VATICAN CITY (RNS) When the Vatican announced this month that Pope Francis would formally elevate Popes John Paul II and John XXIII to sainthood, two things stood out.

(1969) Pope John XXIII, 76 when he was elected in 1958, caught the imagination of the world through his pastoral goodness, his strides for peace and his convening of the Second Vatican Council. At his death in 1963, between the first and second session of the Council, he had become one of the most loved men in history and a Pope whose impact has remained undiminished. Religion News Service file photo

Pope John XXIII, 76 when he was elected in 1958, caught the imagination of the world through his pastoral goodness, his strides for peace and his convening of the Second Vatican Council. At his death in 1963, between the first and second session of the council, he had become one of the most loved men in history and a pope whose impact has remained undiminished. Religion News Service file photo


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For John Paul, it was the record speed that he reached sainthood, just eight years after his death. The only other saint to be canonized so quickly in modern times was Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva, whose sainthood bid took 27 years.

But for John XXIII, Francis decided to waive the church law that requires a second miracle in order to be named a saint. Asked how John XXIII could be named a saint without the required second miracle, the Vatican’s chief spokesman said “no one doubts his virtues.”

With that rare, if not unprecedented, move, Francis has rekindled a years-old debate in Catholic circles, with some asking whether miracles are really needed for sainthood anymore.

“I think it is time to drop the miracle requirement,” says the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who is a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter.

“It is sufficient to look at a person’s life and ask, did this person live the life of a Christian in a special or extraordinary way that can be held up for admiration and imitation by other Christians?”

According to the church, miracles are performed by God, not the saints. The saints’ role is to bend God’s ear, to intercede on behalf of those who pray to them and make sure that God heeds their requests.

The rationale for the miracle requirement is that it proves “that the person is in heaven and listened to by God,” Reese said.

While the tradition of seeking assistance from holy men and women is as old as Christianity itself, it was only Pope Benedict XIV, in the 18th century, who formalized the miracle requirement: Two miracles were needed to be declared “Blessed,” through a rite called beatification, and two more were needed to become a saint.

(The difference between the two stages is that while a “Blessed” is venerated at the local level, a saint is held up as an icon of faith for the global church.)

Professor Daniele Menozzi, a church historian at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, said the importance of miracles grew during the 19th century as the church was engaged in its struggle against the modern world.

“Miracles — events that science wasn’t able to explain — were the church’s answer to the scientific mindset,” he said.

Vatican City -- Prelates and religious dignitaries from around the world fill St. Peter's Basilica as a concelebrated Mass opens the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 1962.

Prelates and religious dignitaries from around the world fill St. Peter’s Basilica as a concelebrated Mass opens the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 1962. Religion News Service file photo

But this changed after the watershed Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which John XXIII convened.

“As the church wasn’t afraid of secularization anymore, sainthood stopped being a proof of the existence of the supernatural and became a way to promote exemplary lives,” Menozzi said.

In 1983, John Paul lowered the requirement to one miracle for beatification and another one for sainthood, while martyrs — those who had been killed because of their faith — could be beatified without miracles at all.

John Paul went on to name around 500 saints and more than 1,300 blesseds during his 26-year pontificate — more than in the past five centuries combined.

At the Vatican, potential miracles are vetted by a team of specialist doctors, who are called to determine whether a miraculous healing can be explained by modern medicine.

“But medicine becomes more complex and advanced by the day, so it’s possible to make mistakes,” cautions the Rev. Peter Gumpel, a Jesuit expert who has worked on saints’ causes for more than 60 years.

Today, unexplained healings make up about 95 percent of church-certified miracles. But it has happened in the past that what was considered a miracle has been later explained by science.

For Gumpel, by looking only at physical miracles “the church ventures in a field that is not its own.”

He says that the church could look for God’s intervention “in the many spheres of human experience” beyond medicine.

“When a couple gets reconciled, or economic help arrives against all human expectations — if there are hundreds of such cases, all after praying to the same person, then God wants to tell us something,” Gumpel argues.

“According to my experience, a miracle is only the confirmation of what has been ascertained through a long study of a person’s life, writings and actions,” he said.

Nevertheless, a traditional miracle is still what’s required in most cases, even though, as Gumpel recalls, “these are human laws, and the pope could change them if he wants.”

A senior official at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak publicly on this issue, is not convinced that the church can completely give up on miracles when vetting potential saints.

“It is true that sainthood mostly consists in the virtue and the actions of a person,” he said. “But the church keeps this requirement of a miracle as a seal, a stamp of God’s will.”

10 Comments

  1. You say “But it has happened in the past that what was considered a miracle has been later explained by science”.

    Please provide one case of a “certified” miracle that has later been explained by science. Not contested, but explained.

    • The “miracle” of creation (the churches own words) has been proven by science to have not taken place in 6 days. Nor were the animals, man, plants etc. created in either of the two different versions as described in the bible.

  2. Vatican’s chief “spokesman” says, “no one doubts his (John23) virtues.” Uh, guess again. There are a ton of people who doubt it because Roncalli was short on virtue and long on promoting sillonism and communism. Does the Pact of Metz ring a bell where J23 in writing agreed to no longer condemn the evil of communism, all for the pieces of silver of the KGB attending V2 in the person of two Russian Orthodox.

    Realize how many Catholics and priests were killed behind the iron curtain from that moment on. Forget that Our Lady warned against Communism spreading its errors to the world.

    Roncalli’s aggiornamento opened wide the door for satan to march right in with his hammer & sickle in one hand and pitchfork in the other. The last true pope was His Holiness Pope St. Pius X. Compare his virtues to the Modernist ‘popes’ of the CONciLIAR era. No contest.

    Oh, and don’t even get me started on Escriva! When the truth finally comes out you will realize Heaven is a long way from where Jose is! Pray for a return to the true Catholic Church for the Vatican 2 church is the very tree that Christ referred to in St. Matthew 7: 15-21 as the one bearing bad fruit. We all know where that’s headed, as well as many who have bought into the progressivism of the dangerous and devastating Second Vatican Council creed. Let’s be frank. Modernist Rome’s real intent is to canonize Vatican 2, because they know God would not!

  3. Correction: In 3rd paragraph I wrote: “The last true pope… It should be the last true pope to be made a saint…

    Because, obviously, Papa Pio Sarto was not the last true pope. That title would go to Pope Pius XII as the last true pope. Hopefully, when the Church has a true Pope again who upholds all Catholic doctrine they will take up his cause. The fact the counterfeit church of conciliarism has not is really a great blessing!

    Speaking of Papa Pacelli, see his decree “Sacramentum Ordinis” which verifies that anyone ordained in Paul 6′s new rite were not fully ordained and therefore cannot confect the sacrament nor truly have the power to absolve sin in the confessional. That is tragic when you realize any priest “ordained” since 1978 is NOT a true priest!

    If that doesn’t scare you straight to search for priests ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders by true Bishops as established and set in stone by the dogmatic infallible Council of Trent, then read Christ’s words in St. Matthew 24, especially vs. 15 “abomination of desolation” and realize that is the very Novus Ordo Missae!

    Then read 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-11 and realize what “to believe a lie” means. I tell you this because of St. Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2: 14 to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned”. Also read 2 Timothy 4: 3-4 and realize I’m writing this out of Paul’s entreaty in 2 Timothy 4: 2 and 5. And if you still aren’t convinced, read Apocalypse 3: 15-16, then look in the mirror and say the Act of Faith to yourself, paying attention to the words: “I believe these and ALL the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches because Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.” If you feel you’ve been deceived over the past 55 years, realize it isn’t Our Lord Who has deceived you, but the robber barons spawned through Vatican 2 who have eclipsed the True Church.

  4. As Pius XII languishes, the Vatican says “Miracles? We don’t need no stinkin miracles. We do what we want, when we want and how we want. Tradition and confirmation be damned.”.

  5. Miracles …. no. However, how about 100 years after the person’s death before the decision for sainthood is made.

    If that person’s reputation and actions can’t stand the test of time, then the cause is not proven.

  6. As per the catholic believe saints should live in heaven. So in this case dose francis go to heaven to check whether these 2 popes are in heaven for him to grant sainthood for them ?????? Also we have never heard fire in heaven except in hell….. So John Paul II appearing on fire (just type “John Paul II in fire” in google) can be a sign to say he is burning in hell for sin he did when he was alive ???????? Catholic Church & Catholic teaching abusing true word of Jesus Christ as per their will like they changing the rules & criteria of sainthood as per above article………….. So owners of Catholic Churches who miss using & miss leading innocent people in the name of Jesus Christ for sure shouldn’t burn in hell ??????? Shouldn’t it be the correct punishment for those thieves ???????

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