Pope worried that Church is making too many saints

Benedict XVI has written to the Congregation for Saints' Causes to express his concern over the number of candidates for sainthood and to call for a more rigorous selection process.

Catholic News Service reports that the Pope wrote to the congregation as its members met last month for a plenary assembly.

Congregation members discussed a new instruction for the initial diocesan stages of the sainthood process and were looking at possible changes to the formal criteria for determining martyrdom and for miracles.

Pope Benedict told the congregation that from the moment of his election a year ago, he had put into effect changes that met the "widespread hope" that the difference between beatification and canonisation would be underlined and that local churches would be more involved in the entire process.

Modern men and women need true models of holiness, he said, and they must be chosen with care.

The Pope said further instructions are needed to help local bishops "safeguard the seriousness of the investigations that take place in the diocesan inquiry" into a candidate's martyrdom or the person's Christian virtues and miracles attributed to his or her intercession.

He also said there must be a real "fame of holiness" and not just a conviction among a small group of people that the person in question was a good Christian.

Although he did not refer specifically to any individual, the pope said that a spontaneous and widespread recognition of sainthood, as occurred in the case of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, "is a sign from God that indicates to the church those who deserve to be placed upon the candelabra to give 'light to all those in the home.'"

On the question of miracles, Benedict XVI appeared to rule out a change that some theologians had hoped would leave space for consideration of "moral miracles," such as dramatic conversions that occur when a notorious sinner turns his or her life around after coming into contact with the writings of a candidate for sainthood.

The congregation's plenary also included a discussion of the definition of martyrdom, a debate that has been going on for at least 30 years.

The traditional definition of a martyr is someone who was killed out of hatred for the faith.

Pope Benedict told congregation members that while the strength of the faith of martyrs has remained unchanged, "the cultural contexts of martyrdom and the strategies on the part of the persecutors" have changed.

In most cases, he said, modern persecutors attempt to hide their hatred of the Christian faith and Christian virtues, claiming to act, for example, in defense of "political or social" ideologies.

The determination over what constitutes martyrdom is one of the questions involved in the ongoing process for the canonisation of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was shot as he celebrated Mass.

Opponents have argued that he was killed for his political stance; supporters have said his pronouncements about social and political matters were motivated solely by his faith-based conviction about human dignity and the demands of justice.

Pope Benedict said a person could not be declared a martyr without "irrefutable proof" of the victim's willingness to die for the faith and without "moral certainty" that the persecutor's action stemmed "directly or indirectly" from a hatred of the faith.

"The martyrs of yesterday and of our time gave their lives freely and knowingly in a supreme act of charity to witness to their fidelity to Christ, to the Gospel and to the church," the pope said.

Image credit: Stefano Spaziani

Pope says church must be more selective in picking saint candidates (Catholic News Service 2/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Congregation for the Causes of Saints

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Beatification of three priests in Italy and India (Vatican Information Service 30/4/06 - temporary url)
Pope prays before image of the Virgin of Divine Love (Vatican Information Service 1/5/06 - temporary url)
Telegram for death of Argentinean Cardinal Primatesta (Vatican Information Service 2/5/06 - temporary url)
Recite the Rosary to experience love and cause the light of God to enter into the world, says Pope (AsiaNews.it 1/5/06)
The Pope sends telegramme of sympathy for Italian troops (Fides 1/5/06)
Benedict slows John Paul's path to sainthood (The Australian/London Times 3/5/06)
Pope to Insist on Stricter Interpretation on Sainthood (The Universe 2/5/06)
Pope Prays for a Warless World (Zenit 1/5/06)
"No Source of Hope Other Than Divine Mercy" (Zenit 1/5/06)

3 May 2006