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The Sainthood Process 

Introduction 

Are there any miracles?  This query is the one most often posed by those who are interested in a canonization cause.  Certainly, in Blessed Marianne's cause the Sisters of Saint Francis as well as all other of her devotees are asking for reports of miracles attributable to Mother's intercession because it is well known that one verifiable miracle is needed for her canonization. Yet, it also is important to know that when the Holy Father canonizes a Servant of God he brings to culmination an intricate process of examination of the person's holiness credentials, each stage of which must be completed before officials at the Vatican give their approval.  Father Peter Gumpel, Relator of the Cause of Blessed Marianne Cope, who has worked in the Congregation of the Causes of Saints for more than four decades often puts the facts straight in stating that a veriifed miracle is accepted as a "confirmation" of holiness whereas the life and holiness of the person is the primary concentration point in a canonization cause. We shall run through some of the facts of the process that may be helpful in knowing some of the key actions and issues involved:

Choosing a Candidate for a Cause

The world has been filled with saintly persons, all of whom are Saints or potential Saints in heaven.  Indeed, all of us who love and serve God faithfully someday will be in heaven. It stands to reason we cannot canonize all of our very holy people who are deceased.  There are choices to be made and the criteria to be met help us make these choices.

First of all, a good sign of a potential candidate for canonization is that the person stands out among other saintly people who once lived on earth as a model of virtue, one who even inspired other saintly people.    

We have received a precise description of the requisites for candidates for Sainthood from Pope Benedict XVI.  His Holiness in addressing the seriousness of investigations of the virtue of the Servants of God carried out in diocesan inquiries stressed that the candidates to honor at the altar must "truly enjoy a firm and widespread fame of holiness and miracles or martyrdom"

He made it clear to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that a Cause of Beatification or Canonization should not be introduced "if proven holiness does not exist, even if the person concerned was distinguished for conformity with the Gospels and had special ecclesial and social merits." (L'Osservatore Romano, May 10, 2006).

Origin of a Cause

Where does the process of recognizing a Saint begin?  It starts with none other than the faithful themselves and their opinion of the reputation of the sanctity of the candidate for Sainthood.  A cause must have an actor (sponsor) to pay its expenses.  As reiterated by Pope Benedict, it is an essential requirement that the person possessed heroic virtue (sanctity) which is demonstrable by sufficient compelling evidences in documentation.

If these requisites are present, a request to initiate a cause officially can be brought to the Bishop of the Diocese where the person died.  If the Ordinary agrees that the person has a widespread reputation of sanctity (heroic virtue) and is presented with sufficient proofs of primary sources on hand regarding the person's heroic virtue, the Bishop can set up a diocesan inquiry to investigate the person's life and virtue more thoroughly. 

Causes Begin in the Diocese -- the Inquisitional Time

When a cause is introduced officially in the diocese where the person lived and died, the person is referred to as Servant of God.  A  Postulator, other than the primary one needed later on for cause handling at the Vatican, handles the details of the cause. Well qualified historians are appointed officially by the Bishop for the complete collection of research. These persons usually are presented for acceptance by the actor of the Cause. When investigatory materials are complete, a Diocesan Tribunal or court appointed by the Bishop evaluates them in a number of sessions held at the Diocesan Chancery and the Tribunal also interrogates witnesses, if any still are alive.

Briefly, the cause moves from an initial hearing by the Bishop who evaluates the reputation of sanctity and initial primary references presented. If these are affirmative and promising the cause begins and moves on to historians appointed by the Bishop who make a complete collection of primary references to present to the examining court or Tribunal of the Diocese. If the Tribunal determines that the Servant of God does have a widespread fame of holiness and there are sufficient evidences in primary documentation to support the heroic virtue of the person, the Ordinary has good reason to submit the documentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican. This marks the end of the research or inquisitional time of the cause. 

Causes Move to the Vatican for Discussional and Decisional Times 

  1. Venerable stage: When the research is completed and is satisfactory to the Bishop of the Diocese and sent on to Rome, it must be studied there and evaluated.  A Postulator who resides in Rome must be appointed to take care of details involved. When the research is registered officially, the Vatican appoints a Relator, an examining judge, who studies the inquiry results and documentation. If the Relator gives a positive judgment the cause can continue. If insufficient, the cause could be sent back to the diocese for more information.  But if this preliminary evaluation of the documentation inquiry materials is positive, the cause appoints a writer, a collaborator, to put together a three volume POSITIO written under the guidance of the Relator.  These three volumes contain the main facts of the life story of the Servant of God and the study of the person's virtues, the testimonies of witnesses and other key points required for thorough knowledge of the qualities and actions of the person. Nothing in these volumes can be submitted without adequate documentation in support of the facts given. All contrary information must be submitted. These three documented volumes will be studied and ruled upon by various groups of officials at the Congregation including theologians who will vote on the candidate's heroic virtue. The final decision made about the candidate becoming Venerable will be made by the Holy Father.

  2. Beatification stage:  A candidate for canonization who is proclaimed Venerable is eligible for Beatification. One verified miracle has to be ruled affirmative by a Medical Commission in Rome and by Vatican theologians before further affirmation by Congregation officials. The Holy Father makes the final decision.

  3. Canonization stage:  A person who has been proclaimed Blessed needs one more verifiable miracle which takes place after the Beatification and is affirmed at the Congregation in order to be canonized. The Holy Father makes the final decision.