Jan 9, 2008

"The Devil's Advocate" and "Defender of the Bond"

The Church must exercise 'greater caution and more accuracy' in the process for beatification and canonization of new saints, according to the head of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins stated in Osservatore Romano (January 8, 2008) that more precision is needed in diocesan procedures that open and advance sainthood for particular individuals. The Cardinal's desk, stated one news article in October 2007, "has turned into a frequent-flyer assignment", as he represents the the Pope at many different canonization ceremonies around the world.

I'm happy to see the tightening up of canonization procedures that good Cardinal Silvio Oddi once called a "saint factory." Since the time of Pope Sixtus V in the 16th century, well over half the new saints were canonized under the direction of Pope John Paul II. Sometimes it seemed that ideological, political, and other interests were able to push through beatifications and canonizations in record time.

Here are the statistics from Catholic Online that show the unprecedented explosion of saints under Pope John Paul II. Compare these numbers to the 296 total saints who were canonized in the 400+ years before his pontificate.

Beatifications and Canonizations in the Pontificate of John Paul II





Beatification Ceremonies





Canonization Ceremonies





Statistics: Ceremonies in Rome - Ceremonies in Italia outside of Rome - Ceremonies outside of Italy during Apostolic Voyages [Italian]

The position and duties of the Devil's Advocate (Advocatus Diaboli), whose job it is to attack the integrity of the proposed saint, may be restored if I read the Vatican report correctly. This person is described by the Catholic Encyclopedia as:
...one of the most important officers of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, established in 1587, by Sixtus V, to deal juridically with processes of beatification and canonization. His official title is Promoter of the Faith (Promotor Fidei). His duty requires him to prepare in writing all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight, against the raising of any one to the honours of the altar. The interest and honour of the Church are concerned in preventing any one from receiving those honours whose death is not juridically proved to have been "precious in the sight of God"...
We next need to see the position of Defensor matrimonii (defender of the bond) restored. This would allow a more precise and consistent analysis to determine whether the bond of marriage exists in a case before the diocesan marriage tribunal.

Back in the 70's, I remember one priest who loudly asked at a public meeting, "WHERE is the defender of the bond?!" His rage was expressed after a discussion of the many annulments being granted. At the time we knew that virtually all applications for annulments were being approved, and it seemed there was always some new reason identified as a serious defect in the marriage under consideration that prevented it from being recognized as valid. I even remember one woman (RIP) who told me that her husband received an annulment, but she was not aware of it until several years later when she confronted the priest who was giving Holy Communion to her husband who had remarried.

Do I want to see a return to the days when only two canonizations took place under a papacy? NO! Clearly these and recent times indicate there are likely more than a few great saints who should be canonized each year. Yet the procedures must be strict and carefully followed, including carrying out those necessary duties performed by the "Devil's Advocate."

The same as for hearing and granting annulment petitions. Diocesan procedures need to be tightened so that the Church can begin to restore credibility to the annulment process. In other words, let the "defender of the bond" do his necessary job. Yet there appears to be good reasons why more annulments should be granted than during the 1940s and 1950s.

1 comment:

Dymphna said...

Thank God. No disrepect intended to JPII but the previous process was slipshod and some of the saints who were cannonized in recent years still have credible doubters. Thank the Lord, the founder of the Legionaires of Christ didn't die in the 80s or he might be on the beatification path now. That would've been a horrible embarrassment.