Church officials reject making late pope an instant saint

By Jonathan Luxmoore
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Vatican officials have dismissed press claims that Pope John Paul II could be beatified as early as October after receiving "popular acclamation" as a saint from Catholics worldwide.

"This is complete fiction; although it's possible the process could be speeded up, such dates are totally imaginary," said Jesuit Father Hieronim Fokcinski, an official of the Congregation for Saints' Causes.

"There's no possibility of acclaiming saints this way, particularly when doing so would bypass this congregation and appear to pre-empt decisions by a future pope," he said in an interview with Catholic News Service April 11.

Jesuit Father Paolo Molinari, one of the Vatican's longest-serving postulators of saints' causes, said he would not be surprised if Pope John Paul were canonized someday.

"But these media reports have been organized by a group of Poles. They're setting up an atmosphere to pressure the Holy See to do something which hasn't been done for 500 years," he said April 11.

"We have to be very careful in cases like this, when nationalism is involved and banners are being produced by an organized group," he said. "Popular enthusiasm can pass, while it can also affect the authority of a pope."

Calls for Pope John Paul's canonization have proliferated since his April 8 funeral, during which placards were held up calling for him to be declared "subito santo," Italian for "saint immediately."

Father Molinari said he believed a beatification process would take "a minimum of three-four years." Normal procedures require a minimum of five years to pass from a candidate's death before the process begins.

He said Pope John Paul "agreed exceptionally" to waive the five-year norm in the case of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was beatified in 2003. Her cause was opened in 1999, two years after her death, because she was "universally regarded as a saint in her own lifetime," he said.

Current church rules require detailed examination of all archival material on a sainthood candidate as well as the cross-examination of witnesses and the compilation of documentation on the person's life.

A commission of historians and theologians must also carry out investigations, before a group of cardinals refers the case to the pope for a final decision on the candidate's "heroic virtues."

Speaking to journalists April 9, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said a decision to speed up a possible cause for the pope would "depend solely on the next pope."

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, who headed the Congregation for Saints' Causes until Pope John Paul's death, said that a process for the late pope could only open after five years.

"Popular sentiment is one thing," he told Italy's Catholic daily, Avvenire, April 10. "Canonical recognition of sanctity is another."

Another Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, reported April 11 that the Polish secretary of the saints' congregation, Archbishop Edward Nowak, had suggested the expected Synod of Bishops in October as a possible occasion for Pope John Paul's beatification.

However, a spokesman for Archbishop Nowak told CNS he believed the interview had been distorted.

Pope John Paul beatified Popes Pius IX and John XXIII in 2003, 125 and 40 years, respectively, after their deaths.

Press reports said Venezuelan Cardinal Rosario Castillo Lara, a retired Vatican official, told mourners in Caracas April 8 he had witnessed the curing of a woman with cancer after a general audience in Rome. He said he believed "a new star will soon radiate great light in the heavenly firmament."

Meanwhile, Italy's La Stampa daily said April 10 that the pope's private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, described the cure of a U.S. Catholic of Jewish origin who had cancer. The archbishop reportedly said the cure occurred after the man attended a Mass with Pope John Paul in 2002.

A priest from Poland's Niepokolanow Franciscan monastery, Father Janusz Zatger, said many Catholics believed a miracle had occurred when a sick child was unexpectedly cured April 5 after undergoing life-threatening brain surgery.

"We came to St. Peter's to pray with the father after the Holy Father's death (April 2), and we all believe the pope pointed his finger and helped him," Father Zatger told CNS April 8.

"At a time when many miracles are being witnessed in acts of generosity and friendship, we are certain this was an act of intercession by the pope," he said.

However, Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Warsaw cautioned that a formal process would be needed to ensure a "deeper awareness of his life and teaching."

"For the world, it's obvious that John Paul II is a saint -- the question of when a process begins doesn't in any way change the fact of his holiness," Cardinal Glemp told Poland's Catholic information agency April 10.

"Although John Paul II is universally viewed as a saint, I wouldn't rush the process, so we can get to know his teaching better, sort it out and document it," he added.


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