Sunday, September 25, 2022

An Alternative Take on Fr. Capodanno

[Sept. 25, 2022] Not long ago, traditional Catholic outlets reported on the suspension of the cause of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, a United States Marine Corps chaplain and Maryknoll Father who died on the battlefield in Vietnam shielding a Marine from machine gun fire. The story was presented in such a way as to suggest that the reason the cause was suspended was because the advisory panel to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints that suspended the cause was "woke," based on an objection to Fr. Capodanno serving in the U.S. armed forces. 

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 decision of the advisory panel relates to a document known as a positio; this is essentially a summary of the candidate's cause. The advisory panel's purpose is to examine the positio, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the cause. The positio for Fr. Capodanno's cause was examined by an advisory panel to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints in May of this year. This panel renders a consultative vote to the Dicastery; this means it is merely advisory, and the Dicastery can accept or reject the panel's recommendation. 

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.
That several Catholic media outlets chose to report only the objection about Ukraine was disingenuous, as it gave the mistaken impression that squeamishness about the military was the sole reason that Fr. Capodanno was "canceled." As there were five stated reasons for suspension, any one of those reasons could have been the cause, or (more likely) it was a judgment based on the cumulative weight of all the causes. As neither the advisory panel nor the Dicastery nor the Fr. Capodanno Guild nor the Archdiocese for Military Services has stated that concerns about Ukraine were the sole reason for the suspension, it is disingenuous and false to suggest otherwise—and suggesting these reasons are "woke" is downright slanderous. They all fall within the purview of reasoned objections, as we shall see.

To those who say that "optics" or "untimeliness" are not valid objections: I agree that this objection is weak, but it is not unfounded; in my readings of Church history, I have often come across Congregations and even the Roman Pontiffs taking juridical action or refraining from it based on timeliness, or what today we would call "optics." But even if it is a weak objection, it is still perfectly legitimate to proffer weak objections.

3. Francis's Novel "New Path to Sainthood" In Play

I realize that the Fr. Capodanno Guild has responses to all of the objections of the panel. However, having not read the positio myself, I am certainly not going to comment on their merit relative to the objections. I will say, however, that the first objection is not insignificant. Traditionally, the only time one's life is not completely relevant is in the case of martyrdom. Since Fr. Capodanno's cause was not a martyrdom, his manner of living is relevant; there needs to be a demonstration of growth in virtue leading up to the time of his death.

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?

We must now consider the content of the objections themselves. The reader may feel that these objections are trite, insignificant, and seemingly slight. I agree. However, this is a proper part of the examination of candidates for sainthood.

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." 


This post is neither pro-canonization nor anti-canonization for Fr. Capodanno. But it is pro-"support the process." And again, I want to stress, if you have ever lamented the reform of the Devil's Advocate but also dislike these sorts of trivial objections being put forward, then you are being inconsistent. Do you only want the Devil's Advocate to screen out candidates you disapprove of a priori but not apply that same rigorous screening to candidates you support? Either we apply rigorous procedural scrutiny to candidates or we don't. 

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.


Paul said...

Thank you! I wasn't aware that Maiorem hac dilectionem was a formalized thing, because I had been wondering about people like SOG Chiara Corbella, who certainly seemed like a joyful, virtue-filled woman. And yet, when her cause was being considered, I suppose it was under this MP that her refusing cancer treatment for the sake of the life of her unborn baby was the path for canonization. I don't want to crap on it either, (as I'll take any intercessors I can get) but would this be considered an 'extraordinary' or 'ordinary' virtue, as it says in Scripture, "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die." (Rom 5:7). It seems very natural (rather than extraordinary) that a mother would offer her life for her baby, in this circumstance; the verse also comes to mind, "what credit is it to love those who love you--even sinners do the same" (Lk 6:32). I think in the case of St. Maria Goretti, for one, her sacrifice was in relation to one was, for all intents and purposes, her enemy and a great sinner who wished her harm (Alesandro). I don't know! I loved what you said about the role of the Devi's advocate as well as the dicastery panel is to literally crap all over the cause with objections, even if they don't personally believe them.

One thing that makes me sad, though--I want so badly to become a saint for God's glory, and yet--if I was ever 'put to the test' in this way as a cause for canonization at my death, I would surely fail...too many faults, defects, lack of virtue! So what does that say about my eternal trajectory! We should all work out our salvation in "fear and trembling" for sure!

God bless you!

E C said...

This is similar to the traditionalist take on the Covid vaccines. A few trad outlets publish (or rather, parrot) objections, and everybody starts clinging to them as though they're de fide. Few people think things through from first principles (Edward Feser and Roberto de Mattei are exceptions, and both come to the conclusion that the vaccines are morally valid). And everybody, insanely, thinks that the vaccines are more dangerous than the disease. Nobody takes the time to talk to people who actually work in hospitals, and ask them what they think of the vaccines. I spoke to several people, including a traditional priest who's a hospital chaplain, and they were unanimous: not only were enormous numbers of people in hospital due to Covid, but also there was practically nobody in hospital due to vaccine injury. And they all reported that unvaxxed people were at far greater risk of hospitalization (all things being equal) than vaxxed people.

Yet trads regurgitate these insane ideas and expect others to hold them as a kind of purity test. My wife and I -- somewhat reluctantly -- received the vaccine, and now feel we have to hide this fact at the risk of losing friends. (Admittedly, the other side is just as bad if not worse at imposing purity tests, and the repeatedly tried to pretend that the vaccines prevented infection and spread, not just hospitalization.)

Here endeth the rant. The common theme with your post is the anti-intellectual culture among American trads (I don't think it's the same in Europe), and the tendency to believe anything provided it comes from "our side".

Boniface said...



Paul said...

@EC, 100%. I could have written the same thing. Actually, did share some thoughts here on that same topic. Good on you for bringing it up--thought I was the only one

Stephen Arabadjis said...

To whom it may concern,
My name is Fr. Stephen Arabadjis.  I am a member of the Society of St. Pius X.  But I am in my 8th year of Sabbatical.Therefore I was hoping your group could do a 54 day rosary novena for my intentions.  But any prayers and sacrifices would be greatly appreciated.  I know Our Lady will reward you generously for this.
In Our Lady,
Fr. Arabadjis
P.S. Thanking you in advance, since I don't always get all my communications.

Anonymous said...

Blessings to you at Christmas. Unfortunately crap and the devil appear to be an attempt. This, by the Incarnation, is overcome, if one chooses.

Even the papers say so...