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The Catholic Church Is Getting Less Strict About Miracles

Both John Paul II and John XXIII will be made saints at the end of the year, suggesting a shift from traditions

© by James G. Howes, 1985.

This morning, The Vatican announced that Pope John Paul II had his second miracle approved and would become a saint. With him, John XXIII will also be canonized, in a move that suggests that the church is focusing less and less on miracles.

Reigning Pope Francis issued his first encyclical—the highest form of papal teaching—which, among other things, approved for canonization both John Paul II and John XXIII. These are both unusual canonizations, says the Los Angeles Times. John Paul II’s happened quite quickly after his death in 2005. John XXIII’s happened because Pope Francis waived the two-miracle requirement for sainthood. Normally, canonization requires two miracles, unless the person was a martyr.

According to the BBC, John Paul II’s second miracle was an “inexplicable recovery” on the day that he was beatified (the third of the four steps to being canonized). Fox News reports that the case in question might have been a Costa Rican woman:

The Spanish Catholic newspaper La Razon has identified her as Floribeth Mora, and said she suffered from a cerebral aneurism that was inexplicably cured on May 1, 2011 — the day of John Paul’s beatification, when 1.5 million people filled St. Peter’s Square to honor the beloved Polish pontiff.

The move to canonize John XXIII without a second miracle might be more controversial, but the church argues that Francis has the authority to dispense with the normal saint-making procedures to canonize him without one. This points to a general trend away from miracles. John Paul II himself changed the miracle structure, according to David Zax, writing for The Big Round Table:

When Pope John Paul II had the chance to eliminate the miracle requirement in 1983—many within the Church argued it had grown too arduous—he did not do so, though he did cut the number of miracles required from four to two. Later, he said that miracles were “like a divine seal which confirms the sanctity” of a saint.

According to the book Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, today, 99 percent of miracles used in sainthood cases are medical in nature, and are evaluated by a panel of medical doctors. But, as Zax points out, John Paul II himself in 1983 admitted that he thought physical healing miracles were becoming more and more rare.

Some suggest that canonizing the two popes together is a move to balance out some of the unseemly issues with both. John Paul II’s reign saw unprecedented rates of sexual abuse and financial scandals at the Vatican. John XXIII is missing a miracle. Fox suggests that the church might be trying to balance the two. Regardless, they will likely be formally elevated to sainthood later this year.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Fake Bishop Tries to Crash Pope-Choosing Party
Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio Chosen As New Pope

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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