Pope fast-tracks canonization for French priest martyred by Islamic extremists
October 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis says murdered French priest Jacques Hamel is a martyr and has formally waived the usual five-year wait after death before a cause for official recognition is opened, but not all Catholics are supportive.
Some are even questioning whether he died “a martyr to the faith or to his illusions about Islam.”
Father Hamel was murdered on July 26 by two Muslim men who belonged to the mosque next door to Hamel’s church in St. Etienne du Rouvray, Normandy.
French and Italian politicians called for Pope Francis to declare Hamel a saint immediately. The Pope responded by indicating his support for Hamel being declared a martyr, which would not require the recognition of miracles before he would be canonized.
According to the French Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Vatican-based Congregation for the Causes of Saints has announced that Pope Francis “has dispensed of five-year waiting period usually required before starting the official investigation of the beatification.” Hamel’s archbishop, Dominique Lebrun, made the same announcement while celebrating Mass at the scene of the murder on October 2.
Pope Francis said at a Mass in Hamel’s honor on September 14 that “this man accepted his martyrdom next to the martyrdom of Christ, on the altar. … He is a martyr and martyrs are beatified.”
The pope has the authority in the Catholic Church to open a cause for canonization, but some voices are urging caution and even challenging the Holy Father.
American Catholic blogger Robert Agnelli, who writes about the faith on his blog Two Wings to God, argued on Sept. 2 that it was "premature" to call Hamel a martyr and cited Pope Benedict XVI’s definition of martyrdom as "the voluntary enduring or tolerating of death on account of the Faith of Christ or another act of virtue in reference to God." He repeated Benedict’s criteria for martyrs: that they are not only killed for their faith but are also willing to die as witnesses for it. Agnelli says Hamel clearly meets the first criterion, but because he put up some resistance to his attackers, he may not have been a willing victim.
“To say that Father Hamel may not be a martyr is taking nothing away from him,” Agnelli continued. “Nor is anything being said about his tremendous courage in facing his attackers and standing up to them. There is nothing wrong with trying to defend yourself in that situation. He should be lauded for his courage.”
Father Alexander Webster, an Orthodox priest and co-author of the book, The Virtue of War, says Hamel “could be a martyr” because his killers were motivated by hatred of his faith, and he died “during the Mass.” Webster notes that when Libyan jihadists killed 21 Egyptian Christians, the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church quickly proclaimed them martyrs. Like Hamel, the Egyptians were beheaded “heinously and tortuously” with knives too small for the task while they prayed and sang. Already an icon has been painted to honor them.
Robert Spencer, author of more than a dozen books portraying Islam as an inherently violent faith dedicated to Christianity’s subjugation, thinks Hamel is a martyr and that charges by some of naivete is more fruitfully levied at Pope Francis himself. “Father Hamel’s clearly a martyr,” he told LifeSiteNews. But for Pope Francis to recognize him as such is exceedingly inconsistent, in Spencer’s view, given the Pope’s encouragement of Muslim immigration to Europe.
“By encouraging the admission of Muslim refugees, he is also encouraging the bringing in of countless Jihadis,” he told LifeSiteNews. “This means the martyrdom of more priests like Father Hamel.”
Spencer also said Pope Francis was encouraging acts of Muslim violence against Christians with his mistaken belief that Islam is inherently peaceful. “He is wrong. It isn’t.”
Challenged by journalists after Hamel’s murder about his refusal to use the term Muslim terrorism for the crime, Pope Francis said, "It’s a fruit salad.”
Spencer told LifeSiteNews that Americans are increasingly ready to heed his warnings about Islam, but that is not true of the American Catholic Church, which seems to be listening to Pope Francis instead.