Pope Francis creates a fourth pathway to sainthood

A file photo of Pope Francis.
A file photo of Pope Francis. Andrew Medichini/AP

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has added a fourth pathway to possible sainthood — people who lived a good Catholic life and who freely accepted a certain and premature death for the good of others.

Until now, gaining consideration for sainthood in the Catholic Church required martyrdom, living a life of heroic values or — less frequently invoked — having a clear saintly reputation.

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The Vatican announced Tuesday that the pope has issued a law on his own initiative — known as a mutu proprio — adding the fourth route.

Examples of people who might fall into that category include those who take the place of someone condemned to death or expectant mothers with fatal diseases who suspend treatment so their babies can be born.

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While John Paul II streamlined the canonization process, Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, an official of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Causes for Saints, noted in L’Osservatore Romano that the norms for beatification — the first step toward sainthood — have been in place for centuries.

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However, the three pathways “don’t seem sufficient to interpret all of the cases of possible saints to be canonized,” he wrote, acknowledging that the new route incorporates both elements of martyrdom and living a life of heroic values, without being fully covered by either.

Under the new category, a miracle must be attributed to the candidate’s intercession prior to beatification. Martyrdom — being killed out of hatred for the faith — does not require a miracle.

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The pathway could apply to cases like that of Chiara Corbella, a young Italian woman who died in 2012.

She had insisted on continuing with two pregnancies despite being told that the fetuses were deformed, losing both at birth. Diagnosed with cancer when she was pregnant for a third time, she had forgone chemotherapy and other treatments to safeguard the life of her son, Francesco, who was born safely.

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Friends started an association last month, on the fifth anniversary of her death, to seek her beatification.