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Canonization is not a simple process

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, July 6, 2009, at 10:13 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 7, 2009, at 9:35 a.m.

If Emil Kapaun becomes a saint of the Catholic Church, his canonization will work out according to a complex process.

Two people familiar with the process are the Rev. John Hotze, the judicial vicar of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, and Thomas J. Craughwell, who has written several books about sainthood.

Hotze recently accompanied an investigator for the Vatican who checked out two possible miracles in the Wichita area, in which families prayed to Kapaun to intercede with God on behalf of their sick or injured children.

Hotze said the Vatican looks for four things in medical cases:

* A medical diagnosis, such as a critical head injury.

* A turning point. After prayers to the proposed saint, the patient is better.

* An immediate or speedy recovery, seemingly not possible considering the critical diagnosis.

* Whether there is a scientific explanation for the survival and fast recovery.

If there is not a scientific explanation, the investigation keeps going. Eventually, Craughwell said, the case is turned over to Vatican doctors and other investigators, including cardinals, and finally the pope.

The church does not want to get these cases wrong, Craughwell said. "There is no way to 'unsaint' someone."

Pope John Paul II canonized nearly 1,000 saints, far more than his predecessors. But proving sainthood is not easy, Craughwell said.

For example, he said, one person proposed for sainthood is Matt Talbot (1826-1925), an Irish drunkard who stole a fiddle from a poor musician. Talbot reformed, and spent the last decades of his life going to Mass every day and trying to find the musician to make restitution.

Many alcoholics and drug addicts have adopted Talbot as their patron.

Though he is hugely popular among AA members and Irish people, the church has so far refused to canonize Talbot because they don't consider his sainthood proven.

"The church really tries to get it right," Craughwell said.

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