03/13/2011 08:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What is Sainthood's Price Tag?

The costs build swiftly and accrue steadily, no matter the currency or the celebrity of the candidate.

The final tab includes a litany of line-item expenses common to all political campaigns: promotions, payoffs and parties.

To launch a virtuous person from the simple, earthly memories of their life's good works to Catholicism's stratosphere -- a splashy canonization bash in St. Peter's Square -- the first order of business is an old-fashioned PR blitz.

Such advertising operations typically begin in the candidate's home diocese and include: websites pitching their cause, mailings of prayer cards in the candidate's name and -- for the historic hustle to beatify and, ultimately, saint Pope John Paul II -- a headquarters, office staff, computers, paperclips, printer ink, press releases, and a glossy, full-color magazine touting the merits of the late pontiff.

For all sainthood causes, also add to that expense sheet: legal fees and travel bills paid to fly miracle investigators around the world. (Two pope-approved, Vatican-dissected miracles -- said to have occurred in the name of the dead contender -- are required for Catholic sainthood.) And in the last hours of these great crusades, the leaders of the campaigns hand a monetary offering to the sitting pope. These gifts can range from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

The final bill to reach sainthood: often $1 million.

Despite the thorough care and ancient rituals inherent to the process of elevating someone to globally venerated role model, reaching that status truly carries a modern corporate flavor.

Among many Catholics, the costs cited above have long been accepted pieces of the pageant-like enterprise. But others in the faith bluntly ask: Wouldn't this money be better spent aiding people in need? Isn't that one of the core callings of Christianity and other religions: help thy neighbor?

Is this massive outlay really necessary or even proper?

Number me among those asking such questions.

During his papacy, John Paul sainted 482 people, a record. The Vatican -- and the individual dioceses that thrust those causes across the finish line -- will not open their books to share the costs incurred (or submitted) for each campaign. In 2005, however, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis acknowledged that the price of sanctification campaigns range from $250,000 to $1 million.

Conservatively, those 482 saints generated $107 million in accompanying expenses or, using the higher estimate, they sucked up almost a half billion dollars.

As I reveal in The Third Miracle, dozens of sisters at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, an Indiana convent and college, staunchly opposed the century-long sanctification quest for their own foundress, Mother Théodore Guérin. (In 2006, Mother Guérin became the eighth American saint).

Why the dissension? Many nuns felt the cause was an unwise, unseemly use of the order's funds.

The Indiana sisters who favored and drove the cause banked on decades of contributions made by parishioners at their campus basilica and on money offered by the alumni of the order's once-scattered schools. (At Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the sisters refused to tell me how much they had spent to help place their foundress on the Catholic calendar of saints).

More often, today's sainthood campaigns are fueled, in large part, by solicitations made through the websites trumpeting these causes. Such websites typically include bank-transfer information and instructions how to use a credit card to help pay for the effort.

While researching my book, I visited in 2009 the Roman headquarters for the sainthood cause of Pope John Paul II. In a third-floor office connected via a courtyard to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, three women sorted envelopes containing prayer requests, tales of allegedly miraculous cures and, sometimes, money sent from distant lands.

The team also published bi-monthly issues of Totus Tuus (Latin for "Totally Yours") -- a magazine filled with articles and photos of the late pope's humanitarian efforts. (Annual subscriptions were priced at $17).

Funding that nerve center has, at times, been a pricey venture. In 2007, for example, the office exhausted its entire yearly postal budget in just a few months after its website was bombarded with thousands of requests for John Paul II prayer cards, each embedded with a piece of a white cassock once worn by the pope.

Franciscan Brother Chris Gaffrey, a Totus Tuus translator, told the Catholic News Service in March 2007 that it cost the campaign's office $5 to mail just one prayer card and a copy of the magazine overseas.

During my tour of that same business hub, I viewed boxes of photos displaying children and adults in terminal pain, in urgent need of a medical miracle. The work at the John Paul II campaign center was quiet, earnest and solemn.

But, as I detected, it also was a place of business.

Before leaving, I noticed a small symbol of that venture: a green, rectangular piece of paper taped to a closet door in the rear of the office. As I leaned closer, I noticed that it was a personal check, mailed by someone in Macon, Georgia, made out "direct to the pope." The amount: $20.

One more campaign donation.