The Advocatus Diaboli

The role of the Advocatus Diaboli (the Devil’s Advocate) was established in the Catholic Church in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V.

His function was in the processes of beatification and canonization to gather all evidence against the person’s honoring.

No important act in the process of beatification or canonization was valid unless performed in the formal presence of the Advocatus Diaboli.

It was the special role of the Advocatus Diaboli to prevent any rash decisions concerning miracles or virtues.

All documents of beatification and canonization processes needed to be submitted to his examination, and the difficulties and doubts he raised over the virtues and miracles were then laid before the congregation to be satisfactorily answered before any further steps could be taken in the processes.

It was his duty to suggest natural explanations for alleged miracles, and even to bring forward human and selfish motives for deeds that have been accounted heroic virtues.


Imagine if there was such a thing as a corporate Advocatus Diaboli … what would the role look like?

Formal strategic decisions made in the absence of the Advocatus Diaboli would not be seen as valid.

The Advocatus Diaboli would enforce a critical distance on decisions – where the outcome cannot be satisfactorily explained additional justification would need to be provided.

The Advocatus Diaboli would be the role responsible for ensuring that all decisions are collected and their impacts taken into account.

Additionally the role would ensure that complete and accurate documentation exists at any point in the project / business decision life cycle.

Such a role isn’t like any that currently exists within an organisation.

The Corporate Advocatus Diaboli (with the unfortunate acronym CAD) would be integral to the business in a way that no other could be yet would need to maintain a distance that negates such a role being compared to that of a senior executive or an independent assurance provider.

Where would corporate governance, risk management and internal audit  sit in such a brave new (old?) world?

Good question.

One thing that we can be sure of is if the Advocatus Diaboli did their job well there would be much less raw data sitting around for the future risk managers and internal auditors to pass their judgement over!


As an aside, the office of the Advocatus Diaboli was abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983 when His Holiness introduced a radical revision of the canonisation process.

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