, Salem, MA


April 25, 2014

Sainthood in a nutshell: Martyrs, miracles and the stuff of making saints


While few question that John Paul was saintly in many ways, his record-fast canonization has ruffled feathers even inside the Vatican, particularly given the stain on his legacy of having reigned while the sexual abuse scandal festered.


Popes push the sainthood cases they like, ignore the ones they don't and delay those that are politically inopportune. Look at Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran priest gunned down as he celebrated Mass, a martyr for sure — but his case languished under two papacies that were hostile to liberation theology. Or World War II-era Pope Pius XII, whose case was launched in 1965 but delayed because of accusations by Jews that he didn't speak out enough against the Holocaust.

Given the politicized nature of the process, some have argued that popes really shouldn't even be made saints since they can only be models for other popes.

"Making a pope a saint is a way of strengthening his legacy, making it more difficult for future popes to change policies that he put in place," Vatican analyst the Rev. Thomas Reese wrote recently in the National Catholic Reporter.

But Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the postulator or chief cheerleader for John Paul's case, said it would be "absurd" to exempt popes from possible sainthood since their main job is to spread the faith and encourage Catholics to be saintly themselves.

Before he was pope, John Paul was a student, laborer in a stone quarry, actor, poet, priest, bishop and cardinal.

"John Paul is surely a reference point for his successors, but not just that," Oder told reporters this week. "You can find the growth of his holiness in all the steps of his life."

Daniela Petroff contributed.

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