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Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Father Junipero Serra are some of the better known (at least in the U.S.) people canonized as saints by Pope Francis in the last two years. During his pontificate that began in 2013, Pope Francis has made 29 people saints under the procedure in place for a long time. However, the Vatican issued new rules Friday on how they will now verify if something qualifies as a miracle for becoming canonized. They also addressed monetary process under which experts are paid to consider potential miracles to avoid financial misdeeds with church funds.
The Catholic Church has had a formal process for canonization or declaring someone a saint since 1234. Since then, various Popes revised and presumably improved the procedures, including adding a requirement for miracles to be verified by professional doctors added in 1917. The latest rule changes, announced by the Vatican on Sept. 23, address experts who determine if healings qualify as miracles and safeguards against fiscal abuses
The new rules reflect the current Pope’s efforts to ensure the sainthood process, which attracts considerable donations, is rigorous and avoids potential scandals. They were developed with a goal to preserve the scientific rigor of the examination and ensure that it is distinct from matters of theology.
The stringent new rules deal specifically with the panel of medical experts scrutinizes potential miracles. The changes concern the professional secrecy of the proceedings regarding presumed miracles and how those participating are paid.
The Papacy wants a clear paper trail on the entire process. This is presumably a result of news stories alleging that the saint-making process brought in hundreds of thousands in donations with minimal or no financial oversight.
Going forward, at least two-thirds of the Medical Board members (there are nine, but not all may be available to review a case) must approve the miracle for the canonization process to move forward. Previously, a simple majority was required to acknowledge that a supernatural healing took place.
Additionally, if the medical experts reject the “miracle,” it can only be re-examined three times. This allows people to shop for a sympathetic panel (think of taking a case to the Supreme Court and bringing it back when there is a change in the judge lineup), but eliminates letting the process go on indefinitely.
In addition, the medical experts now cannot have any contact with the postulator pushing for the canonization. This professional secrecy requirement is clearly a move to avoid undue influence.
The Vatican’s changes also stipulate that the medical experts be remunerated for their time solely through a bank transfer. Past payments were made by check or even with cash changing hands. (Currently, they are paid approximately $600 to review the records of a healing. However, journalists have asserted that the money being exchanged was higher.) The wire transfers will all be part of the bank account records and auditable.
A final rule change limits the term of the Medical Board’s president. They can now only serve for one five-year term and one reappointment. That means a maximum of 10 years.
“The purpose of the regulation can be none other than the good of the causes, which can never neglect the historical and scientific truth of the alleged miracles,” according to Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, who is Secretary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Bartolucci also pointed out that the process involving the medical experts must be reliable and objective. Per the Vatican, the rules now should address some of the concerns about the process for declaring something is a miracle and canonizing saints.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Catholic News Agency: The Vatican is changing how it verifies miracles
Catholic Education Resource Center: The Process of Becoming a Saint
USA Today: Vatican makes new rules for miracles for sainthood
Photo courtesy of Jean-Pol Grandmont – Creative Commons license