The first steps to introduce a cause of canonisation

When it is wished to introduce a cause of canonisation a certain number of questions arise: who can be a candidate, when can the cause be launched, who can take the initiative, etc. ? These must be dealt with before taking the step of asking the local bishop to open the cause, for it will be for him to lead the enquiry preliminary to the introduction of the cause.


Who can be put forward for canonisation?

Any Catholic who has died in the odour of sanctity and has the following attributes can be proposed as a candidate for canonisation :

a. A reputation for sanctity
b. The practice of Christian virtues in a heroic manner
c. Immunity from insurmoutable obstacles to canonisation.

A reputation for sanctity does not suffice unless it is based on heroic exercize of virtue ; and likewise it does not suffice to have led a holy life and practised virtue to a heroic degree unless there was a reputation for sanctity.
And furthermore, even all those attributes are in evidence the cause of canonisation cannot be introduced, or pursued once introduced and begun, if an insurmountable obstacle to canonisation should arise.


a. A reputation for sanctity

A reputation for sanctity means an opinion manifested publicly in a spontaneous and constant manner about the martydom or the virtuous life and the miracles due to the servant of God, which have induced people to venerate him and recommend themselves to his prayers.
The reputation for sanctity, the « fama sanctitatis », must be spontaneous, lasting, continually growing and widespread, that is, based on the example of a heroic life lived in the service of God and men. The most recent regulations (norms) of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints insist firmly on this.


b. Practice of heroic virtue

It is required that the candidate for canonisation should have practised Christian virtues in a heroic manner. The final judgement on the heroic aspect of the virtue is reserved to the Pope.
To start the cause it suffices for there to be solid reasons for thinking that the Servant of God did indeed practice heroic virtue.
Heroic virtue is an infused habit whereby the person, in union with divine grace, behaves habitually, despite the greatest difficulty, in an exceptional manner, accomplishing difficult acts of virtue repeatedly with great courage and indeed with pleasure. For beatification the heroic practice of the theological virtues and the cardinal virtues is required.


c. Insurmountable obstacle

Once settled the questions of reputation for sanctity and the practice of heroic Christian virtue, there may be insurmountable obstacles which prevent the introduction or the continuation of the Cause. This is the reason why, before introducing a cause of canonization, the Bishop must enquire of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints whether there are insurmountable obstacles from their point of view or that of any other Roman authority.


The diocesan enquiry

Its purpose is to gather as much information as possible about the life and the virtues of the Servant of God. But at this stage point is simply to gather the information, not to evaluate or analyse it. That will be done in the enquiry to be made at Rome, after the closure of the diocesan enquiry.

In practice there are two main sources of information on the life and virtue of the Servant of God: first, the evidence given by witnesses; and then documents, whether originating from the Servant of God himself - published writings, correspondence, lectures in writing, sound recordings, or video - or documents about the Servant of God - articles, evaluations, written testimonials.

In order to gather this information the Bishop of the Diocese appoints three committees of experts : 

  • 1 - The Committee of enquiry is in fact a tribunal, consisting of an Episcopal delegate (a judge), a promoter of justice (formerly called devil’s advocate), and one or more notaries. This committee has to deal with what the witnesses say. The judge has to examine them ; the promoter of justice has to ensure respect for the due procedures and that everyone with having objections to the Cause can be heard ; and the notaries answer for editing of the verbatims and for recording the hearings.
  • 2 - The Committee for history and archives has to gather all the documents originating from or concerning the Servant of God. It is made up of archivist experts and historians. For Jérôme Lejeune, given the nature of his personality, scientific experts have been added to this committee. Its job is to issue a report on the authenticity and the value of the documents which have been gathered.
  • 3 - The third committee is the ‘theological committee’. It is made up of expert theologians and has to check that the public and private writings of the Servant of God contain nothing contrary to faith and morals.


The Roman enquiry

After the closure of the diocesan enquiry all the information gathered is sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. After a lengthy work of checking all the procedures of enquiry and the appointment of a ‘relator’ (who is member of the Congregation, normally a Frenchman if it is a French Cause) , the Roman process begins. This is the moment when the Deposition is issued, a synthesis of all the documents which have been selected during the diocesan enquiry. It is on the basis of this Deposition that the ‘College of Consultants’, the College of Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation, and finally the Pope himself will pronounce judgement. If the verdict is favourable the heroic virtue of the Servant of God can be recognized and he will then rank as ‘Venerable’.
For beatification a miracle has to be recognized as due to the intercession of the Servant of God. That will be the object of another enquiry, in the diocese where the miracle has taken place. For canonisation a second miracle is required.
The procedure is very lengthy and correspondingly takes several years, and all the more so as there is long ‘queue’ of Causes of Saints at the Congregation…