Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Devil's Advocate

I really have no interest in Christopher Hitchens, and never have, but in all the talk over his recent death, I did come across something interesting that I did not know before:

The 1983 streamlining of canonization eliminated the traditional position of Devil's Advocate, whose job was to make the case against a given candidate. Nevertheless, the people who were handling Mother Teresa's cause wanted to be as thorough as possible, and decided to call as a witness her harshest critic.

"Somebody in the world had to represent the Devil pro-bono. And I was perfectly happy for that to be me," says author Christopher Hitchens, who recalls being thunderstruck when he was called to testify in Mother Teresa's case.

Hitchens, who specializes in the slaughter of sacred cows, wrote a book that took the 20th Century icon to task for perpetuating poverty with her militant opposition to family planning, and preaching that poverty was a blessing.

"I met her. My impression was that she was a woman of profound faith, at least in the sense that one can say of anyone, who is a completely narrow-focused single-minded fanatic, that they are a person of faith," says Hitchens.

Did he meet her before or after he made up his mind about her?

"It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn't working to alleviate poverty," says Hitchens. "She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, 'I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.'"

And the church listened to Christopher Hitchens, but decided that his argument was irrelevant.

Yes, if that's the argument he gave for why she shouldn't be a Catholic saint, I rather suspect the Congregation did regard it as a bit irrelevant. But I find the reason for his animus rather interesting, and also (and this was the part I didn't know before) that they brought him in -- which was really the right thing to do, since there was a reason for the Devil's Advocate position originally. Without it, bringing in Hitchens as a makeshift Devil's Advocate was the best thing to do.

The truly great irony, of course, is that the other name for the original Devil's Advocate, indeed, the real name, was Promoter of the Faith.


  1. The mistake was made by those who invited Hitchens.  I'm sure he had no interest in the internal process of deciding her sainthood.  His criticism against Mother Teresa was to counter the claims of her "saintliness" that were circulating in the secular arena, outside the Catholic Church.

  2. branemrys2:21 PM

    I think you're quite right about Hitchens's general intent, but I don't think it was a mistake to ask him to make his case (or a mistake for Hitchens to make it) -- since secular 'saintliness' is a moral consideration, it is relevant at least to hear the most vehement case against it. That's not the only thing the old Promoter of the Faith was supposed to do, but it was one of them. If the harshest argument that she's not morally saintly is that she puts the Church above everything, that's useful information.


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