Archbishop: Despite cause’s setback, Capodanno’s example is ‘uplifting for the whole Church’

Jonah McKeown   By Jonah McKeown for CNA


Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA praised Servant of God Vincent Capodanno at a memorial Mass marking the 55th anniversary of the death of the heroic chaplain Sept. 6, 2022. / Courtesy of Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. See CNA article for full slideshow. 

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 7, 2022 / 10:33 am (CNA).

At a memorial Mass marking the 55th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Vincent Capodanno, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA praised the heroic chaplain, who gave his life to save others during the Vietnam War, as an example for others.

The annual Mass in Capodanno’s honor took place just one month after consultants to the Vatican body tasked with judging possible saints recommended the suspension of his cause, citing several concerns, including a reluctance to elevate a military man for veneration in the Church.

While acknowledging the disappointment that many in attendance were feeling over the setback, Broglio expressed his “earnest hope” that Capodanno’s example of self-sacrifice will soon be recognized as “useful and uplifting for the whole Church.”

“We are, however, a people of hope and believe the Lord is in charge … And whatever he has planned for us is better than anything we can plan or imagine,” he said during the Sept. 6 homily, addressing the congregation in the crypt church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The ‘grunt padre’

A New Yorker born in 1929, Capodanno was a U.S. Navy chaplain who served in the Vietnam War with U.S. Marines. Enlisted Marines are informally known as “grunts,” and he acquired the moniker “the grunt padre.” When in combat he would put the well-being of Marines above his personal safety, moving among the wounded and dying on the battlefield to provide medical aid, comfort, and last rites.

After his 1967 death, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1969. His sainthood cause was opened by the Military Archdiocese, and he was declared a Servant of God in 2006. The Military Archdiocese sent the positio — a large collection of documents and evidence about Capodanno’s life — to the Vatican in 2020.

Though many of the soldiers to whom Father Capodanno ministered in Vietnam were likely drafted, Capodanno “chose to be there,” ministering to the men’s spiritual needs despite great danger.

“Only a man who firmly believed in eternal life could face a hail of bullets unarmed with no other purpose than to serve,” Broglio said.

“Christ, the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies, teaches us to die to ourselves and helps us to understand the very mystery of death. As hard as modern society tries to hide death, it is the only threshold that opens up into eternal life. It is a necessary passage. Father Capodanno knew that and helped others to appreciate that truth as well.”

After joining the Maryknolls, Capodanno served as a missionary in Taiwan and Hong Kong from 1958 to 1965. After he successfully petitioned his Maryknoll superiors to release him to serve as a U.S. Navy chaplain, he arrived in Vietnam during Holy Week of 1966. He held the rank of lieutenant and took part in seven combat operations. He was killed on the battlefield in 1967 while administering medical and spiritual attention to two of his men.

Recommendation to suspend cause

Last month, several theological consultants expressed concerns to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints about Capodanno’s cause and voted to recommend the cause be suspended. Broglio, speaking to CNA about the vote, said it was “only” a recommendation and that the postulator for Capodanno’s cause had petitioned to be able to respond to the concerns.

Among the objections raised by the consultants was that the positio shows little evidence of spiritual growth; that he was overly preoccupied with his appearance; concern that his order, the Maryknolls, had not pursued his cause; and that ongoing military campaigns such as the one in Ukraine make raising a military person in the Church inappropriate.

To the last point, the guild supporting Capodanno’s cause responded that military chaplains selflessly give of themselves to provide the sacraments to men and women serving in war, who are often doing so unwillingly. They noted that Pope Francis has pushed for chaplain priests to be available for militaries.

If the appeal of the consultants’ decision is supported, there could be a chance to submit more evidence for Capodanno’s beatification cause.

Broglio, in his homily, acknowledged that “the long process involved with his cause for canonization adds nothing to his reward, but it is useful for others.”

“It is a vivid testimony to the truth about eternal life. It shows us what it means to give life. It was the response of a faithful missionary disciple who put himself where others needed him — regardless of the cost.” Broglio said.

“The efforts to advance this cause might entail consternation, but the effort is worthwhile, because his commitment, dedication, and authentic understanding of self-giving is needed in this world so often selfish and unable or unwilling to look beyond today.”

Also in attendance for the Sept. 6 Mass were Bishops Richard Spencer and Joseph Coffey — two of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese for the Military services, as well as Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Father Capodanno Guild, a private Catholic association that promotes the priest’s canonization cause, said the consultants’ recommendation is “not what we have been praying for” on its website Aug. 8. Nonetheless, it added, the decision is “not the end of our journey.”

“Other causes have had to struggle through the process in Rome,” the guild said. “Let us pray for the will of God and arm ourselves with faith, hope, and trust.”

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