How group canonizations work

Question: When someone is in line for canonization a great deal of time is spent before a final decision is made and miracles are required. However, there have also been occasions when whole groups have been canonized at one time (for instance, the 103 Korean martyrs canonized in 1984). How can this happen? Were all these people investigated? Were miracles verified for all of them? 

— Deacon Raymond Duthoy, Anaheim, Calif.

Answer: The Church’s processes of beatification and canonization have been streamlined a great deal in recent centuries. All the evidence shows that these processes are thorough and of considerable duration. 

The case of the Korean martyrs is a case in point. About 8,000 people in Korea were put to death for their faith in the mid-19th century. After official investigation, 79 of these were beatified in 1925. In 1968, 24 more were beatified. All 103 were canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1984. The canonization of 103 out of about 8,000 does not seem extreme. The fact that the process took more than 100 years shows that the process was not carried through in haste. 

It is probable that miracles occurred through the intercession of these martyrs. However, the Church does not require verified miracles for the canonization of martyrs. The Church’s thinking on this is that the very act of shedding one’s blood for the faith is in itself a kind of miracle. The martyr replicates the suffering and death of Christ in an extraordinary way, and further proof of sanctity is not sought. 

Phone confession 

Question: Is it permissible to make one’s confession by phone? Surely one could do this in case of accident or illness or when rapidly facing death? Recently, my pastor called me and said that he was calling to hear my confession. Was he joking? 

— M.M., City withheld, Nebraska

Answer: The matter of confession by phone is not, to my knowledge, addressed anywhere in official liturgical documentation. But since sacramental confession is by nature a personal encounter between Christ, represented by a priest, and a penitent within a context of complete confidentiality, confessions by phone seem to be ruled out. 

In the situations you mention — illness or rapidly approaching death — if a priest is not within reach physically, one can receive forgiveness by making a good act of contrition. God sees into the heart and soul of one who is unable to go to confession and recognizes any sentiments of sorrow and a desire for repentance. 

I can assure you that your pastor was joking when he called. No priest in his right mind would suggest hearing confessions by phone. 

Clergy in politics 

Question: Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say anything about priests staying out of politics? 

— Name and address withheld

Answer: The Catechism states simply: “It is not the role of Pastors of the Church to intervene in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens” (No. 2442). The role of the clergy is to assist the laity by teaching and promoting the principles of a just and morally upright social order.  

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.