Acclaiming John Paul as a Saint Gains Advocates in High Places

By DANIEL J. WAKIN

New York Times

April 13, 2005

ROME, April 13 - The cardinals electing a successor to Pope John Paul II are facing unusual popular pressure to declare him a saint, with some cardinals responding through deft messages, press leaks and internal lobbying. The canonization campaign may even be playing a role in the succession politics.

Calls for sainthood began almost immediately after the pope died on April 2 and reached a peak at his funeral on Friday, when mourners in St. Peter's Square held banners saying, "Santo Subito," or "Saint at Once," and chanted, "Santo, Santo." Reports of miraculous cures through his intervention poured in.

Several Italian newspapers reported that the Vatican had quietly been collecting messages from people attesting to healings attributed to him.

Luigi Accattoli, one of the most respected Vatican reporters, wrote in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera that a petition had already been circulated among the cardinals seeking signatures for a fast-track canonization process for John Paul. The usual process involves years of careful investigation, and it sometimes takes centuries for the final declaration.

Several cardinals confirmed that the idea of rapid canonization was discussed the day after the pope's funeral at their daily meeting.

If John Paul is canonized, he will be only the fourth pope to be so honored in 900 years.

According to some, an early hint of the effort came when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany closed his eulogy at John Paul's funeral. He said, "We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house." Two Italian cardinals made similar statements in recent homilies.

While to some ears the phrase was typical of a Catholic eulogy, Vittorio Messori, an Italian writer who collaborated on the pope's 1994 book "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," said it was evocative of sainthood. "If he is in paradise, he is a saint," Mr. Messori said.

Cardinal Francesco Marchesano evoked the idea of miraculous healing. He said that when he had been in the hospital for an operation on his carotid artery and lost his voice, John Paul caressed his throat and said: "The Lord will give back your voice. You will see. I will say a prayer for you.'" Cardinal Camillo Ruini spoke of "the certainty of his new, mysterious and luminous presence."

The death of a pope often has prompted calls for canonization, but what is striking now is their volume and rapidity, and the fact that cardinals are stepping forward so quickly. "All the cardinals want to wrap themselves in the mantle of John Paul II," said Christopher M. Bellitto, a history professor at Kean University in Union, N.J. "Putting forth his name for canonization is one part of that."

The movement for canonization may be tied to pre-conclave maneuvering. According to this interpretation, it is an effort to build a consensus of like-minded cardinals, or even to position one of John Paul's inner circle as the best successor. The theory is that only someone of great weight, like a Cardinal Ratzinger or Cardinal Ruini, someone close to the pope or his thinking, could follow a man of such spiritual magnitude.

Emphasizing canonization is an effort to show that "only continuity is allowed in the succession of John Paul," said Alberto Melloni, a historian of Vatican conclaves.

Hans Kung, a prominent Swiss theologian who has been at odds with the Vatican, said a move to push for sainthood was a means of pressing the cardinals to choose a successor in line with the pope's conservative thinking.

He was quoted on Monday by Reuters as saying, "A campaign for Pope John Paul's beatification, inspired and engineered by the Vatican, is in full swing, and it will try to smother all internal criticism." Beatification is a major step toward canonization.

According to Mr. Accattoli, the Corriere reporter, the cardinals are divided about pushing for sainthood, with some arguing that it would be better to show prudence and let the canonization process run its normal course.

During the cardinals' meeting on Saturday, Cardinal Ratzinger, dean of the cardinals, called on Cardinal Josť Saraiva Martins, who headed the Vatican department in charge of creating saints under John Paul.

Cardinal Saraiva Martins noted there was an ancient custom of allowing sanctification by public acclamation. But he said church rules now held that five years must pass before a candidacy can begin. He noted that the next pope could speed up the time frame, as John Paul had done for Mother Teresa.

John Paul made more saints, 483, than all of his predecessors put together.

Moving to canonize popes is a tricky business, because it gives rise to comparisons among them, casts attention on parts of papal legacies that raised debate - like Pius XII's record regarding the Jews in World War II - and can be interpreted as the seal of approval for their policies.

Since about 1100, only three popes have been canonized: the 13th-century Pope Celestine V, the 16th-century Pope Pius V, and Pope Pius X, who died in 1914, according to "Making Saints" by Kenneth L. Woodward.

John Paul beatified the 19th-century Pope Pius IX, as well as Pope John XXIII. A group of cardinals, during the Second Vatican Council, which Pope John had set in motion, campaigned to have him acclaimed a saint shortly after his death in 1963 as a way to seal his efforts to modernize the church, but they were turned down by Pope Paul VI.