Proposal for Lay Saints – Part V

How to increase the number of canonized laypersons



In order to have more lay models for the witnessing of the Faith, and to inspire lay vocations and holiness among the laity, I argue that the Church needs to increase the ratio of canonized laity to canonized priests/religious. This is not about “diversity” or “justice.” I’m not concerned with any supposed imbalance associated with ethnicity, gender, age, nationality (Italians?), or between centuries.

This argument does not denigrate religious vocations. Lay people do have an interest in encouraging religious vocations — and in having priests and members of religious orders canonized. By the same token, priests and members of religious orders have an interest in encouraging lay vocations — and in having lay men and women canonized.

In June 2016, Pope Francis created a new dicastery in the Vatican. The new dicastery combines laity, family, and life, and it was possible that each of the three “sections” would be headed by a layperson. The Pope named Bishop (now Cardinal) Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, to be its head. I have mulled over whether I should propose that the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints be a layperson in order to facilitate the causes of laypersons. I have decided that this may be helpful, but just for the optics. I am more interested in structural changes, systemic changes, that will serve as aids to all of us – bishops, priests, nuns, and laity – in recognizing holiness among laypeople.

The structural changes I envision are:

    • the Congregation for the Causes of Saints would require that religious orders not advance causes for its own members without advancing X times as many causes to canonize laypeople, especially laypeople whom the order has influenced;
    • each diocesan bishop would appoint at least one advocate for the canonization of laypeople. This advocate can be unpaid, part-time, and can be a priest, religious, or layperson. His or her role would be to identify and collect information concerning the living and deceased. (For the living, this would occur totally behind the scenes, like the many obituaries drafted in advance of death. See Margalit Fox, “She Knows How to Make an Exit. You’re Reading It,” Y. Times, June 29, 2018, about retiring after writing obituaries for 14 years.) What numbers might we be talking about? Well, one Servant of God in a diocese each year would total 100 in a century; and
    • each diocesan bishop would maintain a webpage that lists Servants of God of the diocese, plus biographical materials, testimonials, a description of miracles, prayers, and a place for comments. The Vatican would maintain links to each diocesan webpage. Wikipedia has a partial global list of Servants of God; why shouldn’t the Vatican have a full, public, list?


***Editor’s Note: For Part IV in this series, click here


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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