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Speed and strictness in the cause of John Paul II’s Beatification

· A conversation with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints ·

Carefulness, scrupulousness and professionalism: these are the qualities with which the process of the cause of John Paul II’s Beatification has been conducted. His Beatification is indeed approaching in record time; nevertheless no exceptions have been made as regards the procedures provided by the legislative norms. It has been a matter solely of a “fast track” — granted by Benedict XVI himself — which has enabled the cause to move faster. In fact, six years and 29 days will have elapsed from the death of John Paul II [2 April 2005] to the celebration of his Beatification on 1 May. Of course, for the People of God the holiness of Pope Wojtyła has never been disputed. And it has been precisely the fame of his holiness and the fame of the signs of it that have accompanied and sustained the entire process of the cause, as Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints explained. The following is a translation of the interview, which was given in Italian.

This cause has been concluded, as it were, in record time. Has its rapidity not been to the detriment of strictness and precision – not entirely abiding by the procedures – as regards the judgement of a complex figure?

It is true that the cause has proceeded quickly but two elements have made this possible. The first was the fact that Benedict XVI immediately granted a dispensation from the prescribed five years of waiting. The cause therefore began almost immediately after the death of John Paul II.

The second was a sort of “fast track”; since it had been granted a dispensation, the cause was not on a waiting-list and could therefore proceed without being hindered by the other procedures under way. Maximum care was combined with great solicitude and great professionalism on the part of the postulation in the preparation of the so-called “Positio” on John Paul II’s heroic exercise of virtues and on his life, and also of answers to possible objections.

All this was carried out very scrupulously by the Postulation. So it was that on 1 December 2009 the Pope was able to sign the Decree on John Paul II’s heroic virtues. The examination of the miracle then began; it had already been submitted to the Congregation even though it was not possible to proceed to its examination without first verifying the Decree on the heroic nature of his virtues.

The miracle was examined with great attention, I would even say strict attention, partly because there was great pressure from the media. The doctors, both French and Italian, in no way acted hastily and submitted everything for close examination. We left the same freedom to our medical commission so that the experts might proceed in accordance with their conscience and knowledge. For its part, the postulation never failed to respond to our requests without delay. Since there were no other causes before it, we could immediately approach the medical commission, as well as the commission of theologians and the ordinary consultation of the Bishops and Cardinals. The speed of the cause did not in any way influence the care with which the procedures were carried out or the professionalism with which this candidate was presented. Moreover, the fame of John Paul II’s holiness was so widespread and so well-established that our task was made easier.

Was the recognition of the miracle uncomplicated or was it contested?

It happened in an uncomplicated manner, in accordance with the stages and the dynamic of these procedures. The Congregation does not intervene in the opinions expressed by the experts and doctors of the medical commission but entirely respects them. After the medical commission had given the green light, the next step was the examination of the miracle by the theological consultors and, lastly, by the Cardinals and Bishops.

What was the miracle?

To be precise it was the healing from Parkinson’s disease of Sr Marie Simon Pierre Normand, a French religious of the Institut des Petites Soeurs des Maternités Catholiques. Her illness was diagnosed in 2001 by her own doctor and later by specialists. The sister was given the appropriate treatment which obviously rather than curing her only lessened her suffering.

When she heard the news of Pope Wojtyła’s death Sr Marie and her sister religious began to invoke his intercession for her recovery. On 2 June 2005, tired and oppressed by pain, the religious informed her superior of her intention to be excused from her professional work as a nurse. The superior herself asked Sr Marie Simon to trust in John Paul II’s intercession and to pray. The sister passed a peaceful night. On awakening she felt healed. The pain had disappeared and she felt no stiffness in her joints. It was 3 June 2005, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. Sr Marie immediately stopped the treatment and went to her doctor who noted her recovery.

This sick woman religious was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the same illness that afflicted John Paul II. What would be a possible theological interpretation of this coincidence?.

I too noticed the connection. As did the sister herself. When John Paul II died, Sr Marie was deeply shaken to note that he had died from the same illness that afflicted her. And I thought that by being acquainted with the gravity of the disease the late Pope might have been able to help her.

During the cause did all the witnesses questioned agree in highlighting Karol Wojtyła’s virtues or were there some dissonant voices?

By law, by praxis and also in accordance with our regulations the postulator must question both the witnesses in favour of a cause and those against it. From this point of view the postulation did a good job in dispelling all the shadows. As I said in my introduction to the Studium, the postulators’ work is extremely serious and must be carried out scrupulously, because they undertake a special form of collaboration with the Pope in his ordinary Magisterium.

This is the first time in the past ten centuries that a Pontiff has beatified his Predecessor. Is this circumstance significant?

Its meaning is one of continuity, not only in the Magisterium but also in personal sanctification. Moreover in the past two centuries we have had a series of Bishops of Rome whose holiness has been recognized, if in different degrees; Pius x, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul i. They are Pontiffs who not only passed on their witness of the Magisterium and guidance of the Church but also their example of holiness.

The “sensum fidelium” of the People of God had already decreed the sainthood of John Paul II. Were the canonical procedures affected by this pressure?

I would not call it pressure but rather involvement. The “sensum fidelium” is what we call in technical terms the “fame of holiness” and of signs, which is indispensable for a cause. A procedure cannot be brought to conclusion without this involvement of the faithful, the fame of holiness of the figure of the Servant of God and the fame of the signs. In other words the People turn to the Servant of God to receive graces. And this was the case. “A Saint immediately” is a good thing but he must be “a reliable Saint”, for haste does not bear good fruit.

Does the Beatification of John Paul II put an end to historical research into the actions and scope of his Pontificate?

Certainly not. Let us think of Gregory VII, Pius v, Sixtus v, Benedict XIV. Their Pontificates have been subjected to constant investigation and historical revision. History is never conclusive. Acts of government can always be studied and enriched by other interpretations. Theologians take all the documents into account, but in the case of John Paul II nothing problematic was found.

What answer can be given to those who raise doubts about the appropriateness of such a rapid Beatification of a Pontiff?

It is not a matter of a quick Beatification. The procedures have respected all the rules of the process, just as they are applied to other causes. The facilitations I mentioned at the beginning of this interview permitted this acceleration. I believe it was appropriate because the wave of emotion that swelled within the Church and outside it at the death of John Paul II showed that the world regarded this Pope with extraordinary sympathy and love. And I am convinced that he deserved this sentiment.

Is a miracle already being examined for his Canonization?

I have on several occasions advised the postulator that for the new miracle excessive media exposure, as happened for his Beatification, should be avoided. Everything must be done with confidentiality and with the required calmness. Only at the end, when the verification has been completed, is it appropriate to talk about it. This confidentiality is necessary in order to prevent the doctors and experts from being subjected to any kind of external pressure.

What particular example of holiness did John Paul II bequeath to the Church and to contemporary society?

He essentially left two attitudes as legacies. The first is great faith in God’s presence in history, because the Incarnation is effective, overcomes evil, the grace of the Lord’s Eucharistic presence overcomes all the anti-human barriers and regimes. Karol Wojtyła lived through the Nazi and Communist regimes, and saw the implosion and destruction of both.

The second attitude is his great missionary spirit. The Pope’s Journeys were true and proper missionary activities. He reached the ends of the earth to proclaim Christ’s Gospel. I consider him a great missionary Pontiff. And Redemptoris Missio is an extraordinary Encyclical that is still timely.

Do you have any personal memories of John Paul II?

He had a great sense of friendship, of respect. He chose me as the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He ordained me a Bishop on 6 January 2003. There were 12 of us, the last to receive episcopal Ordination from Pope Wojtyła. As Secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith I met him every month, encouraged by the then-Cardinal Ratzinger who was my direct superior.

And John Paul II listened patiently, he always listened. I met him before my appointment to the Dicastery, when I was taking part in the meetings of theologians on certain topics. At these meetings too what struck me most was his capacity for listening. We spoke, he listened. And only afterwards, when we saw each other at lunch, did he make his observations. His desire to understand properly was evident.




St. Peter’s Square

Oct. 17, 2019