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New Vatican Rules Will Put More Spreadsheets Into The Saint-Making Process

Pope Francis looks on during a penitential ceremony on March 4 at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Francis has imposed new financial rules on those working to promote the canonization of potential saints.
Tiziana Fabi
AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis looks on during a penitential ceremony on March 4 at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Francis has imposed new financial rules on those working to promote the canonization of potential saints.

Pope Francis is cracking down on the money machine that powers the sainthood process, months after two Italian journalists published books alleging jaw-dropping financial mismanagement at the Vatican.

Those working on the process of canonization and beatification will now have to provide regular accounting of where money is being spent, and a new fund will be opened to provide resources for cash-strapped sainthood campaigns.

The steep cost of saint-making, and the lack of oversight and transparency that surround the process, were two of the immediately controversial revelations in Emanuele Fittipaldi's Avarice and, especially, Gianluigi Nuzzi's Merchants in the Temple. Both books were published in November.

In his book, which draws heavily on anonymous sources and allegedly leaked documents, Nuzzi estimates that the cost of sainthood at the Vatican regularly ran about half a million euros — more than half a million dollars.

The fact that beatification and canonization would be expensive isn't, by itself, astonishing. Catholic sainthood is a lengthy process, involving years of research and reams of paper to document and analyze the would-be saint's life, beliefs and reported miracles. (As an example of the scale involved: Remember Junipero Serra, who was canonized last year? The process of granting him sainthood began in the 1940s and involved accumulating approximately 10,000 pages of source material and writing a 1,200-page positio, or position paper, explaining the justification for his canonization.)

But Nuzzi alleged that the process was both unfair and shockingly unsupervised. The Catholic Herald says wealthy donors could essentially bankroll their selected candidate for sainthood, while potential saints who didn't have deep-pocketed supporters would not have the funds for the necessary research.

Leftover money from well-supported sainthood campaigns was supposed to go into a fund to help poorer candidates, but somehow it seemed there was never any spare cash, no matter how flush a sainthood "cause" was, Nuzzi writes.

Where did that money go? It wasn't clear, Nuzzi said, writing that many postulators — the people who spearhead the canonization of a given candidate for sainthood — weren't keeping track of how the money was spent. No budgets, no expense reports, no financial statements.

Nuzzi's book depicts Francis as a determined reformer, fighting to transform a "saints' factory" that resists his attempts at oversight. In fact, the journalist describes a shocked Vatican freezing the bank accounts of offending postulators once they discovered the sheer amount of money being spent without any bookkeeping.

After he and Fittipaldi (who wrote extensively about misdirected donations) published their books, Pope Francis assigned a fact-finding commission to investigate how the Vatican spent money, The Associated Press reports.

That internal investigation led to the new financial rules.

Now, postulators will be required to document how they spend money — and set budgets for their projects. Their bank accounts will be subject to oversight.

There will be "disciplinary procedures in case of misuse," Vatican Radio reports, and a process for liquidating funds once a saint is canonized or the campaign is dropped.

And a new "solidarity fund," with set processes for adding and distributing money, will be established to help the causes of sainthood candidates who lack wealthy supporters.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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