The late Pope John Paul II, whose death in April 2005 prompted a global outpouring of grief and demands that he be made a saint on the spot -- "Santo Subito!" as mourners cried -- will move a step closer to canonization when he is beatified on May 1, the Vatican announced Friday.
, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed the judgment of Vatican medical experts and theologians that a French nun's neurological disorder had been miraculously cured after she prayed to the memory of John Paul in June 2005.
Vatican policy requires that a miracle, usually an unexplained healing, be officially attributed to the intervention of a deceased person before he or she can be beatified. A second miracle is required for the final step to sainthood, which is canonization. Those who are martyred for their faith can be declared saints without attributing miracles to them.
(According to Catholic doctrine, all Christians in heaven are considered saints; canonization is the church's formal declaration that a person is indeed in paradise and that their memory is worthy of veneration, and that Catholics may pray to that saint to intercede with God on behalf of some cause here on Earth.)
Some have raised questions about the healing of the nun, Sister Marie Simon Pierre, and others say recent revelations about the John Paul's poor management of the clergy sexual abuse crisis should cause Rome to go slow on sainthood for the Polish pope.
"This is madness," wrote
Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter, a leading Catholic periodical. "After years of being frustrated at the slow pace with which the Vatican embraces change, in this one instance where haste could spell disaster, they appear to be rushing."
And Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said pushing ahead with John Paul's beatification would be like "rubbing more salt into these wounds" of sexual abuse by clergy that was covered up during John Paul's reign.
"There's a reason we usually move slowly in honoring public figures," Dorris said
. "Often, some of their unsavory actions and inactions surface years later. That's slowly happening with Pope John Paul II. The prudent course is to slow down this unwise and frantic rush."
"When we honor those who ignore or conceal wrong-doing, we essentially condone wrong-doing."
But such warnings are not likely to be heeded. While the Vatican on Friday insisted
that all proper procedures had been followed in this process, it noted that for John Paul's cause for sainthood, Benedict XVI had waived the mandatory five-year waiting period after a person's death because of the "great fame of sanctity" John Paul enjoyed during his lifetime.
Moreover, the Vatican is moving to canonize popes
with increasing regularity. That was not the case throughout most of the church's history, but popes have become so central to Catholic identity in the modern era that declaring deceased popes as saints is almost a requirement.
NCR's Vatican analyst, John Allen, said that Vatican officials "did not offer any response to substantive criticism of John Paul II."
But Allen explained
that "in past cases when popes have been moved along the sainthood track, they generally insist that beatifying or canonizing a pope is not tantamount to endorsing every policy choice of his pontificate. Instead, they say, it's a declaration that this pope lived a holy life worthy of emulation, despite whatever failings may have occurred during his lifetime -- including his reign as pope."
Benedict XVI will preside at the beatification in Saint Peter's Square, which is expected to draw the largest crowds to Rome since John Paul's death and funeral. There was some question as to whether the Vatican could prepare for the beatification by April 2, the sixth anniversary of John Paul's death, or if Rome would wait until October, the anniversary of his election as pope. The May 1 date seems to be a realistic compromise.