In the course of canonization processes, several terms are used to indicate the candidates. Episcopal decrees on the initiation of the inquiry refer to candidates as Servants of God. After the Pope has recognised the holiness or martyrdom of the candidates, they are referred to by the title of Venerable (Venerable Servant of God).
Candidates are called Venerable until their beatification. We may refer to the Blessed as Saints from the moment of their canonization, after the Pope has decreed their enrolment in the catalogue of saints. The competent Bishop may initiate the inquiry no sooner than five years after the death of the candidate. Exemption from this rule may only be granted by the Pope. The initiation of the process is subject to the strict condition of the widespread reputation of the candidate's holiness or martyrdom among the faithful who knew them personally or by hearsay.
The diocesan phase of the process consists of four main steps:
1. The preliminary phase of the cause: tasks related to the initiation of the process;
2. Gathering of written proofs and documents;
3. Hearing of witnesses;
4. Closing and forwarding of the acts to Rome.
Steps of the Roman phase of the process:
1. Preliminary phase: tasks related to the reception of the acts and to the formal examination of the diocesan process;
2. Examination of the content (completion) of the acts and preparation of the summary of the documentation of the cause (the so-called Positio or Position);
3. Evaluation of the documentation (decisions of the Historical Consultors, Theologians and the Congregation);
4. Decisions of the Pope (about the candidate's holiness or martyrdom and miracles).
Separate procedures shall be carried out concerning the candidate's holiness (or martyrdom) and the miracles but, essentially, both have the same structure. We will now go through this canonization process.
1. The preliminary phase of the cause: tasks related to the initiation of the process
In the Catholic Church, a process of canonization may be promoted by any juridical or physical person: a religious order, an association, an institute, a community or a single individual but also a bishop ex officio. The petition implies moral and financial responsibility. The moral condition of a process is the conviction of the candidate's holiness or martyrdom, while its financial condition is the commitment to cover the costs of the process. Upon the necessary approval of the competent Bishop, the promoter of the cause (officially referred to as actor), as Petitioner, nominates a postulator to represent the cause.
The Bishop has to ascertain whether the reputation of the candidate's holiness or martyrdom and of the signs and miracles attributed to their intercession is continuing among the faithful. The Libellus, in which the Postulator requests the initiation of the cause, shall attest to it. The Postulator's petition, furthermore, shall also touch upon the pastoral importance of the cause for the Church, present the biographical data of the candidate, and propose the witnesses to be heard.
The main responsibility for the diocesan process lies with the Bishop since without his written decree no canonization process can be initiated. The Bishop is responsible for ensuring that, in the event of so-called ancient causes, all the relevant written sources or, in the event of recent causes, all the relevant oral testimonies and documents are gathered. The objective is to prepare the most comprehensive documentation possible and to examine exhaustively the circumstances of the alleged miracles.
Before deciding on the initiation of a process, the Bishop has to consult the ordinaries of the neighbouring dioceses (in Hungary and in the neighbouring small or medium-sized countries the entire Conference of Bishops). As all canonization processes are ultimately aimed at the canonization of the candidates, this step is required in order to ensure the pastoral importance of the cause and to avoid it being limited to a narrow community. Then the Bishop makes the Postulator's petition public and informs Rome of his intention of initiating the process, to which the Holy See responds with a "nihil obstat" indicating that it has "no objections" to the cause.
The process is initiated by a decree of the Bishop, in which he appoints the officials of the process and sets up the three-member tribunal consisting of the Episcopal Delegate (delegated judge), the Promotor of Justice (promotor iustitiae) and the Notary. Whenever the process takes place in a language different from the ones accepted by the Congregation, a translator is needed to translate the entire documentation of the process into one of the accepted languages (usually into Italian). The Theologians and Historical Consultors to the process are responsible for gathering and evaluating the written sources and documents while the Medical Experts (or Technical Experts of other fields) for the scientific examination of the miracles. Each official is obliged to take an oath to fulfil faithfully his task and to maintain the secret of office.
2. Gathering of written proofs and documents
The Theological Censors are responsible for examining the published writings of the candidate and verify that there is nothing contained in them contrary to Faith and good morals. In their opinions, the Theological Censors are also to delineate the personality and spirituality of the Servant of God. The commission of experts in historical matters is made up of at least three members. In the so-called ancient causes the reports of the historical committee and the related documents constitute the primary proofs of holiness or martyrdom.
3. Hearing of witnesses
The first session of the tribunal may take place following the gathering of written proofs and documents. Both the first and the last sessions may take place publicly, with due solemnity and within a liturgical framework, that is, turning the beginning and the closure of the process into occasions for prayer. There is no requirement regarding the number of witnesses but all the eyewitnesses, that is, those who must have had direct and immediate knowledge of the candidate, must be heard.
4. Closing of the inquiry and forwarding of the acts to Rome
The original acts of the rogatory inquiry are called Archetype and the faithful transcript of the acts are called Transumptum or Transcript. The Exemplar Publicum, that is, the Public Copy is a second copy of the Transcript, bearing the seal and initials of the Notary on each page. After being attested, the original acts and their copies are solemnly closed at the closing session, the originals and one copy of each translated act are stamped with seals and taken to the archive of the diocese, and the necessary copies are forwarded to Rome. With this, the diocesan process comes to an end.
Evaluation in Rome
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints shall evaluate all the received material in various internal forums through a procedure made up of four phases like the diocesan process. During the evaluation, the Congregation shall also ask for or carry out new examinations if needed. In all canonization processes, the primary aim is to find out about the entire truth so that the Pope as supreme judge, based on the opinion submitted by the Congregation, can make a well-founded decision about the holiness or martyrdom, the required miracles and the beatification or canonization of the candidate.
1. Preliminary phase: tasks related to the reception of the acts and to the formal examination of the diocesan process
The promoter of the cause as Petitioner is unchanged but he has to appoint a new, Roman Postulator who is resident in the Eternal City and is available for consultation with the Congregation at any time. He has to request the reception of the material of the inquiry and the official opening of the sealed acts of the diocesan process. Following the formal examination of the material (and the resolution of eventual discrepancies), the ordinary congress of the Congregation shall declare the lawfulness of the diocesan inquiry in a separate decree.
2. Examination of the content (completion) of the acts and preparation of the summary of the documentation of the cause (the so-called Positio or Position)
In Rome, the Relator is responsible for coordinating the work of historical experts and for ensuring that the Position, that is, the summary of the material of the diocesan inquiry prepared in Rome, contains everything that is essential for the well-founded evaluation and decision-making by the Congregation. The term Position comes from the fact that, due to its small measures, it can be positioned on top of a desk unlike the acts, which amount to hundreds or thousands of pages and can only be stored and managed in larger boxes.
3. Evaluation of the documentation (decisions by the Historical Consultors, Theologians and the Congregation)
In all the ancient causes and in all the recent causes for which the Congregation regards it as necessary, the Position is first evaluated by the commission of Historical Consultors, who then attach their written expert opinion to the documentation.
Afterwards, at the so-called extraordinary congress, eight Theologians bring a decision requiring qualified majority on the merit of the reputation of holiness or martyrdom and on the provable heroic virtues or martyrdom of the candidate. These are the two main points of all processes of canonization. The Theological Consultors also give the reasons on which their decision is based in a written and detailed form so that the Promoter of the Faith (previously called the "Devil's advocate") can submit a detailed expert material to the ordinary congress of the Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation. Before the ordinary congress, the Cardinal Prefect appoints a Cardinal as Relator of the cause, and the rest of the Bishops and Cardinals of the Congregation express their opinion by their votes. At the congress, the Congregation prepares its final expert opinion to be submitted to the Pope.
4. Decisions of the Pope
The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation presents the examined causes to the Holy Father: the holiness or martyrdom of the Servant of God and the miracle attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God or the Blessed. The Prefect brings to the private audience a so-called letter of audience, which provides the Holy Father with a short summary of the entire process. This carefully prepared petition consists of the following parts: 1. the most relevant data and circumstances of the life and deeds of the Servant of God or his death as a martyr; 2. a short summarizing report of each of the phases of the process; 3. the Cardinal Prefect's official petition to the Pope to accept the expert opinion of the ordinary congress of the Congregation and to order the publication of the Congregation's decree proclaiming the Pope's positive decision.
In causes of martyrs no miracle is required for the beatification while in causes of confessors of the faith the examination of the alleged miracle may begin when the Pope has recognized the candidate's holiness. The miracle may not be examined before the first papal decision is made. The beatification of confessors of the faith may take place after the examination of the miracle and its recognition by the Pope.
The traditional pontifical formula of beatification is as follows:
Acceding to the request of our Brother N, of many other of our Brothers in the episcopate, and many of the faithful, after consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority we declare that the Venerable Servant of God N, shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed and that his feast shall be celebrated every year on the (date), in the places and according to the norms established by Church law. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The candidate's holiness or martyrdom is examined by the Congregation exclusively before the beatification, not before the canonization. After the beatification of both martyrs and confessors of the faith, their canonization requires one recognized miracle and the fullness of the veneration for the Blessed.
The traditional pontifical formula of canonization is as follows:
For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed N to be Saint and we enroll him/her among the Saints, decreeing that he/she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.