Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Martyrdom and Father Kapaun's Cause

A Vatican lawyer involved with the cause of Servant of God Emil Kapaun, who suffered and died in a Korean prison camp, visited Wichita, Kansas last week and commented on the progress of the cause. According to the Wichita Eagle, which ran a multi-part story about Father Kapaun and his heroism, Andrea Ambrosi offered warnings of delay and uncertainty:

Speaking with translation by Ohio-born aide Madeleine Kuns, he said a key decision the Vatican must make is whether Kapaun was martyred for standing up for his faith.

There is no doubt Kapaun was a hero, he said. But was he a martyr?

Ambrosi said he has analyzed more than 8,000 documents and testimonies, including from Korean War combat soldiers who saw Kapaun’s heroism. Ambrosi said that for the first time after years of study of Kapaun’s life, he now plans to propose Kapaun as a martyr in his report to the Vatican, a report he thinks will be completed in the next six months.

And that bit about martyrdom is important to the Vatican’s decision. But because the Vatican’s bar for martyrdom is so high, even his recommendation may not be enough to persuade church officials, Ambrosi said. If the church decides Kapaun was martyred – killed because he was a religious person defending his faith – it could significantly speed up the process to canonize Kapaun to full sainthood. But if the cardinals in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints decide Kapaun wasn’t a martyr, it could mean many years before Kapaun’s sainthood cause would advance.

Martyrdom was not always easy to prove in the case of the English Martyrs, either, as this site explains:

The cases of the English martyrs killed during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth (1534-1603) provide certain challenges from a documentary standpoint, making it very difficult to establish with certainty the fact of martyrdom.

First, the legal proscription of Catholicism in England from 1534 to emancipation in 1829 means that it was not always possible to carry out investigations into the causes of these martyrs. In the times when harboring a priest was a capital crime and even attending Mass punishable by a fine of 1600 shillings, carrying out these investigations under proper canonical form was simply not possible. Free and open inquiry into the cases of the English martyrs and access to the documentation regarding their deaths was not available until the restoration of the English hierarchy in 1850, by which time over three centuries had elapsed since the time of most of the martyrs.

Second, because the persecution of the Catholic Church in England was carried out under a fundamentally political program, those convicted and punished under the penal laws are often listed as cases of 'treason' or 'conspiracy' in the official records, which are often the only records. Though we know that the threat of Catholic conspiracies was extremely overblown and many "plots" were even fabricated (the Titus Oates Plot, for example), there were nevertheless certain Catholics who were involved in clandestine political activities. The result is that it is very difficult to tell the exact details when both organizing a political conspiracy and simply saying Mass are both classified as "treason" in the official record. Finally, in many cases, there was no official record kept whatsoever, making reconstructing events extremely difficult. . . .

This was particularly true in the case of those who opposed the dissolution of their monasteries:

A classic case of this last problem are the three Benedictine abbots of Glastonbury, Reading and Colchester, all put to death quietly for treason in 1539 and all of which lack any official documentation.

This, then, is a brief summary of some of the difficulties the restored Catholic hierarchy of England faced when it first began to push for the causes of the English martyrs. Despite the English Church's admirable desire to raise many of its heroic sons to the altars, the Sacred Congregation for Rites was characteristically slow-moving and skeptical of proceeding to beatification when so much documentary evidence was lacking. In fact, when the English hierarchy sent off the available documentation on 353 martyrs Rome in 1880, 76 applications were rejected for lack of sufficient historical evidence. These rejected martyrs are known as dilati, those whose cases are referred back to the Ordinary for insufficient evidence.

And some of those causes of the dilati are still waiting for more evidence.

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