Is sainthood only for the saintly?

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
Before the interest in sinners and saints provoked by our observance of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day evaporates, I’d like to bring your attention to a fascinating article by Thomas J. Craughwell published in The Wall Street Journal last Tuesday.

Craughwell, the author of a new book entitled Saints Behaving Badly, (Doubleday, 2006) discusses in his piece whether a cop-killer can be a "saint."

The need to debate such a thorny issue surfaced when the retired Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger, in 1987, began the formal process by which Jacques Fesch, a convicted murderer guillotined by the French state in 1957 might be "declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church."

According to the author, Fesch’s case has provoked widespread interest in France. Amazon.com’s French site lists a dozen books about the repentant killer, including editions of his letters from death row after he returned to the Catholic faith.

I can only say about the Archbishop’s nomination of that murderer and executed death convict for the halo of Sainthood. By golly, what would Mother Teresa say if a newly-minted St. Fesch were to sidle up to her in the heavenly clouds and greet her with "Bonjour, Sis, I’m in your club now!" Mother Teresa spent her life in sacrifice and in caring for the poor and hopeless in the slums of Kolkata (Calcutta). Fesch? As Craughwell describes him, "he was the wastrel son of a wealthy family, a chronic adulterer who divorced his wife, and a playboy who produced an illegitimate child, whom he abandoned. By his own admission, Fesch fantasized about sailing to the South Pacific, where he could live a life of perfect hedonism. Alas, his parents refused to bankroll such a scheme."

What did Fesch then do? On February 25, 1954, he barged into a Paris currency dealer’s shop, grabbed 300,000 francs from the till, pistol-whipped the proprietor, then ran out the door. Jean Vergne, a 35-year old French police officer appeared on the scene and called on the fleeing Fesch to surrender. Fesch, instead, shot Vergne three times through the heart. Vergne, a widower with a four-year old daughter, "was dead before he hit the pavement." At his trial, Craughwell narrated, the cop-killer was surly and unrepentant. The Court rightly sentenced him to death. (This execution was carried out on October 1, 1957. In France, they send a death row convict to the Guillotine, unlike in the Philippines where death row convicts got to die only of old age, until President GMA and her supportive Congressmen abolished the death penalty).

When in prison, as Fesch stated, "the spirit of the Lord seized me by the throat." He became a changed man, devoted to prayer and meditation, etc. His letters "inspired" those who read them. Once more, I can only say, even though a confirmed sinner, placing a halo on this guy would be a serious mistake by the Church. And to think that Saint Bernadette Soubirous, the heroic little girl who saw our Blessed Mother, the "Immaculate Conception" at Lourdes, had to go through so much suffering and scorn, as well, until after many decades following her painful death she was finally acknowledged to be a saint.

Can you imagine Converted Killer Fesch’s life story being incorporated into a book like The Lives of the Saints and all Catholic little boys and girls urged to emulate his life and, uh, "good works"? Admittedly, he may have been taken into the bosom of Our Heavenly Father, and be in truth a saint, adding his voice to the Angel Chorus, but to hold him up for veneration as a duly certified "saint" by the Vatican seems to me rather ridiculous.

Without promoting the cause of Fesch, though, Craughwell remarks that "the Church’s standard for sainthood allows for something less than perfection."

Perhaps the first saint, after all, was St. Dimas, the so-called "Good Thief" who hung on a cross beside that of Jesus on Calvary. He was promised Sainthood by Christ Himself, who pledged Dimas, "This day thou shalt be with me in paradise!" Dimas is a good Saint for politicians and journalists – but his biography is not available.

Then, consider St. Callixtus of Rome, who died in 222: "He was an embezzler, a brawler, a twice-convicted felon. Yet, Callixtus was touched by grace, repented, became a priest, was elected Pope, and died a martyr!"

In truth, the Catholic calendar overflows with notorious men and women who turned their lives around and became Saints. For Chrissakes, the Lord even forgave St. Peter (Simon) who had denied him three times before the cock crowed, and proclaimed him The Rock on whom Christ built His church – the first Pope, indeed.

St. Camillus de Lelis (1550-1614) was an Italian condotierri, a mercenary soldier, a cardsharp and con-man. St. Moses, the Ethiopian (c. 330-405) was a gang leader of a bunch of cutthroats in the Sahara, the Egyptian desert. St. Hippolytus set himself as the first "antipope". And, Craughwell adds, "St. Pelagia was the porn queen of fifth-century Antioch." Her contemporary St. John Chrysostom, recalled that "nothing was more vile than she was, when she was on stage." Mea culpa, I hope my own sainted mother will forgive me for citing the above-mentioned anecdote of Craughwell. For she was named "Pelagia", as were many thousands of virtuous women in our country.

I remember when I was a kid, our Sto. Domingo "queen" of the fiesta was named Ms. Pelagia Primeras, too.

Let me end as I began. The cop-killer Fesch named a Saint by the Vatican? It doesn’t seem likely. And I hope not. From the non-exemplary life he led, he’s not a candidate for canonization – even though the saying that "there is more joy in Heaven for a sinner doing penance" than the virtuous life of a good man. I hope, since I’m a candidate for the opposite (Marca Demonyo? That’s what we drank when we were young bucks), Fesch won’t get that Good House-Saint" guarantee from the Church.

Yet, strange things happen when you discuss religion, or declare that you’re doing things like suicide-bombing, murder, or sabotage, because "God commanded" you.

Many an over-pious zealot gets the wrong message from God. You know, "lost in translation."
* * *
What’s happening to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)? To begin with, La Presidenta’s appointment of former Police NCR Director Reynaldo Berroya as "acting" chief of the vital Land Transportation Office (LTO) is a shocker. True, Berroya is a close friend and former personal security of La Gloria and Big Mike – but should control of the LTO be awarded as a lollipop?

Then there’s newly-designated Chairman of the equally important and ultra-sensitive Land Transportation Franchising & Regulatory Board (LTFRB), Thompson Lantion. Sure, we know Tom Lantion well, but what qualifies him for that post – except that he, too, comes from that Blessed Class ’69 of the Philippine Military Academy. Of course, everybody knows that their boss in the DOTC, Secretary Leandro Mendoza – a former PNP Director General and Police Chief himself – is PMA ’69, as well.

What are they having in the DOTC, LTO and LTFRB? A class reunion? Sanamagan: Madam Boss Lady, didn’t you check with the PMAAA, before you threw all those classmates together in one swoop?

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that our Presidenta may have more Generals in her government, from the Army and Philippine National Police, than there are in the new Thai Government under retired Army Chief, now Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont. This is becoming the Night and Day of the Generals.

With Lantion, as DOTC Sec. Larry Mendoza’s "Mistah" in the LTFRB, will the agency’s decisions, no matter how flawed, be affirmed without question by the DOTC? And will the DOTC now ignore abuses and mulcting by the LTO, no matter how blatant?

LTFRB officials and personnel may not realize it, but under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act "knowingly approving or granting any license, permit, privilege or benefit in favor of any person, not qualified for or not legally entitled to such license, permit, privilege or advantage," and "giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence" is punishable under the law.

Tom Lantion should be forewarned that some of the personnel he’s inheriting have occasionally been issuing franchises without notice or due hearing. Will he crack down – or will he take over the racket?

With three Cavaliers, all classmates in the ministry, there may be no "braking" instrument to prevent or rebuff any strange decisions or "grants" made there.











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