by Myron B. Kuropas

Will the Vatican do the right thing?

The early beatification of Mother Teresa, apparently on a "fast track" towards canonization, brought to mind the beatification process of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. According to one reliable Ukrainian source, the process has stalled.

Sainthood is the highest form of honor the Church can accord persons "who died as martyrs and/or practice Christian virtue to a heroic degree, and are now in heaven and worthy of liturgical veneration and imitation by all the faithful."

In his biography of Pope John Paul II, Ted Szulc writes: "Beautification and canonization were presumably intended from the outset to honor deserving persons as well as to humanize the Church by identifying it with individuals - men, women and children - to whom prayers could be addressed (and candles lit) for their intercession with God. The saints and the blessed are to be role models to the faithful. The accounts of their heroism or martyrdom are made known, becoming part of the lore of the Church." Can there be a more heroic Ukrainian religious leader than Metropolitan Sheptytsky?

"But it took the imagination of John Paul II to realize the full potential of the saints-making institution for the strengthening of the Church," continues Mr. Szulc. "From the beginning, he approached it on a heroic scale, beatifying and canonizing candidates in numbers that have vastly exceeded all his 20th century predecessors. Sainthood does enhance the Church's image of holiness in a way that is immediately communicated to the faithful."

In the past, beatification and canonization were exhaustive processes, sometimes requiring hundreds of years to study the candidates' lives, writings, a heroic practice of virtue and the verification of two miracles attributable to the intercession of the candidate after death. Today, that is no longer the case. Pope John Paul II waived the two miracle requirement; now one miracle will do.

According to the Rev. Peter Gumpel S.J., there must be a "spontaneous and very widespread movement on the part of the faithful who consider that the person who died really practiced Christian virtues in a perfect way." Five years must past after the person's death before the local bishop can officially open the cause. Once this happens, the candidate for sainthood receives the title "servant of God." A diocesan tribunal is established to investigate further, looking especially for something called "heroic virtue." Once the local review is completed, the file is sent on to Rome where the candidate's promoter, a "postulator," assembles a document, a "positio" for further review by a panel of nine theologians who again search for heroic virtue in the candidate's life. In the case of Metropolitan Sheptytsky, all of these steps were attained during the 1950s.

The next step is a review by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS). If the vote is favorable, a recommendation is passed on to the pope. If the pope agrees with the findings, he authorizes a decree declaring that the person lived a life of heroic virtue. Once a miracle attributable to the candidate is verified (usually a medical cure ascertained by scientists), the next step is beatification. The title "blessed" is then conferred on the candidate.

"In slightly over 16 years (through the end of 1995)" writes Mr. Szulc, "Pope John Paul II has created 268 new saints (among them 117 Vietnamese, 103 Korean and 15 Japanese martyrs, the Asians having been canonized as separate groups). During his 15-year pontificate, Paul VI declared 72 new saints (among them a group of 40 English and Welsh 16th century martyrs and 22 Ugandan 19th century martyrs). Thus John Paul II elevated almost four times as many saints as his immediate predecessor in a comparable period. All the popes in the 20th century prior to Pope John Paul II had created a total of 158 saints."

Pope John Paul II has also beatified 607 persons. Pope Paul VI beatified 31, while all the popes of the 20th century together beatified only 79.

And more canonizations and beatifications are apparently on the way. In a recent National Catholic Register article titled "In Eastern Europe, Communist Persecutions Yield a Harvest of Saints," mention is made of the November 9 beatification of Vilmos Apor, a Hungarian bishop, billed as "the Church's first Communist-era martyr to be placed on the path to sainthood. By present indications though, the November ceremony will be only the first of a long line of similar events." In 1996 the Vatican compiled a list of 3,200 Catholic "martyrs of the 20th century."

In addition to Polish, Lithuanian, Slovak, Croatian, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Romanian bishops, Ukrainians also are mentioned. "Eastern Europe's Greek-Catholic Churches, who are loyal to Rome while preserving the Eastern rite, have filed requests for beatification of all 11 Ukrainian bishops who died in Communist prisons and camps." Both Metropolitan Sheptytsky, whose process has been under way since 1957, and his brother Klement Sheptytsky, who died in an NKVD (secret police) prison in 1950, are mentioned as candidates for beatification as well.

Ironically, Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski is also a prime candidate for beatification. One should remember that it was the cardinal who blocked the metropolitan's process in the 1950s and again in the 1960s. Cardinal Wyszynski, a Polish nationalist who knew the metropolitan personally, argued that the Ukrainian Church leader was a "controversial figure" and that it was not propitious to beatify him at the time.

No Church suffered more under the Russians and Bolsheviks than the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Years before Catholics were persecuted by the Communists in the rest of Eastern Europe, Ukrainian Catholics in Soviet Ukraine were arrested, deported and often killed. The same fate awaited Ukrainian Catholics in western Ukraine once the Soviets were back in power.

Will the Vatican do the right thing? Enough data has been collected to more than justify the beatification of Andrey Sheptytsky. The one ingredient not mentioned in the process outlined above, however, is politics. In the end, that may be the most important determinant yet.

Myron Kuropas' e-mail address is: mbkuropas@compuserve.com

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, November 9, 1997, No. 45, Vol. LXV

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