Pope Puts John Paul II on Fast Track to Sainthood


New York Times

May 13, 2005

ROME, May 13 - Pope Benedict XVI said today that he had decided to forego the rules of the Roman Catholic Church and immediately put his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, on the road to potential sainthood.

The pope's announcement effectively dispensed with a church law that requires a five-year waiting period before beatification cases can be opened, and thus put John Paul, who made more saints than all other popes combined, on the sainthood fast track.

Benedict's brief statement, made in Latin to a group of priests gathered at St John's Basilica on the 24th anniversary of the assassination attempt against John Paul, also set off a long round of applause.

That outpouring of affection is indicative of the wave of advocacy for John Paul's beatification, the last step before sainthood, that has swept over Rome and much of the Church since his death on April 2.

During the John Paul's funeral, the faithful waved banners and chanted calls for the Polish pope to be made "saint at once." Reports of miraculous cures through his intervention poured in while Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, seemed to hint at John Paul's saintliness when he said, "We can be sure that our beloved pope is now at the window of the house of the Father, and he sees us and he blesses us."

The emotional wave that followed John Paul's death, with millions of pilgrims packing into Rome to pay their respects, amounted to a grass-roots campaign for the immensely popular pope's beatification.

"This is something that makes everyone very happy," said Rome's mayor, Walter Veltroni, who has proposed renaming the capital's central train station after John Paul. "It is an important contribution for the young people who hoped to continue their devotion toward John Paul II and who now see this wish fulfilled."

John Paul himself broke with standard church procedure in 1999, when he allowed Mother Teresa's case for sainthood to begin only two years after she died.

In order for John Paul to become a saint, miracles need to be attributed to him. The fact that many of the people who worked close to him are still alive means that there is no shortage of potential witnesses of miracles to accelerate his cause.

"I am very happy," said Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, whose vocal chords were temporarily paralyzed during a throat operation. "One day I found myself at lunch with the pope and I explained to him, I showed him, that I couldn't talk, and he came over to me he caressed my throat."

Cardinal Marchisano, 75, said that while months of therapy helped him get his voice back, he did not rule out that a miracle had occurred.

"It could be," he said. "All the saints have powers."

Also today, Benedict named the Archbishop of San Francisco, William Joseph Levada, as the new prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful Vatican office in charge of defending church doctrine that the pope himself headed up for more than 20 years.

Archbishop Levada, a theologian by training , worked with Benedict at the congregation from 1976 to 1982.