The Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Latin: Congregatio de Causis Sanctorum) is the congregation of the Roman Curia that oversees the complex process that leads to the canonization of saints, passing through the steps of a declaration of "heroic virtues" and beatification. After preparing a case, including the approval of miracles, the case is presented to the Pope, who decides whether or not to proceed with beatification or canonization. This is one of nine Vatican Curial congregations.
The predecessor of the congregation was the Sacred Congregation for Rites, founded by Pope Sixtus V on 22 January 1588 in the bull Immensa Aeterni Dei. The congregation dealt both with regulating divine worship and the causes of saints.
On 8 May 1969, Pope Paul VI issued the Apostolic Constitution Sacra Rituum Congregatio, dividing it into two congregations, the Congregation for the Divine Worship and one for the causes of saints. The latter was given three offices, those of the judiciary, the Promoter General of the Faith, and the historical-juridical.
With the changes in the canonization process introduced by Pope John Paul II in 1983, a College of Relators was added to prepare the cases of those declared as Servants of God. In January 2014, the Prefect of the Congregation announced that at the direction of Pope Francis those working on canonizations must adhere to financial guidelines to eliminate unfairness in the treatment of cases based on the financial resources provided. According to L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis hoped to promote the causes of those less well-known, those from poorer regions, and those who were victims of 20th-century totalitarian persecutions.
The current Prefect (appointed 31 August 2018) is Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, while the current Secretary (appointed 29 December 2010) is Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci. The current Under-Secretary is Fr. Bogus?aw Turek. The current Promoter of the Faith (Prelate Theologian) is Monsignor Carmelo Pellegrino, formerly a Relator in the Congregation.
The steps for the recognition of a miracle follow rules laid down in 1983 by the Apostolic constitution, Divinus Perfectionis Magister. That legislation establishes two procedural stages: the diocesan one and that of what is known as the Roman Congregation. The first takes place within the diocese where the prodigious event happened. The bishop opens the enquiry on the presumed miracle in which the depositions of the eyewitnesses questioned by a duly constituted court are gathered, as well as the complete clinical and instrumental documentation inherent to the case. In the second, the Congregation examines the documents sent and eventual supplementary documentation, pronouncing its judgment on the matter.
The miracle may go beyond the possibilities of nature either in the substance of the fact or in the subject, or only in the way it occurs. So three degrees of miracle are to be distinguished. The first degree is represented by resurrection from the dead (quoad substantiam). The second concerns the subject (quoad subiectum): the sickness of a person is judged incurable, in its course it can even have destroyed bones or vital organs; in this case not only is complete recovery noticed, but even wholesale reconstitution of the organs (restitutio in integrum). The third degree (quoad modum) involves instantaneous recovery from an illness that treatment could only have achieved after a long period.
In 2016 Cardinal Parolin, under the mandate of Pope Francis, approved new Regulations for the Medical Board of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The Regulations were published and signed by Cardinal Amato and Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci. The current text, explains Archbishop Bartolucci, "is inspired by the previous Regulation approved by Paul VI on 23 April 1976 and, aside from the linguistic and procedural updating, introduces some new elements, such as: the qualified majority, to proceed ad ulteriora to the examination of a presumed miracle, is at least 5/7 or 4/6; the case cannot be re-examined more than three times; for the re-examination of the presumed miracle a Board of nine members is required; the term of office of the president of the Board can be renewed only once (five years, plus another five year term); all those who are occupied with a presumed miracle (promoters of the cause, tribunal, postulators, experts, officials of the Dicastery) are held to secrecy. These "new rules approved by Pope Francis and released by the Vatican on Friday are designed to make the process for approving a miracle in a sainthood cause more stringent, and also to ensure there's a clear paper trail behind who's picking up the tab and how much is being spent."
The decision as to whether martyrs had died for their faith in Christ, and the consequent permission of veneration, lay originally with the bishop of the place in which they had borne their testimony. The bishop inquired into the motive of the person's death and, on finding they had died a martyr, sent their name with an account of their martyrdom to other churches, especially neighboring ones, so that, in the event of approval by their respective bishops, the cultus of the martyr might extend to their churches also and that the faithful, as we read of Ignatius of Antioch in the "Acts" of his martyrdom "might hold communion with the generous martyr of Christ" (generoso Christi martyri communicarent). Martyrs whose cause, so to speak, had been discussed, and the fame of whose martyrdom had been confirmed, were known as proved (vindicati) martyrs. That word probably did not antedate the fourth century, when it was introduced into the Church at Carthage; but the fact is certainly older. In the earlier ages, therefore, this veneration was entirely local and passed from one church to another with the permission of their bishops. This is clear from the fact that in ancient Christian cemeteries there are found paintings of only those martyrs who had suffered in that neighborhood. It explains, also, the almost universal veneration very quickly paid to, e.g., Saint Lawrence, Cyprian, and Sixtus II, who were killed by the Roman Emperor Valerian.
The veneration of confessors - of those, that is, who died peacefully after a life of heroic virtue - is not as ancient as that of the martyrs. It was in the fourth century, as is commonly held, that confessors were first given public ecclesiastical honour, though occasionally praised in ardent terms by earlier Fathers, and although an abundant reward (multiplex corona) is declared by St. Cyprian to be theirs. This is confirmed by the implicit approval of St. Gregory the Great and by well attested facts; in the East, for example, Hilarion,Ephrem, and other confessors were publicly honoured in the fourth century; and in the same century in the West, St. Martin of Tours, from the oldest Breviaries and the Mozarabic Missal, and St. Hilary of Poitiers, as can be shown from the very ancient Mass-book known as "Missale Francorum", that they were objects of a like cultus.
The reason for this veneration lies, doubtless, in the resemblance of the confessors' self-denying and heroically virtuous lives to the sufferings of the martyrs; such lives could truly be called prolonged martyrdoms. Naturally, therefore, such honour was first paid to ascetics and only afterwards to those who resembled in their lives the very penitential and extraordinary existence of the ascetics. So true is this that the confessors themselves are frequently called martyrs. St. Gregory Nazianzen calls St. Basil a martyr;St. Chrysostom applies the same title to Eustachius of Antioch; St. Paulinus of Nola writes of St. Felix of Nola that he won heavenly honours sine sanguine martyr ("A bloodless martyr"); St. Gregory the Great styles Zeno of Verona as a martyr and Metronius gives to St Roterius the same title. Later on, the names of confessors were inserted in the diptychs, and due reverence was paid them. Their tombs were honoured with the same title (martyria) as those of the martyrs. It remained true, however, at all times that it was unlawful to venerate confessors without permission of the ecclesiastical authority as it had been so to venerate martyrs.
For several centuries the bishops, or in some places only the primates and patriarchs, could grant martyrs and confessors public ecclesiastical honour; such honour, however, was always decreed only for the local territory of which the grantors had jurisdiction. Only acceptance of the cultus by the pope made the cultus universal, because he alone ruled the universal Catholic Church. Abuses, however, crept into this discipline, due as well to indiscretions of popular fervour as to the negligence of some bishops in inquiring into the lives of those whom they permitted to be honoured as saints.
Toward the end of the eleventh century the popes judged it necessary to restrict episcopal authority in this regard, and therefore decreed that the virtues and miracles of persons proposed for public veneration should be examined in councils, more specifically in general councils. Popes Urban II, Calixtus II, and Eugene III conformed to this discipline. It happened, even after these decrees, that "some, following the ways of the pagans and deceived by the fraud of the evil one, venerated as a saint a man who had been killed while intoxicated." Pope Alexander III (1159-81) prohibited his veneration in these words: "For the future you will not presume to pay him reverence, as, even though miracles were worked through him, it would not allow you to revere him as a saint unless with the authority of the Roman Church." Theologians disagree as to the full import of this decretal: either a new law was instituted, in which case the Pope then for the first time reserved the right of beatification to himself, or an existing law was confirmed. Because the decretal did not end all controversy and some bishops did not obey it in so far as it regarded beatification, the right of which they had certainly possessed hitherto, Urban VIII published a papal bull in 1634 which ended all discussion by exclusively reserving to the Apostolic See both the right of canonization and that of beatification.