There are 3 stages in a Cause for Canonisation, involving 3 separate, complex investigations:
a detailed look at the life and work of the candidate - leading to his or her being declared a ‘Servant of God’ and eventually ‘Venerable’;
investigation of any alleged miracle(s) - leading eventually to beatification;
further investigation of alleged miracles - leading ultimately to sainthood.
Each of these investigations (which can take many years) has two phases:
local – directed by the diocese where the ‘saint’ died
Vatican – overseen by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
The 2nd and 3rd stages are still a long way off so we will concentrate on the first stage:
The Petition for Brother Michael’s Cause
Anyone can begin a petition to open a Cause, and takes ‘moral and financial’ responsibility for it. The CBMC (Committee for Brother Michael’s Cause) has been formed for this very purpose. We can nominate an ordained, religious or lay person as official coordinator of the investigation who later may be formally appointed ‘Postulator’ of the Cause.
In the name of the petitioner, the Postulator makes a written request to the local bishop to initiate the Cause. This cannot happen until 5 years after the death of the candidate.
The petition goes with supporting papers such as the candidate’s biography and writings. The bishop will want to know that he has a ‘stable, continuous, widespread’ reputation among ‘the faithful’ for a life of holiness – not just for ‘good works’ or inspiration but for purity and integrity. A reputation for the person’s ‘intercessory power’ also has to be shown.
If the initial evidence is sound, the bishop can approve the petition – first checking with Rome that there is no obstacle. He will appoint the Postulator, with others to carry out the detailed investigation into the person’s life. At that point, the candidate is declared a ‘Servant of God’ and the Cause is declared open. Despite the requirement for intercessory power, the bishop will have to state, when the local investigation is complete, that there has been no public veneration to date.
The formal process for Bro. Michael’s Cause cannot begin until 27 December 2024, but Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff has informally indicated that the CBMC can press ahead with gathering information in support of the petition.
Bro. Michael’s life will be closely examined by theologians, archivists and even historians. They will mainly concentrate on hearing witnesses but also look at all the writings by or about him - and anything else relevant, good or bad. Before the results can be sent to the Congregation, his body has to be exhumed (with permissions) and examined by medical experts to confirm that his remains are undisturbed and authentic.
The inquiry then passes from the local to the Vatican phase. The initial investigation is reviewed with extreme care to make sure that nothing has been overlooked. If anything is not right, the Cause may be referred back to the diocese. Or additional examination or material may be sought. If approved, the Congregation will declare the Servant of God to have lived ‘a life of heroic virtue’ and to have a reputation for holiness. From then on, he becomes ‘Venerable’ and, at last, public prayers of intercession are allowed.
For more detail on the process, see ‘Instruction for Conducting Diocesan or Eparchial Inquiries in the Causes of Saints’ http://www.causesanti.va/it/documenti/sanctorum-mater-english.html