Sunday, April 27, 2014

Is the Vatican Gaming Sainthood To Enhance the Piety of the Faithful?

Way back in the old days, ca. 1953-54 when I attended Catholic grammar school in Milwaukee, we were informed over and over about the qualities that made a saint. The good nuns introduced us to Saint Perpetua, for example, who was tossed into prison with her nursing infant because she refused to recant her newfound Christian faith. Subsequently, despite pleas from her father, she was horrifically butchered along with Felicity, her servant.  Then there was Saint Sebastian (after whom the school I attended was named) who suffered an ignominious martyrdom with his detractors unloading their quivers of arrows into him. The nuns also introduced us to Padre Pio (Saint Pio) who was capable of performing bilocation (being in two places at once). Then there was St. Gerard Majella who demonstrated levitation on several occasions - documented by witnesses.

In other words, in the old days the dutiful Catholic kid learned that Sainthood didn't come on the cheap nor was canonization "streamlined" to get the faithful from departing from the Church. (Of course, back in those days broad concepts of spirituality hadn't yet come into the mainstream and people more or less remained with their religion of birth. No more, as people learn to think independently and break off onto spiritual paths of their own - or no spiritual paths at all.)

Contrast this with today, when hordes of pilgrims have already gathered in Saint Peter's Square and in front of big screens erected across Rome for the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII. The crowds, along with a global audience, will watch as two popes are jointly proclaimed saints for the first time in the 2,000-year history of the church.

But the question that arises for us familiar with Church history is whether the bar is being excessively lowered for sainthood? Is there really proof that these two popes deserve to be canonized, or is it being done for ulterior motives? Say to enthrall the faithful and keeping them under the Vatican's tent.   What incites these questions are the circumstances as well as the popes themselves.

The path to sainthood for John Paul II, for example,  was the fastest in modern history, raising eyebrows among traditionalists for packing a painstaking process that can sometimes take centuries into nine incredibly short years.  It also has raised serious eyebrows for those aware of how John Paul II covered up the sexual abuse cases, in terms of inhibiting the apprehension of the perpetrators as well as the enablers. (J.P. II  actively and knowingly moved around pedophile padres to avoid their prosecution in numerous jurisdictions, especially in the States. All this is well documented and well known, except perhaps by the speed canonizers who seem not to care how this looks.)

Beyond that, though that ought to be enough to halt the canonization nonsense, Arthur C. Clarke once referred to John Paul II as "the world's most dangerous man".  Why? Because of his active opposition to birth control, setting the stage for mass destitution across the third world, especially Africa - where he wouldn't even condone the use of condoms despite an AIDS-HIV epidemic. Indeed, this was the same disgusting hypocrite who preached that  a Catholic contracting AIDS was a lesser evil than using condoms.

In the case of John XXIII, Francis took what sticklers decry as an even more radical move. He took the unusual step of dispensing with the Vatican’s modern requirement for two vetted and verified miracles to become a saint, elevating him based on a single 1966 case of a nun allegedly cured of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging after appeals to the man known across Italy as “the Good Pope.”  But, of course, no proper medical documentation was forthcoming so we've no remote idea if this was valid or mere hearsay.

Why is Francis so hyped up about creating more saints and how is he able to do it? Vatican experts point to his right to “equipollent canonization” — a papal prerogative to fast-track saints by requiring fewer proven miracles.   But to the critical thinking onlooker it looks more like a bag of tricks designed to rev up the faithful in 'down times'.  The latter would clearly mark the present era  when the Church is losing more people than ever before - especially among the young - in the more developed nations.  So why not pump out more saints to garner attention and perhaps more piety from the faithful?  The effect in any case has been that Francis has invoked the doctrine more times than any other pontiff since Leo XIII, who served from 1878 to 1903. In three cases, Francis elevated saints without a single confirmed miracle under their virtuous belts.

Why not? Perhaps because - as a former scientist (chemist)- Francis is more aware than any of his predecessors of the "miracle test" of philosopher David Hume.  Hume provided perhaps the best benchmark for what might supposedly be called a "miracle"

 "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish."

Consider the miracle claim of  Jesus “walking on water”. Prof. Hugh Schonfeld has a simple explanation for this:  a mistranslation of the Hebrew word “al” which can mean “by” or “on”. So, when a scribe really wrote “walking by the water” it was translated to “walking on the water”.

Applying the Hume test, one is led to ask:  Is the Schonfeld claim of mistranslation MORE or LESS miraculous than a man actually violating the law of gravity and walking on water?  It doesn’t require a lot of thought or effort to see that the mistranslation of a passage of the New Testament is LESS miraculous (or if you prefer, less improbable) than that a man actually, literally walked on water. Francis then could have applied the same standards to John Paul II's claimed miracles - especially the first where it was far more plausible that Sister Simon-Pierre enjoyed a partial, somewhat improbable recovery from her condition, than that J.P. II effected a nonlocal "cure" from the grave. But let us hasten to emphasize that Francis' recognition of the severe constraints on modern day miracles does not merit invoking equipollent canonization to generate saints a dime a dozen.

According to Rev. Peter Gumpel, a senior Vatican figure and church historian:

I know the Holy Father well enough to know that he believes in miracles, as we all do, but the question is simply and purely, should we require the confirmation of miracles for saints?”

Well, in conformance with previous standards, yes. Else the process and the spiritual form has receded into insignificance. Any human can then be thought of as a 'saint' if he or she is a reasonably good person. Special canonization by a pope is merely window dressing. The other aspect to this is whether the knowledgeable faithful would really put John Paul II in the same class as St. Perpetua or St. Sebastian.

Incredibly, a certain enclave in the Church is completely in favor of tossing out all historical sainthood standards and  lowering the bar. They insist that such a move could "open the door to more and faster-made saints, who tend to serve as public relations dynamos for the faith" in their countries of origin — a fact seen as a huge bonus as the Vatican casts its eye on fast growth in Africa and Asia.  In other words, when all is said and done it comes down to public relations, nothing more. The Church is merely invested in publicly projecting a more superstitious image to garner more primitive minds, in primitive lands.

Left unsaid is that such lowering of the bar could also pave the way to the quicker elevation of potential "blockbuster saints"  such as Mother Teresa. Much better not to inform people that the good Mother simply kept people in a state of dependency in Calcutta but never really addressed their physical needs. Also, keep hidden the unsavory backing of S&L slime ball Charles Keating. "No we don't wanna go there! We want our saints with no questionable ties!"

Sounding a more rational warning note is John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries":

"Francis has caused some apprehension among the Vatican saint-makers, who see the pope waving his hand and saying we don’t need to follow these rules as much. They are saying, ‘We need to be very careful about how we do this.’ ”

Indeed, because it could backfire and result in even more people leaving the Church - having been able to see through the PR stunts. And if a religion requires PR stunts to survive then how much credibility  does it really have? If popes can manufacture saints at will to pump up piety, perhaps the doctrine of "infallibility" is also just a huge historical PR maneuver.

Perhaps the best analogy yet to what Francis is doing  - in terms of mass-saint making - was expressed by Rev. Marc Lindeijer, a senior church official in Rome who compiles ­cases and serves as an advocate for prospective saints. He compared elevating saints without vetted miracles to "allowing everyone  who plays baseball to be a major league baseball player.”

I believe in quality rather than quantity,” Lindeijer said.

He later added, “Even if you are the president of the United States or Bill Gates, you can’t buy a miracle. Miracles are a great protection of justice, a sign of approval from God.”

Other observers say Francis, like many before him, is simply cherry-picking favorites, fast-tracking select candidates to save them from a Vatican bureaucracy with a backlog of thousands. In many ways, Francis is indeed  just continuing the legacy of John Paul II, who changed the rules in 1983 to require fewer proven miracles and ended up proclaiming 482 saints — more than in the previous 600 years combined. Maybe JP II figured that by jiggering the rules back then he'd stand a better chance himself of making the cut when the time came. Helped along in this, Benedict XVI, a fellow conservative and longtime confidant of John Paul II, championed his cause by dropping the traditional five-year waiting period to begin the process of sainthood. Neat!

But one of the saddest observations emerging amidst all the hype this week has been that despite John Paul II turning a blind eye to widespread reports of sexual abuse within the church, the "pressure to canonize him was so great that it would have been next to impossible for Francis to avoid it."   So the "pressure to canonize" trumps moral or ethical rectitude?  If that doesn't define the meaning of blasphemous I don't know what does. But in any case, it's at least a morally dubious expedient: clean the guy's history and neglect by elevating him to "sainthood." Then once the reprobate attains saint status, accountability no longer matters. He's ascended to such a rarefied realm that normal moral (and historical)  responsibility becomes passé and the faithful's piety has been jazzed up too. Heck, it's a win-win.

In the end, the whole farce of mass sainthood merely shows us the sterility of religions and how public relations has come to more and more replace whatever residue of spirituality they once had. This is especially the case with the Roman Catholic Church, and is also one reason why it may never be united with any other Christian sects. (The belief that Catholics can directly pray to saints to intercede with God on their behalf remains a fundamental division between them and many Protestants.)

Another danger not yet on the radar of the easy saint makers is that if more saints are created without vetted miracles,  the glow of the faith could fade for millions of Catholics who turn to saints in times of need. One would then behold a religion that had some degree of consistent canon and standards turn into one more cult, in this case a saint worshipping cult.
All of which confirms the wisdom of scientific Materialism and the benefits of atheism!

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