VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Having a holy son or daughter formally recognized as a saint by the universal church could easily cost a quarter of a million dollars. But experts say the church isn’t selling halos; it’s compensating professionals doing serious research, so that a pope can solemnly declare his certainty a person is in heaven.
The costs involved in moving a cause from local fame to universal veneration as a saint depend on a variety of factors, such as whether the postulator — the official promoter — is volunteering his or her time, and how many potential miracles must be investigated before the pope formally recognizes those required for canonization.
Expenses typically include: collection and translation of eyewitness statements and documents; exhumation and reburial of the candidate’s body, if necessary to verify the location of the grave; preparation and publication of the “positio,” a biography and official position paper documenting the candidate’s holiness; fees for theological, historical and medical consultants; and the beatification and canonization ceremonies themselves.
The head of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes announced Jan. 13 that his office had established a reference list of standard charges for the process. Reporting the next day on Cardinal Angelo Amato’s announcement, the Vatican newspaper said it was a move “inspired by a sense of sobriety and equity, so there would no longer be a lack of uniformity” in the costs borne by different causes.
Jesuit Father Marc Lindeijer, vice postulator of sainthood causes for his order, told Catholic News Service Jan. 15 that if a cause “is not too complicated” — for instance, if the candidate died hundreds of years ago, making it impossible to interview eyewitnesses — the normal cost of bringing the candidate to beatification is about 50,000 euros — or just more than $68,000 at current exchange rates — including the cost of the ceremony.
U.S. Catholic officials traditionally have used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
“The costs are relatively low compared to what similar services would cost in the real world,” Father Lindeijer said.
For example, obtaining a decree of the process’ validity — issued after the congregation has studied all the paperwork and made sure everything was done properly — costs 150 euros, he said, “which is nothing, considering the amount of work involved.”
The cause also must pay 150 euros each to as many as nine historians, theologians or other professional consultants chosen by the congregation to study the “positio,” a document of at least 600 pages, and usually over 1,000 pages, Father Lindeijer said.
The congregation charges 350-400 euros for the decree opening the cause, the postulator’s “mandate,” the assignment of a relator (the investigating judge), and the “nihil obstat” (“no objection”) permitting a diocesan bishop to open a local inquiry into a candidate’s sanctity, one official said. The cause must pay 700 euros to each of the consulting physicians assigned by the congregation to study a potential miracle.
Cardinal Amato did not say if the congregation would publish the pricing guidelines, which are currently available only to bishops and other officials.
Postulators for religious orders, such as the Jesuits, generally do not draw a salary or stipend, even if the candidate is not a member of their order.
But some postulators are laypeople doing the work as a profession and they have to live off what they make, Father Lindeijer said.
“There have been unscrupulous people,” who have taken advantage of dioceses and religious orders, he said, “so it is good to have guidelines so that people beginning a cause know what it is likely to cost.”
Waldery Hilgeman, a 33-year-old layman serving as postulator of the cause of the late Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Nguyen Van Thuan and others, said he has no set price for his services.
“I never refuse a cause, even if it’s a poor cause, because for me it is a pastoral work,” he said. “I try to have a dialogue about what they can pay me. I cannot expect people in Africa to pay what a European or North American can.”
One of the biggest expenses of a canonization is the booklet, usually multilingual and in color, handed out to everyone at the Mass, Hilgeman said. But if a candidate is being canonized with other saints, the cause needs to pay only for copies sufficient to supply its own pilgrims.
Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo, chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York and postulator of the cause of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, said the cause has “spent almost as much as we’ve taken in sending out information and prayer cards.”
He and the others working on the cause, mainly employees of the archdiocesan Catholic Charities, are not asking for a stipend, which is just as well since the two largest groups of Catholics supporting the cause tend not to have money to donate.
“Most of those following the cause are on the older side and share (Day’s) views, including that you should use what you have to care for the poor,” he told CNS. “While they are totally supportive of the cause, they don’t have any money.”
“Another large and growing group is college and university students, but they also have no money,” he said. Many other causes are supported by the alumni of schools run by the candidates’ religious orders, “but her people were at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.”