Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saint by numbers...

Next week’s double pope canonization extravaganza is creating a lot of sainthood “buzz” in the air right now.  Therefore, I thought I’d offer some tips for sainthood. 

First, Catholic dogma says the Communion of Saints includes official canonized and beatified saints, anybody in heaven, and all believers on earth.  So, if you believe in Jesus, congratulations, you’re already a saint!  You can stop reading now and go do something more productive.

However, this common, garden-variety sainthood does not land people on religious trading cards and rarely results in statues being erected in your honor, or churches, schools, and ritzy vacation spots being named after you.  If you’re going for that high-profile, high-revenue type of sainthood, then keep reading.

I’ve been plowing through saint records and building a database to catalog demographic information for well over 10% of the canonized and beatified folks.  If my calculations are correct, the sampling I’ve done so far yields statistics with a 3.5% margin of error for projections across the full canonized / beatified population.  Good news, some of these statistics are so skewed, the 3.5% margin of error is kitten’s play.

My advice if you want to be an officially recognized saint: 

1.  Be male.  Based on my sample set, 84% of canonized and beatified people were male.  You might scratch your head in confusion since 80% of the church’s work is done by women, and women are over 50% of the world’s population.  This might seem backwards to you.  No, no…I beg of you; don’t let facts, equity and reality confuse you.  If you insist on logic and equity, you probably should stop reading now before you injure your brain or sense of righteousness.  That statistic simply reflects church hierarchical members’ value system and helps us quantify it.  They see men as being over five times more virtuous and holy than women…end of story.   

2. Be a priest, monk, or religious brother.  About 60% of all official saints were ordained or religious males.  If we look at only the male saints…that tiny 84% majority of all saints…the number jumps to around 70% who were ordained or religious.  So if you’re going to be male, be a priest too, to up your odds.

3.  Be a bishop. 37% of saints and 44% of male saints were bishops or abbots.  I know the cynics are probably starting to suspect that the beatification and canonization process is simply a ruse for apostles to pat themselves and their own kind on the back…sort of as a self-glorification thing.  Again, let’s not get all hung up on facts.    

4.  Be pope.  Despite many papacies being riddled with scandals including the criminal behaviors of soon-to-be-canonized John Paul II in aiding and abetting child rapists, about 1/3 of all popes throughout the entirety of history have become saints.  To put this in perspective, let’s look at the ratio of saints across the full sea of Catholics.  Since I can’t find a statistic for the number of Catholics throughout all time, we’ll use the number for today’s 1.2 billion Catholics, knowing this will yield disproportionately high ratios.   

Using the number of saints across all history and current number of Catholics, we see that less than one one-thousandth of a percent of Catholics are canonized or beatified and less than 1/3 of one one-thousandth of a percent of laypeople are canonized or beatified.  This is compared to over 1/3 of popes being canonized or beatified.  The decimal place simply shifts five positions to the right for popes…a small factor of 100,000.  If you thought the statistic for bishop-saints reflected a mutual-admiration society, then you now realize it is simply a gentle air-kiss compared to the emphatic bear-hug of self-admiration amongst the popes.  

5. Be Italian or French.  About 22% and 17% of saints were from the geographic regions now called Italy and France respectively.  Again, please don’t be confused by the fact that Italian and French Catholics each represent only about 5% of the Catholic population.  If God evenly distributed saints, Brazil with 16% of the Catholic population would have 16% of the saints instead of the 4 tenths of one percent of saints that it actually has. 

Canonization and beatification are expensive businesses and though Brazil is swimming in Catholics, the per capita income is about a third and a quarter of Italy’s and France’s per capita income levels respectively.  Brazilians seem to be spending their money on frivolities like food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare instead of canonization and beatification…and these skewed priorities really show in their saint numbers.   

The same is true in Mexico with almost 10% of all Catholics yet less than 1% of Catholic saints, as well as the Philippines with about 7.5% of Catholics yet less than one tenth of one percent of saints.  You guessed it: Mexico’s and the Philippines’ per capita incomes are lower than even Brazil’s. 

Let's face it; the popes seem to believe it's more difficult to imitate Christ whilst walking and living amongst poor people. No wonder we have so many bishop mansions...two in my for the active and emeritus bishops each.  They are simply trying to increase their chances for sainthood by fleeing the impoverished.  

I know you might be thinking, "...but didn't Jesus walk amongst the poor...matter of fact...wasn't Jesus one of the poor?"  Yeah, yeah, yeah...but that guy could walk on water, too.  Let's give the bishops a fighting chance and let them live where people can better afford virtuous behavior or at least better afford to pay for creating images of virtuous behavior.

6. Be a Benedictine.  Saints from Benedictine religious orders are outpacing the next most prevalent order at a six to one ratio.

7.  If you insist on being female…which really craters your chances of sainthood…then for heaven’s sake, do not have sex, or if you do, be of royal birth. 70% of female saints were nuns or virgins and only a paltry 5% of saints were females who were neither nuns, virgins, or royalty.  This compares to 25% of saints that were males who were neither ordained, religious or royalty.  Again, we have laymen outpacing laywomen at a 5 to 1 ratio in the virtuous category. 

But you see, many of those virtuous, holy non-ordained men were soldiers who killed in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  Perhaps this is why we have St. Adrian as the patron saint of arms dealers…who knew we needed a patron saint of arms dealers….  But, I digress.  If you’re going to insist on being a sexually active female, your best chances for canonization might be to carry a weapon.  It worked for Joan of Arc but then she was burned at the stake as a heretic…and I think maybe she was a virgin too.  Oh, never mind…  Let's face it; sexually active women, are pretty much screwed when it comes to vying for sainthood.

Let me paint an even clearer picture as to the value the church hierarchy ascribes to women and their work via the canonization process.  The stats show us the popes believe:

  • Men are 5 times more virtuous and holy than any woman
  • Men are about 17 times more virtuous than sexually active women
  • Popes are over 270,000 times more virtuous and holy than any woman
  • Popes are over 860,000 times more virtuous and holy than sexually active women

Hence, we see John Paul II, a man whose criminal neglect enabled the rape of thousands of children, being canonized next week while Mother Teresa, who merely imitated Christ by caring for the poorest of the poor, still awaits canonization.  At least Mother Teresa was an avowed religious woman so her chances of making full sainthood are exponentially better than those of any mother who actually bore and raised children.

8.  If you can time your death, try to die on May 1st.  There seem to be over 1.5 times more saints who died on May 1st than who died on the next most common date for saints’ deaths.

So, I think the optimal saint profile is this: Italian male Benedictine pope (or bishop) who dies on May 1st.  It also helps to either have a lot of wealth or hang-out with wealthy people who can fund your canonization process.  Oddly enough, aside from the date of death dimension, that bears striking resemblance to the people who canonize and beatify people…hmmm.  Interesting. 

Do you think the list of canonized saints accurately reflects the most holy and virtuous people in history?  Do you care?  Does the heavy skew towards canonizing hierarchy members expose a deep brokenness in them that they feel the need to memorialize their herd in this way?  Do we help fuel the canonization industry?  Should we?

Bonus question for the hierarchy: If you are concerned about the societal devaluation of motherhood, should you perhaps be first examining your behaviors towards women and mothers?  Do you treat them even as good as secular society does?

A little Easter levity for you.  Easter joy this day and always!


  1. Canonization is a political process, pure and simple. Once you realize that you can simply ignore it.

  2. Looks like I am the minority.....big time!

  3. This is so well-written and informative. Have you considered submitting it for publication to NCR Even the more mainstreamers New Yorker readers would find it interesting.

    1. If you got a notice that your comment was rejected, it is because I was trying to delete the email notifying me of the comment and instead accidentally deleted your comment. I think I successfully re-added your comment though. I only use gmail for notifications associated with this blog so am not very adept at navigating it.

  4. Richard C. PlaconeApril 19, 2014 at 8:19 PM

    I lost all belief in the sainthood process when Pius the IX was canonized, by JPII. PIX was the pope who had the soldiers of the Inquisition kidnap the 11 year old Jewish boy who was allegedly baptized Catholic by the household maid, when he was a sick baby and while his parents were shopping. The parents were never allowed to see him again except for one short monitored visit by his father. The boy was reared by the pope in the Vatican, and at age 20 or so, as an ordained priest, publicly condemned his parents and praised the RCC for saving him from the evils of Judaism. This was soon followed by the canonization of the founder of Opus Dei, and now the criminal pope JPII. God help us all!

  5. Thanks for the feedback. No, I have not considered submitting my writings elsewhere. I just write when I think I am directed to do so by the Spirit. I haven't given much thought to what happens to my stuff after I put it out here. I am very honored that people invest their time to read my meandering thoughts. Thanks for stopping by the site.

    1. Your writing is of supreme professional quality. You get to the point quickly; don't overdo the modifiers; and your style's quality can't help but draw the reader along, without any thought of stopping until you conclude your ideas. I've decided to bookmark your blog. Consider going public.

    2. I'm guessing you don't want to get caught up in the business of submitting writings or managing submitted writings. And I hope you don't get caught up in that either. But you could look into submitting to maybe NCR only and only have to read one set of submission guidelines. Your writings are too good to be read by only those who happen upon your site. I am very spare with bookmarks, but you've got one of mine.

    3. Based on people's encouragement here and in private emails I sent a note of inquiry to NCR. It will be as it is meant to be. Thanks for the kind words.

    4. Kathleen SchatzbergApril 23, 2014 at 8:54 AM

      I'll be most interested to learn NCR's response. Much as I love NCR, my guess is that you'll not be invited to blog at their site. They have a kind of "on the one hand, on the other hand" tone to their coverage, and even their most audacious regular contributors are not as pointed as you, Ewe, who never hesitates to say the Emperor has no clothes. I hope I'm wrong about NCR, but regardless, you're a "must read" for me too!

  6. Since a number of saints are mythical anyway, it hasn't really held a whole lot of meaning for me. There are only a few specific saints whose lives serve as an example and inspiration. Most of the "patron saints" end up making me think about the Roman pantheon.

  7. The other problem is that there are just too many saints . . . the Gilbertian (I think) line that "When everybody's somebody, nobody's anybody" certainly applies here.

  8. Interesting comment about I was entering data, I would often see a saint by the same name, with the same feast day, but different year of death and usually from a different part of the world. The life bio would sound very similar too. It seemed myth was involved in at least one of the cases. I envisioned someone might have lived by that name, their story spread through word of mouth and like the child's game of "operator" the story morphed with the telling over time. Probably the story traveled to another part of the world and the locals changed details bit by bit until that saint was one of their own. By the way the feast day is typically the date of a saint's death so it is a bizarre coincidence to see so many saints with the same name who happened to die the same day of the year as another saint by the same name.

  9. Great post. Looks like poor Dorothy Day had a better chance at hitting the real lottery rather than the very rigged Catholic Saint lottery.

  10. Super interesting. Thanks for doing this research. Much food for thought. I've always wondered how women can be so devoted to the Catholic Church. To some extent women seem to need to be devalued in order to feel comfortable.

  11. Canonization is much like the Congressional Medal of Honor. You have to do something heroic. AND you have to have somebody witness your heroic action. A witness that matters in the grand political scheme of things who will write you up for the CMH. Likewise, for canonization, you not only have to do something heroic with regard to faith, but your actions must be witnessed by people that matter. And of course the only people that really matter in this regard are the clerics. I'd guess that the clerics spend most of their lives around other clerics. Not too surprising then that most canonized saints are clerics.

  12. What about being wealthy? From my daily reflections on the lives of the saints included in a daily e-mailing I receive, it seems that being wealthy really helps. Especially if you insist on being a woman and not being a virgin.

  13. Hi! I don't know if this post is still active but I am doing a research project on the canonization of extra-religious women v. ordained women in the 14th century and was wondering where you got your numbers for the ratio of women (part 7 of your post). Thanks so much!