[Question] I heard that canonisations are supposed to be infallible. Is this so for the forthcoming canonisations of Pope John Paul and Pope John XXIII now that the process of canonisation has been weakened?
It is the defined doctrine of the Church that when the Pope makes a solemn definition concerning faith or morals, ex cathedra, that is, as shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, he enjoys that infallibility which Christ gave to the Church. Matters of faith and morals as revealed by Christ to the Church are thus the primary object of papal infallibility. Theologians have traditionally regarded a solemn decree of canonisation as one of the secondary or indirect objects of infallibility because all the actions of the Church are ordered to the sanctification of the faithful, and a decree of canonisation does not merely tolerate or permit veneration of a particular saint, but solemnly prescribes such a cultus for all the people of God, for all time. Were such veneration to be prescribed for someone who is not in heaven, the Church would fail in her divine mission to lead all the faithful in the path of salvation. Hence, for example, in 1933 Pope Pius XI explicitly referred to a decree of canonisation as infallible.
We do not have to agree with all the details of the process of canonisation: the formal process of canonisation was introduced gradually in the Church and has often changed over time. We are only committed to believe that a canonised saint is in heaven, should be venerated as a saint, is worthy of our imitation, and prays for us. We do not have to agree with everything a saint said or did. The canonisations of St Bernadette, St Maria Goretti, and St Gemma Galgani were opposed strongly by some, but once their decrees were pronounced, Catholics united in venerating them. The forthcoming canonisations can spur us to look anew at the encyclicals of Blessed John Paul, and Blessed John XXIII’s Journal of the Soul to learn from them, honour them, and seek their intercession for ourselves, for the Pope, and for the whole Church today.
Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
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