In the combox of this blog some people are expressing confusion or dismay about the rapid beatification of Ven. John Paul II.
As you know, it was announced that the Beatification will take place on 1 May. This is just over six years since the late Pope’s death.
The process of cause of a saint or the examination of a claimed miracle or the investigation of a possible martyrdom are “processes”. I don’t mean to be circular. A “process” in this sense is like a legal process, it is like a trial.
Evidence is gathered according to a rigorous standard of documentation, people are deposed under oath, and a case is presented. Others examine the methods by which everything is gathered and they study the content. They conduct their own investigations to find if anything important might be missing, by accident or on purpose. Various commissions, scientific, historical, and theological give opinions. Eventually everything is presented before members of the Congregation, cardinals and bishops, who give their opinion, much as a jury would. If they give their approval, a decision is issued in the form of a decree – Congregations have jurisdiction to issue decrees – and it goes to the Church’s highest judge, the Roman Pontiff.
At that point the Roman Pontiff can choose to promulgate the decree or not.
This is like a juridical process or case because a claim has been made and, in justice, they truth of the claim has to be determined. It is a matter of justice for the one who made the claim in the first place and was the “actor” (from Latin ago) for the cause. He has a support staff, as a client would have lawyers and experts.
Sometimes it take years, decades, to assemble the proofs for a cause. It often depends not just on the date of death of the servant of God in question, but also, particularly, on the resources of the actor. The actor has to provide all the money for research, travel, documentation, copies, translations, scientific studies, etc. etc. This can be very costly, especially if the person was very famous and had a large quantity of of writings, speeches, many people knew him. Sometimes the actor has to provide the motivation to move forward as well. He will get someone to oversee the mechanics of the process and keep it going.
Consider that in the case of John Paul II, there were literally kilometers of documents from his pontificate, many thousands of speeches, he lived a long life and many people knew him, etc. However, the actor in this cause had tremendous resources and was able to get a strong team together and get everything done. On the other hand, in the case of Fr. McGiveny, founder of the Knights of Columbus, there were so few writings, letters, sermons, personal materials, that that part of the cause went quickly.
I was at the press conference many years ago for the beatification of Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer. Someone asked how his beatification went forward so quickly. The Prefect answered that Opus Dei was very well organized. In other words, they had huge resources and therefore put the case together quickly.
There were great resources available for the cause of John Paul II, which was carried forward by the Diocese of Rome. The greater the manpower and expertise, the swifter the work, the better (hopefully) the preparation, the better the case, the faster the process can move forward.
In any case, from the point of view of the Congregation, if the cause is brought to a conclusion, then in justice the decree should not be delayed.
Then there is the factor of the Roman Pontiff.
The Pope decides when it is opportune to promulgate a decree or go ahead with a beatification or a canonization. The Congregation does its part, in seeing to the cause and making sure that, within a reasonable doubt, the truth has been ferreted out and justice is done for the one who proposed the cause in the first place.
The Roman Pontiff looks at the determinations of the Congregation, which is there to serve him and the Church, and then decides what is best for the Church, the salvation of souls and the glory of God.
It may be that the Pope will determine that, for the good of the Church, it is not opportune to promulgate a decree. He may, for example, delay doing something which may have consequences for Catholics in a country such as China or in Iraq. He may accept a decree from the Congregation about, for example the heroic virtues of Pius XII and then delay in its promulgation until he deems the time is right. A Pope may dispense with part of the process, as a matter of fact, for the good of the Church as, for example, when John Paul II moved the cause of Juan Diego forward without the usual miracle. Similarly, Benedict XVI dispensed from the five year delay before the process for beatification of John Paul II could begin.
The main points here, for your understanding of what goes on in these causes, is that there is a trial, a case, a process. If a good case has been made and the Congregation determines within reasonable doubt that what the actor proposed is true (a person lived a life of heroic virtue, there was a miracle obtained through some person’s intercession, that a person was killed out of hatred for Christ, the Church or some virtue that cannot be separated from them) then it would be wrong to delay moving to the next step.
The Vicar of Christ does the rest.