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THE WORLD

Vatican toughens rules on sainthood

February 19, 2008|Maria De Cristofaro | Times Staff Writer

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Monday issued new guidelines aimed at making it more difficult to become a saint.

The tougher standards follow the papacy of the late John Paul II, who set a record pace in nominating candidates for sainthood.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, who heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said in a news conference that local bishops who investigate potential saints must work with "greater sobriety and rigor" to build a candidate's case.

He said there was "confusion" at the local level of dioceses, where the cause for sainthood begins.

John Paul named more saints than all his predecessors combined since current procedures were instituted in the 1500s, and critics contend that the bumper crop tended to cheapen the process. In 27 years as pope, he canonized nearly 500 saints and beatified 1,338 people. Beatification is the last step before canonization.

Pope Benedict XVI has not exactly slowed down, either.

"The causes for beatification have not decreased. Indeed, they have increased," Martins said, adding that Benedict possessed "great sensitivity to the holiness of the church."

The new guidelines also emphasize respect for the five-year waiting period after the death of a candidate before his or her "cause" can be initiated. The rule can be bent only by a pope: John Paul did it for Mother Teresa, and Benedict accelerated the process for John Paul and, last week, for Sister Lucia Marto, the last of three shepherd children who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

Although the sainthood campaign for John Paul has been strong, Martins said it would not be speeded up further. "He will certainly not be beatified on April 2, the third anniversary of his death," the cardinal said.

As for other famous cases, Martins said the beatification of Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero, shot to death in 1980 as he said Mass, was pending, but the cause for Pope Pius XII, the controversial World War II pope, was proceeding. Pius has been criticized in some quarters for failing to speak out sufficiently against the Holocaust, but Martins said the pope was "prudent" in his quiet diplomacy.

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