‘Grunt Padre’ Unsainted

News: World News
by Peter ODwyer  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 17, 2022   

Hero priest's canonization delayed owing to optics

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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Theological consultants for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints have voted to suspend the cause of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, a U.S. Navy chaplain and Medal of Honor recipient, partly due to concerns that his military background "may not be appropriate" in the context of the war in Ukraine.

Fr. Vincent Capodanno

The recommendation has stunned many who have spent decades working to have Fr. Capodanno canonized.

As a Navy chaplain attached to the U.S. Marine Corps, Capodanno was killed in action against the People's Army of Vietnam while attempting to rescue a corpsman. He is revered in U.S. military circles (especially among Catholic chaplains) as the "grunt padre." 

Father Daniel Mode, one of the postulators and writer of an outstanding biography of Fr. Capodanno, is himself a decorated Navy chaplain and currently serves as the chaplain of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Father Capodanno was born into an Italian-American family on Staten Island in 1929. Obeying a call to the priesthood, he was ordained in 1958 and became a Maryknoll missionary in Taiwan. As the Vietnam War kicked off, he volunteered for the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps and requested to serve with the Marines in South Vietnam. Father Capodanno became legendary among the leathernecks for his willingness to share the hardships of intense jungle warfare with the infantry. It was here that admiring marines bestowed the nickname of the "grunt padre" on Capodanno. 

The nine-member commission recommended his cause be suspended.

On Sept. 4, 1968, a company from Fr. Capodanno's unit became ensnared in a savage ambush by a superior PAVN force. Capodanno left the safety of his position at headquarters and immediately joined his men in the field, administering last rites and medical aid. He refused medical evacuation after receiving multiple wounds from a mortar blast and was finally cut down by a burst of communist machine-gun fire while attempting to rescue a wounded corpsman.

YouTube: Fr. Capodanno

Capodanno was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in 1969 and has been hugely popular among American Catholics and military personnel ever since. There are chapels, a high school, a U.S. Navy frigate, and even a piazza in his father's hometown of Gaeta, Italy, named in his honor.

Cardinal Edwin O'Brien declared Fr. Capodanno a servant of God in 2006. Those inspired by his life have been hoping that he would be raised to the honor of the altar. In May of this year, his posito, a document representing the diocese's inquiry into his life, was presented to the theological consultants of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints. Catholics devoted to Fr. Capodanno hoped that the consultants would recommend that Capodanno be declared "venerable," the second of four steps towards canonization. But instead of giving the green light, the nine-member commission recommended his cause be suspended.

The Fr. Capodanno Guild, based in Washington, D.C., has listed the concerns given by the theological consultants and some potential rebuttals:

  • Concern: The positio focuses mainly on the last year of Fr. Vincent's life. There is little record of the growth of his spirituality. Potential response: His cause is being submitted under the guidelines for the "freely giving of one's life," so focusing on the last year is appropriate.
  • Concern: Maryknoll has not pursued Father's cause. Potential response: The reporting of potential intercessory gifts granted was sent to the archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. AMS picked up the cause for one of its own chaplains. Maryknoll is now supporting our efforts.
  • Concern: Father was fastidious about his appearance. Potential response: This reflects the strong Italian family that he grew up in and was reinforced by the Navy and Marine Corps. It is not an indication of sinful pride.
  • Concern: Father's dissatisfaction with his assignment to Hong Kong indicates disobedience. Potential response: Father's dislike of the assignment only emphasizes his obedience; he accepted the assignment. It was here that he first met our servicemen from Vietnam and discerned a calling to serve as a military chaplain. He obediently requested permission to transfer to the military.
  • Concern: With ongoing military actions in the world today (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church. Potential response: No one likes war, especially those who serve their countries in them. One of the most important things for servicemen is to have access to the sacraments. Our chaplains selflessly give of themselves to provide these sacraments. Pope Francis pushes strongly to ensure that chaplain priests are available for militaries.

The Fr. Capodanno Guild notes that this is a setback, not a defeat. The theological consultants' decision is a recommendation and is not final. Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the ordinary for the archdiocese of Military Services, along with postulator Dr. Nicola Gori, plan to file an appeal. The situation remains fluid, and the guild has hopes that Fr. Capodanno's cause may be moved forward.

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