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People can be canonized (declared to be saints) and these official declarations are held to be infallible. Some people might be considered saints because of popular devotion, without being actually canonized - they could be "grandfathered in," rather than going through the modern process. I am aware of instances where the Church has decided that some of these people are of dubious historicity and therefore are not actually saints.

Examples:

  • St Guinefort, who was not only fictional, but was also a dog. 1
  • St Josaphat, whose story is a fanciful version of the life of Buddha (Josaphat = Boddhisatva). Yes, Buddha existed, but the Josaphat story is not historical. 2

Has the Church ever declared "X should no longer be considered a saint" where the reason isn't "because X never existed"?

1: It's like the end of Lady and the Tramp, but seven centuries ago.
2: Also, Wikipedia is wrong to say that he was canonized: he appeared in the Baronius Martyrologium Romanum but Benedict XVI's De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione says that doesn't imply canonization.

  • Your parenthetical clarification seems to be contradictory to the question: if they were never formally canonized, how can they be de-canonized? – user72 Sep 27 '11 at 4:01
  • @Mark Trapp, I know this doesn't make sense from a Catholic perspective, but a good answer should clarify the misconceptions. – Peter Turner Sep 27 '11 at 4:08
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    I'm using "de-canonized" as a way of saying "declared that X is not to be considered a saint". I agree that it is awkward. – James T Sep 27 '11 at 12:06
  • Your question is interesting, but your examples are totally wrong "Guinefort" never has been canonized. You make the confusion between an article that has the title "Saint something" and the real canonization as an act made by Catholic church, please edit your answer. For Josaphat, it can be true, it's matter of discussion, but this is not this Josaphat that has been canonized by church, the St Josaphat is a bishop from Ukrain. So your question is full of mistakes and untrue claims. This question, as it is, looks like a propaganda, as it's not based on facts, but on things you heard. – Quidam Dec 22 '16 at 5:22
  • There have been cases of anti-popes (false popes) "canonizing" saints and real popes annulling their "canonizations," but I assume you're asking about real canonizations. – Geremia May 31 '17 at 17:11
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Technically… no. The Catholic Church has never decanonized a saint in the sense of saying, "This guy used to be a saint, and now he's not." But the reason is actually quite fascinating.

Canonization doesn't actually make someone a saint, per se. A Catholic "canonization" is the process by which the Church ultimately recognizes something God has already done. The Catholic Church does not claim that all "saints" (in the eyes of God) have been canonized, but they do say that an authentic canonization is both infallible and irrevocable.

In the early 1980s, the Catholic Church made some huge changes to shore up the canonization process. In centuries past (starting in about the 10th century), many of the claims of sainthood were adopted from ancient times, largely through public acclaim and popular stories passed through long-standing tradition and legend. Finally, higher authorities (and eventually the Vatican) took over the process of formally authenticating sainthood.

So what's been going on in the last several decades is the Catholic Church as been meticulously examining the authenticity of some 10,000(?) named saints spread through official sources, local martyrologies, and other historical archives to authenticate if a canonization ever actually took place.

Over the centuries, there were a lot of claims of sainthood without any verifiable authenticity. Several stories of sainthood turned out to be multiple references to a single person. There were mistaken identities, and in many cases, historical figures simply could not be separated from local folk tales and legends.

The more rigorous authentication does not imply a lack of veneration. After 2,000 years, the Church is simply saying that they cannot authenticate the events of veneration, or even if the person actually existed — thus, claims of canonization cannot be authenticated.

But no one has ever been "decanonized", even if such a word could exist.

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  • This answer seems to be based considerably on this source. If that is the case, wouldn't be better to acknowledge that? Also, albeit the article and your answer claims that canonisation is an infallible act, this is not clear. – luchonacho Mar 2 '18 at 11:21
  • "The Catholic Church does not claim that all 'saints' (in the eyes of God) have been canonized" is not true; canonization means the Church has judged these people to be in heaven. This answer needs citations. – Geremia Nov 20 at 23:38
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Some papal appointed saints are also removed from the calendar, but sometimes veneration is officially forbidden - for example Simon of Trent (canonized by Pope Sixtus V). I don't claim to understand the full implications of this. It would seem in this case that he remains a martyr saint, but without veneration. I welcome edits or corrections (and if I have the wrong end of this stick, just let me know).

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  • William of Norwich may be a very similar example – Marc Gravell Sep 27 '11 at 13:13
  • According to Wikipedia Simon of Trent was never officially a saint. – Martin Rosenau Sep 7 '16 at 18:27
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The Church's judgment that canonized saints are in heaven is infallible (unchangeable and true); from Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma:

δ) The canonisation of saints, that is, the final judgment that a member of the Church has been assumed into eternal bliss and may be the object of general veneration. The veneration shown to the saints is, as St. Thomas teaches, “to a certain extent a confession of the faith, in which we believe in the glory of the saints” (Quodl. 9, 16). If the Church could err in her opinion, consequences would arise which would be incompatible with the sanctity of the Church.

I think Ott means to refer to Quodlibetal q. 8 a. 1 "Are all the saints canonized by the Church in glory or are some of them in hell?"; St. Thomas Aquinas's

Answer: Something judged possible when considered in itself can be found impossible when considered in relation to something extrinsic to it. So, I say, it is possible for those with authority in the Church to err in their judgments about anything you like, provided that we only consider the people themselves. But if we consider divine providence, it is certainly impossible for the universal Church to err in judgments about matters of faith. For the Holy Spirit guides the Church to avoid error about things necessary for salvation. As Christ promised in John 16: when the Spirit comes, he will teach you all truth.89 Hence, we should hold more firmly to the pope’s judgment than to the opinion of any wise people about the scriptures, since it is for the pope to make determinations about the faith, which he professes with his judgments. For even though Caiaphas was wicked, he was still bound to prophecy unknowingly since he was the high priest, as it says in John 11.90 Yet false witnesses make it possible for the Church to err in judgments about particular actions, as in verdicts on matters of property, crimes, and the like.

Now, the canonization of saints is midway between these two sorts of judgments. But since the honor that we give to the saints is a sort of profession of our faith in the glory of the saints, we should devoutly believe that the Church cannot err in judgments about them either.


89. John 16:13[: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you."].
90. Cf. John 11:51[: "And this he spoke not of himself: but being the high priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation."].

A canonized saint cannot be un-canonized, otherwise the Church would "error about things necessary for salvation."

However, there have been canonization attempts. Antipope Paschal III attempted a canonization of Charlemagne "in 1165, but this action was never ratified by the Church."

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  • Thanks for your answer. citing Ludwigg Ott's now brings clarity to my anxious thoughts on CDF judgment on a fallen Cardinal. They can err. But I dont think it can be true in the case of St,JP2 who have an additional guidance aside from the Spirit of Truth as Totus Tuus, he cannot be deceive. – jong ricafort Nov 21 at 0:35
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    @jongricafort assuming Francis is a valid pope and not an antipope – Geremia Nov 21 at 2:13
  • On the contrary, "assuming" like the McCarrick allegations have no 'foundation". – jong ricafort Nov 21 at 2:57

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