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By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service

Vatican City — In his 26-year reign, Pope John Paul II canonized a record 482 saints and beatified an additional 1,341 Catholics, more than all his predecessors combined since the late 16th century.
John Paul’s recognition of holiness among previously underrepresented groups of laypeople and non-Europeans aroused enthusiasm in the farthest reaches of increasingly global church Roman Catholic Church. But his prolific rate of canonization also inspired talk of the Vatican as a “saint factory” and suggestions of loosening standards.
Benedict XVI seems intent on beating his predecessor’s record. In the nearly three years since he assumed the throne of St. Peter, Benedict has canonized 14 saints and beatified 563 Catholics.
Yet now the church is making it clear that being recognized as a saint remains as tough as ever.
On Monday (Feb. 18), the Vatican released new guidelines intended to promote “greater caution and more accuracy” in the first phase of the process that leads to canonization.
Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said that the guidelines were needed because existing rules for initial investigations, which are typically conducted in a potential saint’s home diocese, “had not always been understood and hence put into practice … with the due precision.”
Speaking at a Vatican press conference, the cardinal mentioned unspecified “errors” at the local level.
The guidelines themselves refer to “some elements of the procedure that, in these last twenty years, have been problematic” with regard to investigation of “alleged miracles.”
To qualify for beatification, a candidate must have been a martyr or have a miracle attributed to his or her intercession. A second miracle, which must occur after the beatification, is required for a blessed to be proclaimed a saint.
Saraiva Martins said there had been some “confusion” regarding the verification of miracles, but did not provide an example.
One informed observer of the canonization process speculates that the Vatican may have intended the guidelines not just for bishops and diocesan officials but for all Catholics.
“They may be responding to a public perception that under John Paul an excessive number of people were canonized,” said the Rev. James Martin, author of “My Life With the Saints.” “Maybe this is serving as a reminder to the faithful that these rules are still in effect.”
The need for a reminder may be increased, Martin said, by the special treatment that the Vatican has granted certain high-profile causes in recent years.
Last week, Benedict expedited the start of the investigation in the cause of Sister Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, one of three shepherd children said to have seen the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.
Ordinarily, a cause may not be initiated until five years after a candidate’s death. Benedict waived that requirement for Sister Lucia, who died in 2005. He also waived the waiting period for John Paul less than two month’s after the late pope’s death in 2005; and John Paul did the same for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 18 months after her death in 1997. She was beatified in 2003.
These exceptions were a response to the “voice of the people of God, the requests of so many of the faithful,” Saraiva Martins said.
Yet even in the most celebrated cause, the cardinal insisted, the investigation process must unfold in all its rigor. He also quashed speculation that Benedict might proclaim his predecessor blessed on April 2, when he celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s Square to mark the third anniversary of John Paul’s death.
Benedict “merely waived the wait for the start of the process,” Saraiva Martins said. “He didn’t waive the process itself.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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