CONGREGATION OF THE SAINTS. Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins
Blessed among their people
From now on, as the norm, beatifications will no longer be celebrated in Rome, but in the dioceses that have promoted the cause of beatification, or in other places considered fitting. The Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints explains: «The fact that the new norms create greater involvement of the local Churches is pastorally stupendous»
interwiew with Cardinal Saraiva Martins by Gianni Cardinale
Cardinal José Saraiva Martins presiding at the celebration for the beatification of the servants of God Ascensión Nicole Goñi and Marianne Cope, Saint Peter’s Basilica, 14 May 2005
30Days put some questions on the matter to Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, a Portuguese, Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints since 1998.
Your Eminence, what are the contents of this “Communicatio”?
JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS: It’s very simple. In certain ways it’s less of a novelty than a return to the practice followed from 1662 to 1971, when it was not the pope who presided at the ceremony of beatification. Additionally it repeats that the beatification remains a pontifical act as always but one presided over by his representative, who normally is the Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints.
Where will ceremonies of beatification be celebrated?
SARAIVA MARTINS: In the past this kind of celebration was normally celebrated in Rome, from now on beatifications will be celebrated in the dioceses that promoted the cause of beatification, or in other places deemed fitting.
But the possibility remains that the ceremony be celebrated in Rome?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Yes, it remains, but only if the bishop and the agents in the cause of beatification ask with valid reasons and after the approval of the Secretariat of State.
A good part of the beatifications planned for this October and November will, however, take place to Roma…
SARAIVA MARTINS: That’s true, but in most cases the ceremonies were decided before the new rules came into force.
What are the reasons that induced Pope Benedict XVI to decide on the novelty, which in reality is a return to the past?
SARAIVA MARTINS: It is a matter, as our Communication says, of dispositions dictated by “theological reasons” and from “pastoral exigencies”. The fact that the new norms create greater involvement of the local Churches is pastorally stupendous. It’s a good thing that all the local community, and not only those who can journey to Rome, gather and celebrate the raising to the altars of one of its members. It’s a privileged occasion of catechesis.
Which are the “theological reasons” for these changes?
SARAIVA MARTINS: The theological reasons concern the need to keep ceremonies of beatification distinct from those of canonization. A need that this department has always tried to highlight. Though both are pontifical acts – and it’s well to keep that always in mind – with beatification the Pope grants that locally or in a fashion limited to determined religious families, the public cult of a servant of God is practiced, whereas with canonization the blessed is declared saint and the cult becomes obligatory for the whole Church. To that must be added, as I wrote in the commentary that accompanied the publication of the “Communicatio” in L’Osservatore Romano of September 29 [p. 7, ed.], that in canonization the Church acts «with a pronouncement of decretory character, definitive and preceptive for the whole Church committing the solemn Magisterium of the Roman pontiff». While for beatification that doesn’t happen.
Your Eminence, some theologians claim that even in canonization the infallible Magisterium of the Church is not committed…
SARAIVA MARTINS: To tell the truth, those theological opinions are not very widespread, and do not represent the official position of the Church. It’s well to remember on this matter that when Ad tuendam fidem, John Paul II’s motu proprio, was promulgated in 1998, in an attached “Illustrative doctrinal note”, signed by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, «the canonization of the saints» was explicitly cited among «the doctrines proposed by the Church in definitive fashion» along with: priestly ordination to be reserved to men only, the unlawfulness of euthanasia, the teaching on the unlawfulness of prostitution and fornication, the lawfulness of the election of the supreme pontiff or the celebration of an ecumenical council, the declaration of Leo XIII on the invalidity of Anglican orders.
SARAIVA MARTINS: The supreme pontiff’s office of liturgical ceremonies, together with this department and the Congregation for Divine Worship, is already working on that. The goal is to bring out the differences between the two celebrations and also offer a substantially uniform model of ceremony for the beatifications that they will be celebrate in varied parts of the world.
In the past Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger seemed to wish for a more sober number of new blesseds and saints. Should we expect that Pope Benedict XVI may, in this case, go ahead with the wish formulated in his time by Cardinal Ratzinger?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Up to now there have been no signs in that direction. Our Congregation has about two thousand causes on the waiting list and 400 positio are already prepared for scrutiny. The work goes on regularly as it has in these recent years.
Your Eminence, will you allow some questions on the status of some causes for beatification that are being followed with particular attention by many believers?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Let’s see.
How is the cause of John Paul II proceeding?
SARAIVA MARTINS: According to the rules. After Pope Benedict XVI granted the concession of not waiting for five years from the death, the cause has begun its diocesan phase and proceeds like all the others.
Do you think it possible, as has been suggested, that John Paul II be proclaimed blessed as martyr?
SARAIVA MARTINS: As is known only those who have voluntarily shed their blood can be considered martyrs, killed in odium fidei. I have no doubt that if the servant of God John Paul II had found himself in those conditions, he would have faced the ordeal of martyrdom with courage. But, as things stand, I don’t believe that those conditions effectively occurred.
On the subject of martyrdom. During the Grand Jubilee of 2000 notification was given that the term “martyr” must be attributed only to those whom the Church, after an examination by your department, had attributed the title. And that others could be attributed the title of “witnesses to the faith”. Is that distinction still valid?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Certainly yes, in that case there have been no changes. To use the term martyr for someone who has not been recognized as such by the Church remains a deprecable abuse.
At what point is the cause of Pius XII?
SARAIVA MARTINS: It’s no mystery by now that the Positio super virtutibus has been completed. At this point the evaluations of the theologians and the judgments of the cardinals gathered in ordinary Congregation are awaited. It’s hoped that they can occur within the next year.
Before the summer the fact made the headlines that the ceremony of beatification of Leo Dehon had been suspended because he is accused of anti-semitism. There was a media leak that the Holy See had set up a commission to look into the question. Has the commission finished its work?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Yes, it’s finished its work. I can’t say more. Except that in this case, as in others, the interest of the Holy See is to ascertain the historical truth.
A last question about the unforgotten figure of the archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Arnulfo Romero, killed while celebrating mass. The postulator of the cause has affirmed that the reservations expressed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have been overcome and that the cause has returned to your department to follow the normal route…
SARAIVA MARTINS: Not as far as I know today.