Pope Francis clamps down on costs of saint-making to ensure fairness

Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata with St John Paul II. Her canonization decree will be signed on Tuesday by Pope Francis.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata with St John Paul II. Her canonization decree will be signed on Tuesday by Pope Francis.

[Austen Ivereigh] In a move designed to ensure that the costs of canonisation are transparent and fair and do not favour the wealthy, Pope Francis has imposed new accountability rules on the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Now an administrator must be named for each cause who has oversight on expenditures and donations and who will be accountable to the local diocese or church organization that is promoting a particular candidate for priesthood.

The new “norms on the administration of goods of the causes of beatification and canonization” are designed to bring daylight into a secretive process that is prone to escalating costs, and which for that reason ends up favouring promoters of saints who have deep pockets.

Canonisation is a lengthy legal process that involves research, documentation, translation and the services of experts. The process is elaborate precisely because of the need to prevent abuses: a high standard of proof is needed. Costs vary enormously according to the nature of the candidate: a modern-day pope or founder of a religious order will cost far more than a fifth-century desert hermit for which little documentation exists. In some cases, extensive travel and years of investigation are necessary to gather evidence.

But this complexity has made it easy for key intermediaries known as postulators — in effect the chief lawyer responsible for bringing the case — to charge exhorbitant fees along the way without anyone holding them to account. The postulators in turn pay out fees to experts (theologians and doctors) whose charges can vary wildly.

The potential abuses were uncovered in 2013 by Pope Francis’s financial reform commission, COSEA. According to documents subsequently leaked and published last year in two books, COSEA found that it was impossible to discover how much the 450 postulators charged for their services, and how they had spent their fees. In response, the Pope ordered more than 400 accounts in the IOR (the Vatican’s bank) linked to the postulators to be frozen, and an investigation was launched into the accounting practices that lasted many months.

Although no one has claimed that unholy people have been made saints as result of the lack of transparency, corruption has crept into the system because of the power of postulators to charge high fees without having to account for them. The abuses are reflecting in spiraling costs.

US Catholic officials have traditionally used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, according to the Catholic News Service.

Yet according to Gianluigi Nuzzi’s Merchants in the Temple, COSEA discovered that the average cost of a canonization is now twice that amount, although in some cases it has been as high as 750,000 euros. Nuzzi reported that “to simply open a cause for beatification costs 50,000 euros, supplemented by the 15,000 euros in actual operating costs,” including compensation for theologians, physicians and bishops examining the cause. But that amount “skyrockets” once the costs costs of researchers, postulators and the drafting of the positio – a candidate’s biography attesting to their holiness — is taken into account.

The other document-leak book, Emiliano Fittipaldi’s Avarice, detailed the exorbitant fees spent on the beatification cause of Fulton John Sheen, the American bishop whose radio and television shows were popular in the 1950s. Even though the beatification stalled, the cause cost more than 330,000 euros in five years for consultants, travel, conferences, translations and postulators’ fees.

Under the new regulations, postulators will continue to administer the funds for each cause, but he or she has to submit the accounts to the bishop of the diocese or the superior general of the religious order that initiates the cause.

Problems can then be raised with the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. “In case of failure or administrative-financial abuses by those participating in the development of the cause, the Congregation for Saints’ Causes will take disciplinary action,” the document says.

The changes are also designed to ensure that less well-off backers of a candidate for sainthood are subsidised by those with deeper pockets.

Based on COSEA documents, Nuzzi also claimed that the 20 per cent of every canonization cost after expenses was not going, as it should, to a fund to assist poor dioceses. (St. John Paul II in 1983 established a “Solidarity Fund” at the congregation to collect funds to help pay for causes which could not afford the costs of the process).

The new rules reaffirm the existence and importance of the fund and says the Congregation must determine if excess funds from a completed cause can go towards helping a cause from a poor country.

(For reports, see AP, CNS, NCR, Tablet, Telegraph).

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