Pope Francis tries to clean up costly saint-making process

VATICAN CITY (RNS) After leaks pegged the cost of canonization at $500,000 on average, the pontiff moved to rein in abuses and improve accountability.

Pope Francis leads the mass for a canonization in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on October 18, 2015. Pope Francis will canonise husband and wife, Louis and Zelie Martin, known for being the parents of French Saint Therese of Lisieux. The ceremony will be the first time a couple has ever been made saints on the same day and will coincide with the Synod on the Family which is taking place at the Vatican. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi *Editors: This photo may be republished with RNS-SAINTHOOD-VATICAN, originally transmitted on March 10, 2016.

Pope Francis leads the Mass for a canonization in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Oct. 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
*Editors: This photo may be republished with RNS-SAINTHOOD-VATICAN, originally transmitted on March 10, 2016.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis has approved new rules to tighten financial oversight of the canonization process after leaked documents revealed abuses and high costs in creating saints.

The new measures focus on how the Holy See handles applications for sainthood, which can be a lengthy and expensive process that involves examining claims made by supporters of a would-be saint.

The rules published on Thursday (March 10) demand regular accounting by the person managing the application, in addition to “scrupulously respecting the intention of donors” who finance an application for sainthood.

They also impose greater supervision at every stage, giving the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints the power to demand financial information and documents from the administrator at any moment.

Anyone caught abusing his or her office in the sainthood process will face disciplinary measures, the Vatican said. The rules were put in place for a three-year trial period.

The pope’s new rules come four months after leaked documents were published by two Italian journalists, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, detailing financial mismanagement within the Vatican administration, including the sainthood process.

Nuzzi’s “Merchants in the Temple” book claimed that the canonization process cost an average of 500,000 euros ($550,000) and said the Congregation for the Causes of Saints failed to keep balance sheets despite Francis’ attempts to impose greater financial accountability.

Both Nuzzi and Fittipaldi are being prosecuted by the Vatican for their alleged role in leaking the documents, in a trial widely criticized by press freedom groups.

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Francis is expected next week to announce the date for the canonization of Mother Teresa, whose upcoming sainthood was fast-tracked after her death in 1997.

The high-profile nature of Mother Teresa’s work in India and internationally has meant her cause for sainthood was well-funded, although the pope’s new rules recognize this is not always the case.

Under the new measures, the Vatican is setting up a “Solidarity Fund” so that applications for sainthood without wealthy backers can appeal for financial support. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will decide whether to donate the requested funds on a case-by-case basis.

(Rosie Scammell covers the Vatican for RNS)