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Why Miracles Are Required for Canonizations

Aide With Congregation for Sainthood Causes Explains

VATICAN CITY, MAY 7, 2004 ( The requirement of miracles in the causes of canonization are crucial because they are a divine confirmation of the holiness of the person invoked, says a Vatican aide.

Monsignor Michele Di Ruberto, the undersecretary of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, has spent 35 years in the dicastery and for the past two decades has been part of the Medical Consultation, which is crucial for the verification of miracles.

The monsignor was relator of the cause of Gianna Beretta Molla, whom John Paul II will canonize on May 16 with five other people.

To prove the authenticity of a miraculous event means going through the process of meticulous scientific and theological examination, Monsignor Di Ruberto said in an interview with the Italian magazine 30 Giorni.

"For the beatification of a servant of God who is not a martyr, the Church requires a miracle; for canonization, including that of a martyr, it requires another," he explained. "Only the presumed miracles attributed to the intercession of a servant of God or of a blessed 'post mortem' can be the object of verification."

A miracle is an "event that goes beyond the forces of nature, which is realized by God outside of what is normal in the whole of created nature by the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed," Monsignor Di Ruberto said.

The investigation of a miracle is carried out separately from that of virtues or martyrdom.

The process of recognizing a miracle has two stages. The first is in the diocesan realm where the miraculous event took place; here, eyewitnesses' statements and documentation and other material are collected. In the second, the Vatican congregation examines all the material collected.

To declare someone's holiness is not like conferring an honorary title.

Even "if someone is in heaven, it might be that they are not worthy of public devotion," Monsignor Di Ruberto explained.

Moreover, the process of establishing "heroic virtues, through all the work of collecting testimonials and documentaries as proofs" and of "theological assessments" until arriving at "moral certainty and the formulation of a judgment," even if well-founded, serious and precise, is not exempt from possible errors, he said.

"We can make mistakes, deceive ourselves," said the undersecretary. "Miracles, instead, can only be realized by God, and God does not deceive."

Miracles are a "sure sign of revelation, destined to glorify God, to awaken and reinforce our faith, and, therefore, they are also a confirmation of the holiness of the person invoked," the monsignor said.

Consequently, the recognition of a miracle "makes it possible to grant with certainty permission for devotion," he added. Hence, the "capital importance of keeping miracles as a requirement in the causes of canonization."

A collegial body made up of five medical specialists and two professional experts form the Medical Consultation, in charge of the scientific examination of the presumed miracle. Their judgment is of a "strictly scientific" character, so their being "atheists or of other religions is not relevant," Monsignor Di Ruberto emphasized.

"Their examination and final discussion are concluded by precisely establishing the diagnosis of the illness, the prognosis, the treatment and its solution," he continued. "To be considered the object of a possible miracle, the cure must be judged by the specialists to have been rapid, complete, lasting and inexplicable, according to present medical-scientific knowledge."

The miracle might go beyond the capacities of nature in regard to the substance or the subject of the event, or the way it occurred.

So a distinction is made of three great miracles: the resurrection of the dead; the complete cure -- which might entail the reconstruction of organs -- of a person judged incurable; or the curing of an illness -- which could be cured over time but takes place instantly.

"If there are uncertainties, the consultation suspends the evaluation and asks for more experts or documentation," Monsignor Di Ruberto said. "Once there is a majority or unanimity in the voting, the examination is sent to the theologians' consultation."

Starting with the conclusions of the Medical Consultation, the theologians "are called to identify the nexus of causality between prayer to the Servant of God and an inexplicable cure or technical success, and they express the judgment that the prodigious event is a real miracle."

"When the theologians have also expressed their vote in writing, the assessment is sent to the Congregation for Bishops and cardinals who, after hearing the exposé of a 'speaker,' discuss all the elements of the miracle," the monsignor said. "Each component, therefore, gives his judgment, which must be submitted for the approval of the Pope."

Finally, it is the Holy Father who "determines the miracle and decides on the promulgation of the decree," the monsignor said. The latter is a juridical act of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, sanctioned by the Pope, "by which a prodigious event is defined as a genuine miracle," he concluded.

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