Questions Answered – January 2020

Infallibility and Canonization

Question: Pope Francis recently canonized Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero. Can you explain to me how canonization relates to the infallibility of the Pope?

Answer: This is an important question because the clarification of papal infallibility historically grew out of the development of the process for canonization. This fascinating history is traced in a new book called Certain Sainthood, by the Catholic historian Donald Prudlo (Cornell University Press, 2016, Kindle Edition, $14.74).

The Church has always maintained that the Church as a whole enjoys the charism of infallibility in teaching and believing. The exact relation of this to Church authority, though be it of the pope or the bishops, was not clear. Though the dogma was defined in the First Vatican Council and expanded in the Second Vatican Council to include the infallibility of the college of bishops which includes the Pope as a second object of infallibility, one cannot understand the parameters of this teaching without understanding the history to canonization.

The veneration of the saints goes back to the early Church. Indeed, it is the place where dogma meets morals. The saints were living embodiments of the fruits of the teaching of the gospel. For almost 1100 years there was no formal process of canonization. Local saints were often popularly acclaimed. Sometimes the Holy See became involved and approved the cult. But in the 12th century, things began to change with the development of more systematic canon law, greater centralization of the Church, and the need to extend the honor of canonization beyond the local level to the universal Church.

Since the declaration of sainthood has never been conceived of as placing a person in heaven, but as recognizing they are already there, obviously the issue of certainty of holiness is central to the point. With the development of formal investigations into the lives of holy men and women, local devotion was no longer enough, as it could be mistaken.

Eventually the formal investigations into the lives of proposed saints came to rest squarely at the door of the Holy See. Some historians, notably Brian Tierney, have tried to seat the origin of papal infallibility in the mendicant controversy over poverty connected with the spiritual Franciscans, but it can be traced back further than that.

The first example of the Pope formally canonizing someone for the universal Church was St. Thomas Becket. “It was the canonization of Thomas Becket that proved to be the watershed moment for papal canonization” (Prudlo, Certain, 36). The papal initiative became more evident in processes advanced against heretics like the Waldensians and the approval of initiatives like the friars movements and saints proposed to the universal Church for veneration. Innocent III stated that canonization now belonged to the Pope alone. A formal process of investigation developed which included enquiry into the virtues and miracles of the proposed saint. In the XIII century these tribunals produced declarations of certainty even in the face of opposition to the canonization of St. Peter of Verona, St. Francis, St. Dominic, and St. Anthony of Padua. After such a process and with the consent of the Pope, the recognition or canonization of a saint could not be in error.

The issue of the possibility of error on the part of the Pope was formally taken up by both St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas. In his Quodlibet IX, 8, St. Thomas gives three reasons which demonstrate the impossibility of the Pope to err in canonization: “(1) he makes a thorough investigation into holiness of life, (2) this is confirmed by the testimony of miracles, and (3) the Holy Spirit leads him [for Thomas, the clincher])” (Prudlo, Certain, 128). Interestingly, these are the same criteria used today in processes of canonization. Though Aquinas does not use the word “infallibility,” the concept is obvious in the third condition.

By the beginning of the XIV century, the language was fixed in the Ordo Romanus XIV for the declaration of sainthood which is the same today:

For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define . . . to be a Saint and we enroll him among the Saints, decreeing that he is to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”Notice this invokes not only God, the aid of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles Peter and Paul but also the authority which resides in the office held by the Pope. The development of papal infallibility does not come from some obscure local controversy but from the very desire of the Christian people to witness doctrine in action in their companions on the journey to heaven: the saint.


Preparing for Priesthood, in Human Terms

Question: What human preparation is good for a person to enter the seminary to prepare to be a priest?

Answer: In the Program for Priestly Formation developed by the USCCB and published in its fifth edition in 2006, the bishops lay out what in their opinion are the four pillars on which the formation of priests should be developed. They are: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. These four pillars are meant to prepare and support the life of priests. Before all else, Christ is the model for all Christian vocations. It is necessary, however, to apply both his spirit and his life to the practical expression of each.

The first and most basic level of the formation of the soul is the human. The Program for Priestly Formation says this about this aspect:

The qualities to be fostered in a human formation program are freedom, openness, honesty and flexibility, joy and inner peace, generosity and justice, personal maturity, interpersonal skills, common sense, aptitude for ministry, and growth in moral sensibility and character. (85)

These skills and maturity in both personal and family relationships which should have been developed in the home. Even being on time for prayers and duties would in former times have been emphasized in culture and in the home. In former times, the family was so stable that common meals were taken in the family and everyone was expected to be present. People had a schedule established in the family. They were taught table manners and courtesy especially towards the elderly. Since many people came from large families, they already had skills in how to live and work closely with others.

These natural customs learned in the family were the bedrock of human formation in the priesthood. As the bishops point out:

Formation programs will not be very effective for those who manifest extreme inflexibility, narcissism, antisocial behavior or any other serious pathology, a lack of sexual integration, a deep and unresolved anger (especially against authority), a deep attachment to a materialist lifestyle, or compulsive behaviors or addictions. (89)

The life in many families today can hardly be said to be conducive to the natural supports needed to avoid these common pitfalls to living a life of self-surrender and give completely of oneself. Divorced and broken homes are quite common. The lack of schedule lived in many families is quite apparent and when both parents work, the stable, emotional support of home life is often brought into question. Children are so busy doing things outside the home and the media culture is so prevalent that there is little time for the real development of the imagination or play. Children in many cases are expected to act like adults long before they have the spiritual development to live such a role.

Proper mature sexual integration which emphasizes the soul and not the body is necessary to develop an effective and affective living of celibacy. As is clear in the present crisis in the priesthood characterized by sin, true character development must underpin education in this. Effective celibacy is not based on the judgement that marriage or family are evil or even more, thinking that there is something evil about the body or physical flesh. This gift must be embraced affirming the goodness of marriage and children. Affective celibacy recognizes that sexual education underlines the understanding that sexuality and virginity are not exclusively physical conditions but flow from a deep spiritual source of the spousal meaning of the body as a necessary part of human formation. They are more about selfless self-love and the gift of self freely to another than about some physical condition. This would include a true gender identification and having a healthy parental relationship so as to both appreciate and to not fear the opposite sex. Both preparations demand a complete denial of sinful practices in this area and a healthy self-control rooted in an understanding of the realities of lust. One also needs to understand the depth of repentance and ongoing conversion of heart.

Materialism in our culture also affects human formation of those in religion. Those who see their value in what they do rather than what they are present a challenge for self-control regarding material possessions which should characterize the priest. Poverty of spirit and responsibility for the goods of others demands that one understand the true place of material goods in life. Many candidates are very young and never actually earned a living or had a job. Adult responsibility in the use of material possessions ensures that they are used for the reasonable personal maintenance of the priest. Such responsible use must also govern the Church property which exists for the common good of the parishioners.

The final foundation is a healthy relationship with authority learned from parents. This includes a good formation in the psychological aspects of obedience which is much more than just doing what one is told. Those who have been ill-formed by their parents cannot understand the true freedom involved in obedience. Rather than being a commitment to the common good which is born from a true understanding in the intellect on how a given practice can serve Christ and the truth, obedience can become a mere competition of wills to satisfy the unbridled passions of the ego. This attitude would lead to the error that one exercises the priesthood to be served and not to serve.

Healthy family life also encourages the last and very important human quality of the priest: he must love and be interested in people. His life of service demands a true interest in the whole human race. Diocesan priests demonstrate this in an active availability for others; religious priests in their prayer and concern for others even if not connected to an active apostolate. Again according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church the family occupies a prime source of these human qualities so necessary for the priesthood (2223). The document Program for Priestly Formation document summarizes: “In general, human formation happens in a three-fold process of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-gift — and all of this in faith” (80).

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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