In light of the announcement of the impending canonizations of Bl. John XXIII and Bl. John Paul II, I have been doing a lot of research on canonizations in Catholic history, particularly the role of the Promotor Fidei, also known as the Devil's Advocate, whose office was basically eliminated in 1982. Please take some time to read this extensive article on the historical reasons for the institution of the office, the role of the Promotor Fidei, and the consequences attendant upon the elimination of the office. Here is an extract from the introduction:
"Chances are we have all heard the phrase "devil's advocate" to describe the role of a person who argues against a point he is in favor of for the purpose of testing the argument for flaws or weaknesses. The devil's advocate was actually the official name of the Promoter Fidei, an office first attested during the pontificate of Leo X (1513-1521) and formally established by Sixtus V in 1587 during the Counter-Reformation. The duty of the Promotor Fidei was to oversee every aspect of the beatification and canonization process, ensuring that no person received the honors of sainthood rashly, that proper juridical form was observed, and that every potential weakness or objection to the saints canonization was raised and evaluated in order that only those who were truly worthy would be raised to the dignity of the altars. Because the Promotor Fidei took a juridical position against the canonization of any given saint, it was joked that he was taking the devil's part in the proceedings, hence the common appellation "Devils' Advocate" (advocatus diaboli). In this article, we will examine the historical origin, office, and rationale behind the advocatus diaboli as well as the consequences attendant upon the abolition of office by Bl. John Paul II in 1982."