Miles Kington: Faith, hope - and a brilliant marketing division

Sure, sometimes it has its bad periods, and profits go down, but the Church will always be one of the big players in the business world
Click to follow

Forget the Da Vinci Code. Forget the Turin Shroud. Forget accusations that the Pope was soft on Fascism in the war.

I can reveal that a much bigger scandal is about to break over the head of the Catholic Church. The sainthoods-for-miracles scandal!

Apparently hundreds, if not thousands, of the sainthoods that have been handed out to devout Catholics may have been given in return for lucrative local franchises. In other words, purchased.

"This is the way that it works," says Pietro Calvino. Calvino is an investigator who specialises in uncovering Vatican scandals. Pietro Calvino is not his real name. "A very holy man dies. People say - he was a saint! They ask the Pope to make him a saint. It takes a long time to make a saint - you have to produce evidence of a miracle performed by the saint after his death, which is tough - but eventually, if the Vatican likes the story, the man is canonised and becomes a saint.

"And the place where he was born, or worked, or died, then sets up in business. The pilgrimage business! People will come from all over to pray to the new saint, or invoke his aid or intercession. Coachloads. Buying food. Buying souvenirs. Staying the night. It's big money. A saint can make or break a place. Think of Assisi. Think of Compostella. You think there is no corruption in the saint business? Oh, please!"

You're not suggesting that the Vatican could be pressured into granting a sainthood to someone? By financial factors?

"Listen, the Catholic Church is one of the biggest business corporations in the world. It is fabulously rich. It has a wonderful product - the True Faith - and a wonderful marketing division. It is up there with the mega-corporations. Oh, sure, sometimes it has its bad periods, and the profits go down, but believe me, the Church will always be one of the big players in the business world. And now you say to me that it is unthinkable that money can enter their minds! And I say to you - oh, please!"

But surely, if there are thousands of saints already, why would the Vatican want to create more?

"Because when you have a good thing that people want, you take care that they get it. At a price. Nothing is more sad for the Church than when a place already has a saint - and doesn't care! In San Francisco, what do they care about Saint Francis? No. In Santa Monica, do they make money from Saint Monica? No. This is so distressing for the Vatican. What a terrible waste of a saint!

"And although they make new saints, they do get rid of old ones, you know. It's a constant turnover. Not long ago they got rid of Saint Christopher. They decided that there was not enough evidence for his existence. That surprised everyone. It surprised me. And it must have surprised a lot of drivers who were depending on him for a clean licence! Maybe many people crashed that day! St Christopher was so lucrative that everyone thought he was there for keeps. But apparently they can afford to do without him. That is how rich the Vatican is."

Does this apply also to saints who we only know about because a small place is named after them? Saint Austell, maybe? St Pancras? St Tropez?

"I think even small saints have their value. I know that there is a procession for Saint Tropes every May in Saint Tropez. But the big money is in new patron saints. You know they are thinking of making St Isidore of Seville the patron saint of the internet?"

No, I ...

"Sure! They are clever in the Vatican, you know. They keep up to date. Never underestimate them. As you will read in my new book."

Your new book...?

"Saints for Sale. 'The new Da Vinci Code'. Order your copy now. It will be sensational. After all, there is more than one way to make money out of the Catholic Church ..."

And Pietro Calvino - which is not at all his real name - gives a big grin and disappears.