The Pope is cracking down on the Vatican’s multimillion-dollar saint-making process

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Image: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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This article has been corrected. 

Pope Francis issued new rules today for Vatican officials in charge of meting out sainthood. The announcement comes after an investigation into alleged abuses of funds by those who are tasked with investigating and naming new saints, a process which costs the Vatican around 500,000 euros ($550,000) per saint.

Back in the Middle Ages, popes and bishops could name saints as they pleased. Today, the process is a little more complicated: Officials at the Vatican must prove that each candidate for sainthood performed two miracles in their lifetime. Because most figures nominated for sainthood are long dead, these investigations tend to require teams of experts, including theologians, historians, and physicians.

The cost of this work is often supported by donations of hundreds of thousands of euros from wealthy individuals, who want to speed up the process for certain saints. But an investigation launched by Pope Francis into financial corruption throughout the Vatican found little transparency in how most of these donations are spent.

Documents from the Vatican’s internal investigation were leaked to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published the findings in a book released in Nov. 2015. According to Nuzzi, any left over money from the saint-making donations are supposed to go into a special fund for other sainthood investigations, called the Fund for the Causes of the Poor. But the fund has grown little despite large donations made in the years of Pope John Paul II.

To address the lack of oversight in the sainthood process, Pope Francis’s new rules will require external auditing of the Vatican bank accounts created for investigating saints, as well as closer tracking of all donations.

Correction (Mar. 10, 11:10pm): A previous version of this article quoted the Vatican’s cost-per-saint as 50,000 euros.