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VATICAN LETTER Jul-23-2004 (780 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxi

Is blue blood bad for holiness? Monarchs rarely make the cut

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even with Pope John Paul II's record number of canonizations and beatifications, one category of Catholics has been represented rarely in the past 400 years: monarchs.

According to the Vatican's "Index of Saints' Causes," since the modern process for declaring saints began in 1588, only four wore a royal crown before the church officially recognized they wore the crown of sainthood.

The four are all women: St. Kunigunde of Poland, St. Hedwig of Poland, St. Isabel of Portugal and St. Jeanne of Valois, queen of France.

The Polish-born Pope John Paul canonized the two Polish queens.

The "male monarch" category will receive its first entry of the modern era Oct. 3 when the pope beatifies Emperor Charles I of Austria, who also ruled Hungary as King Charles IV. He died in exile in Portugal in 1922.

The Catholic Church's calendar of saints does have a fair number of royal males, including: the Roman emperor St. Constantine, St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Louis IX of France, St. Henry II of Germany, St. Vladimir of Kiev and St. Edward the Confessor of England.

The kings were declared saints before the 16th century when Pope Sixtus V centralized and codified the process for identifying and investigating the lives of those proposed for recognition by the universal church.

The numbers could lead someone to ask: Is blue blood bad for holiness, or does sovereignty decrease sanctity?

Andrea Ambrosi, the postulator -- or promoter -- of Emperor Charles' cause, does not think so.

The first reason there are so few royal saints, he said, is simply that "there are not many candidates to choose from" with so few reigning royal families, and an even smaller number of Catholic monarchs.

In addition, Ambrosi said, like the causes of many holy lay people, a monarch's cause is difficult to bring to completion without a fixed, committed group of people who support the cause, including providing money to pay for the research and documentation.

The cause of Emperor Charles, he said, has been supported by a formal prayer network, the "Gebetsliga," which was formed during the emperor's lifetime "to support him with prayer as he carried out his serious responsibilities" and which prayed for and supported his canonization after his death.

Jesuit Father Paolo Molinari, one of the leading Catholic postulators, said he did not think monarchs were underrepresented at all, if one considers the percentage of monarchs among all Catholics.

"If you look at it that way, the percentage of royalty who have been canonized or beatified is actually high," he said.

"It should not be surprising that even among royal families you find women and men who have responded to the call to holiness, despite the heavy responsibilities they bear," Father Molinari said.

The Jesuit also said he was not surprised that the number of recognized saintly queens is greater than the number of canonized kings, and not simply because women generally have "a God-given sensitivity to people who are hurting or in need."

Among royalty, he said, traditional gender roles are often very pronounced: The queen is the mother of the nation, while the king is ruler and commander.

In addition, he said, women in noble families often have their own economic resources, allowing their gestures of charity to have a large scope and gain notice.

Father Molinari said that in examining the causes of candidates who exercised temporal power "the church does not evaluate their political decisions in detail, although it does look at how the spirit of God inspired the person's whole life, including how he or she ruled."

Obviously, he said, "political decisions directly contrary to the commandments or church teaching" are noted.

Ambrosi said the process is focused on the individual's faith and how that translated into living a holy life, keeping in mind that responsibility for governing often includes some compromises.

At the same time, he said, political and social initiatives undertaken by the emperor were examined to ensure that he did not act "imprudently or unjustly."

Ambrosi said the emperor's deep faith, charity and obedience to the pope were demonstrated especially during and immediately after World War I.

Anything that would have led "to greater bloodshed, effective danger for the civilian population or the indiscriminate use of means of mass destruction were opposed by him in every way, even if recourse to them would have given his army an advantage and, perhaps, changed the course of the war," Ambrosi said.

The postulator said that the emperor's holiness was evident in his death in exile, "but it was prepared for by an entire life dedicated to God and neighbor."


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