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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican issued a new guide to saint making on Monday that it hopes will clarify and streamline the process of singling out souls for Catholicism's highest honor.
The instructions for bishops range from identifying possible miracles to more worldly, bureaucratic concerns, like using computers and recording devices to archive testimony about the life a potential saint.
"We're bringing things up to date," said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, who heads the Vatican office for designating saints -- an arduous process which can often span centuries.
The Vatican said the instructions clarify long-standing rules and aim to eliminate confusion at the local level, where bishops start what are known as "causes" for sainthood that later reach the Holy See.
In some cases, dioceses have failed to apply enough rigor when starting causes for sainthood, Martins said.
Critics have long accused the Vatican of being a "saint factory" because of the high number of canonizations and beatifications. Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
Despite the updated instructions, the Vatican signaled it still had a strong appetite for saint making. Martins pointed to the record rate at which Pope Benedict has churned out canonizations and beatifications since being elected in 2005.
"The causes of beatification haven't fallen. They have instead increased," Martins noted, adding Benedict was particularly "sensitive" to its importance.
Under the pontificate of the late Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years, nearly 1,340 people were beatified and almost 500 canonized -- more than all his predecessors combined since the current procedures began in 1588.
Benedict's brief papacy has already overseen nearly a third of that combined total, with 577 canonizations and beatifications, Martins said.
Benedict has also twice bent the rules to speed along the saint-making process, a procedure which normally cannot even start until five years after the death of a potential candidate.
Last week, the Pope waved the five-year rule for Sister Lucia Dos Santos, the last of three shepherd children who said they had seen the Madonna at Fatima in Portugal in 1917.
Lucia, who said she had a vision foretelling the attempted assassination of John Paul in 1981, died in 2005 aged 97.
Benedict also bent the rules for John Paul, whose sainthood process was begun by the Rome archdiocese about six weeks after he died in 2005.
Martins denied that Benedict might also dispense with the standard review on the third anniversary of John Paul's death and declare him a saint -- as many of his followers might like.
"No," Martins told reporters with a grin. "I think that is not very probable".
Editing by Mary Gabriel