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Vatican forbids sale of would-be saints’ body parts

A worshipper venerates the relics of Padre Pio at St Francis Borgia Church, Chicago (CNS photo)

The Vatican’s saint-making office has updated its rules governing the use of relics for would-be saints, issuing detailed new guidelines that govern how body parts and cremated remains are to be obtained, transferred and protected for eventual veneration.

The instructions explicitly rule out selling the hair strands, hands, teeth and other body parts of saints that often fetch high prices in online auctions.

They also prohibit the use of relics in sacrilegious rituals and say that the Church may have to obtain consent from surviving family members before unearthing the remains of candidates for sainthood.

Officials said the guidelines were necessary given some obstacles that had emerged since the rules were last revised in 2007, particularly when surviving relatives and Church officials disagreed.

One current case before a United States appeals court concerns a battle over the remains of Fulton Sheen, an American archbishop known for his revolutionary radio and television preaching in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sheen’s niece went to court to force the Archdiocese of New York to transfer Sheen’s body from under the altar of St Patrick’s Cathedral to Peoria, Illinois, where Sheen was born, ordained a priest and where his sainthood cause has been launched by Peoria’s bishop.

The New York archdiocese refused and appealed a 2016 lower court ruling in favour of the niece. A decision from the appeals court is expected soon.