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from issue no. 01 - 2008

DOCUMENTS. An interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins

We need to proceed with greater caution and care

The Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints explains the contents of the new Instruction Sanctorum Mater that regulates the proceedings of causes for beatification in the diocesan phase

Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins by Gianni Cardinale

The booklet of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, given out in December and dated 1 June 2007, made public a new “Instruction for the Proceedings of Diocesan and Eparchial Inquiries in the Causes of the Saints”. The document, with the title Sanctorum Mater, was published by the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints. The Instruction, approved by Benedict XVI on 22 February 2007, bears the date 17 May following and is signed by Cardinal Prefect José Saraiva Martins and by Monsignor Michele Di Ruberto, who twelve days earlier had been nominated Archbishop and Secretary of the Department.
The document, published in Italian (but the official versions in other languages are already at the printer’s), takes the form of an introduction followed by 150 paragraphs and an appendix of another 15 articles devoted to the “Canonical survey of the earthly remains of a Servant of God” in which, among other things, the procedures to be followed in the translation of relics are described, an argument in the news as a result of the controversy that has surrounded the decision of the Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo archdiocese to perform a survey of the earthly remains of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.
To give an idea of the contents of the new Instruction, 30Days interviewed Cardinal Saraiva Martins, Head for the last ten years of the Department that deals with the Causes of the Saints

Benedict XVI with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins during the audience given to the College of the Postulators 
and Superiors and Officials of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, 17 December 2007

Benedict XVI with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins during the audience given to the College of the Postulators and Superiors and Officials of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, 17 December 2007

Your Eminence, why this new Instruction?
JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS: The need had been felt for such a document for a long time. I remember that the first item on the agenda of the plenary session of our Congregation, held in April 2006, was precisely a document to ensure the faithful application of the Normae servandae in inquisitionibus ab episcopis faciendis in causis sanctorum, given out in 1983 by this Department “for the purpose of ensuring the propriety of investigations carried in diocesan inquiries on the virtues of the Servants of God or on the cases of claims of martyrdom or on eventual miracles”. And on that theme Benedict XVI also dwelt in the Message he sent to the participants at that plenary session.
What did the Pope tell you on that occasion?
SARAIVA MARTINS: “Causes”, Benedict XVI insisted, “are to be set up and studied with the maximum care, seeking diligently for the historical truth, through testimonial and documentary evidence omnino plenae, so that they have no other purpose than the glory of God and the spiritual good of the Church and of those who seek the truth and evangelical perfection. The diocesan pastors, deliberating coram Deo which causes deserve to be set afoot, will first of all assess whether the candidates to the honors of the altars truly enjoy a solid and widespread reputation for holiness and miracles or for martyrdom.” “Such a reputation”, continued the Pontiff, “that the Code of Canon Law of 1917 stipulated should be ‘spontanea, non arte aut diligentia procurata, orta ab honestis et gravibus personis, continua, in dies aucta et vigens in praesenti apud maiorem partem populi’ (can. 2050, § 2), is a sign from God that indicates to the Church those who deserve to be set on the candelabrum in order to throw ‘light on all those who are in the house’ (Mt 5, 15)”. “It is clear”, Pope Ratzinger concluded, “that it will not be possible to begin a cause of beatification and canonization where a proven reputation of holiness lacks, even if in the presence of people who have distinguished themselves for evangelical coherence and particular ecclesial and social merits”. I wanted to recall the Pope’s words in their entirety because our Department, in writing this particular Instruction, kept scrupulously to the pontifical indications. May I give just one relevant example?
Please do.
SARAIVA MARTINS: The above mentioned canon from the Pius-Benedictine Code has become clause 2 of paragraph 7 of the Instruction almost to the letter: “The reputation [for holiness or martyrdom, ed.] must be spontaneous and not deliberately procured. It must be stable, continuous, spread among people worthy of belief, living in a significant portion of the people of God”. Here, I would add, the role reserved to the laity is a large one. They in fact are the chief witnesses to the reputation for holiness.
What is the format of the Instruction?
SARAIVA MARTINS: The document, divided in six parts, meticulously describes all the procedures that the dioceses must follow in order to begin and carry through the diocesan phase of the beatification process. The first part sets out, as already said, the need for a genuine reputation for holiness in order to begin the process and explains the roles of the agent, the postulator and the bishop in charge of the cause. In the second part the preliminary phase of the cause is described, up to the concession of the nulla osta by the Vatican Congregation. The third deals with the setting up of the cause. The fourth with the modes to be followed in collecting the documentary evidence, and the fifth with “testimoniary” evidence; in this section there is also a small chapter devoted to the “use of recorder and computer”. The sixth, finally, sets out the procedures for the concluding phase of the diocesan inquiry.
In brief, what are the new features established by this new Instruction?
SARAIVA MARTINS: It was our purpose with this document to clarify the dispositions in force, to facilitate their application and to indicate concretely the mode of enactment both for old causes, that are based on documents alone, and for recent ones, based also on de visu testimonies. In practice all the procedures that dioceses must follow in inquiring into a reputation for holiness, presumed martyrdom and presumed miracles are set out with great care.
In an interview in L’Osservatore Romano you stated that in causes for beatification it is “necessary to proceed with even greater caution and with more care”. Does that mean that it does not go on now in the dioceses?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I wouldn’t want to say that. Let us say that this Instruction presents in organic fashion what the Congregation has continuously repeated over recent years in response to single questions and clarification requested by the various dioceses. We want nothing other than that things be done well.
Do you believe that small dioceses or the dioceses of the Third World have the means to comply with all the dispositions >The Sanctorum Mater Instruction also has an appendix devoted to the “Canonical survey of the earthly remains of a servant of God”. To tell the truth the text also deals with the survey and translation of the relics of Saints and Blesseds. What can you tell us of the survey of the earthly remains of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina?
SARAIVA MARTINS: This Congregation received a request from the diocese involved, that of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo, to grant the nulla osta for the survey and the display for a fitting period of time of the earthly remains of Saint Pio. We were also informed that, after the period of display, the earthly remains would also be re-settled in the most suitable location, but it was not specified where.
So your Congregation was not told whether the earthly remains of Saint Pio will be placed in the old sanctuary or in the new...
SARAIVA MARTINS: It is not up to our Congregation to decide one way or the other, but up to the local bishop who asks the department for the nulla osta. We could only intervene if the possibility were to arise that the earthly remains might be preserved in an unworthy place. But it doesn’t seem the case to me.
Your Eminence, on 17 December last Benedict XVI received in audience the College of Postulators and the Officials of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints. What most struck you in the speech the Pope made on that occasion?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I was favorably impressed by the following paragraph: “All those employed in the Causes the Saints, whatever their various roles, are called to the exclusive service of the truth. That is the reason why, during the diocesan inquiry, testimoniary and documentary evidence is to be gathered both when it is favorable and when it is contrary to the holiness and the reputation for holiness or martyrdom of the servants of God. The objectivity and thoroughness of the evidence gathered in this first – and in certain aspects – fundamental phase of the canonical process, carried out under the responsibility of the diocesan bishops, must obviously be followed by the objectivity and thoroughness of the Positiones, that the scholars of the Congregation prepare with the collaboration of the postulations”. These words of the Pope fill out, in some way, the text of the Instruction. And they constitute an unmissable signpost for those who deal with the Causes of the Saints.

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