The Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints
(Congregatio de Causis Sanctorum
) is the congregation
of the Roman Curia
which oversees the complex process which leads to the canonization
, passing through the steps of a declaration of "heroic virtues" and beatification
. After preparing a case, including the approval of miracles
, the case is presented to the pope
, who decides whether or not to proceed with beatification or canonization.
The predecessor of the congregation was the Sacred Congregation for Rites, founded by Pope Sixtus V on 22 January 1588 in the Bull Immensa Aeterni Dei. The congregation dealt both with regulating divine worship, and the causes of saints.
On 8 May 1969, Pope Paul VI issued the Apostolic Constitution Sacra Rituum Congregatio, dividing it into two congregations, the Congregation for the Divine Worship and one for the causes of saints. The latter was given three offices, those of the judiciary, the Promoter General of the Faith and the historical-juridical.
With the changes in the canonization process introduced by Pope John Paul II in 1983, a College of Relators was added to prepare the cases of those declared as Servants of God.
The current Prefect is José Cardinal Saraiva Martins, while the current secretary (appointed 5 May 2007) is Archbishop Michele Di Ruberto, who takes over from Archbishop Edward Nowak who was appointed as Assessore of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
The steps for the recognition of the miracle follow the new rules laid down in 1983 by the apostolic constitution Divinus perfectionis Magister. The new legislation establishes two procedural stages: the diocesan one and that of what is known as the Roman Congregation. The first takes place within the diocese where the prodigious event happened. The bishop opens the enquiry on the presumed miracle in which the depositions of the eyewitnesses questioned by a duly constituted court are gathered, as well as the complete clinical and instrumental documentation inherent to the case. In the second, the Congregation examines the documents sent and eventual supplementary documentation, pronouncing its judgment on the matter.
Assessing of miracles
The miracle may go beyond the possibilities of nature either in the substance of the fact or in the subject, or only in the way it occurs. So three degrees of miracle are to be distinguished. The first degree is represented by resurrection from the dead (quoad substantiam). The second concerns the subject (quoad subiectum): the sickness of a person is judged incurable, in its course it can even have destroyed bones or vital organs; in this case not only is complete recovery noticed, but even wholesale reconstitution of the organs (restitutio in integrum). There is then a third degree (quoad modum): recovery from an illness, that treatment could only have achieved after a long period, happens instantaneously.
The decision as to the martyr
having died for his faith in Christ, and the consequent permission of veneration, lay originally with the bishop of the place in which he had borne his testimony. The bishop inquired into the motive of his death and, finding he had died a martyr, sent his name with an account of his martyrdom to other churches, especially neighboring ones, so that, in event of approval by their respective bishops, the cultus of the martyr might extend to their churches also, and that the faithful, as we read of St. Ignatius
in the "Acts" of his martyrdom "might hold communion with the generous martyr of Christ" (generoso Christi martyri communicarent
). Martyrs whose cause, so to speak, had been discussed, and the fame of whose martyrdom had been confirmed, were known as proved (vindicati
) martyrs. As far as the word is concerned it may probably not antedate the fourth century, when it was introduced in the Church at Carthage; but the fact is certainly older. In the earlier ages, therefore, this veneration of the saints was entirely local and passed from one church to another with the permission of their bishops. This is clear from the fact that in none of the ancient Christian cemeteries are there found paintings of martyrs other than those who had suffered in that neighborhood. It explains, also, almost the universal veneration very quickly paid to some martyrs, e.g., St. Lawrence
, St. Cyprian of Carthage
, Pope St. Sixtus
The veneration of confessors
-- of those, that is, who died peacefully after a life of heroic virtue
-- is not as ancient as that of the martyrs. It was in the fourth century, as is commonly held, that confessors were first given public ecclesiastical honour, though occasionally praised in ardent terms by earlier Fathers, and although an abundant reward (multiplex corona
) is declared by St. Cyprian to be theirs. This is confirmed by the implicit approval of St. Gregory the Great
and by well attested facts; in the East, for example, Hilarion
, and other confessors were publicly honoured in the fourth century; and, in the West, St. Martin of Tours
, as is gathered plainly from the oldest Breviaries and the Mozarabic Missal, and St. Hilary of Poitiers
, as can be shown from the very ancient Mass-book known as "Missale Francorum", were objects of a like cultus in the same century.
The reason of this veneration lies, doubtless, in the resemblance of the confessors' self-denying and heroically virtuous lives to the sufferings of the martyrs; such lives could truly be called prolonged martyrdoms. Naturally, therefore, such honour was first paid to ascetics and only afterwards to those who resembled in their lives the very penitential and extraordinary existence of the ascetics. So true is this that the confessors themselves are frequently called martyrs. St. Gregory Nazianzen calls St. Basil a martyr; St. Chrysostom applies the same title to Eustachius of Antioch; St. Paulinus of Nola writes of St. Felix of Nola that he won heavenly honours, sine sanguine martyr ("a bloodless martyr"); St. Gregory the Great styles Zeno of Verona a martyr, and Metronius gives to St. Roterius the same title. Later on, the names of confessors were inserted in the diptychs, and due reverence was paid them. Their tombs were honoured with the same title (martyria) as those of the martyrs. It remained true, however, at all times that it was unlawful to venerate confessors without permission of the ecclesiastical authority as it had been so to venerate martyrs.
The authority to canonize
For several centuries the bishops, in some places only the primates and patriarchs, could grant to martyrs and confessors public ecclesiastical honour; such honour, however, was always decreed only for the local territory over which the grantors held jurisdiction. Still, it was only the Bishop of Rome's acceptance of the cultus that made it universal, since he alone could permit or command in the Universal Church . Abuses, however, crept into this form of discipline, due as well to indiscretions of popular fervour as to the carelessness of some bishops in inquiring into the lives of those whom they permitted to be honoured as saints. Towards the close of the eleventh century the popes found it necessary to restrict episcopal authority on this point, and decreed that the virtues and miracles of persons proposed for public veneration should be examined in councils, more particularly in general councils. Urban II
, Calixtus II
, and Eugenius III
followed this line of action. It happened, even after these decrees, that "some, following the ways of the pagans and deceived by the fraud of the evil one, venerated as a saint a man who had been killed while intoxicated". Pope Alexander III
(1159-81) took occasion to prohibit his veneration in these words: "For the future you will not presume to pay him reverence, as, even though miracles were worked through him, it would not allow you to revere him as a saint unless with the authority of the Roman Church. Theologians do not agree as to the full import of this decretal. Either a new law was made, in which case the pope then for the first time reserved the right of beatification, or a pre-existing law was confirmed. As the decretal did not put an end to all controversy, and some bishops did not obey it in as far as it regarded beatification (which right they had certainly possessed hitherto), Urban VII
published, in 1634, a Bull
which put an end to all discussion by reserving to the Holy See exclusively not only its immemorial right of canonization, but also that of beatification.
Incomplete list of high profile pending cases
Prefects of the Congregation for Rites since 1903
Prefects of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints
Secretaries of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
The Congregation in popular culture
In the movie Stigmata
, the main character, Fr. Andrew Kiernan, played by Gabriel Byrne
, identifies himself as an investigator
for the congregation by saying, "I am a priest, but I'm also an investigator. I work for a division of the Vatican
called the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints."