It is not my intention to wade into the controversy which has recently arisen between the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria, concerning the relics of the Venerable Fulton Sheen, a controversy which has for the moment led to the suspension of the cause for his beatification and eventual canonization. However, I do strongly recommend to all of our readers that they go over and read this article at the website of Crisis magazine. The author, Dr Donald Prudlo, is an expert on the causes of Saints and the canonization process, both in its historical traditions and current practice, and he offers several valuable insights into the reasons why Saints should be canonized slowly.
... the cause has been slowed down. This is encouraging in the age of fast-tracked canonizations which tend to minimize the gravity of such elevations, bound up as they are with historical affirmations of papal infallibility. It is good to slow processes, indeed sometimes stop them altogether. Cults should arise out of spontaneous devotion and proper ecclesial supervision and care. Saints should be “from the ground up” as it were. Saints were never intended to be top-down impositions of models of life or patterns of holiness dictated by mere authority. Cults should be allowed to spread organically, and sometimes be permitted to die out of their own accord, with careful shepherding by Church authorities. This is why the old fifty-year rule was in place. This should permit enough time to make sure that a cult was genuine, that it was a result of the unfolding of an authentic discernment of holiness in the life of the Church, and provides the needed leisure for the operations of the various complex tasks associated with presenting a cause. The Church should not conform itself to this age of instant gratification, with its attendant shallowness. The old rule also provided a cooling-off period so that people too intimately involved in the life and career of the potential saint had been mostly laid in their graves. Unfortunately a kind of historical chauvinism afflicts many today, thinking that they either live in the darkest times in Church history or in the “broad, sunlit uplands” of Pollyanna-ish progressivism. The endurance of a cult long after the principals are dead is a telling mark of its validity.
When a cause is rushed, questions arise both inside and outside the Church as to the thoroughness of the case, and issues swirl about motivations. Are people promoting a cause instead of a person? Are the authorities attempting to impose someone artificially, independent of genuine public cult? Are agendas, movements, ethnicities, or states in life being canonized instead of an unrepeatable singular exemplar of God’s transforming grace?