French official defends move to canonise murderer

05 Mar 2008

By The Record

OXFORD, England (CNS) – A French church official has defended moves to canonize a convicted murderer amid criticism from the media.

"The tabloid press has objected that beatifying a
murderer would be an insult to society. It’s a good illustration of how
far the Church has traveled from
the social mainstream that it’s no longer afraid of going against
this," said Jean Duchesne, president of the Paris diocesan commission
reviewing the life of Jacques Fesch half a century after he was
guillotined for shooting a policeman in a bungled robbery.
"What matters isn’t public opinion, or who might be against it, but the
fruits Fesch’s example might eventually bear," he told Catholic News
Service in late February.
"But there’ve been no formal objections," added Duchesne.
"Everything now depends on the popular cult that’s slowly but
spontaneously developing around Fesch, as well as on attributing
miracles to him and identifying the lessons his story teaches."
Fesch’s sainthood cause was launched in the Archdiocese of
Paris under a 1987 decree by the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.
Duchesne said his commission was close to completing its documentation,
including more than 1,000 letters by Fesch, and said the Paris
archdiocesan postulator, Father Henri Moreau, hoped to forward the case
to the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes in 2009.
"Of course, it would be unprecedented to beatify an executed
murderer — the only comparison would be the man crucified alongside
Jesus Christ," said Duchesne. "But Fesch considered his own execution a
gift from God, a blessing by divine providence. The message is that God
still cares for someone who’s been legally sentenced to death and
executed. No one is so abandoned and rejected as to be beyond God’s
Born into a wealthy banking family, Fesch was expelled from school for
laziness and misconduct. In 1954 he tried to rob a currency dealer, and
he eventually was executed for killing a police officer who was
pursuing him afterward.
He recorded his spiritual journey in a journal which was
preserved by his wife, whom he married in a Catholic ceremony a few
days before being beheaded at the age of 27 in La Sante Prison in 1957.
Writings by the killer, who described his prison conversion as "a
violent wind that passes without anyone knowing from where it came,"
later formed the basis for three regularly reprinted best-sellers,
"Light Over the Scaffold," "Cell 18," and "In Five Hours I shall See
Fesch, who made his confession and received Communion before his
execution, was said by the prison’s Dominican chaplain to have shown no
bitterness and "died a great Christian."
Duchesne said the writings of Fesch, whose tomb receives flowers and prayer requests, regularly were studied by Church groups, while prison chaplains had also helped develop his cult.