Pope Lists Criteria for Causes of Canonization

Calls on Bishops’ Involvement in Diocesan Inquiries

VATICAN CITY, MAY 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI wrote a letter to underline the need for bishops to participate in causes of canonization and to review the procedures that go along with the process.

The Pope, in a letter, also highlights key steps in these canonical processes, such as the miracle attributed to the intercession of the servant of God, and the conditions for the recognition of martyrdom.

The Holy Father addresses the message to Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, on the occasion of the plenary assembly held by this Vatican dicastery at the end of April.

Diocesan research

Benedict XVI’s letter announces that the Vatican congregation is writing an “Instruction for the Process of the Diocesan Inquiry in the Causes of Saints.”

It is a document addressed primarily to diocesan bishops “to ensure the seriousness of the investigations carried out in diocesan inquiries into the virtue of servants of God, and in cases claiming martyrdom or possible miracles.”

The papal letter states: “It is clear that it will not be possible to introduce a cause of beatification or canonization if proven holiness does not exist, even if the person concerned was distinguished for conformity with the Gospel and special ecclesial and social merits.”

The Pope’s insistence on the greater participation of bishops in these causes continues with the indications the Pope John Paul II gave in 1983 in the apostolic constitution “Divinus Perfectionis Magister,” in which he established the norms for the causes of sainthood.

Benedict XVI adds: “To be consistent with these instructions, elected to the Chair of Peter, I was glad to act on the widespread desire that greater emphasis be placed in their celebration on the essential difference between beatification and canonization, and that the particular Churches be more visibly involved in Rites of Beatification on the understanding that the Roman Pontiff alone is competent to declare a devotion to a servant of God.”

The miracle

In the second subject of his letter, Benedict XVI analyzes the question of the miracle, attributed to the intercession of a servant of God, which is required for his beatification (unless he is a martyr) and, in any case, for his canonization.

“As well as reassuring us that the servant of God lives in heaven in communion with God, miracles constitute the divine confirmation of the judgment expressed by the ecclesiastical authority on his/her virtuous life,” explains the Pontiff.

In this connection, Benedict XVI affirms that “it should be clearly borne in mind that the uninterrupted practice of the Church establishes the need for a physical miracle, since a moral miracle does not suffice.”


The third point of the letter focuses on the criteria to be followed in the recognition of martyrs, persons who gave their life, shedding their blood “freely and consciously in a supreme act of love, witnessing to their faithfulness to Christ, to the Gospel and to the Church.”

“If the motive that impels them to martyrdom remains unchanged, since Christ is their source and their model, then what has changed are the cultural contexts of martyrdom and the strategies ‘ex parte persecutoris’ [on the part of persecutors] that more and more seldom explicitly show their aversion to the Christian faith or to a form of conduct connected with the Christian virtues, but simulate different reasons, for example, of a political or social nature,” he writes.

In this context, the Holy Father affirms that it is “necessary to find irrefutable proof of readiness for martyrdom, such as the outpouring of blood and of its acceptance by the victim. It is likewise necessary, directly or indirectly but always in a morally certain way, to ascertain the hatred of the faith of the persecutor.”

“If this element is lacking,” he adds, “there would be no true martyrdom according to the perennial theological and juridical doctrine of the Church.”

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