Reform of Canonization Causes

Author: ZENIT


Reform of Canonization Causes

Statements by Prefect of Congregation for the Causes of Saints


During his pontificate, John Paul II has canonized 296 saints, a figure that beats all records in the Church's history. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Portuguese Archbishop Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, explained how the procedures in the causes of canonization have evolved, allowing for this increase.

Q - What is the recent history of beatifications and how have they changed over the years?

ARCHBISHOP SARAIVA: The procedure in the Causes of Saints was given organic structuring in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Later it underwent some changes. For example, Pius XI instituted the Historic Section for the Oldest Causes; Paul VI unified the diocesan phase with the apostolic, establishing only one process for the collecting of proofs of life, virtues, martyrdom and miracles. Later, Vatican Council II appreciated the need for more ample reform, which would keep episcopal collegiality in mind, and progress in technological sciences. The present Pontiff has tried to respond to this need with the 1983 reform, which provides for two phases.

Q - Could you explain how the beatification and canonization process is carried out?

ARCHBISHOP SARAIVA: In the first [phase] -- the diocesan, the bishop of the territory where the servant of God died (as a candidate for the glory of the altars is referred to), evaluates above all the candidate's reputation of sanctity in the people's eyes, to see if this fame is based on genuine sanctity of life and works. Once this information is confirmed, he proceeds to collect the writings and all the documentation relating to the person and activity of the servant of God. Later, with the Holy See's 'nihil obstat' a special tribunal is established to gather the testimonies of those who knew the servant of God. All the acts, documents and testimonials are then sent to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which -- in this second phase, makes a thorough study to confirm if the servant of God lived the Christian virtues to a heroic degree, or if his death can be considered as a real martyrdom, or if the alleged miracle is really an inexplicable event by natural laws. These examinations are carried out by theological consultants and then by cardinals and bishops, who are members of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Their judgment is then referred to the Pope who—if he considers it opportune, ratifies the canonization.

Q - What is the essential difference between a beatification and a canonization?

ARCHBISHOP SARAIVA: The purpose of beatifications and canonizations consists in conferring the possibility of offering liturgical worship to the servants of God. But between these two proclamations there is an important difference. With beatification the Pope permits limited worship in particular places and communities, for example, in a diocese or religious Order. With canonization, the Holy Father prescribes that a Blessed be venerated as a Saint by the whole Church. In addition, canonization is a definitive judgment, unchangeable, on the sanctity of a person and it is a pronouncement that involves the Pope's supreme authority, touching on the pontifical dogma of infallibility. It is an opinion that is virtually agreed by all Catholic theologians. ZE99112901

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