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JOHN PAUL I
from issue no. 08 - 2008

The process of investigation of an alleged miracle in the causes for canonization



by Stefania Falasca


John Paul I greets the faithful from the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica

John Paul I greets the faithful from the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica

The diocesan investigation into the alleged miracle attributed to the intercession of Albino Luciani – Pope John Paul I – will close by the end of October. The closing session will take place in Altamura in the province of Bari and will be chaired by Monsignor Mario Paciello, Bishop of Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti, the diocese in which the miraculous cure took place. The members of the Ecclesiastical Court will take part along with a Salesian priest, Father Enrico dal Covolo, postulator of the cause of canonization of John Paul I. At the conclusion of the diocesan enquiry the proceedings will be sent to Rome to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, which is first of all required to give canonical validity to the papers themselves, recognizing the correctness of the procedure. On the basis of the proceedings, acknowledged and approved by the Decretum on their legal validity, the second and complex Roman phase will open. The case of the healing of Giuseppe Denora came to the Postulator’s office in 2003, one of the many letters telling of the graces received through the intercession of John Paul I. It was considered worthy of attention in that it had elements valid for setting up a process. After the necessary preliminary investigations and assessment of the clinical documentation provided, investigation of the case was opened on 14 May 2007. But the verification and conclusion of the whole procedure must be awaited in order for it to be considered a miracle in all effects. Only when, after discussing and examining all the evidence gathered in the diocesan enquiry regarding both the prodigious fact in itself and the attribution of the event to the intercession of the servant of God Albino Luciani, and when the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has ascertained it, will it definitively recognize it, by a juridical act sanctioned by the Pope, as a true and proper miracle.
We therefore need to remember what is meant by a miracle, clarify what importance it has in cases of canonization and how the proceedings for its recognition take place.

What is a miracle
In the Summa theologiae Saint Thomas defines a miracle as “what is done by God outside the order of nature”. Thus a fact that goes beyond the forces of nature, which can be worked by God through the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed, is considered a miracle. The modalities of a miracle are thus defined: the miracle may exceed the capacity of nature either as to the substance of the fact or as to the subject, or only as to the mode of its occurrence.

The need for miracles in causes for canonization
Without the approval of miracles that have occurred through the intercession of a candidate to the honors of the altars canonization cannot be concluded. The beatification of a non-martyr servant of God and the canonization of a blessed are bound up with recognition of a miracle. Currently, in fact, for the beatification of a non-martyr servant of God the Church requires a miracle, for canonization (even of a martyr) it requires another. Only alleged miracles attributed to the post-mortem intercession of a servant of God or a blessed may be made the object of verification. Over the centuries their verification and recognition by the Church have always had a central importance. From the early centuries onwards, when bishops had to grant permission for the cult of a non-martyr, before examining his/her excellentia vitae and virtues, they considered the evidence of the excellentia signorum because miracles, being only God’s work, gratuitous gift of God, certain sign of revelation, intended to inspire and strengthen our faith, are also a confirmation of the holiness of the person invoked. In a case of canonization therefore they represent a divine sanction of a human judgment, and their recognition enables a cult to be permitted with certainty. Thus an investigation, a genuine trial, is opened for the verification of miracles which is conducted separately from that on virtues or martyrdom.

John Paul I greeting the faithful as he passes through the Nervi Hall

John Paul I greeting the faithful as he passes through the Nervi Hall

How the legal process of ascertainment takes place
The proceedings for the recognition of a miracle take place under the rules established in 1983 by the Apostolic Constitution Divinus perfectionis Magister. The legislation establishes two procedural phases: the diocesan one and that of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, known as the Roman one. The first takes place in the diocese where the prodigious happening occurred. The bishop opens an inquiry into an alleged miracle during which both the testimony of eyewitnesses, questioned by a duly constituted court, is taken and the complete clinical and instrumental documentation inherent to the case. In the second phase, which opens after the termination of the diocesan enquiry, the Congregation examines all the documents received and any additional documents, pronouncing its verdict.
Once forwarded to the Congregation, the material gathered in the diocese is then subjected to twofold investigation: medical and theological. The medical examination is conducted by a committee, the medical Consulta, a collegiate body made up of five specialists plus two in-house experts. The specialists vary according to the clinical cases presented and the request for consultation or eventual convocation of other experts and specialists is not ruled out. Their testimony is purely scientific, they do not pronounce on the miracle. The examination and final discussion of the medical Consulta conclude by establishing the exact diagnosis of the illness, prognosis, treatment and end result. In order to be regarded as a possible miracle the healing must be judged by the specialists as rapid, complete, lasting and inexplicable by current medical and scientific knowledge. If perplexities arise during the enquiry the Consulta suspends assessment and asks for further expertise and documentation. Only after the medical Consulta arrives at a majority or unanimous verdict in favor of the extra-natural character of the healing does the enquiry pass to the Consulta of theologians. The advisory theologians, on the basis of the conclusions of the medical Consulta, are called upon to identify the causal link between the prayers to the servant of God and the healing, and express their opinion on whether the prodigious event is a true miracle. When the theologians have expressed and drafted their verdict, the evaluation is submitted to the ordinary Congregation of bishops and cardinals, who debate all the features of the miracle. Each stage thus gives its opinion to be submitted for approval to the pope, who decides on the miracle, and then arranges to promulgate a decree on it. The decree is therefore the last act closing the legal process in determining a miracle. It is the juridical act of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, endorsed by the Pope, whereby a prodigious event is finally recognized as a true and proper miracle.


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