Pope Francis just tweaked the way saints are made. It’s still a pretty controversial process.
Pope Francis took steps last week to shore up the saint-making process, which has come under fire for a number of reasons over the past several years.
For a deceased person to become a saint, they’re normally required to have two verified miracles attributed to their intercession. To verify the alleged miracles, a panel of medical experts will now need to have a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority.
Once more, this panel will no longer be compensated for their work in cash — only through a bank transfer.
These changes might seem like small potatoes, but they’re rather important. Like everything else in life, the process of deciding who gets to be a saint can be both political and controversial.
1.) It costs a lot of money: Ultimately, someone has to pay all of these experts. But the Vatican has opened itself up to a wave of criticism for the sometimes-staggering cost estimates.
The process itself is pretty intense, requiring thorough research, expert theologians and bishops. It also requires a postulator to argue the case to the Church, including the board of medical experts who are hired to rule out every medical reason for a miracle. It can sometimes take decades and thousands of pages of documents.
“The church is very careful about declaring saints,” veteran Catholic journalist John Allen told NPR in 2014. “They don’t want to make somebody a saint and the next day have to say, oops, you know, there were actually skeletons in this person’s closet.”
2.) It can be a tourism boom: So who exactly pays for this? Faithful Catholics who are inspired by the potential saint organize the fundraising efforts. In practice, sainthood causes that don’t inspire wealthy donors get stalled, the Catholic Herald notes.
Aside from hometown pride, having a saint buried at your church has the potential to bring a massive amount of pilgrims, depending on how popular they are. Which is why there’s so much drama surrounding Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s canonization process — complete with a fight over his body.
The good bishop was born in the Peoria diocese and was eventually buried inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. Peoria put forward his sainthood cause, but suspended the process in 2014 after it became clear that New York wasn’t about to give up his body to be reburied in Illinois.
3.) A saint-making factory at the Vatican: When St. John Paul II was pope, he was criticized for his large numbers of canonizations. As Slate noted a few years ago, he “canonized more than all the popes of the five centuries before him combined—over 130 in his 25 years.”
Francis’ tweaks to the process might directly address this particular concern, as some candidates will presumingly be eliminated from the running if they can’t reach the two-thirds majority of the expert panel.