Promoting a Cause of Canonisation
Current canon law on this matter this subject is covered by a particular made up of a particular pontifical law, laid down in 1983 by John Paul II, namely, the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister, of 25.I.1983, and the subsequent discipline, especially the Normae servandae in inquisitionibus ab Episcopis faciendis in causis sanctorum of 7.II.1983, and the Instructio Sanctorum Mater, of 17.V.2007, which abrogated all the previous legislation en bloc.
The criteria underlying this new discipline are: greater consideration is paid to the critical historical method; greater flexibility in examining the causes without prejudice to the need for careful investigations in such a sensitive and exacting matter; an approach that better reflects the participation of both the diocesan bishop and the Holy See in each cause.
By ‘cause of canonisation’ is meant the series of steps which follow on from one another in a minutely established procedure, from the moment the relevant authority begins the investigation into the holiness of a Servant of God until the moment this holiness is proclaimed by the Pope in the solemn act of canonisation.
In recent causes, the ‘Libellus’ (petition) must not be submitted until at least five years have elapsed after the death of the Servant of God. If the libellus is presented after 30 years, the Bishop cannot proceed further unless he has ascertained, through careful investigation, that in the case proposed, there has been no fraud or deception on the part of the petitioners to delay the opening of the cause.
Both beatification and canonisation are pontifical acts authorising public worship in honour of a Servant of God (Holy Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, displaying the image with the halo, veneration of relics...). The difference lies in the fact that beatification allows this cult to take place only in a limited area (a diocese, a Church institution, etc.), whereas canonisation, which from a dogmatic point of view is an act committing the infallibility of the Pope, allows worship throughout the Church, without any restriction on location.
We can distinguish between four stages:
(a) the decision, by the competent diocesan bishop, to initiate a cause;
(b) the acquisition of objective data, or the preliminary investigation phase, by the diocesan court: the diocesan phase;
(c) the forwarding of this material (Acts of the Inquiry) to Rome, and its study by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which must pronounce on the matter if it establishes with moral certainty the heroic degree attained by a Servant of God in the practice of virtue or martyrdom, and a miracle performed by God in response to his intercession;
d) when the Congregation for the Causes of Saints issues a positive decision, it is presented to the Pope, who has the exclusive right to declare by decree that a Servant of God has exercised the virtues heroically and that God has worked a miracle through their intercession.
From this last point of view, it is worth bearing in mind that ascertaining the existence of a first miracle, which is indispensable for beatification, as well as the second miracle, which is necessary for the canonisation of the Blessed, takes place in a process which is independent of the process on the heroic virtues.
In this process it is necessary to gather evidence
(a) of the fact itself;
b) on its attribution to the intercession of the Servant of God.
The bishop of the place where the miracle took place receives the request from the postulator to open the process and appoints the tribunal.
If it is a question of a miraculous healing, he shall be assisted by a doctor who shall formulate the necessary questions from a technical point of view. The witnesses are doctors who have been monitoring the illness of the person miraculously healed. The clinical history of the sick person will be included.
Although the canonical discipline forms part of several processes, the juridical nature of the canonisation process differs from that of a judgement, because its promoters may only request canonisation, but they do not have the right to be granted it. Moreover, the decision on the cause is not an automatic consequence of the positive outcomes of the various phases, for the pronouncements issued are merely to provide the Pope with information, who has the sole authority to make the final decision.