Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

Didn’t the Reformation start with objections to the cash nexus between grace and financial contributions? So how much did the Council of Trent reform ecclesiastical abuses in the light of recent announcements about new criteria for becoming a saint?

To approve a miracle, at least 5 out of the 7 members of the body of medical experts within the congregation must approve, or 4 out of 6, depending on the size of the group, as opposed to a simple majority.

In case a miracle report is rejected on the first go-around, it may only be reexamined a total of three times.

In order to reexamine a miracle claim, new members must be named to the consulting body.

The president of the consulting body may only be confirmed to one additional five-year term after the original mandate expires.

While in the past payments to experts could be made in person by cash or check, now the experts must be paid exclusively through a bank transfer.

I don’t know about you, but my impression of the miraculous is that if part of a group of believers thinks an unusual event was not miraculous, then it probably was not. Generally speaking, the works of God are pretty straight forward to those with eyes of faith (questions about ongoing miracles notwithstanding). And do we really need science to tell validate a miracle? Isn’t faith sufficient?

But the kicker is the financial aspect to these policy changes:

In his book “Merchants in the Temple,” Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi charged the congregation was among the most reluctant Vatican offices to cooperate with new transparency measures imposed as part of Francis’s project of Vatican reform, and asserted that the average cost of a sainthood cause was about $550,000.

U.S. Catholic officials traditionally have used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level, to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, though that cost can increase depending in part of how many people take part in the canonization ceremony and the logistics of organizing the event.

In March, Pope Francis had already approved a new set of financial procedures for the congregation, outlining procedures for handling contributions and specifying which authorities are charged with overseeing the flow of money.

Also notice that even though the path to sainthood has become more — let’s say — complicated, those already saints stay saints:

The new rules are not retroactive, and hence they do not invalidate any beatifications or canonizations performed under earlier procedures.

Fulton Sheen’s advocates are no doubt disappointed.

For any apologist out there, this is the sort of thing that makes no sense to a Protestant (and is truly audacious). We do concede that sainthood can be bought. The price that Jesus paid with his precious blood is worth more than all the silver and gold you can put in a Vatican bank safe. So yes, there is a payment for sanctity. But it is entirely beyond the economic calculations of this world.

One might think that after five hundred years, Roman Catholic bishops might have learned that lesson.

Those Were the Days (again)

What a church with discipline (and even a little 2k) looks like:

[The] argument for Trump recalls an earlier episode in Catholicism and political theology, the condemnation of L’Action française (AF) by Pope Pius XI in 1927. AF was an anti-liberal political movement in early twentieth-century France. It was a monarchist and nationalist movement centering on the French literary figure Charles Maurras, who held that in order for France to become great again, she must exhibit a national, religious, and political unity that could only be achieved by sloughing off liberal republicanism and embracing “integral nationalism.”

Maurras himself had lost his Catholic faith and was an agnostic, but his “throne and altar” politics appealed to many Catholic clergy and laity. Maurras saw the Catholic Church as a French institution capable of uniting Frenchmen politically. The Church was basically an instrument for implementing Maurras’s cry of “la politique d’abord,” or “politics first!” (Compare this with Trump’s recent appeal to evangelical Christians.) Maurras was also politically anti-Semitic, for Judaism was not French and not a religion capable of uniting the French. Maurras later obtained the sixteenth seat in L’Academie française, the same seat occupied by Cardinal Dupanloup in the nineteenth century. He supported the Vichy regime and spent five years in prison after World War II for doing so. He died with little support, even though he had influenced an entire generation of French politicians and intellectuals, Charles de Gaulle among them.

In spite of Maurras’s anti-Semitism and because his movement promised restitution and renewed privilege for a beleaguered Church, many Catholics supported AF. The waves of the French Revolution had continued to break over the Church in France, with the most recent assault at the time being the 1905 Law of Separation, which finally separated the Church from the Republic, except that all Church property was placed under state ownership and under the management of government-supervised lay committees. To many French Catholics, the Law of Separation showed the futility of Leo XIII’s ralliement policy of trying to find a modus vivendi for French Catholics in the Third Republic’s secular democracy. Hence the swing to anti-liberal, monarchist, restorationist movements like AF, movements generally labeled “integralist.”

One of the Catholics supporting AF was Jacques Maritain, who had affiliated himself with AF on the advice of his spiritual director, Fr. Clérissac. Maritain hoped that he could temper the components of integral nationalism incompatible with Catholicism through his association with Maurras in their joint publication Revue Universelle, for which Maritain wrote for seven years.

The Vatican had contemplated a condemnation of AF for some time, and the Holy Office’s desire to place Maurras’s writings on the Index was checked only by the outbreak of World War I. But late in 1926 after hearing of more French Catholic youth joining AF, Pius XI prohibited Catholic membership in AF’s “school” and Catholic support for AF’s publications. In early 1927, the official condemnation and excommunications began, shocking many French Catholics. Two French bishops lost their sees for failing to comply with the condemnation, and the great ecclesiologist Billot lost his cardinal’s hat. Papal ralliement was here to stay, and any party spirit suffused with pagan attitudes was deemed incompatible with Catholic political involvement. The condemnations were a watershed moment for Maritain, who quickly began to reevaluate his political and social commitments in light of his ultimate commitment to the Catholic faith. His apology for the condemnation of AF, Primauté du spirituel (1927), set the trajectory for his most famous political works, Humanisme intégral (1936) and Man and the State (1951). These works later influenced the Fathers of Vatican II, including Pope Paul VI.

It is possible for popes to act even when they are not temporal princes.

The Vatican wanted Catholics to refuse an attractive but ultimately self-defeating choice in supporting AF, and today American Catholics face a similar sort of choice. Now Trump is dissimilar to Maurras in many ways. The latter was revered for his intellectual and literary ability and had coherent and firm philosophico-political commitments, while Trump has demonstrated a shocking ignorance of Christianity and malleable, opportunistic political positions. Although both in a sense promoted the “liberty of the Church,” Maurras did so through throne and altar restorationism while Trump does so through an appeal to religious liberty.

So what’s the lesson?

The lesson from the AF crisis bears mentioning today. The Church, both her teaching office and her living members, constantly must discern whether new means for political action are compatible with a genuine concern for the common good and the integrity of Catholics involved in politics.

Is such discernment the consequence of losing confidence in the bishops?

Who is going to save our Church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the bishops. It’s up to you, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests and our bishops to be bishops. Archbishop Fulton Sheen

But I thought episcopacy and apostolic succession was what made Protestantism look like such a poor alternative for western Christians.

At Least It's Not 30,000

Michael Sean Winters is following the meeting of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops in Baltimore this week and he — echoing Machen — thinks the church is really two:

If I may borrow Cardinal Dolan’s metaphor, there are two Catholic Churches in the U.S. today. One Church is thrilled by Pope Francis, glad not to feel that everything is their fault, happy that they no longer feel the lash of judgment because they cannot measure up to the moral standards articulated by certain conservative commentators, delighted to know that it is OK not to be obsessed exclusively by certain issues, even — what was unimaginable for most just a short time ago — proud to be Catholic again.

The other Church is meeting in the ballroom in Baltimore this week. There is no excitement. The agenda is very pre-“VatiLeaks”. The obsession with abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage rolls on in dreary predictability. Everyone is “in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace,” the very thing Pope Francis said would have worried him if it had characterized the recent synod. It characterizes the meeting of the USCCB so far. It is bizarre to me that the encomiums to Pope Francis are formulaic at best or absent entirely. So far as the public discussions go, you would not know that this is an interesting, let alone exciting, time to be a Catholic. The whole world knows. The cat is out of the bag. And the bishops seem to be asking, “What is a cat?”

I understand some might think quoting Winters is dirty pool, but when did Roman Catholics adopt the Puritan sensibility of the pure church, as if Winters has no right to think like a Roman Catholic?

This post coincides with a revelation about another church within the church. This one is the world of Roman Catholic apologists. Mark Shea describes the rise of Roman Catholic apologetics and links it to a perceived deficiency in the church at the time:

I’m glad of the boomlet in apologetics that has happened since the 80s. It began, almost single-handedly at first, through the efforts of Karl Keating and the good people at Catholic Answers. For some reason, apologetics had become a dirty word after the Council, with the predictable effect that Catholics soon lost the ability to articulate what they believed and why. When I was coming into the Church, it was like pulling teeth to find an RCIA group that would, like, tell me what Church taught instead of reflexively obeying the impulse to just affirm me in my okayness. Karl Keating, more than any other figure in the 80s, is the guy who took action to turn that trend around. And (I strongly suspect) no small reason for the resulting resurgence of apologetics was due to the relief Catholics felt after years of hearing what fools they were for believing the Faith and having few tools other than a gut feeling to counter these charges. . . . There was a rising flood of Evangelical converts and, as Evangelicals do, they started trying to articulate what they had done and why for the benefit of those they had left behind. Evangelicals have a bred-in-the-bone sense that, “If you can’t verbalize your faith, then there’s some doubt as to whether you really know what it is.” So we started writing the books and making the tapes that filled that Catholic book table by 1998. And, as we were doing this, we slowly started looking around and realizing to our surprise that we weren’t alone–usually well after our entry into communion with Rome. In fact, it was not until the early 90s, that I discovered people like Hahn, David Currie, Akin, Rosalind Moss and the whole current crop of Evangelical converts existed. The experience was similar for a lot of First Wavers. We thought we’d pretty much stepped out of Evangelicalism into the Incalculable Catholic Abyss, and to our astonishment there were all these other Evangelical converts! Result: The First Wave started “networking” just as a Second Wave (who read our books and listened to our tapes) were persuaded and started to convert too.

But the problem with these apologists is that they may be doing work that is properly reserved for the bishops. Shea admits:

I have found that, in an era where laity have been taught to mistrust their bishops–not only by the media and the culture, but by the shocking incompetence and perfidy of the bishops themselves in the abuse scandal–it’s very easy for laity to hive off and anoint new ersatz Magisteria in the form of whatever faction they happen to fancy. For some, the New Magisterium is the advocates for women priests. For others, it’s Catholics for a Free Choice. For still others, it’s whatever Richard McBrien says is the consensus of Thinking Catholics in the Academy. For some, it’s Dan Brown.

But for not a few in the apologetics subculture, it’s what I or Scott Hahn or [insert favorite apologist] thinks about X, Y and Z. And that’s a very dangerous thing to do, because we apologists are not protected by the charism of infallibility in the slightest.

I have long wondered about the various cultures in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and how the apologetic world is dominated by the laity. Why aren’t the bishops doing this? Archbishop Fulton Sheen was a popular bishop who did a form of defending the faith, but his existentially inclined faith was a long way from the textbook approach that dominates the popular apologetic front.

So to correct Winter’s observation, not two churches but three (maybe four if you count Jason and the Callers).

The Call's Fine Print

Still waiting for Jason and the Callers to weigh in on these matters:

In life, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was exceptional, a riveting Catholic preacher on radio who outpolled star comedian Milton Berle in the early days of television, winning two Emmys and a following that was the envy of Bible-thumping Protestants.

After his death in 1979, it was no surprise that Sheen would be pushed for sainthood. But now two bishops have clashed in an unusual public dispute over who holds claim to Sheen’s body: the New York archdiocese, where he is buried, or the diocese of Peoria, Ill., where he was raised and ordained.

The fight between Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York erupted into public view Wednesday, when Jenky issued a statement blasting the New York archdiocese for thwarting Sheen’s expected beatification next year by reneging on an agreement to return the late archbishop’s body to Peoria.

“Bishop Jenky was personally assured on several occasions by the Archdiocese of New York that the transfer of the body would take place at the appropriate time,” the Peoria diocese said in a statement.

The statement said that senior Vatican officials were set to approve a miracle attributed to Sheen’s intervention — the revival after an hour of a stillborn baby — clearing the way for him to be beatified in a few months, the final step before formal canonization, which would require a second miracle.

Rome expected that Sheen’s body would be transferred from the crypt under St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he is buried, to Peoria to collect relics from the body, the Illinois diocese said. Peoria has been in charge of Sheen’s cause for canonization since it was opened in 2002. In 2012, then-Pope Benedict XVI declared Sheen “venerable,” a requisite first step before beatification.

But the New York archdiocese denied Jenky’s request to move the body and “after further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive.”

The Callers’ spin? The veneration of relics is biblical:

I began to appreciate was just how biblical the practice really was. I realized that the veneration of relics, belief in their miraculous powers, and in the intercession of departed saints and angels was deeply Hebraic and Jewish.

Never mind how deeply political and messy and unedifying the making of saints is. Just set your mind on things above (except when you’re receiving notices from the Vatican and looking at maps on your way to the remains of your favorite saint).

Defying Logic

Let me see if I get this straight. You can qualify to have performed a miracle if someone prays to you and their petitions receive the requested outcome. That, anyway is what might push Archbishop Fulton Sheen over the top to become a full-blown saint:

Bonnie Engstrom, whose completely healthy son, James Fulton, is the stillborn baby allegedly healed through Archbishop Sheen’s intercession, told the Register the family was overjoyed with the news.

“Right now, I am just thrilled. We’re going to have steak for dinner; we’re going out for ice cream — we are just going to celebrate this. It is so exciting,” said Engstom, a mother of six who also blogs at A Knotted Life.

Engstrom told the Register that she and her husband, Travis, had entrusted this particular pregnancy from the outset to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen. Throughout the pregnancy, all the signs pointed to a healthy, normal pregnancy. And then came the delivery, at their home in Goodfield, Ill., on Sept. 16, 2010: Their newborn had no pulse, and for the next 61 minutes, a nightmare unfolded.

Engstrom was going into shock. Travis called 911 and performed an emergency baptism before ambulance crews came to rush the baby to the hospital. Bonnie only had one thought.

“I remember sitting there, on my bedroom floor, saying Fulton Sheen’s name over and over again,” she said. “That was about as close to a prayer I could get.”

Her shock at the unfolding scene made it “impossible for me to think of anything else,” shared Engstrom.

For 61 minutes, James Fulton Engstrom had no pulse and was medically dead, as medical professionals did their best but failed to resuscitate him. The only hope they had was to revive the infant long enough for Bonnie and Travis to hold him and say their brief hellos and good-byes. When the doctors finally gave up and started to certify death, Engstrom said, “that’s when his heart shot up to 148 beats per minute” — just like any healthy newborn.
Engstrom said she later learned that her husband had been fast at work starting a prayer chain in that difficult hour, asking others to pray — all over the world — specifically for Archbishop Sheen to intercede and ask God to save their little boy.

Astonished by James Fulton’s inexplicable return from death, the doctors told the Engstroms that their son must have suffered severe organ damage from the oxygen deprivation and would be severely disabled. Those predictions, however, never came to pass, and their baby was soon weaned off the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit machines and drugs.

“He’ll now be 4 in September,” Engstrom said. “He’s a normal, healthy little boy — just cute and really happy.”

A couple of questions that perhaps only Bryan Cross’ razor-sharp mind can answer: 1) why wouldn’t these folks simply pray directly to God through the name of Christ (and why Fulton Sheen who has been dead for 35 years or why not John Paul II)? 2) how exactly would you verify that Sheen performed this miracle instead of God? 3) If deceased believers can hear our prayers, does that mean they can hear and see whatever we say and do (which is a form of divine omniscience, right)? I mean, if Sheen can hear a prayer, is it possible that my parents can see when I am over the speed limit?

Here’s another reason for being thankful that Christ’s righteousness is all I need to be a saint.