The economics of sainthood
Acton Institute Powerblog

The economics of sainthood

canonizationOn Sunday, Mother Teresa of Calcutta became St. Teresa (though Pope Francis said, “We will continue to call her Mother Teresa.”). Mother Teresa was the 29th saint canonized by Pope Francis during his three-year pontificate.

While 29 may sound like a lot, Francis’s per-year average (9.7) is just slightly more than Pope Benedict’s pace (6.4 a year) and much, much slower than Pope John Paul II, who averaged 18.2 a year. Still, the increase in the rate of saint-making means you have an increased chance of joining those ranks.

Assuming you meet the other qualifications (be a Catholic, meet the requisite miracles, etc.), what should you do to improve your probability of canonization? For starters, you may want to move to Italy: 46.7 percent of saints lived in that country at the time of their deaths.

That’s one of the many intriguing tidbits to be gleaned from Barro, McCleary, and McQuoid’s 2010 paper, The Economics of Sainthood (a preliminary investigation):

Saint-making has been a major activity of the Catholic Church for centuries. The pace of sanctifications has picked up noticeably in the last several decades under the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Our goal is to apply social-science reasoning to understand the Church’s choices on numbers and characteristics of saints, gauged by location and socioeconomic attributes of the persons designated as blessed.

How long after death should you expect to wait to be designated a saint? Don’t expect it to happen quickly. While Mother Teresa was made a saint a mere 19 years after her death, this was about one-fourth to one-fifth the time of the average saint:

This interval was restricted before the 1983 reforms to be at least 50 years, although popes occasionally ignored this restriction. Over the full sample from 1592 to 2009, the mean time from death to beatification was 118 years, and the median was 81, for popes with four or more beatifications, suggests that this lag time rose early on— from Paul V, no. 231, 1605-1621, to Clement XII, no. 244, 1730-1740. However, the lag fell back around the time of Pius XI, no. 257, 1922-1939, and has since been relatively stable. For the last two popes, the numbers were a mean of 109 years and a median of 86 for John Paul II and a mean of 91 and a median of 84 for Benedict XVI. These values are roughly in line with those prevailing since Pius XI.

Another interesting fact is that after years of service, popes apparently get tired of saint-making:

Another result is the significantly negative coefficient on pope’s tenure, given by the coefficient -0.0229 (s.e.=0.0095) in Table 3, column 1. This result implies that a one-standard deviation increase in tenure (8.5 years in Table 2) reduces the canonization rate by 0.2 per year. Thus, there is a little evidence that popes experience saint-making fatigue as their tenure in office lengthens.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).