After reading about this decision in depth, I found myself frustrated with the way traditional Catholic outlets chose to cover it, which I find to have been disingenuous on several points, which I will enumerate here.
1. Fr. Capodanno's Cause Has Not Been "Canceled"
The advisory panel's vote recommended the suspension of the cause. However, since this vote is consultative and not binding, Fr. Capodanno's cause has not been "canceled"; it has merely hit a roadblock. The Dicastery has the option to reject the panel's judgment, and the postulator of the cause has the option to appeal, which, to my knowledge, has already been done. The Fr. Capodanno Guild itself does not believe the cause is dead. The Guild (a private association promoting Fr. Capodanno's cause), said, “Other causes have had to struggle through the process in Rome...Initial engagements with congregation leaders have emphasized the widespread interest in the cause,” the Guild said. “These leaders have responded that the possibility to move forward exists and should be pursued.” (source) Certainly, the negative vote is a setback, but it is hardly tantamount to the case of Fr. Capodanno being canceled.
2. His Cause Was Not Suspended Because of the Ukraine War
A more important clarification relates to the reasons why the panel voted the way it did. Traditional Catholic coverage of this event focused in on the widely reported objection that "with ongoing military action in the world (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church." It was alleged that limp-wristed wokeness had torpedoed Fr. Capodanno's cause; that it was suspended for mere optics. One outlet even ran a headline that Fr. Capodanno had been "unsainted."
In fact, the objection about the Ukraine war was only one of many. There were five reasons the panel gave for the vote of suspension. These five reasons were:
- The positio focuses mainly on the final years of Fr. Capodanno's life. In doing so, it offers little documentation of spiritual growth over time.
- Fr. Capodanno's own congregation, the Maryknoll Fathers, had not pursued Fr. Capodanno's cause.
- Fr. Capodanno seemed fastidious about his appearance in such a way that may have suggested the sin of vanity.
- Father's dissatisfaction with his assignment to Hong Kong indicates disobedience.
- With ongoing military actions in the world today (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church.
3. Francis's Novel "New Path to Sainthood" In Play
Now, it may be responded, "Fr. Capodanno is proposed for canonization under the criteria of 'giving freely of his own life,' which does pertain to the end of the candidate's life in particular." This, in fact, is the response offered by the Guild. To this I would ask, where in Christian history have we heard of candidates being canonized for "giving freely of his own life"? If you've never heard of that path to canonization before, it's because it is a complete novelty conjured by Pope Francis in 2017 with the motu proprio Maiorem hac dilectionem. The purpose of this "new path to sainthood" was for cases whether neither martyrdom nor heroic virtue seemed applicable.
This raises several points:
(1) To my knowledge, no one has yet been beatified or canonized under the guidelines laid down in Maiorem hac dilectionem. That being the case, extra caution is prudent before proceeding. It has not been settled exactly what level of documentation is sufficient for a candidate to move forward under this process, and—given the times being what they are—it is preferable to move with greater rather than less reluctance.
(2) Granting the validity of the "new path to sainthood," this method still requires the candidate to demonstrate Christian virtues to the degree that they had a "reputation for holiness" (Art. 2). If the advisory panel believed the documentation of the positio did not demonstrate this "reputation for holiness" due to its focus on the end of Fr. Capodanno's life, then this is a legitimate objection.
(3) The idea of traditional Catholics objecting that a candidate has not gotten beatified fast enough under a novel "new path to sainthood" created by Pope Francis in 2017 is rich.
4. Do You Want a Devil's Advocate Or Don't You?
Traditional Catholics are habitually complaining about the elimination of the office of Devil's Advocate in modern canonizations. While the office still technically exists, its role has merely been revamped to be less adversarial, and it is true that modern canonizations no longer resemble the trial that they did in earlier ages. This is what concerns traditional Catholics—that there appears to be a lack of scrutiny, of due diligence in vetting candidates. But if we did have a Devil's Advocate exercising his traditional function, what would it look like? I refer you to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia's entry for the Advocatus Diaboli:
"To prevent any rash decisions concerning miracles or virtues of the candidates...all documents of beatification and canonization processes must be submitted to examination, and the difficulties and doubts [raised] over the virtues and miracles are laid before the congregation and must be satisfactorily answered before any further steps can be taken in the processes. It is his duty to suggest natural explanations for alleged miracles, and even to bring forward human and selfish motives for deeds that have been accounted heroic virtues...his duty requires him to prepare in writing all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight, against the raising of anyone to the honors of the altar." (source)
The Devil's Advocate is supposed to intentionally bring up all possible objections to a candidate's sanctity, even ones we consider trivial, "even at times seemingly slight." That is literally his job. To put it crassly, the job of the Devil's Advocate is to crap all over whatever candidate is brought before him, using whatever grounds he can scrape up, even if they are petty.
Although the Devil's Advocate no longer fulfills his role in this manner, we see that the advisory panel to the Dicastery does. In examining a candidate's positio, the panel is tasked with highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the cause. In Fr. Capodanno's case, we see the panel is carrying out the function traditionally assigned to the Devil's Advocate in suggesting selfish motives for Fr. Capodanno's actions and raising "all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight" against elevating him to the altars. The Devil's Advocate (or, in this case, advisory panel) need not even believe the objections they are raising; it is their job to raise them nonetheless.
In other words, the advisory panel here was doing exactly what the Devils' Advocate used to; doing exactly what trads complain isn't being done enough. When you say you want the Devil's Advocate restored to its traditional role, this is what you are asking for. This is the sort of thing the Devil's Advocate would do, and probably more so. If you have ever said that the Devil's Advocate should be restored but take issue to these petty sorts of objections, then I respectfully suggest you need to learn more about this whole process.
I personally think it's good that these sorts of objections are brought forward; "all possible arguments" are supposed to be made against the candidate. As mentioned above, the decision is not binding, and can be appealed. This gives the postulator, the Guild, and supporters of Fr. Capodanno to revise the positio to more specifically address the concerns of the panel.
Do I think these specific objections merit the cause being suspended? I do not. I am frankly surprised that these objections resulted in the negative vote. But I am not surprised at the types of objections. Which brings me to my final point—
5. "We All Know How These People Are"
In my (long) experience debating these sorts of issues with traditional Catholics, when I point out that the specific facts in a case do not warrant the narrative trads are making of it, a standard response is, "Yeah, well even so, we all know how these people are." Even if it can't be proven that Fr. Capodanno's cause was suspended because of a progressive attitude towards the military, "we all know" why they did this. It is a way to preserve the narrative despite lack of evidence; a way to say, "Even if my premises are all wrong, my conclusion still stands."
I sympathize with this. Indeed, we all do know exactly how "these people" operate. We've had ample opportunities to observe them over the past several years. Even so, the cause of a candidate for canonization is a juridical process, and as such must be subject to juridical norms. Imagine you were on trial for a crime. Imagine that you were able to empirically demonstrate conclusively that you were innocent of the charges. Now imagine, after proving your innocence, that the judge simply said, "Well, even so, we all know how you are," and found you guilty regardless. That would be a travesty of justice; it is no less a travesty to shrug off the facts here by saying, "C'mon, we all know how these people are."
I think Fr. Capodanno deserves another round. I hope the appeal is granted and the postulator brings back a beefed up positio that definitively answers the objections raised by the panel. But the narrative that his canonization was "canceled" because the "woke" panel objected to the Ukraine War is simply untrue.