Today the diocesan phase of the cause for beatification of Servant of God John Paul II was closed.
The documents were sealed up in boxes. Cardinal Ruini (who runs the diocese of Rome for the Pope while the Pope is being Pope) with the stoke of a pen closed the juridical procedure. The whole shooting match was sent across the river to the Vatican.
Causes or processes are conducted in the place where the person died or where the claimed miracle occurred or where a person was martyred. Because John Paul II died in the Vatican, the Diocese of Rome was given the right to handle the first phase, the diocesan phase. Even when a person was a religious, the local diocese where the person died handles the process. The bishop sets up a special body like a "court" to gather the proofs and make sure everything is handled justly.
When a person thinks someone else lived and died in holiness so that he now enjoys the Beatific vision in heaven, he can start a canonical process, which is very much like a juridical trial. Usually you have to wait at least five years after the death of the person in question.
The person who starts the ball rolling is then the "actor" of the cause. The local bishop or his substitute formally opens the cause and appoints the official cast of characters who will be involved. There will be people to help the "actor" of the cause, such as the postulator who makes sure the process is conducted properly. There are people who guarantee that the exacting rules are followed to assure that justice is done. Remember, this is like a trial to determine if the actor’s claim is true. He must have justice.
Thus, just as in a trial, proofs are gathered. Proofs consist of testimonies from people who knew the "servant of God", if this is more recent history, and written documents involving every facet of that person’s life, his own writings, documents written about him (including birth and death certificates to prove he lived and died!) and anything else concerning the fame of his holiness. Every document every proof every scrap is examined and authenticated, affixed with a special seal with signatures of notaries, indexed meticulously. When everything is gathered and nothing else considered to be necessary can be dug up about the person, they whole thing is formally sealed up in containers and sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. There it is officially opened and examined to see if the proper canonical procedures where followed. If so, it is accepted, and the Roman phase of the process begins. If it is not acceptable, the Congregation rejects it and send it all back. Since the juridical process had been closed, the whole thing must be done over again, properly, with a new process. So, it is necessary to do it right the first time! This is why the Congregation actually holds courses to train people to be involved in these causes.
As you can imagine, this normally takes years, even decades or lifetimes! Every place the person lived must be investigated, anywhere in the world, all his correspondence found and read. All people who knew him or want to testify must be formally deposed. Every dusty archive and attic explored. Every document must be transcribed or translated into one of the languages the Congregation for Causes of Saints accepts. Latin is always accepted!
As you can see, the longer a person lived, the more who knew him, the more he wrote and said publicly or privately, the deeper the work must be. You have to determine even to the best of your ability if someone is hiding something because, when the whole thing goes to the Congregation, very sharp-eyed people with suspicious minds will be doing their own digging and examining. And they are really good at it.
Thus, every single document must be properly handled or the whole this is a bust. That is the real key to the diocesan phase, that and throughness.
The Roman phase involves examining the history of the person’s context and the biographical data, whether or not all possible relevant proofs were gathered, studying the person’s life and death in light of either his "heroic virtues" or his martyrdom, or, in the case of miracles all the scientific and medical facts together the theological examination of whether of not the servant or God of blessed who really the one invoked, etc. All the relevant materials are sifted and then published in book form called "Positiones", which include history, biography, writings, theological examinations of the evidence, the judgments of experts on history and theology and archives, etc. etc. etc.
These Positiones can be huge, staggering. They are distributed to experts to comb and nitpick. I have seen the many volumes of the Positio for Servant of God Pius XII. On the other hand, the Positio for Servant of God Fr. Michael McGiveny, founder of the Knights of Columbus is very sleek, because he had left almost no written materials behind.
The Congregation meets (the members are Cardinals, bishops and experts) to make judgments on the process at various points of time until a decision is made.
If there is sufficient evidence to support the claim that a person lived a heroic life of virtue or died a martyr’s death, or a miracle, then the Pope is informed and there is a decree made as to that claim. At that point a person is called venerable. If there is a miracle that can be attributed to the Venerable’s intercession, then when the Pope wills he can be beatified. Another miracle is required for canonization. The Pope can set aside time tables and the requirement of miracles.
So, today the diocesan phase came to a close. I can’t imagine how well organized this must have been to have been handled so quickly, given the titanic life of John Paul and all the people, still living, who knew him.