THE SAINT FACTORY
Innovations on the way to the altars
In December Benedict XVI introduced a new variation in the procedure followed for promulgating the decrees of approval of miracles, martyrdom and the heroic virtues of Blesseds and Servants of God. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints outlines them for us in these pages.
Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins by Gianni Cardinale
Benedict XVI with Cardinal José Saraíva Martins received in audience 19 December 2005
Before Christmas, then, Benedict XVI introduced a new variation in the procedure to be followed in promulgating the decrees of approval of miracles, martyrdom and the heroic virtues of Blesseds and Servants of God. To outline this new procedure 30Days asked some questions of Cardinal José Saraíva Martins, the Portuguese Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes for the Saints since 1998.
Your Eminence, on 19 December last you were received by the Pope who, on the occasion, authorized the Congregation presided over by you to promulgate the decrees regarding 19 causes of beatification and canonization. It was a private audience. An innovation compared to the procedure followed during the preceding pontificate…
JOSÉ SARAÍVA MARTINS: In effect with John Paul II this appointment had acquired characteristics of particular solemnity. The reading of an address of homage by the Cardinal Prefect to the Pope was included and the decrees in question were read in front of a large group of participants. Usually the postulators and the proposers of the causes, the local bishops or the superiors of the religious orders of the candidates, as well as, when still living, their families, were invited to the audience. I remember that at the audience granted to us by John Paul II on 20 December 2004, the last under the old procedure, over a hundred and fifty people were present.
Including a few ambassadors also…
SARAÍVA MARTINS: Yes, at the reading of the decrees, preceded by the private audience with the Cardinal Prefect, sometimes members of the diplomatic corps who had asked permission were also present.
Pope Benedict XVI has decided to simplify …
SARAÍVA MARTINS: The current pontiff, with the sobriety that distinguishes him, has decided to change the procedure followed in recent years.
And to return to the procedure used in the past…
SARAÍVA MARTINS: At one time not only the Prefect of the Congregation and the senior prelates of the Department [the Secretary, the Undersecretary, the Promoter of the Faith and the Relator General, ed.] but also the postulators of the causes involved were present at the reading of the decrees “coram Sanctissimo” [in the presence of the Pope, ed.],. Now instead everything is resolved by a private audience of the Pope with the Cardinal Prefect alone.
And what happens in this kind of audience?
SARAÍVA MARTINS: What happens is that the Pope gives his approval to the directory of decrees prepared by our Congregation. Decrees that may have to do with the approval of the miracles attributed to the intercession of the Servants of God whose cause of beatification is underway or of Blesseds whose process of canonization is underway. Or decrees regarding the martyrdom of candidates for the honor of the altars. Or decrees concerning the proclamation of the heroic virtues of the candidates.
Cardinal José Saraíva Martins presides over the celebration for the beatification of Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, 9 October 2005
SARAÍVA MARTINS: About a week beforehand, our Congregation has the so called “audience sheets” brought to the Pope, one for each decree for which approval is sought. They are called audience sheets, but in reality they are small files of 4/5 folders each in which the course of the cause of beatification, which the decrees in question pertain to, is set out succinctly. Thus the Holy Father has time to be able to study the single files before receiving the Cardinal Prefect in audience.
Once the Pope has given his approval to the decrees what happens?
SARAÍVA MARTINS: The Congregation draws up the decrees materially in the official language of the Church which is Latin and sends them to the Secretariat of State which sees to it that they are published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official bulletin of the Holy See and in fact in every number of the Acta not a few pages are dedicated to decrees of our Congregation.
Therefore it is not the Pope who signs the decrees in question?
SARAÍVA MARTINS: The decrees “super miraculo”, “super martyrio” or “super virtutibus” are signed by the Cardinal Prefect and the Archbishop Secretary of the Congregation. The signature of the Pope instead appears on the “decretal letters” in which the new saints are proclaimed, whereas the “apostolic letters” for the proclamation of the new Blesseds are signed “de mandato Summi Pontificis” by the Cardinal Secretary of State.
Your Eminence, a last question: can it happen that the Pope does not give the all clear to the decrees prepared by the Congregation?
SARAÍVA MARTINS: It can happen.