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~ Normae Servandae ~

Norms to be Observed by Bishops

When Making Inquiries in Causes of Saints


Since the apostolic constitution, Divinus perfectionis Magister,  issued on 25 January 1983, established the order of procedure in investigations which, in the future, are to be made by bishops in causes of saints, and since, likewise, this Sacred Congregation was given the task of issuing special norms in this regard, the said Sacred Congregation has drawn up the following norms which the Supreme Pontiff wished to be examined by the plenary assembly of the Fathers in charge of the aforesaid Congregation, held on 22 and 23 June 1981, and after all the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia had also been heard, he ratified them and ordered that they be published.

1.   a) The actor promotes the cause of canonization; any one of the People of God or any group of the faithful who have been admitted by ecclesiastical authority, can discharge this function.

      b) The actor pushes the cause through a postulator who has been set up according to law.

2.   a) The postulator is established by the actor by means of a mandate of administration [mandatum procurationis] drawn up according to law and approved by the bishop.

      b) While a cause is being handled by the Sacred Congregation, the postulator, provided that he/she has been approved by the Congregation itself, should have a fixed residence in Rome.

3.   a) The office of postulator can be discharged by priests, by members of institutes of consecrated life, and by laypersons, all of whom should be experts in  theological, canonical, and historical matters as well as acquainted with the practice of the Sacred Congregation.

      b) A special duty of the postulator is to carry out the investigations regarding the life of the Servant of God under investigation in order to determine his/her reputation for holiness [fama sanctitatis] and the importance of the cause for the Church, and to make a report on these matters to the bishop.

      c) Committed also to the postulator is the task of administering, according to the norms given out by the Sacred Congregation, the goods offered for the cause.

4. To the postulator belongs the right to substitute for himself/herself, by a lawful mandate and with the consent of the actors, others who are called vice-postulators.

5.   a) In the instruction of causes of canonization the competent bishop is he in whose territory the Servant of God passed his/her last days, unless special circumstances, approved by the Sacred Congregation, recommend otherwise.

      b) If there if a question about an alleged miracle, the competent bishop is he in whose territory this miracle took place.

6.   a) The bishop can instruct a cause either personally or through his delegate, a priest who is truly an expert in theology, canon law, and also history, especially if it is a question of age-old causes.

      b) The priest who is chosen to be promoter of justice must possess the same qualifications.

      c) All officials who have part in a cause must take an oath to discharge their function faithfully and must observe secrecy.

7. A cause can be recent [recentior] or age-old [antiqua]: it is called recent if the martyrdom or virtues of the Servant of God can be proved by oral depositions of eyewitnesses [de visu]; it is called age-old when the proofs regarding martyrdom or virtues can be derived only from written sources.

8. Whoever intends to initiate a cause of canonization should present to the competent bishop, through a postulator, a petition letter [supplex libellus] in which the instruction of the cause is petitioned.

9.  a) In recent cases, the petition letter must not be presented sooner than five years from the death of the Servant of God.

      b) On the other hand, if it is presented after the thirtieth year, the bishop cannot proceed further unless, after having completed an investigation, he is convinced that there has been no fraud or deceit in delaying the commencement of the cause in the case on the part of the plaintiffs.

10. The postulator must present together with the petition letter:

  1. in both recent and age-old causes, a biography of some historical worth about the Servant of God, if such exists, or, if none exists, an accurate report chronologically arranged about the life and activities of the Servant of God, his/her, virtues or martyrdom, his/her reputation for holiness and signs [fama signorum], without omission of those matters which seem to be contrary to the cause or less favorable to it;[1]

  2. all the published writings of the Servant of God in authentic copy form;

  3. in recent causes only, a list of the persons who can be consulted to discover or to oppose the truth regarding the virtues or the martyrdom of the Servant of God as well as regarding his/her reputation for holiness or signs.

11. a) When the petition letter has been accepted, the bishop should consult at least the regional body of bishops about the opportuneness of initiating the cause.

      b) Furthermore, in his own and, if he believes it appropriate, in other dioceses, with the consent of the bishops of those places, he should make public the postulator’s petition and invite all the faithful to report to him useful information concerning the cause should they have any to supply.

12. a) If from the pieces of information received an obstacle of some importance should emerge against the cause, the bishop should inform the postulator about it so that he may be able to remove it.

      b) If the obstacle has not been removed and, as a result, if the bishop judges that the cause must not be admitted, he should advise the postulator and give the reasons for his decision.

13. If the bishop intends to initiate the cause, he should seek out the opinion of two theologian-censors regarding the published writings of the Servant of God. They should report whether anything contrary to faith or good morals is found in those writings. [2]

14. a) If the opinions of the theologian-censors are favorable, the bishop orders that all the writings of the Servant of God which have not yet been published as well as all and each of the historical documents, whether in manuscript form or published, which in any way concern the cause, should be collected.[3]

      b) When conducting an investigation of this kind, especially when there is question of age-old causes, persons who are expert in historical and archival matters should be used.

      c) When this assignment has been completed, the experts should give to the bishop, together with the collected writings, a careful and separate report in which they report and testify that the task has been well carried out; they include a listing of the writings and documents; they set forth a judgment about their authenticity and value as well as about the personality of the Servant of God as it is derived from those very writings and documents.

15. a) After the report has been received, the bishop should hand over to the promoter of justice or to another male expert everything which has been acquired up to that time so that he may draw up questionnaires [interrogatoria] which are adapted to search out and discover the truth about the Servant of God’s life, virtues, or martyrdom, his/her reputation for holiness or martyrdom.

      b) In age-old causes, however, the questionnaires look to only the still existent reputation for holiness or martyrdom as well as, if the case so warrants, the cult rendered to the Servant of God in recent times.

      c) Meanwhile, the bishop should forward to the Sacred Congregation for Causes of Saints a brief informatory notice about the life of the Servant of God and of the firmness of the cause in order to ascertain that there is no obstruction [nihil obstat] to the cause on the part of the Holy See.

16. a) Then the bishop or his delegate should examine the witnesses brought in by the postulator and other persons who are to be questioned ex officio. A notary should be used to transcribe the words of the party making a deposition who, at the end, must confirm the transcription.

      If, however, it is urgent that the witnesses be examined lest proofs be lost, they must be questioned even though the investigation of documents has not yet been completed.[4]

      b) The promoter of justice should be present at the examination of the witnesses; but if he were not present, the acts should later be subjected to his examination so that he himself may be able to make animadversions and to propose what he judges necessary or opportune.

      c) The witnesses should be examined, first of all, according to the questionnaires. However, the bishop or his delegate is not to fail to propose to the witnesses other necessary or useful questions so that what they have said may be put in a clearer light, or that difficulties which have emerged may be clearly resolved and explained.

17. Witnesses ought to be eyewitnesses; to these may be added, if the case so warrants, some hearsay witnesses [de auditu a videntibus]; all of them, however, must be trustworthy.

18. Relatives of the Servant of God, by consanguinity or affinity, should be brought in as first-class witnesses, as well as other persons who had family relations or close contacts with the Servant.

19. For proving martyrdom or the exercise of virtues and reputation for signs of a Servant of God who belongs to some institute of the consecrated life, a notable part of the witnesses brought in should be outsiders unless, because of the particular mode of living by the Servant of God, that turns out to be impossible.

20. The following should not be admitted to testify:

  1. a priest as regards everything which became known to him from sacramental confession;

  2. regular confessors or spiritual directors of the Servant of God as regards everything which they learned from the Servant of God in the extra-sacramental forum of conscience;

  3. the postulator of the cause while his/her assignment lasts.

21. a) The bishop or his delegate should summon some witnesses ex officio who will be able, if the case so warrants, to make a contribution to completing the investigation, especially if they themselves are opposed to the cause.

      b) To be summoned as ex officio witnesses are the experts [viri periti] who carried out the investigations of the documents and drew up the report about them and they must declare under oath:

  1. that they carried out all the investigations and collected everything which pertained to the cause;

  2. that they did not tamper with or modify any document or text.

22. a) Attending physicians, when there is question of unusual recoveries, must be brought in as witnesses.

      b) But if they refuse to appear before the bishop or his delegate, he should take care that they draw up in writing and under oath, if possible, a report on the disease and its course; this report is to be made part of the acts. Or at least their decision should be taken down by an intermediary [interposita persona] and then subjected to examination.

23. In their testimony, which must be confirmed by oath, the witnesses must indicate the source of their knowledge regarding what they assert; otherwise, their testimony must count for nothing.

24. If any witness prefers to hand over to the bishop or his delegate, either together with a deposition or apart from one, something drawn up earlier by himself/herself and committed to writing, let such a written statement be accepted provided that the witness himself/herself affirm under oath that he/she wrote it and that its contents are true, and let the said statement be added to the acts of the cause.

25. a) Whatever be the way in which the witnesses hand over their pieces of information, the bishop or his delegate should diligently see to it that he always renders them authentic by his signature and his own seal.

      b) Documents and written testimony, whether collected by experts or provided by others, should be declared authentic by affixing the name and seal of some notary or trustworthy public official [publicus officialis].

26. a) If investigations regarding documents or witnesses must be made in another diocese, the bishop or his delegate should send a letter to the competent bishop who should act according to the norm of these statutes.

      b) Acts of this kind of inquiry should be kept in the chancery archives but a copy should be made according to the norm in nn. 29- 30 and sent to the requesting bishop.

27. a) With the greatest diligence and assiduity the bishop or his delegate should see to it that in the collecting of proofs nothing be omitted which in any way pertains to the cause; he should hold it for certain that the happy outcome of the cause depends in great part on the good instruction [instructio] of the cause.

      b) Therefore, after all the proofs have been collected, the promoter of justice should inspect all the acts and documents so that, if anything seems to him necessary, he can ask for further investigations.

      c) The postulator also must be given the right to inspect the acts so that, if the case so warrants, the proofs can be completed by new witnesses or documents.

28. a) Before the investigation is completed, the bishop or his delegate should diligently inspect the burial place of the Servant of God, the sleeping quarters in which he/she lived or died and, if there be any, other places where a person could show signs of cult in his/her honor; he should also make a declaration about the observance of the decree of Urban VIII regarding lack of cult [super non cultu].[5]

      b) A report should be drawn up about the discharge of all these matters and inserted into the acts.

29. a) When the acts of instruction have been completed, the bishop or his delegate should set down that a certified copy [transumptum] be drawn up unless, in view of approved circumstances, this was already allowed to be done during the instruction itself.

      b) A certified copy should be transcribed from the original acts and should be made in duplicate.

30. a) After the drawing up of the certified copy has been completed, a comparison should be made with the original [archetypum], and the notary should sign each page with at least his initials and affix it with his seal.

      b) The original should be preserved closed and affixed with the seals in the chancery archives.

31. a) A certified copy of the investigation and the appended documents in duplicate should be safely sent to the Sacred Congregation duly wrapped and affixed with the seals together with a copy of the books of the Servant of God which have been examined by theologian-censors together with their judgment.[6]

      b) If a translation of the acts and documents is necessary in a language admitted before the Sacred Congregation, two copies of the translation should be drawn up and declared authentic and be  sent to Rome together with the certified copy.

      c) Furthermore, the bishop or his delegate should send to the Cardinal Prefect letters about the oath used by the witnesses and about the legitimacy of the acts.

32. The investigation regarding miracles must be instructed separately from the investigation regarding the virtues or martyrdom and should be carried out according to the following norms.[7]

33. a) The bishop who is competent according to the norm of no. 5, b), after he has accepted the petition of the postulator together with a short but accurate report about the alleged miracle as well as the documents concerning it, should seek out a judgment from one or two experts.

      b) Thereafter, if he has decided that a juridical investigation be instructed, he should, personally or by his delegate, examine all the witnesses according to the norms set down above in nn. 15, a); 16- 18 and 21-24.

34. a) If there is question of the cure of some disease, the bishop or his delegate should seek help from a doctor who is to propose questions to the witnesses in order to clarify matters better according to need and circumstances.

      b) If the cured person is still alive, an inspection of him/her should be made by experts so that proof can be had of the duration of the cure.

35. The certified copy of the investigation together with the appended documents should be sent to the Sacred Congregation in accordance with what is set down in nn. 29-31.

36. Every kind of solemnity or panegyric of Servants of God is prohibited in churches if the holiness of their life is still subject to lawful examination. Moreover, even outside a church, one must refrain from those acts whereby the faithful can be led to falsely think that the investigation made by a bishop about the life and virtues or the martyrdom of a Servant of God carries with it certainty of future canonization of the said Servant of God.

In the audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation on 07 February 1983, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II deigned to approve and to ratify these norms and ordered that they be published and begin to have force from this very date, and be observed, duly and religiously, by all bishops who instruct causes of canonization and by others concerned. All things to the contrary notwithstanding, even those deserving special mention.

Given at Rome, from the offices of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, 07 February 1983.


[1] Cf. Const. ap. Divinus perfectionis Magister, n. 2,  1°.

[2] Cf. ibid, n. 2, 2°.

[3] Cf. ibid, n. 2, 3°.

[4] Cf. ibid, n. 2, 4°.

[5] Cf. ibid, n. 2, 6°.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Cf. ibid, n. 2, 5°.


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Last modified: 05/23/22