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Vatican announces new rules for the funding of sainthood causes

Pilgrims in St Peter's Square in Rome during the 2014 canonisation of John Paul II and John XXIII (PA)

Pope Francis has approved new Vatican regulations to make sainthood causes more financially transparent.

Under the new regulations, which have been approved for a three-year trial period, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will have to take disciplinary action if there is “failure or administrative-financial abuses by those participating in the development of the cause”.

The new regulations detail procedures for handling contributions received and specifies which authorities are charged with overseeing the flow of money for a sainthood cause.

While the postulator or promoter of a sainthood cause can continue to administer the funds for each cause, the bishop of the diocese or the superior general of the religious order that initiates the cause or another church authority must review financial statements and approve the budgets for each cause.

The regulations also attempt to make it easier to fund canonisation causes. “In cases in which there are real difficulties to sustain the cost of a cause in the Roman phase, the promoters may ask the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for a contribution through the local bishop,” the regulations state.

It comes after the leak of documents allegedly written by a commission studying the financial activity of Vatican offices, which concluded there was “insufficient oversight of the cash-flow for canonisations”.

The Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, one of two journalists standing trial at the Vatican for his involvement in allegedly obtaining and publishing confidential documents, claimed in his book Merchants in the Temple that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was among the most reluctant Vatican offices to cooperate with the papally appointed commission. He said it needed immediate action to promote transparency and honesty.

Nuzzi also claimed 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. That amount, he said, “skyrockets” with the costs of researchers, postulators and the drafting a candidate’s biography attesting to their holiness. The average cost of a sainthood cause, Nuzzi claimed, was about 500,000 euros or £380,000.

The complexity of the sainthood process incurs substantial costs, including for diocesan-level investigations, work carried out by the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes and the beatification or canonisation ceremonies themselves.

St John Paul II in 1983 called for a general oversight of the funds and he established a “Solidarity Fund” at the congregation to collect funds to help pay for causes from countries where Catholics may not have the financial resources needed to carry out all the research. The new rules reaffirm the existence and importance of the fund and stipulate that it is up to the congregation to determine if any excess funds from a completed cause will go to the fund or to other uses.