Society of Saint Pius X Africa

by Fr. Justin Swanton

The status of ‘brain death’ and the infallibility of Canonisations form the subject matter of this month’s questions. Next month we will look at the peculiar order of the Seven Sacraments, unless other questions probe more pressing…

 

Q. When is a `brain-dead' patient really dead?

When a person has had an accident or a stroke, and the brain is pronounced dead although the person is still physically alive on a machine, has the soul left the body? Suppose such a person is kept alive for years on a machine, although brain dead, is his soul still in his body, i.e. cold such a person be baptized after months on such a machine?

A. The soul is the principle of life in the body, hence as long as the body is still living, the soul is still present in it. A person who has been `brain-dead' for years can still be validly baptized, presuming he had shown good will when conscious. As a consequence of all this, a patient in brain death must be treated like any other living patient and given at least normal care-food, drink and elementary medical attention. Medical attention that poses an onerous financial burden on the patient's family, or is of doubtful help is not obligatory.

Q. Are Canonisations infallible?

I read in “The Catholic" that Canonisations do not fall under the Pope’s infallibility. I was shocked to learn that there is a Cause now for Pope John XXIII to be canonised a Saint. If this goes through, is it possible that he might not, in fact, be a Saint, i.e. in Heaven? If Canonisations are NOT infallible, then is it possible that some of those Saints canonised over the years might not be saints after all, i.e. not be in Heaven?

A. Canonisations are infallible: "….if the Pope so decides, the solemn ceremony of Canonisation is performed, during which the Holy Father, making use of his supreme and infallible authority: solemnly declares that the person is a saint, enrolling him in the canon or catalogue of the saints of God."—Virtue's Catholic Encyclopedia (with Imprimatur).

Beatifications….however, by which a "venerable servant of God" is declared a Beati, or a Blessed, by the Pope, do not fall under papal infallibility. In the case of John XXIII the process is underway for his Beatification, not his Canonisation. Personally, I think it highly unlikely that the Latter will ever take place. A Blessed may receive public veneration, but restricted to certain liturgical devotions, and is usually limited to certain places or groups of people, while a decree of canonisation, in contrast, affects all Catholics throughout the Church, thus making it infallible.

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