Vol. 2, Issue 4, January 27, 2004
Vatican Revokes Controversial Sainthood
Spokesmen for the Vatican announced today that Pope John Paul II has taken the unusual step of removing a saint from its official roster.
"While the decision to beatify and canonize an individual is always taken with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit," said Cardinal Elias Bernquist, "we must recognize that in the end even the fathers of the Church are but mortal men, and at times subject to error. This appears to be one of those times."
At issue is the very unusual sainthood of Fruminius and Piniolo, twin brothers from Valencia who were martyred in 842. The brothers were apparently jointly assigned a single sainthood, in an unprecedented decision that remains unique in the annals of the Catholic Church.
"The problem was that while Fruminius and Piniolo were popular local figures, their behavior was questionable," said Junsho Furushi, professor of religious studies at Loyola College. "Similar to Saint Francis in his youth. It was unclear whether either was quite worthy of canonization on his own, so this compromise was arrived at by Pope Gregory IV."
Under the terms of the joint sainthood, the brothers take turns holding the mantle of sanctity. Each year, a week after Easter, in the church where their relics are interred in Valencia, two specially constructed statues are used to roll dice to see who will be saint for the coming year. A gilded wooden halo is then attached to the statue of the winner until the beginning of Lent the following year.
"They were notorious drunkards, womanizers and gamblers," said Father Sergio Estaban, who has been responsible for the ritual for the past eight years. "That's their problem right off the bat. They set the tone for the parish, I'm afraid."
The annual balanceo de los dados, or "rolling of the dice," has been a Valencia fixture for centuries. A festival has sprung up around the event, replete with high-stakes wagers on whether Fruminius or Piniolo will take the "prize" for the coming year. Violence is not uncommon. But the final straw came in 2003, when a riot broke out in which 23 people were hospitalized following Piniolo's upset win over the heavily-favored Fruminius.
"That's when we really decided to take another look at this arrangement," said Cardinal Bernquist. "I mean, come on. Saints should not inspire assault and battery. I don't care how much money the church stood to win."
The de-sanctification marks one of the first times that a saint whose historical authenticity is not in question has been removed from the Vatican's list.
"It's too bad," said Furushi. "They were the most interesting of the lot."