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The Saints Factory

The murky inner workings of the Vatican are way beyond my comprehension at the most crystalline of times but a newspaper story of an emerging church scandal that caught my eye last week takes my confused condition into hitherto unexplored realms.

Somewhere in the bowels of Vatican City, it seems, a vast committee – a college really – sits in more or less permanent session to decide who should be elevated to sainthood.  The panel is formally called the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, but is commonly known as ‘the Saints Factory’.  Its members are called postulants.  Apparently, there are 750 of them – all men, I presume – and they are working at present on a list of 2500 candidates for the honour of beatification.  

The scandal, the subject of a papal investigation, is that some of these postulants have allegedly been taking bungs from those whose function it is to promote the cause of particular candidates.  Who these shadowy figures are, and who they represent, is unclear, at least to me.  But they must represent substantial interests as the average cost of promoting someone for sainthood is said to be 500,000 euros.  A recent report cited a particular case, that of Antonio Rosmini, described as an Italian priest and philosopher (aren’t they all?) whose beatification cost 750,000 euros.  Some philosopher.    

A recent report delved into the bank accounts of these postulants and found they contained an aggregate 40 million euros.  This revelation caused the church to warn, according to the newspaper report I read, that “disciplinary measures will be taken against anyone abusing the system”.

What system?  How does it work? 

What puzzles me most is who or what can possibly benefit, or how, from pushing someone for sainthood.  The agents who take up a candidate’s cause as brokers presumably earn a fat commission for acting as middle-men, but who or what institution pays them, and for what reason?  They must be people or institutions of considerable substance, financially if not piously speaking.

If the business of beatification is just that, a business, what justifies that initial investment, and what is the source of any recurring revenues?  From manufacturing plastic figurines of the saint in question, perhaps, or from tourism at the saint’s birthplace. 

Could it be from publishing, film and television rights to the saint’s story?  “Hey, Leo, have I got a property for you, my friend.  There’s this peasant girl, see, living in the Italian Alps, and one day her goat speaks to her.  It warns her of an impending disaster to her village in which hundreds will die.  She rushes home and warns the mayor, and he evacuates the village, and the girl is suddenly a genuine heroine.  When the goat dies they stuff it and placed it on a dais in the local church.  Tourists come from all over the world to see it.  The girl marries the mayor, by the way, and has twelve children.  Now, the way I see it, Leo, the girl could be played by Cate Blanchett…. “   

I am genuinely confused, but also curious about this Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  So, if any of my Catholic readers – you band of brothers and sisters – know the answer, please let me know, using the space provided.  

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