We are waiting for the new Polish saint - John Paul II
Mons. Ireneusz Skubis talks to Fr Prof Henryk Misztal, Director of the Chair of Religious Law and curate of the Chair of the Canonization Law, Catholic University of Lublin.
Fr.Ireneusz Skubis: - On 13 May 2005 Pope Benedict XVI announced the immediate opening of the cause for the beatification of the Holy Father John Paul II, who had died only several weeks earlier. When can we expect his beatification?
Fr Henryk Misztal: - The decision of Pope Benedict XVI, announced on 13 May 2005 (the anniversary of the Fatima apparition and the anniversary of the assassination attempt) and received with joy by the faithful all over the world, means a dispensation from the requirement of the canon law that one should wait at least five years after death of the person proposed for beatification to open a cause so that the reputation for sanctity of the candidate has been consolidated. Pope Benedict XVI concluded that such reputation concerning John Paul II is exceptionally common and based on authentic holiness of his life so the cause could be opened at once. According to the legal procedure, this enabled the competent bishop, i.e. the bishop of the place of his death (the vicar for the Diocese of Rome) to initiate preliminary actions - to form a tribunal and begin gathering evidence about the sanctity of John Paul II. The speed of carrying out such a process, and consequently the beatification, will depend on the number of people who are to co-operate with the Beatification Tribunal and the method of carrying out the cause.
It could be the cause of martyrs if expert physicians stated that there was an absolute relationship between the Pope's assassination attempt and his illness, which caused his death. If martyrdom were evidently proved the period of the process of beatification would be shortened because of waiving the requirement of a miracle. Whereas if the tribunal followed the cause of confessors we should look for evidence that the candidate lived a life of 'heroic virtues' and there would be the need to approve at least one miracle performed by God and attributed to the intercession of John Paul II. This way would be longer because of the necessity to hear witnesses, accumulate and examine all documentation of the matter in question.
- Who could be a witness and what documents are to be considered?
A witness in the process of recounting facts on the exercise of virtues of the Servant of God John Paul II considered heroic, could be anyone who knew him closely, was with him for a longer period and remained in personal contact with him. Therefore, the number of witnesses can be very big, including Pope Benedict XVI. One ought to call witnesses who are against the sanctity of John Paul II. It is assumed that the witnesses are honest; they are eyewitnesses and are in full possession of their mental faculties. As far as the documentation is concerned one should gather and examine all documents which refer in whatever way to the matter in question: documents about the person (public, e.g. act of birth, diplomas and all legal papers), documents written by the person (printed and non-printed papers) and documents about the person (narrative papers: everything what was written about the person). That does not mean that all documents are verified on the basis of faith and morals (many papers present the official doctrine of the Church), but the aim is to show the personality of John Paul II on the basis of all this documentation.
- After such a process is finished and it was proven that he lived a life of heroic virtue we still require a miracle...
- Although the binding force of the canon law does not directly speak of the requirement of a miracle in beatification or canonization such a procedure is provided and defined by the law. From time immemorial miracles have been approved before beatification of Servants of God and canonization of the Blessed. In spite of opinions of certain canonists and theologians that the Church can, and even should, give up the procedure of approving a miracle, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has never waived the requirement to approve at least one miracle performed by God and attributed to the intercession of the candidate proposed for beatification and a second miracle attributed to the intercession of the Blessed before canonization. Since miracles belong to the very nature of religion, they confirmed the authenticity of the teaching of the Old Testament saints - Christ himself performed miracles - and miracles have been required since the beginnings of the Church as far as canonization of confessors is concerned. A miracle, so to speak, differentiates religion from gnosis. Therefore, in the light of this universal reputation for sanctity we should not be afraid of the lack of a miracle in the beatification process of John Paul II. For God's part, a miracle is in some way a supernatural confirmation of the candidate's sanctity, which results from his common reputation for sanctity and canonical investigation here, on earth.
- Should beatification precede canonization and what is the difference between these two pronouncements?
- In the old practice of the Church there was only the institution of canonization. Beatification originated over five centuries ago as the result of the practice to approve public veneration having limited range and limited forms. In today's procedure beatification is always the first step and is followed by canonization. There are many differences between these papal pronouncements. In beatification the pope declares that a servant of God is saved, allows limited public ecclesiastical veneration in the Church and presents the servant as an example to follow by the faithful and permits them to pray to God through his intercession. While in canonization the pope binds the whole Church to venerate the person, previously beatified, by means of all forms of cult the liturgical law allows for and he presents the saint not only as an example to follow but also as the person who we can ask to intercede for us before God because God himself is only holy. In enumerating the differences between beatification and canonization one should stress the words 'permissive' in beatification and 'preceptive' in canonization. This is important because there might be people who are venerated in the whole Church immediately after their beatification. The latest example is Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
Another important issue is that theologians connect canonization with papal infallibility. Canonization, being not only a legal act but also a dogmatic one (final precept), and performed on earth by the Vicar of Christ, concerns supernatural reality. The matter of papal infallibility in the act of canonization, which was discussed by canonists and theologians, was in some way solved by the explanation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed on 29 June 1998 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The document states that canonization belongs to the truths related to revelation by virtue of historical necessity.
- Were there saints who were beatified as martyrs and canonized as confessors?
- You mean whether John Paul could be beatified first as a martyr, which would speed the procedure, and then we could quietly open a cause of canonization of confessors. There were reverse cases, e.g. Fr Maximilian Kolbe was beatified as confessor by Paul VI and called 'martyr of love', and then canonized as martyr in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. Personally, I prefer to present as much as we can the spiritual beauty, multiple dimensions of the doctrine and full expression of the sanctity of this extraordinary personality of the universal Church - John Paul II - regardless of the lengthy procedures. We could rather shorten the process by involving a much bigger number of specialists in theology and canonization law.
- Where and when can the beatification of John Paul II take place?
- Certainly, neither Pope Benedict XVI nor we, believing in the sanctity of John Paul II, care for an ordinary reply to 'the social need', the voice of the people. We want to implement everything he preached and what this Great Pope lived for. Beatification can, therefore, take place quickly but it should follow thorough investigation, intensive work, powerful prayer and an attempt to change oneself following the example of Christ as John Paul did. As far as the place of beatification is concerned, although our hearts would like it to be Poland, the sense of the community of the universal Church points to Rome as the right place.
I personally pray to John Paul II from the moment of his blessed death, which I experienced in St Peter's in Rome, during the evening hours of 2 April 2005, beneath the windows of the Pope who was returning to the Father's House.
- Thank you for your conversation.