Vatican raises bar for opening cause for beatification


Vatican, Feb. 18, 2008 ( - The Vatican has issued new guidelines for diocesan investigations into the lives of candidates for beatification or canonization.

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, introduced the norms at a press conference in Rome on February 18. He explained that the new document, entitled Sanctorum Mater, is intended to ensure that investigations are conducted "with ever greater care."

The process leading toward beatification begins with an inquiry into the life of the candidate, begun by the diocese in which that candidate died. The Vatican's instruction lays out the requirements for that diocesan investigation, noting that it should begin only when someone already has won "a true reputation for holiness," Cardinal Saraiva said.

The new document was necessary, the Portuguese prelate said, for several reasons. In the 25 years that have elapsed since Pope John Paul II (bio - news) set forth procedures in Divinus Perfectionis Magister, some diocesan officials have not properly understood the existing norms or followed them "with the necessary meticulousness." Some dioceses do not have experts skilled in conducting investigations and therefore need more detailed instructions.

One specific problem that has crept into investigations, Cardinal Saraiva continued, has been a widespread but erroneous belief that the Church had adopted "some kind of historical-critical investigation" to replace the traditional procedures. Another problem, he added, has been the willingness of some dioceses to open causes without "a serious and rigorous verification of the fame of sanctity or martyrdom." He stressed that a cause should not begin unless the candidate is already "held to be a saint or martyr by a considerable number of faithful."

Responding indirectly to the notion that the new norms are intended as a move by Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) to cut down on the number of beatifications and canonizations, Cardinal Saraiva Martins noted that 563 people have been beatified and 14 canonized during the current pontificate.

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