IF YOU came across an essay titled The Cost of Sainthood you might assume it was a homily on the self-sacrificing life of some heroic person. But it turns out that sainthood has a cost in a more literal senseand it has been rising.
Cardinal John OConnor of New York started a campaign for
the canonisation of Dorothy Day, an activist who toiled among
the citys poor, some said this was a bad use of church funds.
He retorted that the expense was not excessive: an initiative
to canonise a Haitian-born New Yorker called Pierre Toussaint,
already well advanced, had cost less than $4,000.
But that was in the late 1990s. These days a successful canonisation campaign launched in America typically costs around $250,000, and can go far higher, says the Catholic News Service, an agency editorially independent of the church.
The procedures for having somebody recognised as a saint are elaborate and bureaucratic. They require an exchange of documents and expertise over many years between the persons home region and the Vatican. All sorts of experts may be called in, including doctors, who are asked to comment on the two miraculous cures which are a prerequisite for full sainthood. And a key role is played by an expert, often a Rome-based canon lawyer, known as a postulator, who mediates between the candidates fan base and the Vatican, and helps prepare a case for sainthood. To the dismay of Dan Brown fans, the role of devils advocate, who argued against a prospective sainthood, was abolished in 1983.
The whole business will come under scrutiny this year, with two recentish popesJohn XXIII and John Paul IIdue to be proclaimed saints in April. This helps explain why, in a speech to postulators this month, Cardinal Angelo Amato, who oversees the Vaticans sainthood department, disclosed that it had introduced a reference tariffin effect, price regulationfor the costs incurred in promoting a possible saint. The department will also continue to ensure that candidates from poor countries, whose backers are less able to pay for elaborate verification services, get a fair hearing.
Even that policy has its detractors. Bill Briggs, author of a book on canonisation, has argued that the investigation system introduced by John Paul II, since it is less adversarial than before, was a marketing coup: it facilitated a wave of new saints in emerging markets, helping to recruit new souls to Catholicism.
But sainthood is never just a matter of money. Some see the canonisation of two popesa Polish conservative and an Italian reformeras a way to reconcile traditionalists and radicals. And Meaghan OKeefe of the University of California, Davis sees the promotion of Dorothy Day as a move by male bishops to neutralise the countrys left-leaning nuns. Politics comes into the picture, as well as Mammon.