Saints by the Score
A former editor of The Catholic Herald, Peter Stanford, has recently expressed in a newspaper article his reservations about the present Pope’s “saint-making”, which “has been arguably the greatest revolution of his papacy, and the most controversial”. By 1234, when Rome applied “strict new rules” to curtail the making of saints, their number had grown to about 10 000. Stanford states that, since then, only 300 new saints had been created until the 474 saints made by this pope.
Stanford gives more than one possible reason for this unprecedented spate of saints. “Some cynics link the phenomenon with the financial plight of the Vatican,” he says. “They have suggested it is the modern equivalent of the sale of indulgences that precipitated the Protestant Reformation”. Saint-making is evidently a costly business for promoters of the “cause” of the prospective saint when they petition the Vatican. To bring a deceased person up to Rome’s status of “blessed” (one step short of sainthood or canonisation) can cost as much as £220 000 (as in the case Katherine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament). The bill for canonising Mother Teresa could top £500 000, says Stanford. “At a couple of hundred thousand pounds per saint, it is a good way of tackling the burgeoning debt that got the Vatican Bank . . . into such hot water in the 1980s.” However, Stanford thinks that this financial theory does not hold water because, as he claims, more than half the money is used to pay for the preparation of the documents in support of the promoters’ petition. Nevertheless, very large sums go straight into the Vatican’s coffers in the process, as Stanford admits. We suspect that the financial theory is more watertight than he would have us believe.
Another reason (more implied than spelled out by Stanford) is the bolstering of the influence of the Papacy when the Pope visits various Roman Catholic countries. The Pope has felt on his travels, says Stanford, that “he cannot arrive empty-handed. So invariably he has brought a new saint with him. A feature of almost every papal visit has been a mass to canonise a local man or woman. . . . Vatican officials have been hurriedly trawling through history to find suitable candidates.”
The Pope, say his critics, with “his conservative attitudes”, has yet another reason for making saints – to reinforce his “basic traditional message”. Stanford claims: “Not one of the men chosen [for sainthood] has ever said anything with which he might have disagreed.” Stanford concludes: “But whether becoming a saint still carries the cachet it once did, or whether John Paul II has devalued it into an expensive PR exercise for Church policies, is a question that [Roman] Catholicism urgently needs to address.”
A more serious matter is the utter falsity of its saint-making. Whatever policies and politics operate in the process, the saints made by the Pope, not being saints in the Scriptural sense, are no saints. In fact, as James Begg demonstrates in his Handbook of Popery, some of Rome’s greatest saints have been the most wicked of men.
What a great blessing it is in this dark world that every one of God’s born-again, believing people is a saint! His saints are many times more than Rome’s thousands of pseudo-saints, for they amount to a total which no man can number. These are the saints with whom Rome makes war (Rev 13:7). She has “shed the blood of the saints” and is “drunken with the blood of the saints” (Rev 16:6, 17:6). The prayers of these saints for the downfall of Antichrist will yet be answered, with the result that the cry shall be heard universally, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen!”
About 1000 Roman Catholics gave a “rapturous reception” to Archbishop Keith O’Brien at “a mass of thanksgiving” held in Edinburgh to mark his elevation to the rank of Cardinal by the Pope (The Scotsman, 30 September 2003). He was “exhilarated” and, with the degree of modesty expected of a potential “prince of the Church”, took this demonstration as an evidence of how much he was appreciated by the people. He expressed the view that the creation once again of a Cardinal in Scotland, with its fewer than one million Roman Catholics, indicated how Scotland was regarded by the Pope and his advisers (The Daily Telegraph, 30 September 2003).
The self-portrait of O’Brien as a progressive in favour of debate and of the evolution of Romanism in a liberal direction in matters which he considered did not belong to “the deposit of faith” but merely to “Church law” was somewhat blotted at a later mass (under, his critics allege, orders from Rome). He declared: “I accept and intend to defend the law on celibacy as it is proposed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church; I accept and promise to defend the ecclesiastical teaching about the immorality of the homosexual act; I accept and promise to promulgate always and everywhere what the Church’s Magisterium teaches on contraception”. He later told The Scotsman (11 October 2003) that, having publicly restated his “loyalty to the Church, its teachings and the Pope”, he was calling on “Catholics everywhere” to join with him to respect the decisions of the Pope and to “demonstrate their own loyalty by not questioning them”.
This third Cardinal in Scotland since the Reformation is part of that Papal system which is determined by all means to keep the minds and souls of men in bondage to itself. Whatever cracks or even chasms are within the system must be plastered over in the interests of the system itself – without any regard to what is true, whether doctrinally or morally. We may be sure that the fairly speedy appointment of another Scottish Cardinal in place of the deceased Cardinal Winning is part of the strategy for keeping a high profile for Romanism in Scottish society and public life. We may be just as sure that the choice as Cardinal of Keith O’Brien rather than of the already more “conservative” Mario Conti of Glasgow – with the constraint this appointment and its conditions puts on O’Brien – is part of the policy for attempting to retain Rome’s centralised control of the world-wide organisation.
Every opportunity is taken in the media to keep Romanism before the population as the Church and to present it in the most favourable light. In spite of all the bad publicity concerning immoral practices long condoned or covered up, the representatives of Romanism continue to claim the moral high ground, and people like the Archbishop of Birmingham complain with an air of injured innocence concerning the “anti-Catholic bias” of the BBC in programmes recalling past scandals. If any have reason to complain of bias against them in the BBC and in the media in general it is those who endeavour to maintain the doctrines and practices of the Word of God.
It is sad to see the place taken by and given to the Roman hierarchy in this land of Reformation and Covenants and centuries of gospel blessing. But, while we ought to be driven to repentance and to prayer, we need not be despondent in spite of the weakness of the Protestant witness to the truth in Scotland today. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Cor 10:4). In his notes on Stillingfleet’s The Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome Truly Represented, William Cunningham wrote: “The Mystery of Iniquity indeed began to work in the days of the apostles, but Popery, in all its systematic completeness, and in all its ruinous tendencies, was not fully formed till many centuries afterwards; and as its formation and development were subsequent to the general propagation of Christianity, so we know from the Word of God that its destruction will precede and usher in ‘the glory of the latter days'”.