12-May-2005 -- Catholic News Agency


Vatican, May. 12 (CWNews.com) - Pope Benedict XVI has chosen not to preside at beatifications, in order to restore a clear distinction between beatification and canonization, according to an official at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

In an interview with the Roman news agency I Media, Msgr. Josť Luis Gomez Gutierrez said that Pope Benedict has made a clear choice to return to ancient Church practices, in which the Pope signed the decree of beatification, but another prelate presided at the ceremony. The Pope himself will preside at canonizations-- thus preserving the distinction between the two steps in the Church's recognition of sainthood.

The Pope's decision restores an old practice of the Church, in which beatification ceremonies were led by a prelate, but not the Pope. In 1971, Pope Paul VI broke that tradition to preside personally at the beatification of St. Maximillian Kolbe-- the first time in Church history when a Pope had presided at that ceremony. (Msgr. Gomez observed that Pope Paul had felt particularly close to Maximillian Kolbe; he was working in the Secretariat of State when he received word that the Polish priest had died at Auschwitz.) Pope John Paul II presided at all the beatifications during his pontificate.

Beatification, Msgr. Gomez pointed out, is "a simple authorization of a cult in honor of the beatified person," in the place were he lived or worked, or within his religious community. Canonization, on the other hand, is "the extension of the cult to the whole Church." In canonizing a saint, he continued, the Pope makes "a magisterial act, which implies papal infallibility." To accentuate that difference, Pope Benedict decided that there should also be a clear difference in the ceremonies involved in beatification and canonization.

The Vatican official spoke just before the May 14 beatifications of Marie Anne Barbara Cope-- better known today as Mother Marianne of Molokai-- and Sister Ascension of the Heart of Jesus. Msgr. Gomez also explained why the beatifications of these two candidates are being held now, while other beatifications that were planned for April and May have been postponed, with no new dates yet set.

Two different beatification ceremonies had been scheduled, earlier this year, to take place on April 24 and May 15. When Pope John Paul II died, these ceremonies were postponed. With the election of the new Pontiff, officials in Syracuse, New York-- the home diocese of Mother Marianne of Molokai-- asked whether her beatification could proceed on the weekend originally envisioned, so that pilgrims who had made plans to travel to Rome could still attend the ceremony. Vatican officials accepted that plan, and found that the Dominican congregation founded by Mother Ascension was also prepared for a quick beatification. So the ceremonies were scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, May 14. The other beatifications planned for April 24 and May 15 will be re-scheduled for new dates in the future, Msgr. Gomez said. Vatican officials hope to give pilgrims seeking to attend the events ample time to plan their trips.

On a different topic, Msgr. Gomez said "I would be astonished" if Pope Benedict XVI does not authorize a quick start to the process for beatification of Pope John Paul II. Ordinarily, Church norms require a waiting period of five years after the death of a candidate before a cause for beatification can be opened, but the Pope can suspend that rule, as John Paul II himself did in the case of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The case of the late Pontiff is similar, as Msgr. Gomez sees it: "It is a celebrated cause, like that of Mother Teresa."