Canonization: Old vs. New Comparison


It is often noted by those skeptical of modern canonizations that the procedures by which the Church raises saints to her altars have been "changed" since the Second Vatican Council. What were these changes? Pope Paul VI began the process in 1969. His decree Sacra Ritua Congregatio split the Congregation of Rites into two congregations: the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The latter congregation was sub-divided into three offices, which led in turn to a restructuring of the canonization process. Between 1969 and 1983, the process in a sort of flux. In 1983, St. John Paul II's Divinis Perfectionis Magister further streamlined the procedure, eliminating much of the back-and-forth that characterized the pre-1969 procedure, as well as famously downgrading the office of Promotor Fidei ("Devil's Advocate") to make the office less adversarial. 

But in what other ways do the pre-1969 and post-1983 procedures differ? How much has really changed in this process?

To help answer this question, we have prepared a side by side comparison of the pre-1969 procedure (which had remained relatively unchanged since 1588) with the post-1983 restructuring. Please note, because the years between 1969 and 1983 were a kind of interim period where the process was in flux, it is not included here, although a study of the changes in procedure during this period would be very illuminating. We present merely the pre-Paul IV system contrasted with the revisions made by John Paul II in 1983, revisions which characterize the current procedure followed in beatifications and canonizations.

You will obviously note that the pre-1969 system is much longer. However, the mere fact that it is longer does not mean it is more thorough or better; it is common knowledge that in bureaucracies a lot of paper can get pushed and a lot of reports issued between departments, but such is no guarantee that anything productive is happening.

The difference between the old and new procedures is not in their length, but in their character. In the pre-1969 procedure, you will note the care with which the integrity of the process itself is safe guarded. The Sacred Congregation must attest to the validity of the methodology used by the diocesan tribunals. The Promotor Fidei must sign off on the canonical form of every act of the Postulator and the Congregation. The validity of the inquiries into the candidate's miracles are scrutinized. There is a very strict attention to form and methodology in the pre-1969 procedure which is simply lacking in the post-1983 system.

While the Promotor Fidei was not abolished in 1983, his role was greatly reduced. This was another example of how there is less attention to procedure in the post-1983 system, as one of the main roles of the Promotor Fidei was to scrutinize the procedures by which the process went forward.

Essentially, while the modern canonization procedure maintains the nuts-n'-bolts of the pre-1969 system, the aspect of "checks and balances" that characterized the pre-1969 procedure is weakened. The rigid oversight is missing in the contemporary system. We will not review this entire argument, but recommend the reader consult our lengthy article "History of the Devil's Advocate"  for more on how the character of canonization has changed.

None of this is to suggest that modern canonizations are invalid, of course; the validity of canonization was never dependent upon the particular procedure adopted in arriving at the canonization, which has changed over the centuries. Still, an objective comparison of the old and new systems does give one grounds for concern, since the integrity of the contemporary procedure is lessened - not so much by the lack of anything found in the old system as much as by a paradigm shift in the understanding of what the procedure is supposed to accomplish.


Post-1983 details on the process for beatification and canonization taken from "The Process of Beatification and Canonization", EWTN, <>, Accessed 6 Sept, 2015.

Pre-1969 procedures for canonization taken from the essay "The Process of Beatification and Canonization" by Rev. Abbot Aloysius Smith, CRL, DD., found in The English Martyrs, ed. Rev. Dom Bede Camm, OSB (1929, Herder Book Company, Cambridge, England), pp. 43-54