On Sunday, for the first time in history, two popes will be solemnly canonised at the same time, i.e. formally declared to be saints. Only God can make saints, but the Church has the power to recognize individuals as holy and hold them up as models to be followed, people whose prayers and intercession can be invoked with confidence. So far so good. Unlike some, I have no problem acknowledging the holiness of either man. Sanctity transcends personal preferences because it is all about God’s choice rather than ours. Those who think, for example, that John Paul II cannot be a saint because he failed to do what they think he should have done about some of the sex abuse scandals in the Church are wide of the mark. The Church doesn’t demand omniscience or infallibility in the popular sense of the word: it demands heroic virtue and love, and it is possible to be both virtuous and loving yet still fail to be perfect in everything.
Where I do have difficulty is with the suggestion that it could become a matter of course to canonise popes, as though sanctity went with the job, so to say. That makes me uneasy. In the nineteenth century, it was almost de rigeur to try to get the founder of one’s Religious Order canonised, and a great deal of time and effort went into trying to prove what could not be proved as the number of causes that never got beyond ‘Approved Cult’ status testifies. Tomorrow, I shall give thanks with the rest of the Church . . . and quietly ask the intercession of our two new saints that canonising recently dead popes does not become the new ecclesiastical fashion.