Editor's Space

The Politics of Canonizations

Sadly, we live in times when everything is viewed through a political prism. Two weeks ago, on the day of St. Oscar Romero’s canonization, NPR’s correspondent Sylvia Poggioli said: “As soon as he became pope, Francis authorized Romero’s canonization – a rebuke to his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who believed Romero was too far to the left.” This is a very narrow-minded, petty and, more importantly, erroneous way to read the history of canonizations during the last three pontificates.

Yes, there are many criteria the Holy See takes into consideration during a canonization process. But if anybody says that John Paul II didn’t canonize St. Oscar Romero for political reasons, we just need to think about Father Jerzy Popieluszko to know that such an assertion shouldn’t be taken seriously.

It is hard to imagine someone dearer or closer to the heart of St. John Paul II than Father Popieluszko. He was a Polish priest kidnapped, brutally tortured and assassinated by the Communist secret police in Poland on Oct. 19, 1984, four years after the assassination of Archbishop Romero. He was called “the chaplain of Solidarność,” the Polish independent union that played a key role in overthrowing the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

“My weapon is truth and love,” Father Popieluszko often repeated in his homilies. Nothing could be more offensive to the Communist rulers of Poland in 1984 than truth and love. That’s why they killed him.

Father Popieluszko was beatified in 2010, five years after the death of Saint John Paul II. Could anybody think that the Polish pope didn’t want to canonize Father Popieluszko?

It is true that the political realities of the world can delay a canonization, just not in the way Poggioli suggested. It is the wellbeing of the faithful that sometimes could make the Holy See delay the process.

At the Synod this month were two bishops from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), an entity created by the Communist Party in 1957 to control Chinese Catholics. The Vatican recently announced an agreement to resolve the split between underground Chinese bishops faithful to Rome and the CPCA.

The presence of the two CPCA bishops at the synod is a positive sign of a growing communion with the Holy Father. At the same time, it makes you think that the process of canonization for Bishop Francis X. Ford will take longer than anticipated.

Bishop Ford, a Brooklyn-born missionary and martyr, was imprisoned, tortured and killed by the Chinese Communist government in 1952. The same party is still in power in China today. (A situation similar to that of El Salvador during a good part of John Paul II’s pontificate, when the party responsible for Archbishop Romero’s assassination was in power.) What would be the consequences for the Chinese Catholic faithful if Bishop Ford were to be declared a saint? This is something the Holy Father is probably pondering today, not the political preferences of the martyr. But that won’t stop some people from criticizing Pope Francis too.

The canonization of Archbishop Romero was a dream come true for many faithful around the world. We dream of the day when Father Popieluszko and our own Bishop Ford will be proclaimed saints. Let’s celebrate – and imitate – their lives. And let’s never use their ultimate sacrifice to score political points in the useless conflicts some people want to exacerbate.

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