Canonization of Josemaría Escrivá

Canonization of Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer discusses John Paul II's decision to canonize Josemaría Escrivá, founder of the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, more commonly known as Opus Dei.

History of the Cause of Canonization

According to the Vatican, here is the chronology of the process of canonization:

From death to beatification

Beginning of Preparation of the Positio, a compilation of documents to be examined by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The Positio would include the testimonies from both processes (in Rome and Madrid), a critical study on the life and heroic virtues of the Servant of God, testimonies obtained in both tribunals in Rome and Madrid together with abundant documentary appendices. It would be submitted and examined by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. From the material collected in the Roman and Madrid tribunals, under the direction of Father Ambrogio Eszer, O.P., Relator for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

From beatification to canonization

Canonization Day

Escrivá was canonized by Pope John Paul II on 6 October 2002 in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.

During the canonization, there were 42 cardinals and 470 bishops from around the world, general superiors of many orders and religious congregations, and representatives of various Catholic groups. One-third of the world's bishops (an unprecedented number) petitioned for the canonization of Escrivá. (Messori 1997)

During the days of the canonization event, Church officials commented on the universal reach and validity of the message of the founder, echoing John Paul II's decree Christifideles Omnes on Escrivá's virtues which said that "by inviting Christians to be united to God through their daily work, which is something men will have to do and find their dignity in as long as the world lasts, the timeliness of this message is destined to endure as an inexhaustible source of spiritual light, regardless of changing epochs and situations."

Criticism about process of canonization

Opus Dei's prelatic church, Our Lady of Peace, located in its central headquarters in Rome: Below the altar lie the mortal remains of St. Josemaría.

Opus Dei critics take issue with what they see as Escrivá's lightning canonization.[3] They argue that the whole process was plagued by irregularities. Kenneth L. Woodward, the longtime religion editor and senior writer for the American newsmagazine Newsweek, says that the ‘Devil’s advocate’ system was bypassed and witnesses hostile to Escrivá were not called. According to him, it is not true that eleven critics of Escrivá’s canonization were heard. He says there was only one. He says the "consultors" were mainly Italian and members of Opus Dei: this stopped Escrivá’s many critical Spanish peers from upsetting the procedure, but it also broke the convention that "consultors" should be the fellow countrymen of the proposed saint. He also states that Opus Dei argued that Escrivá was too "international" to need this.[4]

Serious charges were brought that Opus Dei prevented critics of Escrivá from testifying at church tribunals called to investigate his life. Several former members were refused a hearing. Among them: Maria del Carmen Tapia, Father Vladimir Feltzman and John Roche. The positio claims, for instance, that Escrivá lost his temper only once, yet many former members who knew him will insist he was routinely abusive of anyone suspected of being an enemy of Opus Dei. Former numerary Maria del Carmen Tapia relates this in her book "Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei".

Opus Dei officials have claimed that Escrivá's cause had been unanimously approved. However, Newsweek stated that two of the judges, Msgr. Luigi de Magistris, deputy head of the Vatican's Apostolic Penitentiary, and Msgr. Justo Fernández Alonso, rector of the Spanish National Church in Rome, did not approve the cause. In fact, one of the dissenters wrote that beatifying Escrivá could cause the church "grave public scandal."[5] The journal Il Regno, published in Bologna by the congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (the Dehonians), reproduced, in May 1992, the confidential vote of one of the judges in Escrivá's cause of beatification, in which the judge asks that the process be suspended and raises questions about the undue haste of the proceedings, the near absence of testimony from critics in the documentation gathered by the postulators, the failure of the documentation to properly address issues about Escrivá's relations with the Franco regime and with other Catholic organizations, and suggestions from the official testimonies themselves that Escrivá lacked proper spiritual humility.[6]

This document does not identify the judge by name, but he indicates that he met Escrivá only once, briefly, in 1966, while serving as a notary for the Holy Office, which implies that the judge in question was Msgr. de Magistris. In his vote (which its own contents date to August 1989), de Magistris also argues that the testimony from the main witness, Msgr. Álvaro del Portillo, who was Escrivá's confessor for 31 years, should have been totally excluded from the proceedings.[6] John Allen Jr. comments that, according to some observers, de Magistris suffered as a result of his opposition to Escrivá's beatification. De Magistris became head of the Apostolic Penitentiary in 2001, an important position in the Vatican bureaucracy which normally is followed by elevation to the cardinalate, but he retired less than two years later and was made a cardinal only in 2015 by Pope Francis.

According to Kenneth Woodward, author of "Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn't, and Why," Opus Dei members put hundreds of bishops under financial pressure in order to have them send positive reports about Escrivá to the Vatican.[5] Especially in the Third World, bishops were allegedly told that financial contributions from Opus Dei might be in jeopardy if they did not answer the request for positive testimony. According to Woodward, 40% of the testimony came from just two men, (Alvaro) Portillo (deceased Opus Dei prelate and Escrivá's successor) and his assistant Father Javier Echevarria, (current Opus Dei prelate).[5]

On the other hand, supporters refer to Fr. Rafael Perez, an Augustinian, "one of the best experts" on canonization and who was the judge of Escrivá's Madrid Tribunal. He says that the process was fast because first, Escrivá's figure is "of the universal importance;" second, the Postulators "knew what they were doing;" third, in 1983 the procedures were simplified in order to present "models who lived in a world like ours."

Fr. Flavio Capucci, the Postulator, also reported that the 6000 postulatory letters to the Vatican showed "earnestness." His team submitted 16 volumes on Escrivá's life including the published criticisms against him. The Tribunals listened to 92 witnesses, most of whom were non-members, much above the minimum. Among them were 11 ex-members. Of the 92, 66 were Spaniards who went to the Madrid court. Each one was asked 252 questions on Escrivá's life, 10 of which were based on the criticisms. Together with the investigative material, the 980 court sessions make this "the longest process to date." Perez also noted that the Tribunal's work is very rigorous and it "listens only to people who are credible" and not to those who "just want to cause harm." He also said that "money can never make a saint," but "genuine interest." Opus Dei supporters say that the other accusations including a slur against the bishops of the Catholic Church are baseless allegations which anyone can think up. Supporters also say that the attacks against the founder's beatification in 1992 have turned into acceptance and support by the time of the canonization in 2002. (Documentation Service Vol V, 3, March 1992)

Escrivá's canonization was one of the first to be processed after the 1983 Code of Canon Law streamlined the procedures for canonization, and so it moved more quickly than was typical before. Mother Teresa is on pace to be canonized even more quickly, having been beatified just 6 years after her death (Escrivá was beatified in 17 years). Even under the old procedures, the canonization of St. Thérèse of Lisieux made it through the process in 27 years, roughly the same as Escrivá’s.

According to John Allen, Jr., Mother Teresa's process was quick not "simply because her postulator did a good job. It was clear that John Paul II wanted it to happen. Similarly with Escriva, the pope's long track record of support and devotion...left no doubt where he wanted the process to end. That, in fact, is probably the single most telling argument against the hypothesis that Opus Dei 'bought' or 'manipulated' the beatification and canonization. There was no reason why they had to."

"The most defensible conclusion," says Allen, "seems to be that Opus Dei may have played hard and fast, but they played by the rules." (Opus Dei, p. 265)

Escrivá's books, including Furrow, The Way, Christ is Passing By, and The Forge, continue to be read widely both by members of Opus Dei and by other Catholics attracted to his spirituality, which emphasizes the laity's calling to daily sanctification (a message also to be found in the documents of Vatican II). Pope John Paul II made the following observation in his homily at the beatification of Escrivá:

"With supernatural intuition, Blessed Josemaría untiringly preached the universal call to holiness and apostolate. Christ calls everyone to become holy in the realities of everyday life. Hence work too is a means of personal holiness and apostolate, when it is done in union with Jesus Christ."


  1. Vatican: The Miracle Approved for the Canonization, September 21, 2001
  2. José Cardinal Saraiva Martins: DECREE SUPER MIRO (on the miracle) of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, Rome, December 20, 2001
  3. ODAN's Opposition to the Canonization of Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer, September 11, 2002
  4. A coming-out Party in Rome, Kenneth L. Woodward. (1992, May 18) Newsweek.
  5. 1 2 3 Woodward, Kenneth L., "A Questionable Saint," Newsweek, Jan. 13, 1992
  6. 1 2 Congregazione per le cause dei santi (1992), "Mons. Escrivá: l'eroicità delle virtù", Il Regno (in Italian), 37: 297–304. The text of the vote for suspension is available here.

External links

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