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Vatican makes new rules for miracles in saint-making

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican issued new rules Friday for the process to determine if healings qualify as miracles for sainthood, including safeguards against possible financial abuses.

The rules deal with how a panel of medical experts scrutinizes potential miracles. Pope Francis has expressed determination to ensure the sainthood process, which attracts donations by faithful for canonization candidates, is rigorous and avoids scandals.

Among the new regulations, one stipulates a potential miracle can no longer be presented for consideration if it fails to pass before the board of medical experts three times.

Another rule says experts can only be paid via bank transfer, no longer in cash. Francis demanded more accountability after it was revealed in two books by Italian journalists that the saint-making process has raked in hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars) in donations per candidate with virtually no financial oversight.

The rules state that those dealing with a "presumed miracle," including experts as well as postulators -- those championing the candidate for sainthood -- are held to secrecy. In addition, the medical experts cannot have any contact with the postulator of the cause for sainthood.

At the start of a session to evaluate the potential miracle, the medical "experts are obliged, with an oath, to examine the case according to science and conscience and to observe the secrecy" rules, the regulations state.

Noted Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, an official of the Vatican's Congregation of the Causes for Saints, said that ultimately it's the pontiff "who has the exclusive competence of recognizing an extraordinary event as a true miracle."

As for presumed miracles not involving healings without scientific explanation, but phenomena such as "danger avoided," the Congregation will select technical experts. The rule didn't specify the "danger," such as if it might refer to an escape from some natural calamity.

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Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio