VATICAN CITY — A Vatican office has updated its rules on the use of relics for would-be saints, issuing guidelines Saturday that govern how body parts and cremated remains are to be obtained, transferred and protected for eventual veneration.
The instructions explicitly rule out selling the hair strands, hands, teeth and other body parts of saints, which often fetch high prices in online auctions. They also prohibit the use of relics in sacrilegious rituals and warn that the church may have to obtain consent from surviving family members before unearthing the remains of candidates for sainthood.
Bodily relics are an important part of Catholic tradition, since the body is considered to be the “instrument” of the person’s saintliness. Beatification and canonization Masses often feature the relics being ceremoniously taken to the altar in an elaborate display case.
Officials said the new guidelines were necessary given some obstacles that had arisen since the rules were last revised in 2007, particularly when surviving relatives and church officials disagreed. One current case before a U.S. appeals court concerns a battle over the remains of Fulton Sheen, an American archbishop known for his radio and television preaching in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sheen’s niece went to court to force the archdiocese of New York to transfer Sheen’s body from the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Peoria, Ill., where Sheen was born, where he was ordained as a priest and where his sainthood cause has been set in motion by Peoria’s bishop.
The New York archdiocese is appealing a 2016 lower-court ruling in favor of the niece. A decision from the appeals court is expected soon.