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The Catholic Church has a sainthood problem

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There really is no business like saint business. Once you make it, people pray to you, put statues of you in their rooms, and thank you when they recover from an illness—or just find a parking spot.

But the making of and praying to saints—and the entire hagiographical industry, for that matter—can be vulgar and achingly banal. It’s not supposed to be that way, of course: At its best, it should represent a genuine desire to single out those who have sacrificed heroically, or have contributed magnificently to the betterment of humanity, for special praise. Alas, that purity was lost a long time ago.

It can also be political and acutely divisive, and that’s certainly the case at the moment, as two prominent Roman Catholics of the early 20th century move towards saint status: British author GK Chesterton, and Polish Cardinal August Hlond. Both men, especially the former, were accomplished and impressive, but they share a dark commonality too: they both made appallingly anti-Semitic comments in the 1930s, when the Jewish people were about to become victims of an attempted genocide. And the politics threaten to overshadow the whole process—not to mention the Church’s well-intentioned and largely successful efforts to shake off its centuries-old reputation as an anti-Semitic institution.

Hlond, who died in 1948, was Primate of Poland and Archbishop of Warsaw, and is admired because he spoke out against both the Nazi and Soviet occupation of his country. He was also the only member of the College of Cardinals to have been taken into custody by the Gestapo. His canonization........

© Macleans