On Sept. 23, the Vatican announced it has slightly modified requirements for scientifically confirming occurrences alleged to be miracles. Among other changes, the Vatican is now requiring a larger number, a supermajority of two-thirds of medical experts, testifying that there is no medical or scientific explanation for an occurrence, as well as requiring the experts be compensated via bank transfer rather than cash. However, this will not yet have an impact on Venerable Nelson Baker's cause for canonization.
Msgr. Paul J.E. Burkard, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Lackawanna, said the process required for declaring sainthood has always needed a majority vote, but this strengthens the requirements. In the case of Father Baker, the nature of the occurrence that is being considered is confidential and everyone involved in the promotion of the miracle has been held to secrecy. However, Msgr. Burkard confirmed that at the present time, doctors are reviewing a case, but they have not yet arrived at a point where they will vote.
"They just reaffirmed what that means. If the board is composed of seven doctors, then the majority vote has to be five out of seven," Msgr. Burkard said. "Some cases have only six doctors, and if that's the case, then it has to be four out of six affirmative votes (to be declared a miracle)."
If a healing or other circumstance cannot be explained by modern science, the Catholic Church attributes it as a miracle performed by a man or woman up for consideration for sainthood. Each one, including one that is before the congregation for Father Baker's cause, must go through the board of doctors.
"We're not at that point right now where the doctors are ready to vote, so that doesn't affect us until that time. However, if for some reason the board doesn't reach that majority, then this next process would kick in, which is part of the new regulations, that it can be re-submitted to another board," Msgr. Burkard added. "The document from Rome says it would be comprised of nine doctors. It's actually going to be only seven, as there was a mistake in the press release from the Vatican, so it would be seven new doctors."
Of this group of doctors, five of them would need to testify they could not otherwise explain the alleged miracle. According to Msgr. Burkard, the doctors are people from the Roman area, many of whom teach or work in Roman hospitals and are specialists in various areas of medicine. They volunteer their time to work for the congregation on these boards, although they are compensated a small amount for services.
This summer, Bishop Richard J. Malone made a trip to the Vatican following World Youth Day. The bishop met with the congregation and spoke with them about Father Baker's cause.
"I stopped by the office of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to thank them for their work and to promote the cause of Father Baker," Bishop Malone commented of his experience. "I also met with a priest there who was familiar with Father Baker's case. Like all Western New Yorkers, I hope and pray that Father Baker will soon move from venerable to blessed. Keep on praying!"
When asked for his thoughts on how these changes will impact future declaration of sainthood, Msgr. Burkard said these will streamline the process and improve the chances for Father Baker.
"The decree on Sept. 23 also indicated that the case could be reviewed three times, if the board couldn't come to a majority vote and they felt they needed more medical information. It can go back for a second review, or even a third review, if more information were available," Msgr. Burkard said. "It means that if a case may have insufficient medical information at the time, one negative, or inconclusive, vote wouldn't throw the case out. You could provide more medical information if they request it, or if you choose to submit it, and the case could go back to a different board the second or third time if they needed it."