utter words of disquiet. Indeed, John Paul’s saint-making policy was a topic almost as much for the secular press as the religious: ‘Catholicism turns to computers as the saints go marching in’ was the headline over a piece in The Sunday Times.



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1 Burke, Peter, The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy (Cambridge, 1987), 4862, at 49.

2 Woodward, Kenneth, Making Saints. Inside the Vatican: Who become Saints, Who do Not, and Why (London, 1991), 3747.

3 Fowler, Rebecca, Sunday Times, 10 May 1992, 6.

4 Walsh, Michael, John Paul II: A Biography (London, 1994).

5 Ibid. 154, 253–4.

6 Weigel, Rebecca, Witness to Hope (New York, 1999), 446, 449.

7 The Code of Canon Law in English Translation (London, 1983), 250. The Apostolic Constitution bringing the new Code into force is dated 25 January 1983.

8 The Fisherman’s Ring is one of the symbols of the papal office.

9 Le Tourneau, Dominique, ‘Causes of Canonization’, in Levillain, P., ed., The Papacy: An Encyclopedia (New York, 2002), 1: 26871, at 268.

10 Gibson, David, The Rule of Benedict (San Francisco, CA, 2006), 243.

11 Martyrologium RomanumEditio Altera (Vatican City, 2004). The extremely useful ‘Index Nominum Sanctorum et Beatorum’ runs to nearly 150 double-column pages: ibid. 697–844.

12 Vauchez, A., Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1997), 85.

13 Ibid. 98.

14 Kemp, E. W., Canonization and Authority in the Western Church (Oxford, 1948), 15168.

15 Veraja, Fabijan, La beatificazione. Storia, problemi, prospettive (Rome, 1983); cfMolinari, Paolo. and Gumpel, Peter, ‘L’Istituto della beatificazione: A proposito d’uno studio recente’, Gregorianum 69 (1988), 1338.

16 Woodward, Making Saints, 377–80.

17 Longford, Frank, Saints (London, 1987), 3.

18 Jansen, Philippe and Le Tourneau, Dominique, ‘Canonization’, in Levillain, , ed., Encyclopedia of the Papacy, 1: 234.

19 Vauchez, Sainthood, 64.

20 Ibid. 68.

21 Ibid. 252–5.

22 Delooz, Pierre, Sociologie et canonisations (Liège, 1969).

23 Others have since undertaken even more sophisticated statistical analyses; see, e.g., Weinstein, Donald and Bell, Rudolph M., Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000–1700 (Chicago, IL, 1982), 12137.

24 The popes who performed no canonizations or beatifications were Urban VII (1590), Gregory XIV (1590–1), Innocent XI (1591), Leo XI (1605) and John Paul I (1978), whose pontificate lasted only a month. The following only ‘confirmed cults’: Innocent X (1644–55), Innocent XII (1691–1700), Innocent XIII (1721–4), Clement XIV (1769–74) and Pius VIII (1829–30).

25 Burke, Historical Anthropology, 53.

26 For the figures for the Roman Catholic Church, see Ortí, Vicente Cárcel, ‘Persecuzione religiose e martiri del nostro secolo’, Monitor Ecclesiasticus 123 (1998), 647732.

27 Burke, Historical Anthropology, 48.

28 Woodward, Making Saints, 81. Woodward provides a detailed account of the older process: ibid. 77—86, but see also Delooz, Sociologie, ch. 2, ‘La procedure juridique de la canonisation’.

29 Congregation for the Causes of Saints, New Laws for the Causes of Saints (Rome, 1983), 5.

30 Woestmann, William H., ed., Canonization: Theology. History, Process (Ottawa, ON, 2002).

31 ‘Vitam tamen sine miraculis crederem sufficere quoad virtutem, tamen ecclesia non debet tales canonizare propter hoc: quia in secreto potuerunt laxiorem vitam ducere’: quoted by Fabijan Veraja, Le cause di canonizzazione dei santi (Vatican City, 1992), 81. Cf. also Woestmann, ed., Canonization, 60–2, for an address on miracles by John Paul II.

32 Veraja, Le cause, 83. See also Ombres, Robert, ‘Merits and Miracles: The Causes of Saints’, Clergy Review 70 (1985), 6870.

33 Unpublished and untited twelve-page document in Italian, in my possession.

34 In all geographical data I have given the current equivalent.

35 Delooz, Sociologie, 194.

36 Ibid. 195.

37 Walsh, Michael, ‘Chances of Sanctity’, The Month, October 1976, 33642 . The citation is from 342.

38 See Walsh, Michael, Opus Dei (San Francisco, CA, 2004), esp. viii-ix for the controversy surrounding the beatification and subsequent canonization of its founder.

39 On the ‘invisibility’ of women saints, see Whalen, Michael D., ‘In the Company of Women? The Politics of Memory in the Liturgical Commemoration of Saints — Male and Female’, Worship 73 (1999), 482504.

40 She was canonized in 2000.

41 Woodward, Making Saints, 114.

42 Cf.Rusconi, R., ‘Fame di santità’, Cristianesimo nella storia 18 (1997), 51619 , where the instance discussed is of a layman, Giuseppe Moscati, whose case, it might be said, is the exception which proves the rule.

43 Brading, D. A., Mexican Phoenix (Cambridge, 2001), 31141.

44 See above, p. 415.

45 Quoted by de Palma, F., ‘Le cause di beatificazione in Italia’, Cristianesimo nella storia 18 (1997), 52555 , at 537.

46 Speech to the clergy of Rome, 5 March 1992, quoted by Woestman, Canonization, 63. Woestman points out that a married couple, Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, who lived in Rome, were beatified on 21 October 2001.

47 The way in which a clerically acceptable version of holiness departs from a holiness popularly conceived has been studied by Slater, Candace, City Steeple, City Streets: Saints’ Tales from Granada and a Changing Spain (Berkeley, CA, 1990).

48 Vauchez, A., ‘Saints admirables et saints imitables: Les Fonctions de l’hagiographie ont-elles changé aux derniers siècles du Moyen Âge?’, in Les Fonctions des saints dans le monde occidental (IIIe-XIIIe): Actes du colloque organisé par l’École française de Rome avec le concours de l’Université de Rome, La Sapienza, Rome, 27–29 octobre 1988, Collection de l’École française de Rome 149 (Rome, 1991), 16172.

49 Coleman, John, ‘After Sainthood?’, in Hawley, John Stratton, ed., Saints and Virtues (Berkeley, CA, 1987), 20525 , at 211, 221.

52 <], accessed 10 July 2009. This reference is to the Spanish version of the homily.

53 Coleman, ‘After Sainthood?’, 208.

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Studies in Church History
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