In Rome, a setback for Father Vincent Capodanno sainthood cause

Fr Capodanno Father Capodanno with fellow Marines in Vietnam

There is a new obstacle for the sainthood cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, the “grunt padre” who died on a Vietnam battlefield as a military chaplain to U.S. Marines. Consultants to the Vatican body tasked with judging possible saints have recommended the suspension of Capodanno’s cause, though his backers are appealing the decision they say is only preliminary.

“It is the firm conviction of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, that Father Capodanno is enjoying the bliss of heaven and it is felt that raising the exemplary service of this distinguished priest to the altars would serve the Church and especially the Chaplain Corps of the USA,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services told CNA Aug. 11.

Broglio’s archdiocese is responsible for launching the priest’s canonization cause.

At the Vatican, the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints is responsible for canonization decisions. 

In May, an advisory panel of theological consultants considered the “positio” document prepared by the postulator and its arguments in favor of and against Capodanno’s beatification.

The consultants voted to recommend to the dicastery that Capodanno’s cause be suspended.

Broglio characterized the recommendation as “a consultative vote” for the dicastery, previously known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

“The body only makes a recommendation to the congregation,” the archbishop said. “The postulator has already petitioned the congregation to appeal the decision and allow the postulation to respond to some of the questions raised by the theologians.”

Broglio said the dicastery has the responsibility “to determine if the process can continue.”

Capodanno, a member of the Maryknoll religious order, was a U.S. Navy chaplain who served in the Vietnam War with U.S. Marines. Enlisted Marines are informally known as “grunts,” and he acquired the moniker “the grunt padre.” 

When in combat he would put the well-being of Marines above his personal safety. The priest would move among the wounded and dying on the battlefield to provide medical aid, comfort, and Last Rites.

He died on the battlefield Sept. 4, 1967 after shielding a Marine from enemy machine gun fire.

In 2006, the Congregation for Saints declared him a Servant of God, a first step to possible beatification or canonization.

The Father Capodanno Guild, a private Catholic association that promotes the priest’s canonization cause, also responded to the consultants’ recommendation to suspend the beatification cause.

The recommendation is “not what we have been praying for,” the guild said on its website Aug. 8. Nonetheless, it added, the decision is “not the end of our journey.”

“Other causes have had to struggle through the process in Rome,” the guild said. “Let us pray for the will of God and arm ourselves with faith, hope, and trust.”

“Initial engagements with congregation leaders have emphasized the widespread interest in the cause,” the guild said. “These leaders have responded that the possibility to move forward exists and should be pursued.”

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The theological consultants have written individually to Dr. Nicola Gori, the postulator of Capodanno’s cause to express any concerns.

The Fr. Capodanno Guild summarized these concerns and suggested possible responses to them.

One consultant voiced concern that the positio focuses mainly on the last year of Capodanno’s life and shows little evidence of his spiritual growth. The guild said this focus is appropriate because it is proposing beatification under the standard that the priest gave freely of his own life.

For another consultant, the fact that Maryknoll has not pursued Capodanno’s cause is a matter of concern. To this, the guild suggested a reply that the Archdiocese for Military Services took responsibility for the cause of one of its own chaplains. “Maryknoll is now supporting our efforts,” the guild said.

Another concern about the priest being “fastidiousness about his appearance” prompted another possible explanation: “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.”  

“With ongoing military actions in the world today (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church,” one consultant wrote.

To this, the guild responded: “No one likes war especially those who serve their countries in them. One of the most important things for these serving men and women 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.”

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If the appeal of the consultants’ decision is supported, there could be a chance to submit more evidence for Capodanno’s beatification cause.

Vincent Robert Capodanno was born on Staten Island in New York City to Italian immigrant parents. In 1957 he was ordained a Catholic priest by Cardinal Francis Spellman, then vicar of the U.S. Military Ordinariate.

He entered the Maryknoll religious order and served as a missionary in Taiwan and Hong Kong from 1958 to 1965. After he successfully petitioned his Maryknoll superiors to release him to serve as a U.S. Navy chaplain, he arrived in Vietnam during Holy Week of 1966.

He held the rank of lieutenant and took part in seven combat operations.

During the Operation Swift campaign, Fr. Capodanno was injured by an exploding mortar round which caused multiple injuries to his arms and legs and severed part of his right hand. He continued to tend to the wounded and nearly lost his hand to shrapnel. Despite his wounds, he refused care so that medical supplies could go to his injured Marines.

The priest directed Marines to help the wounded and continued to move about the battlefield, encouraging them with his words and example.

While seeking to aid one particular Marine, he put his own body between the wounded man and an enemy machine gunner who opened fire. He died from 27 bullet wounds.

He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Navy Bronze Star medal, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, and the Purple Heart Medal.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services has scheduled a memorial Mass for Fr. Capodanno Sept. 6 at the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

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