The person who guides a Cause for beatification or canonization through the judicial processes required by the Roman Catholic Church is known as the postulator. The qualifications, role and function of the postulator are spelled out in the Norms to be Observed in Inquiries made by Bishops in the Causes of Saints effective since February 7, 1983. Subject to the approval of the bishop and subject to the requirement that the appointee must be an expert in theological, canonical and historical matters, as well as versed in the practice of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the petitioner who is seeking the beatification of a deceased person may appoint as postulator a priest, a member of an Institute of Consecrated Life, or a lay person. The major religious orders (such as the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits) all appoint from among their number postulators-general who are available to act for petitioners in Causes and who, by the number and variety of the Causes which they direct, acquire both reputation and expertise in that field, much as do senior legal counsel in practice in secular jurisdictions.
Duties of the postulator
The first duty of the postulator is to conduct thorough investigations into the life of the candidate for beatification. The postulator also has responsibility for administering funds collected for progressing the Cause. All officials who take part in a Cause (including the postulator) are obliged to take an oath in regular form faithfully to fulfil their duty and to observe the strictest confidentiality (what is termed "secrecy") in its exercise.
Role of the postulator during the Diocesan Inquiry stage
A Cause is initiated when the postulator, instructed by the petitioner, presents to the bishop of the diocese where the candidate for beatification died, a petition in writing together with supporting documentation. The requisite documentation comprises (i) a biography of the candidate (or at least a chronology of his or her life) indicating the heroic virtues and sanctity of life or the martyrdom which alone can justify beatification; (ii) authentic copies of all writings published by the candidate; and (iii) in recent cases, a list of those persons who can help "bring to light the truth about the virtues or the martyrdom of the [candidate], and about his or her reputation of sanctity or of signs." At this stage, the bishop will decide whether to accept or reject the petition, and, if it is accepted, the Cause must be discussed with the bishops of neighbouring dioceses and publicized so that anyone with relevant information might come forward and make it known. Meanwhile, the published writings of the candidate for sainthood are examined to see if they present theological difficulties. If problems or obstacles emerge, the postulator is given an opportunity to resolve them. Assuming the way is clear for the Cause to proceed, the bishop will then progress it by initiating the diocesan inquiry stage of the process, which is divided into two separate areas of investigation: the inquiry into heroic virtues or martyrdom; and the inquiry into 'signs" or miracles (normally of a medical nature) attributed to the intercession of the candidate. The postulator identifies the relevant witnesses (see under (iii) above), but is not allowed to testify so long as he or she continues in office. When the inquiries, conducted by the bishop or his delegate, are complete, the postulator has the right to examine the official record in order to see if the evidence needs to be supplemented in any way. The transcript of the inquiry with all relevant documentation is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for the second, Roman, stage of the Cause, during which the postulator must reside in Rome. For this reason, it not infrequently happens that a Cause is entrusted to the postulator-general of an Institute of Religious Life, most of which have their headquarters in that city (see note 3 above).
- "New Laws for the Causes of Saints"
- Norm 3a.
- For example, Fr. Paolo Molinari SJ was the Jesuit postulator-general for over 50 years until his retirement in 2008 "New Postulator General", Jesuit USA News, January 23, 2009. Although his primary focus was on Jesuit candidates for sainthood, his work was not limited to them and he acted, for example, as postulator in the Cause for the canonization of Juan Diego "A Beautiful Mission", by George Kearney, Company Magazine, January 29, 2005
- Norm 3b.
- Norm 3c.
- Norm 6c.
- Norm 10 §3; by "signs" is meant miracles.
- Norm 11.
- Norm 13.
- Norm 12a.
- Norm 32.
- Norms 14-21, 23-27
- Norms 16-27, 33-34
- Norms 16a., 20 §3
- Norm 27c.
- Norm 2b.
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