How Saints are Made

RNS recently published “Who becomes a saint in the Catholic Church, and is that changing?It tells you how these sacred sausages are made, and how the ingredients keep getting degraded. Pope John Paul II made radical changes, and created more new saints than all previous popes put together. Many call the Vatican “a saints factory,” but RNS notes that there are no economies of scale, and that it still costs “six-figures” to produce a saint. According to the Catholic News Service (here), it is in the low six figures. (They ignore the large costs that are “eaten” by volunteers and not billed to either the Church or the sponsor.) There is no information regarding the number of unsuccessful candidates, or the cost of those failures. Pope Francis recently announced a new path to sainthood, which should help fill the pipeline.

I was surprised to learn that the fundamental criterion of sainthood is having “heroic” quantities of the four cardinal virtues – prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice – not to mention the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. It is astonishing that Pope Pius IX, who damned everyone outside the Catholic Church, was considered “heroically” temperate and just. (Not to mention his kidnapping a Jewish boy and refusing to return him to his family.) Similarly, one might question the justice of Pope John Paul II’s blocking the martyrdom and sainthood of Archbishop Romero. In fact, Pope Francis has officially overruled that injustice.

During nearly all its history, the Vatican exercised considerable restraint in creating saints. It employed a devil’s advocate to argue against new claims, and required that a candidate for sainthood be dead at least 50 years, thus avoiding faddish embarrassments. But Pope John Paul loved saints and needed more of them. He was the first pope devoted to PR tours - papal circuses. Roman emperors provided their flock with bread and circuses. Pope John Paul was frugal with bread, but the former actor loved starring in circuses. He found that unveiling new, local saints during his tours was a great crowd pleaser. So he eliminated the devil’s advocate, and slashed the post-mortem waiting period to 5 years, after which he had no problem finding new saints for his tours. (He also all but ensured his own sainthood.)

While sainthood requires a medical board of nine members to determine that at least two miracle have occurred, RNS neglects to mention that the members of this board are devout Catholics who donate their valuable time. They not only believe in miracles, but are predisposed to find them. A random selection of doctors, not to mention a sample of leading experts, would almost certainly have very different judgments.

In any case, producing saints is a very complex and expensive process. It is the kind of process the Church might use to produce inspired and infallible estimates of the number of angels dancing on the heads of pins.


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