Instruction Stresses Need for Reputation of Sanctity

"Sanctorum Mater" Presented by Congregation for Saints' Causes

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A reputation for sanctity is of "absolute importance" in the process leading to canonization, and a new document from the Congregation for Saints' Causes emphasizes this.

This was affirmed today by the dicastery's prefect, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, who presented the instruction "Sanctorum Mater," regarding diocesan or eparchial enquiries in the causes of saints.

In his remarks, the cardinal explained that the aim of the document "is to contribute to ensuring that current norms for the diocesan inquiry of a cause of beatification and canonization are applied with ever greater care."

The instruction is divided into six sections. Cardinal Saraiva Martins noted the theme of each of them: "The first draws attention to the need for a true reputation of holiness before beginning a process, and explains the duties and roles of the petitioner, the postulator and the competent bishop.

"The second part describes the preliminary phase of the cause which extends as far as the 'Nihil Obstat' of the Congregation for Saints' Causes. The third section concerns the instruction of the cause. The fourth part concentrates on the gathering of documentary proof and the fifth on the gathering of proof from witnesses.

"Finally, the sixth section of the document outlines the procedures for the closing of the inquiry."

Misunderstandings

The cardinal noted the reasons for the publication of the document, pointing out that 25 years have passed since Pope John Paul II's promulgation of the apostolic constitution "Divinus Perfectionis Magister," and of the "Normae Servandae" by the Congregation for Saints' Causes.

Since then, he said, "in some dioceses, certain provisions of the law have not always been understood and, consequently, not been put into practice with the necessary meticulousness, which has sometimes made it necessary for the congregation to supply clarifications or to ask diocesan curias to correct errors."

Furthermore, Cardinal Saraiva Martins added, "dioceses do not always have access to specialized individuals with practical experience of the various procedures involved in a cause of canonization." For this reason, "it is evident that a practical document, such as this instruction, was useful, indeed necessary."

"When the current legislation on causes of saints came into force," said the cardinal, "an unfounded idea became widespread that the traditional methodology [...] had been substituted by some kind of historical-critical investigation."

This instruction, then, highlights "the importance of procedure" in causes of beatification and canonization, "and accurately highlights the norms that must be observed," he added.

Turning to the last reason for which the document was published, Cardinal Saraiva Martins noted how, "in the move from the earlier legislation to that in force today, it was unclear to some people that a serious and rigorous verification of the fame of sanctity or martyrdom, undertaken in dioceses, is a prior requirement of absolute importance.

"Hence, a procedure must not be begun without irrefutable proof that the Servant of God [...] is held to be a saint or martyr by a considerable number of faithful, who invoke him or her in their prayers and attribute graces and favors to his or her intercession."

Raised to the altars

Thus far during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, there have been 20 beatification ceremonies during which 563 Servants of God were beatified (36 confessors and 527 martyrs), including 48 diocesan priests, 485 men and women religious, and 30 laypeople, for a total of 509 men and 54 women.

The majority of these were beatified in a single celebration: 498 Spanish martyrs proclaimed blessed on Oct. 28, 2007.

The prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes has presided at 31 ceremonies, 18 in Italy and 13 in other countries (Mexico, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, France, Poland and Austria).

There have been four canonization ceremonies celebrated thus far during Benedict XVI's pontificate (three in Rome and one in Brazil), during which 14 people were canonized (two bishops, four priests, five men religious and three women religious).

The current total of people canonized or beatified during this pontificate is 577.