Monday, January 30, 2012


Neither progressives who complain that Archbishop Romero’s canonization cause has moved too slowly—or not at all—nor traditionalists who respond that these things take hundreds and hundreds of years are entirely confirmed in their views by a study of the Vatican’s beatification files. An analysis of the causes of saints submitted 1980 and thereafter, as well as an assessment of the beatifications and canonizations under Pope Benedict’s pontificate and a targeted review of five high-profile causes, show that Archbishop Romero’s cause has progressed substantially ahead of most others, but lags behind a privileged group of candidates for the sainthood.
The study examined and cross-referenced information available online from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) and the Index ac Status Causarum, as reflected in the Hagiography Circle and Giga-Catholic Information web sites, to glean the broadest possible window into the internal workings of the Church’s “saint making” function. The analysis identified 372 canonization causes for would-be saints who died 1980 and after—including, Archbishop Romero. Among those proposed candidates for the sainthood, the great majority have not advanced as far as Archbishop Romero’s cause, which has completed the first phase of study in the local church and been passed on to Rome for final examination. 262 of the causes started since 1980 have not yet moved to the second, Vatican phase of the process, according to the information. Only 72 of these causes have received a Vatican decree certifying the validity of the Phase I inquiry. Archbishop Romero’s is one of them. The number of causes that has gone on to the next step after that is even smaller: only 38 of the 372—just about 10% of them—have had a Positio or final report accepted by the CCS in Rome. And a rather miniscule selection—ten causes, representing about 2.5% of the causes submitted since 1980—have gone on to the beatification of the candidate proposed for the sainthood. (See, Fig. 1.)

Archbishop Romero places in the top 30th percentile of the causes started since 1980, in terms of the level of advancement achieved within the bureaucratic and legal process by which the Church names its saints. This is hardly evidence of “foot dragging” or of a “blocked” path to the sainthood, as some characterize it. But the fact that 10 people who have died after Ab. Romero have been beatified ahead of Ab. Romero certainly suggests that his cause has not advanced at the highest rate of progress of which the CCS is capable. The faster progress by other candidates raises eyebrows because Ab. Romero is proposed as a martyr, a type of beatification process designed to be shorter and swifter (requiring no miracle for beatification). None of the ten candidates who were beatified ahead Ab. Romero were martyrs. For example, Blessed Chiara Badano, who died in 1990 at age 18, was beatified by Pope Benedict on September 25, 2010. María Isabel Salvat Romero, who died in 1998, was beatified a few days earlier, on September 18, 2010. But these cases are anomalous and, as noted earlier, represent 2.5% of these causes. More typical is the case of Cosme Spezzotto, killed in 1980 in El Salvador, still pending acceptance of the Positio, or Dorothy Day, who also died 1980 and is still awaiting her Phase I investigation.
Looking at the causes submitted after 1980 allows us to look at the intake side of the sainthood “pipeline,” but another useful perspective is the output end of the process, for which we look to the canonizations and beatifications approved during the last seven years—Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate, to date. The current pope has approved 839 beatifications and, as noted above, 10 of those were candidates who died after Ab. Romero. Stated mathematically, beatifications of candidates who died after Ab. Romero represent 1.2% of the blesseds approved under the current pontificate. Therefore the percentage of beatifications who “cut ahead” of Romero is small. While it has been 31+ years since Ab. Romero was killed, the 839 persons beatified by Pope Benedict had to wait an average of 94.3 years for their turn. (See, Fig. 2.) But one dramatic disparity in these results is the disproportionate number of Europeans canonized and beatified under Pope Benedict (118) versus the Latin Americans (19).

Some blesseds beatified by Benedict had inordinately long waits: Bb. Petrus Kibe Kasui and his 187 martyred companions from Japan had to wait 369 years before being recognized as “blesseds.” Spain’s Bd. Juan de Palafox Mendoza was beatified after 351 years. It was 306 years for Bd. Stanislaw Papczynski of Poland. But the notion that beatifications take hundreds and hundreds of years to process is the exception rather than the rule. Besides, the long drawn-out cases are cancelled out by the fast-track prodigies: Bd. Lindalva Justo de Oliveira was beatified 2007, in fifteen years; Bd. María de la Purísima Salvat Romero was beatified 2010, in eleven years; and—of course—Bd. John Paul II was beatified 2011, in just six years. The truly lengthy processes were not beatifications (the first step in the path to sainthood), but canonizations (the final step). St. Bernardo Tolomei was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2009, after 660 years. Under that standard, we would not expect to see Ab. Romero canonized until the year 2640!
Finally, after looking at the intake end and the output end of the canonization process, it is useful to look at the in-between, and for that purpose, we examine five exemplary cases: (1) Pope John Paul II, (2) Mother Theresa, (3) Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, (4) popular stigmatist Padre Pio and (5) Pope John XXIII. All have been beatified; and nos. 3 & 4 have completed the process in its entirety, having been declared saints of the Universal Church. Fig. 3 below tracks the amount of time each cause took to move through various steps of the process, compared to Ab. Romero, and the chart shows that Romero actually out-performed all of these “fast-track” saints during the Phase I investigation, taking merely 1 year to complete this early part of the process (compare 6 years for Msgr. Escrivá and 8 years for Padre Pio). The chart also shows that Ab. Romero encountered delay in the Roman phase (everything from Positio). It is in comparison to the superstars that Ab. Romero’s disadvantage is revealed: each of them was beatified in an average 19.4 years, while Ab. Romero is going on 32 years, still awaiting beatification.

In sum, all three measures demonstrate that Ab. Romero’s process does not reflect the same kind of celerity as the topper-most performers among the newly minted saints and blesseds. However, looking at the new causes introduced in the time of Romero, as well as the causes completed under the current pontificate, we see that Romero has moved along faster than the great majority of them. A targeted review of “super-saints” also reveals that, at specific moments in the process—especially at the starting gate—Romero’s progress was even better than the other superstars. One hopes that this kind of celerity will return when the current impasse is cleared.

* “Romero” translates as “pilgrim” in Spanish.

See Also:

Beatification Chronology (Spanish)
2006 General Status Report
2007 Beatification outlook
2008 Beatification outlook (Spanish)
2011 beatification outlook
2012 beatification outlook (Spanish)
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