The Ordinary Informative Process



The examination is continued in this and the following sessions, the regulations above indicated being strictly observed. It may not be out of place to say a word here regarding special witnesses who may be called for examination. The Postulator may, at any stage of the Process, bring on a new witness besides those sworn at the third session. Whenever this is to be done, the name of the witness is first to be given to the Court, next he is to be summoned, then sworn, and finally examined, and these legal acts have to be carried out on separate and distinct days. The induction of a new witness may be combined with the other work of the Process, but the regulations prescribed for ordinary witnesses must be always observed.

If there is question of a witness belonging to another diocese the Judges give a letter directed to the Bishop or Ordinary of the diocese where the witness lives, and, having asked the permission of the Ordinary, they direct that the witness be duly summoned to give evidence before them.

When Nuns who are bound to religious enclosure are to be examined, the Court is formed in the Convent, usually in the Oratory, and the examination is held there. And in regard to nuns of the more strict observance who cannot be seen by the outside world, the Canon Law makes an exception in favor of the Process of Canonization, and during the examination of such witnesses they may be seen by the officials of the Court in order that they may be better able to judge of the spirit in which they give their evidence.

A special session is often held for the examination of medical men, surgeons or physicians, who have officially examined an alleged miraculous cure wrought through the intercession of the servant of God. In an enquiry of this kind it is the duty of the Judges to appoint at least two independent medical experts, who need not belong to the Catholic Faith, for the purpose of examining the man or woman alleged to be miraculously healed. They are to testify to the nature of the disease from which the patient suffered, whether the good health, to which he was alleged to be restored, was continuous, whether other ailments followed which might be regarded as an effect of the original disease, and what they were; also if there is any mark or indication from which they might reasonably conclude that the person in question might again fall into the disease which was said to be driven away. The experts appointed to discharge this momentous duty must appear first before the Judge, the Fiscal Promoter and the Notary, and swear that they will conscientiously discharge the duty entrusted to them.

As was stated above, at least two official witnesses must be called in every Process, and these are to be nominated either by the Fiscal Promoter (or equivalent officer), or by the Judges with his consent. The Postulator, at the end of the examination of the last witness to be called by him, informs the Court that he has no other witness to be examined, and begs that they may proceed further. The Fiscal Promoter objects and says that nothing further can be done until official witnesses are called. The official witnesses are accordingly nominated, summoned, sworn and examined with all the requisite formality.

The last class of witnesses called at Processes for Canonization are those who give confirmatory evidence. In the examination of other witnesses, whether official or called by the Postulator, the names of persons may be mentioned to the Court who have special information on a particular point which may or may not be favorable to the success of the cause. Such persons are known as confirmatory witnesses, and they are summoned, sworn and examined with all the formality above described.

When the examination of the last witness for the Process is complete, and the evidence signed, the Postulator petitions the Court for the insertion in the minutes of the various legal documents he may have to produce, also for the publication of the Process, which is always made at this stage of the enquiry, and for the election of a secretary who is to make a faithful copy of the acts or minutes of the Process. Amongst the legal documents to be inserted in the minutes would be a certificate of death of a witness who was to be called, proof that a proposed witness had left the country, a certificate of the Baptism of the servant of God, a dispensation for marriage, or any document showing the profession or state of life of the servant of God. No document of any kind is admitted to the minutes except in the presence and with the consent of the Fiscal Promoter.

As soon as the copy of the minutes is made, wholly or in part, the Judges select another Notary who, with the Actuary, compares the copy of the minutes or acts with the original. The election of this official can only be made with the consent of the Representative of the Crown. If any errors occur in the work of the Scribe, such errors are noted in the margin by a cross, and the necessary corrections made. Finally, at a special session, in presence of the Judges and the Fiscal Promoter, the copy, amended if necessary, is compared with the original, and the Judges, the Fiscal Promoter, the two Notaries and two witnesses sign a declaration to the effect that the copy and original are in perfect harmony and agreement.


In the following session, which is the last, and which is held in presence of the Ordinary of the diocese, the copy of the minutes, properly signed and sealed, is placed in a casket, which is afterwards sealed and given to the accredited Bearer, together with the letters of the Bishop, and of the Judges, addressed to the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation, and the letter of the Fiscal Promoter directed to the Promoter of the Faith in Rome. The Bearer is sworn to the faithful execution of his trust, and a declaration is signed by the Ordinary, the Judges, the Fiscal Promoter and the Notary to the effect that the work of the session has been properly performed. It sometimes happens that two Fiscal Promoters are delegated for the Ordinary Process, and then both sign the letters sent to the Promoter of the Faith in the Eternal City. The presentation of these acts and letters to the appointed Bearer completes the work of the Informative Process, and the first step is taken on the road to canonization.

Process Regarding NonCultus

IT will be remembered that in the early ages of the Church there was no prohibition in regard to paying religious honor to persons who had died in the odor of sanctity. Not only was such honor not forbidden, but the practice of rendering it received a certain measure of encouragement and approval, and for many centuries "canonization by the faithful" was, on examination, recognized by ecclesiastical authority. But with the expansion of the Church it was found that abuses began to creep into this form of discipline, arising as well from the indiscretions of popular fervor as from the want of close supervision on the part of some Bishops, especially in omitting to enquire closely into the lives of those who received religious honor. A very remarkable instance of irregular cultus came under the notice of Alexander III. (115981), and the Pope, in dealing with the case, said that "some, following the ways of the pagans and deceived by the fraud of the evil one, venerated as a saint a man who had been killed while intoxicated." To guard against future abuse Alexander III. took occasion, in connection with this case, to forbid religious honor unless with the authority of the Roman Church. But difficulties arose as to the full meaning of the decretal of Alexander, and some Bishops continued to exercise the right of beatification which they had hitherto enjoyed. To put an end to all controversy and finally settle the question, Urban VIII. issued a Bull in 1625, confirmed by a later Bull, 1634, reserving exclusively to the Holy See not only its immemorial right of canonization, but also that of beatification. The decree of Urban commands that no religious honor be paid to any servant of God who is not beatified; and it is for the purpose of enquiring into the observance of this decree that the Process regarding noncultus is established.

In regard to the finding of this Process, it is right to say that, even if the Process decided that some small measure of cultus was paid by indiscreet persons to the deceased servant of God, such a verdict, whilst involving further enquiry and delay, would not necessarily be fatal to the success of the cause. But any grave violation of the decree of Urban would constitute a real danger to its success. For, apart from the possibility that some characteristic of the deceased might be revealed that was inconsistent with holiness of life, the Pope, as Supreme Pastor of the faithful, will take very serious notice of any practice which might be detrimental to the purity of public worship.

After the formation of the Ordinary Informative Process the Process of noncultus is the next step in the canonization of saints. This Process can be established either by Episcopal or, as it is called, Ordinary authority, or by the authority of the Holy See, known as Apostolic authority. If the Process is to be formed by Ordinary authority it must be constructed before the Commission of Introduction is signed; for, after Rome has made the cause its own in this manner, no authority is recognized except what is derived from the special delegation of the Roman See.

The Process regarding noncultus is generally established in the diocese in which the servant of God was born, or in the diocese in which he died, for, as a general rule, the incentives towards the prohibited honor are stronger in these places than anywhere else. In all cases the Judge of the Process must visit the sepulcher of the deceased to see for himself if there are any signs there that religious honor has been rendered in violation of the decree. And if there is reason to suspect that cultus was paid elsewhere to the servant of God, the Judge has authority to examine the local Bishop on the point, and the testimony of the Bishop is accepted as sufficient proof of the absence of veneration. In the cause of Venerable Oliver Plunket, Cardinal Logue produced some evidence from Downside regarding the observance of the decree of noncultus.

The actual work of this Process presents no features of special difficulty. There is no scope for expert evidence on historical documents. And the acts constituting religious honor, into which it is the duty of the Court to enquire, have been clearly defined by the Holy See. These recognized acts of cultus are set forth at length in the chapter on the case excepted from the Bull of Urban. And in this connection it is worthy of note that Mgr. Dupanloup, Bishop of Orleans, wishing to ornament his Cathedral with stained glass windows depicting remarkable events in the life of Joan of Arc, beatified 18th April, 1909, enquired of the Roman Congregation before taking action whether such decoration would be a violation of the decree of noncultus. The Congregation replied in the negative, saying he could carry out his wish, provided that the scenes represented were of a purely historical character, excluding all idea of religious honor. On the 4th August, 1894, a decree was issued from Rome: "That the images of men and women who died with a reputation for sanctity, but had not yet attained the honors of beatification or canonization, could in no circumstances be placed on the altars, and could not be presented with diadems or rays round the head, or other signs of sanctity; but that their images or their deeds could be depicted on the walls of the Church or on colored glass, provided that such images bore no indication of sanctity or religious honor, nor anything profane or foreign to the recognized custom of the church." In like manner it is no violation of the decree to preserve relics of the servant of God, provided they are kept in a place separated from the relics of those who have been canonized or beatified. And again, if the faithful should receive special favors through the intercession of the servant of God, and should on this account present offerings, such as votive tablets or the like, such offerings are not to be rejected, and should be carefully preserved in some place not exposed to public view. A statue placed on the sepulcher is not generally regarded as a sign of cultus, for in many places, as Notre Dame in Paris, it is customary to have such statues placed on the tombs of the illustrious dead. It is better, however, that such decorations should not be found on the graves of servants of God lest their presence should tend to promote religious veneration on the part of visitors. Finally, persons in charge of the burial places of servants of God should take special care that nothing is done through the piety and devotion of the faithful which would be a violation of the Papal decrees.

In this Process it is customary to call at least eight or ten witnesses, and of these two are official witnesses that is, they are selected not by the Promoter of the cause, but either by the Judge, or by the Promoter of the Faith or his representative. The witnesses must be persons of intelligence, high principle and integrity, who are capable of giving solid reasons for their evidence. It is not sufficient for them to state that they do not know that the relics of the servant of God were venerated. Negative evidence is of little value; and the witnesses must be in a position to show that it was morally impossible that such honor could have been given without their knowledge. To avoid all difficulty and delay it should be clearly proved that, although the deceased died in the odor of sanctity, although his intercession was invoked and his memory held in benediction, still nothing was ever done which would savor of public ecclesiastical cultus. It belongs to the Supreme Pontiff alone to permit religious honor, and if this prerogative is not duly recognized there is much danger that the cause would be definitely abandoned and come to nought.

It is assumed here that the Process for conducting the enquiry into noncultus is constructed not by Apostolic but by Ordinary authority. All the canonical formalities required for the Informative Process must be carefully observed; there is a petition made to the Ordinary by the Postulator for establishing the Process, and the Rescript of the Ordinary must be sent in reply granting the petition and stating the object of the enquiry. Sessions are then held for showing Articles and Interrogatories, for naming the witnesses, summoning, swearing, and examining them, and everything proceeds as in the Ordinary Process, those changes only being made which are necessarily required by the name and nature of the enquiry.


There is, however, one important session connected with the Process of noncultus which demands some notice that is to say, the session for visiting the tomb, and for exhuming and identifying the body of the deceased servant of God.

The bodies of servants of God who have departed this life may be buried in a separate or common grave, care being taken that an inscription suitable for identification is placed on the coffin. The Ordinary of the diocese, or the dignitary who is deputed to be judge of the Process, proceeds to the burialplace of the deceased, and there examines at least two trustworthy witnesses who have been solemnly sworn. They are asked if they were so well acquainted with the personal appearance of the deceased that, taking it for granted there was no substantial change, they could recognize the body so as to leave no doubt of its identity. If there had been a previous exhumation, as described in Chapter III., the official documents connected therewith should be at hand so that identification could be proved with absolute certainty.

If there is question of identifying the body before it is removed from the grave the witnesses are asked whether they knew the place of burial, and they must point out the exact spot; they must say if they have heard that the body was taken up and transferred to another grave, indicating the time when this took place, by whom it was done, and all the other circumstances. They must also declare the source of their information as, for example, that they dwelt in the same religious house as the deceased, that they were caretakers of the burial ground, or that they knew it from common knowledge and belief.

The witnesses having been heard, the grave is opened, and then the coffin, in which are placed the remains of the servant of God, is also opened by carpenters who are sworn to the faithful discharge of this duty. All this takes place in presence of the Ordinary, or his delegate of the Fiscal Promoter and witnesses.

The Ordinary, or his delegate, may call skilled surgeons or physicians, if the body is incorrupt or emits an odor regarded as supernatural, and these experts are sworn and examined in presence of the Court on the day of exhumation, or another fixed day, and give their opinion in writing on the state of the body. The entire proceedings should be carried through without any mark of public worship, or transgression of the decree of Urban and the Fiscal Promoter should give solemn warning to this effect.

To ensure obedience to the decree of Urban VIII. regarding noncultus the bodies of servants of God should be buried in such a manner that the flagstone over the grave is on a level with the ground, and if the burial takes place in a church the grave must be at least three cubits from the altar steps.

Canonical identification of the body of a servant of God is a work that is carried through in a most thorough and realistic manner. The Notary, who must be a cleric, prepares a statement describing the grave or tomb and the appearance of the place where it is found; he also describes minutely the coffin in which the body is placed, the condition of the body, the shroud, and general appearance. The shape of the coffin is set forth, the material of which it is composed, its length, breadth, and depth, and if there is a leaden shell, or other lining to the coffin, this is also carefully described. A statement, written generally on a durable metal plate, is drawn up giving the name and surname of the servant of God, his condition in life, with the date of his death and the date of the identification and reburial. This is signed by the Ordinary or his delegate, and placed reverently in the coffin of the deceased. The coffin is then bound with bands which can resist damp, and the binding is done in such a manner that the coffin cannot be opened without cutting the bands. The seal of the Ordinary, on red Spanish wax, is impressed on several places, every precaution being taken to ensure that there would be no difficulty in recognizing the remains at any future time.

If the old coffin has fallen to pieces, a new one is added, which must also be described with the utmost detail.

An official statement of the identification is finally prepared, signed by the Judge, the Fiscal Promoter, and two witnesses, and countersigned by the Chancellor or Notary, and this document is deposited in the episcopal archives for future use.

If, from any reason, the grave of the servant of God cannot be found, the visitation of the tomb cannot, of course, be carried out, but by the indulgence of the Holy See the Cause may proceed. This actually occurred in the case of Blessed Bernard Ptolemy. It was shown from historical records that he died of a plague in the year 1657, and was buried with others who died from the same cause, and the Holy Father gave permission to omit the visitation and identification.

From what has been said it will be readily seen that the work of identifying the tomb, though generally associated with the Process of noncultus is altogether distinct from this enquiry. Whether the session of identification is held or not the Process of noncultus is closed in the ordinary way. The usual sessions are held for comparing the copy of the acts and minutes with the original, letters are written to Rome by the Judge and the Fiscal Promoter, and all the ceremonial observed which

has been already described in the chapter on the Informative Process.

It only remains to be said here that, if a long period elapses from the time in which the minutes were sent to Rome to the day on which the Process was opened before the Congregation for reviewing the sentence of the Judge, then the question may arise whether a new cultus was introduced in this interval. A special Process is sometimes instituted for this enquiry, but it often happens that the question is settled by an Apostolic letter to the Bishop of the place, directing him to proceed to the tomb with the Fiscal Promoter, the Notary, and witnesses for the purpose of enquiring in this informal manner whether there is any evidence that a new cultus was introduced.

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