CAN A CATHOLIC PRIEST, A MILITARY CHAPLAIN, BE A SAINT?
I am very disappointed in the setback for the cause for canonization of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll missionary priest and chaplain to Marines in Vietnam where he was killed on September 4, 1967.
I have followed this cause for years, written about it, and travelled to places that were associated with Fr. Capodanno, including Vietnam. (Fr. Vincent Capodanno | Joan’s Rome (wordpress.com).
I have tons of videos from Vietnam, including the field where he was killed. Videos of Masses in churches and one of a Mass in the home and surrounding farmland of a Catholic peasant family in the countryside, not far from Danang. I even met a Vietnamese in his 90s who knew Fr. Capodanno!
On my 2013 visit to Vietnam with the late Ted Bronson, an on-fire believer in the cause for Fr. Capodanno. I am with the then bishop of Danang as a Mass was celebrated to mark an anniversary of Fr. Capodanno’s priestly ordination.
You might have recently read articles about this setback. Catholic News Agency did a story (In Rome, a setback for Father Vincent Capodanno sainthood cause – Catholic World Report) in which we read: “At the Vatican, the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints is responsible for canonization decisions. In May, an advisory panel of theological consultants considered the “positio” document prepared by the postulator and its arguments in favor of and against Capodanno’s beatification. The consultants voted to recommend to the dicastery that Capodanno’s cause be suspended.”
We also read that one of the consultants for the theological commission studying Fr. Capodanno’s life, work and writings, said, “With ongoing military actions in the world today (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church.”
To this, the guild responded: “No one likes war especially those who serve their countries in them. One of the most important things for these serving men and women is to have access to the Sacraments. Our chaplains selflessly give of themselves to provide these Sacraments. Pope Francis pushes strongly to ensure that chaplain priests are available for militaries.”
The Archdiocese for the Military Services is responsible for launching Fr. Capodanno’s canonization cause. Both the archdiocese and the Father Capodanno Guild, a private Catholic association that promotes the priest’s canonization cause, responded to the consultants’ recommendation to suspend the beatification cause. (You can read those in the above link).
I did a lot of thinking after reading the opinion of the consultant(s). There are obviously a thousand things I do not know about Fr. Capodanno’s life and writings and work, things the Vatican experts and consultants have been studying for some time.
However, this one particular reason really struck me: Fr. Capodanno should not be a saint because he was a military chaplain?
Does the name Fr. Angelo Roncalli ring a bell? In the three years following the outbreak of the First World War in 1915, he worked as a chaplain with the rank of sergeant in the care of wounded soldiers in the hospitals of Bergamo. In July of 1918, he agreed to serve the soldiers suffering from tuberculosis, knowingly risking his life with the danger of contagion. (https://en.gariwo.net) (also this fascinating and brief report from Vatican radio archives: Pope Saint John XXIII as military chaplain (archivioradiovaticana.va))
Fr. Roncalli became Cardinal Roncalli, archbishop of Venice, and in 1958 was elected to the papacy, taking the name Pope John XXIII. He was canonized along with Pope John Paul in 2014.
Was his military chaplaincy even a consideration in his cause? It might have even been an important thread in the rich tapestry of the life story of this humble son of farmers.
And this all brings me to ask: What about the cause of Fr. Emil Kapuan?
Fr. Kapuan, a native of Kansas, was a Catholic priest who served as a United States Army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War. Kapaun was a chaplain in the Burma Theater of World War II, then served again as a chaplain with the U.S. Army in Korea, where he was captured.
As the website dedicated to him says: A Life of Hope and Mercy. From the plains of Kansas to the battlefields of Korea, Father Emil J. Kapaun embodied what it means to live in service to others. Follow his story of selfless sacrifice and strength, and learn why today Father Kapaun is a candidate for Sainthood.
Will experts and consultants now take a second look at his life?!