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Chesterton sainthood cause will not advance, Bishop Doyle says

Fr. Benedict Kiely, a priest who claims Chesterton’s intercession helped cure his mother of sepsis, said that the decision shows that the English Catholic hierarchy is in a “fog of mediocrity”.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) in an undated photo. (Wikipedia)

Denver, Colo., Aug 2, 2019 / 03:15 pm (CNA).- A cause for the canonization of the pipe-smoking, plain-talking, mustachioed and beloved Catholic author Gilbert Keith (GK) Chesterton will not be opened, announced Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, the late Chesterton’s home diocese.

Despite Chesterton’s inspirational writings and his role in the Catholic revival in England during the early 20th century, several obstacles stand in the way of advancing the author’s cause for canonization, Doyle said in a letter read to the opening session of the American GK Chesterton Society conference.

The three concerns cited by Doyle are that Chesterton lacks a “cult” of local devotion, the lack of a “pattern of personal spirituality” that could be discerned through his writing, and charges of anti-Semitism in his writing.

“I am very conscious of the devotion to GK Chesterton in many parts of the world and of his inspiring influence on so many people, and this makes it difficult to communicate the conclusion to which I have come,” the bishop said, according to the Catholic Herald in the U.K.

Chesterton was born in 1874, and became a prolific writer and staunch Catholic apologist after his conversion to the faith. He is renowned for writing apologetic classics such as “Orthodoxy” and “The Everlasting Man”, as well as for his fictional “Father Brown” series, among many other works. He died in 1936.

Doyle praised “Chesterton’s goodness and his ability to evangelize” but said he could not open the cause at this time.

“…I am unable to promote the cause of GK Chesterton for three reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, there is no local cult. Secondly, I have been unable to tease out a pattern of personal spirituality. And, thirdly, even allowing for the context of G K Chesterton’s time, the issue of anti-Semitism is a real obstacle particularly at this time in the United Kingdom,” he said in the letter.

In an interview with Alfa y Omega, a Spanish Catholic weekly, Doyle said that while Chesterton was staunchly against the Nazis, he stereotyped Jewish people in concerning ways in some of his writings.

As an example, Alfa y Omega noted, in The New Jerusalem, a book written in 1920 by Chesterton, he argued that Jewish people needed to have a separate nation in order to “live, as far as possible, in a Jewish society ruled by the Jews.” He also advocated that Jews wear distinctive clothing in public to set them apart.

The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton argues that the charge of anti-Semitism against Chesterton is false, given that the man  once said “The world owes God to the Jews,” and “I will die defending the last Jew in Europe.”

Chesterton was “a man who hated racism and racial theories and who fought for human dignity and always affirmed the brotherhood of all men,” the society states on its website.

Fr. John Udris, who served as the investigator for Chesterton’s cause, told the Catholic Herald that he “(doesn’t) envy Bishop Peter having to make a decision with such huge implications.”

“Of course it’s a disappointment. But the investigation was an enormous privilege. Getting to know Chesterton better has certainly changed me for good (I hope in both senses!),” he added.

Fr. Benedict Kiely, a priest who claims Chesterton’s intercession helped cure his mother of sepsis, said that the decision shows that the English Catholic hierarchy is in a “fog of mediocrity,” a phrase first applied to the group by English author Hilaire Belloc.

“The decision of the current Bishop of Northampton not to pursue the cause of G.K. Chesterton’s canonisation indicates the fog has yet to clear,” Kiely told the Catholic Herald.

According to his interview with Alfa y Omega, Doyle said that it is possible that his successor could re-open the cause. Doyle is 75 and has presented his resignation for consideration to Pope Francis, as he is the customary retirement age for a bishop.

“And I would not want to be an obstacle to this, beyond stating the conclusions I have reached,” he said.

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  1. That seems rather an odd thing to object to considering what Jews suffered in Europe a couple decades later. Chesterton advocating for a Jewish homeland in 1920 sounds prophetic to me.
    But perhaps his remarks were meant differently?

    • If the English bishops in Belloc’s time were “in a fog of mediocrity” how on earth would he describe them NOW? As for there being “no local cult” of Chesterton, where in the entire universe was/is there one of Pius 1X? That didn’t stop his very strange cause! Gordon Carter. South Australia.

    • In context they appear less as a call for a homeland than a desire that they be expelled, as they were from the Iberian peninsula, and be kept separate.

  2. Fr Kiely’s calling the bishop mediocre because he didn’t give him what he wanted doesn’t improve my impression of the Chesterton fan club.

    • I love the Church, and will follow her for she is the Bride of Christ. But my eyes would be closed to not say many, but not all, the Bishops in the United States are mediocre, and many of the lay people and priests understand this. We are still faithful. But to deny it appears foolish. Many Bishops and Priests are “of the world”, and are the cause of poor catechist and grave sin, causing many to stumble and fall. I am sure you can see it, for even non-Catholics see it and know we are called to a higher state since we profess to follow Christ. Our true role models are our many professed saints who died to self and took up their crosses. Praise be Jesus, for He is gathering an army of strong followers who are dying to self and following Him. They are not afraid to speak the truth. They are defending the flock, the faith and protecting Christ’s Bride. As any good spouse should do.

  3. If John XXIII and Paul VI can be made canonized saints, then Chesterton certainly can be made one. The true question, though, is whether John XXIII and Paul VI should have been canonized.

    • No one was even thinking about John XXIII and Paul VI being canonized until Pope Francis stepped in and insisted. I suppose you could view this as yet another attempt by Pope Francis to destroy the church. As I remember, he insisted that John XXIII be named a saint in order to declare JP II a saint. But no one on earth was even remotely thinking about John XXIII being a saint. Then Paul VI, again, no one at all was pushing for this, except for Pope Francis, as near as I could tell. i think he thought he could water down the effect of JP II becoming a saint and confuse the issues by naming the other two. But Pope Francis in effect deflated the credibility of the saint making process in order to deflate the influence of John Paul II, which by all external appearances, he really hates. Not to mention the fact that he falsely cites JP II as supporting Francis’s postitions which JP II did not.

  4. I agree with Bp. Doyle’s first two reasons, and they alone would be decisive. I have not read enough of GKC’s journalism to have an opinion about the third. Most of Chesterton’s writings were light literature or ephemeral op-ed pieces, but all of them would have to be examined for a cause of beatification–an almost insurmountable task. GKC repented of his youthful forays into libertinism and became a faithful Catholic husband, but his virtues were at most those of the British bourgeoisie, seasoned with a dash of zeal. His girth and proverbial absent-mindedness do not speak well of his self-discipline. He was a jolly good Christian personality in his day and time, but saints are made of sterner stuff.

    • “Most of Chesterton’s writings were light literature or ephemeral op-ed pieces…”

      Even if Chesterton has only written Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, St. Thomas Aquinas, and The Thing, that would be enough, in my book, to consider him one of the finest Catholic writers and thinkers of the past 120 years. But I’d also argue that much of his “lightness” is misleading, similar to how the grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s works can be misleading or disorienting to certain readers. Hugh Kenner, hardly a slouch when it comes to heftiness, thought that Chesterton’s approach often disguised a true Thomistic depth. And we all know (I hope) what Gilson thought about GK’s book on St. Thomas.

      • I have read the first three books by GKC that you mention, Carl, some repeatedly. ALL of Chesterton’s work is the popularization (yes, often profound) of Catholic wit and wisdom. But sainthood is not about being “one of the finest Catholic writers and thinkers” of one’s day or century. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the canonization of Chesterton, or of Gilson, for that matter.

        • You could not be more correct. HEROIC VIRTUE. The individual needs to be recognized as having lived a life of heroic virtue. I don’t know enough about G.K.’s personal and interior life to make a judgement on that — all the more reason for the process to proceed, the investigation go deep.
          Undoubtedly G.K. Chesterton was a great man, a great thinker, a great Catholic. Was he a man of heroic virtue? A fair amount of smoking and drinking? Let’s find out.

  5. In a certain sense I am glad to see Chesterton exempted from the sit-com canonization process which has developed over the past forty some years. I collapse in laughter at the idea that he does not enjoy a cult of devotion.
    Did Paul VI?
    Did John XXIII? [no miracle on hand for his canonization].
    Have the Marxists elevated by Pope Bergoglio?
    Gilbert can wait until sanity and order have been restored to a supremely important facet of Roman Catholicism. All the better to find himself on the altar’s if it is by the will of God rather than the heterodox promoting “their own cult.”

    • A local cult refers to people praying for his intercession. It doesn’t refer to people being devoted to his writings l

  6. Maybe being canonized for sainthood also means to be pushed to the back shelf to collect dust–celebrated for a day and then silenced. Look at the cases of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII. Who reads them now?

    Maybe Chesterton will remain a living influence and continue to be read precisely because he is not ecclesially embalmed. That he IS read, in a functionally illiterate world, is probably his awaited miracle.

    Mouthpieces for a chameleon “new paradigm” church now have to deal with GKC whose undeceived vision and deeper spirituality remain unobstructed: “[T]he Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”

  7. Chesterton argued that Jewish people needed a separate nation in order to “live, as far as possible, in a Jewish society ruled by Jews.” In his travelog book THE NEW JERUSALEM, he felt a Jewish state might be a good idea. Isn’t this the same ill-informed, however well-intentioned, pro-Zionism of the British Balfour Declaration that helped create modern Israel while robbing the West Bank ?

  8. No “local cult” of devotion to Chesterton? That’s rich! If the English bishops were not in such a self-induced stupor, they might notice that they are the heads of a Church with almost no local Catholics period.

    • It’s quite true that church attendance in the UK is down overall, especially in CE parishes, but last time I was there it seemed Catholic parishes were doing OK comparatively speaking. And they were doing very well in UK immigrant communities.
      The CE inherited( to put it politely) the lovely, historic, formerly Catholic church buildings but so many of those, especially in rural areas, are virtually empty now.
      Present day UK Catholic churches often are the least attractive architecturally. You can often drive into a town & immediately identify the Catholic church that way. The music’s mediocre often as not & there’s tambourines, etc. But they do have Mass attendance, sometimes lots of attendance.

  9. Just to mention, Ann Farmer’s book about Chesterton apparently suggests his wife Frances was of Jewish descent.
    I read that her father was a diamond merchant. Her maiden name Blogg can be of Dutch or German Jewish origin. So at least on her father’s side of the family that doesn’t seem too far fetched to wonder about.

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