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Pope imposes financial accountability for saints – Move after uncovering gross abuses

THE VATICAN: Faithful fill St Peter’s Square during an unprecedented canonization ceremony by Pope Francis for two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul III, at the Vatican. — AP
THE VATICAN: Faithful fill St Peter’s Square during an unprecedented canonization ceremony by Pope Francis for two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul III, at the Vatican. — AP

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis imposed new financial accountability regulations on the Vatican’s multimillion-dollar saint-making machine yesterday after uncovering gross abuses that were subsequently revealed in two books. The rules require external vigilance over individual Vatican bank accounts created for beatification and canonization causes, as well as regular budgeting and accounting to make sure the donations from the faithful are being used as intended.

The reforms were imposed after Francis tasked a fact-finding commission to investigate Vatican finances, including at the Vatican’s saints office. Two books by Italian journalists, based on the commission’s confidential findings, revealed that the Vatican’s secretive saint-making process brought in hundreds of thousands of euros in donations for each saintly candidate but had virtually no financial oversight as to how the money was spent. The books estimated the average cost for each beatification at around 500,000 euros ($550,000), with much of the proceeds going to a few lucky people with contracts to do the often time-consuming investigations into the candidates’ lives.

The family of one well-known investigator, for example, also had the Vatican monopoly on printing the documentation for each saintly cause, studies that often amount to dozens of volumes. While candidates who inspire wealthy donors would sprint ahead, those with less wealthy fans would languish. American saints often cost the most precisely because the most money was donated, and the postulator could spend it on the best researchers to get the cause through, according to the book “Avarice” by journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi.

Saintly cause
The new rulescall for an administrator to be named for each saintly cause who must “scrupulously respect” the intention of each donation. The administrator must keep a running tab on expenditures and donations, prepare an annual budget and be subject to the oversight of the local bishop or religious superior. That person must approve the annual budget and send it to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints – the Vatican office responsible for reviewing saintly candidates, investigating miracles and preparing the cases for the pope’s ultimate decision.

The rules also set out the mechanism by which each cause pays the congregation for its services finalizing the beatification or canonization, though it doesn’t specify how much is given. Once the candidate is made a saint, the congregation decides what to do with any leftover funds, including sending them to a special solidarity account for less-well funded candidates.

The Catholic Church makes saints to give the faithful role models. The process is cloaked in secrecy and open to criticism, given that it deals with science-defying miracles and notoriously politicized choices. Pope John Paul II – himself canonized in near-record time in 2014 – declared 482 saints in his quarter-century papacy, more than all of his predecessors combined. In the early church, saints were often made by papal decree or popular acclaim.

Over the centuries, the process has become far more detailed, legalistic, time-consuming and costly. It usually starts in the diocese where the candidate lived or died. A postulator – essentially the cheerleader spearheading the project – gathers testimony and documentation to build the case and presents the report to the congregation. If the Vatican’s experts agree the candidate lived a virtuous life, the case is forwarded to the pope who signs a decree attesting to the candidate’s “heroic virtues.”

During the investigation, the postulator may come across information that someone was miraculously healed by praying for God’s intercession through the candidate. If the cure cannot be medically explained, the case is presented to the congregation as the possible miracle needed for beatification, the first major step in the sainthood process.—AP

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