Controversial new Pope Francis, already accused of being too liberal by critics, may be on the verge of his most controversial move yet, with rumors saying the leader of the Catholic Church will canonize late actor Paul Walker and declare him a saint.
“Pope Francis is said to look to the common people for inspiration in guiding the church,” said Theodorus Philetas, a journalist based in Vatican City. “The story from sources within the Holy See is that the Pontiff saw the outpouring of grief and veneration for Paul Walker after his death, and instructed Cardinal Armato to begin an investigation.”
If the rumors are true, a formal report from Cardinal Armato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, would be the first stop on the road to canonizing Walker as a Roman Catholic saint.
Some critics say this improbable canonization would be typical of what they see as erratic behavior by the new pope. Popular conservative leader Rush Limbaugh has previously said Pope Francis “doesn’t know what he is talking about,” accusing the Catholic leader of spouting “pure Marxism.” Specifically, Limbaugh said he was “profoundly disappointed” to hear the world’s most prominent Christian figure calling for rich people to share their wealth and governments to focus on helping the poor, labeling the pontiff’s interpretation of Christ’s teachings “totally wrong—I mean, dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.”
Other conservatives in the U.S. have made similar comments, with Sarah Palin having to walk back her criticisms and Stuart Varney of Fox News condemning the pope for “neo-socialism.” However, some Catholic conservatives have spoken up in support of the pontiff, or made excuses, with Congressman Paul Ryan saying that Pope Francis didn’t really understand capitalism because “the guy is from Argentina.”
On the idea of canonizing Walker, however, many conservatives have been surprisingly supportive. Catholic former presidential candidate and commentator Pat Buchanan said, “Compared to all this liberal social justice nonsense—which is not the kind of thing Americans expect from a Christian leader like Pope Francis—canonizing Paul Walker is much more agreeable. Mr. Walker was a hard-working, hard-driving personification of our country’s values: blond-haired, blue-eyed, and a millionaire. That’s as American as apple pie.”
The popular reverence for the actor—best known for starring in all but one of the six blockbusters in the Fast & Furious series—was illustrated in the days following his death in a fiery car crash, when the site of the accident near Kelly Johnson Parkway in Santa Clarita, California was converted into a shrine by thousands of fans. A sprawling collection of written messages, prayers, candles, flowers, auto parts, and pictures of Walker (many hand-drawn) decorated the portion of Hercules Street where Walker and his friend Roger Rodas struck a tree in the high-speed collision. The makeshift memorial greatly resembled the offerings stockpiled at the foot of shrines to existing Catholic saints.
Veteran Vatican analyst John Allen pointed out that in terms of doctrine, it is not believed that someone suddenly becomes a saint when they are canonized. “The belief would be he is already in heaven with God, living the life of a saint,” Allen said. “All that’s going to happen when the ceremony occurs is that the church will officially recognize that.”
It does not seem that the mourners at Walker’s shrine would dispute the idea. An overwhelming number of signs at the site suggested that the actor had been called by God for a higher purpose in heaven, and Walker’s regular cast-mate in the Fast & Furious films, Vin Diesel, called his lost friend “an angel.” Following the November 30th tragedy, bent over searchers searched methodically through the dirt and singed scrub-brush, seeking fragments of the wrecked 2005 Porsche Carrera GT as if they were holy relics.
“Paul was pure light,” said co-star Jordana Brewster.
Many fans are already getting behind a grassroots campaign to declare the actor a saint. “Makes sense to me,” said Mitch Curwen, operator of a blog and fansite devoted to the Fast & Furious saga. “As the undercover cop turned illegal street racer Brian O’Conner, who always did the right thing even when it cost him, Paul Walker was the spiritual center of the F&F franchise. He was universally well-liked, every other cast member talks about what a nice guy he was.”
“Not to mention, remember that scene at the end of 2 Fast 2 Furious when he jumped that Yenko Camaro onto a yacht?” Curwen added. “If that’s not a bona fide miracle, I don’t know what is.”
Further evidence that Walker might be a good candidate for sainthood include his charity work, with the actor flying to Haiti in 2010 to offer help and support to that country’s people after a devastating earthquake. The experience drove Walker to found his non-profit network of skill emergency volunteers, Reach Out WorldWide, which continues to provide aid to disaster victims even after their founder’s passing. In fact, Walker had just left an event raising funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillippines at the time of his death.
However, it takes more than being a good person to become a saint. Rumors around the notion that the liberal Pope Francis will canonize Paul Walker seem to focus more on his ability to connect with the public. “The reputation of the Catholic Church has been damaged by scandals including child abuse as well as its views on abortion, contraception, and homosexual acts,” Philetas observed. “Pope Francis seems humble, honest, and faithful, but many of his activities are also seen as efforts to reverse the Church’s negative reputation. Considering how much people seem to love Paul Walker, this would certainly move things in that direction.”
“Just seeing him drive, just seeing him behind the wheel, that thrill you got,” said 19-year-old Alberto Ramirez, as he drove his low-slung Honda Civic by the site of the accident. “He’s a big reason for the car I have now and my love of cars.”
Fans have continued to honor Walker months after his death with such activities as burning rubber near the crash site. Walker was revered by Fast and Furious movie fans, who tend to be lovers of cars and racing, and his charismatic appeal was undeniable. Author Bret Easton Ellis said, “Paul Walker was probably the most beautiful American movie actor of the past two decades.”
The death of Mother Teresa, by contrast, did not receive such an outcry on social media, and the popular nun has not been found worthy of canonization, only beatification, a step below sainthood. As Pope, Francis has already canonized two previous popes and 800 Italian martyrs from the 15th century, as well as the first saints from Colombia and Mexico, but the notion of sainthood for Teresa of Calcutta, who won the Nobel Prize for her tireless efforts to help the poor and diseased, shows few signs of further progress.
“There’s a Mother Teresa biopic coming out, but what kind of domestic gross do you think that’s going to have?” asked Curwen. “Fast & Furious has brought in billions of dollars. Paul Walker anchored Universal’s biggest franchise of all time. As an actor, he’s probably touched more lives than any of the saints they’ve already got. I know who I’d canonize.”
When asked about Peter O’Toole, another actor who died within a month of Walker, Curwen just said, “Who?”
Vatican observers are also optimistic about Walker’s chances. “Normally, you would need to prove two miracles for a saint,” Philetas said. “But Pope Francis has already sidestepped the Roman Curia on that requirement by what’s called ‘equipollent canonization’ for a Jesuit named Peter Faber, who he declared a saint with no miracles at all. So he could do the same for another candidate, like Mother Teresa, moreso for a figure as beloved as Paul Walker.”
In the U.S., the rumors of canonizing Walker continue to be well-received. “While Pope Francis is a white Italian by heritage, he’s from Argentina, and when they picked a South American pope, I was wary,” Pat Buchanan wrote in a column. “I worried more when this pope then said Catholics were too focused on birth control and homosexuality, but it was all this blather about income inequality and not idolizing money that had me really concerned. What do those things have to do with Christianity? ‘Blessed are the poor’ sounds like more Obama-style socialism.”
“When the pope started canonizing Mexicans and Colombians, I was about to give up,” Buchanan continued. “So this Paul Walker idea gives me hope that the pope will go back to favoring the believers of European decent on whom the church is based. I’d much rather have the pope focused on a wealthy native-born American like Walker. That’s the kind of traditional Catholicism I was raised with.”
It is true there might be a few stumbling blocks on the road to Walker’s canonization. “Well, there is usually a requirement that a saint be Catholic, or at least Christian,” Philetas noted. “Paul Walker was not a Catholic, in fact he was raised Mormon. Catholics, as well as Protestant and Orthodox churches, generally consider Mormonism to fall outside mainstream Christianity, due to doctrinal differences over issues like added scriptures, Apostolic succession, the Nicene Creed, and fundamentally different conceptions of the afterlife. Some would see this as an obstacle. However, many of the biggest proponents of car culture and racing are among Latinos, a demographic important to the church. As I said before, ‘equipollent canonization’ would allow the Holy See to waive requirements. I just assume the pope would do so here. I mean, we are talking about Paul Walker.”
Buchanan also made a connection between elevating Walker and other political issues. “It would give more publicity and media attention to the ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ scandal in the Obama Justice Department,” said the columnist. “Along with Benghazi and repealing Obamacare, these are obviously the three most important issues facing the country right now.”
Sources at the Vatican were not confirming any of these rumors at press-time. In fact, one anonymous clergyman seemed to think the pope didn’t know who Francis was, or that he somehow the Bishop of Rome might not even know the Fast & Furious films. “Those are the car-racing movies, right? I don’t believe His Holiness would have seen those,” said the priest who answered a phone at St. Peter’s Basilica, shortly before hanging up. “I am sure Mr. Walker was a very good man, but I don’t think it takes away from the tragedy of his death to say that he shouldn’t be venerated in the manner of a saint.”
Responding to these comments, Curwen was quick to dismiss as ludicrous the idea that Pope Francis hadn’t seen the Fast & Furious films. “The franchise has brought in over $2.3 billion in worldwide box office,” the fan said. “Everybody’s seen them.”
In a related story, Buchanan was quick to dispel rumors that Nelson Mandela, whose death was officially announced the same week Walker died, might also be honored as a saint by the church. “Mandela? An African? Come on,” Buchanan said. “That guy was a Communist.”
An informal web survey by Los Angeles Daily News columnist Kevin Modesti indicated more search items were online dealing with Walker’s death than Mandela’s, with the shrine-like site of Walker’s passing receiving much more media attention than the memorial for the South African liberator. So if the new liberal Pope Francis were to base canonization on popularity and widespread worship-like behavior, Paul Walker would seem to be the stronger candidate.
By: Jeremy Forbing