ROME (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI announced May 13 that he was allowing the immediate opening of Pope John Paul II's cause for sainthood, setting aside the five-year waiting period called for by Church law.
Pope Benedict made the announcement at the end of a speech to the priests of the Diocese of Rome gathered for a meeting and a dialogue with him at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
Finishing his prepared speech to the priests, the pope said he had a "joyful announcement" to make before he listened to the priests' comments and questions.
He then read, in Latin, a letter from Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, to Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar of Rome.
The letter said that at an April 28 audience, Pope Benedict, "considering the special circumstances that were explained," had decided "to dispense from the five-year period of waiting after the death of the servant of God, Pope John Paul II. ..."
Pope Benedict had to wait several minutes to finish the sentence -- saying he was authorizing the immediate opening of the "cause for beatification and canonization" -- because the priests broke into a loud and sustained standing ovation.
When they quieted, he said, "I see you all understand Latin very well." The comment brought more applause.
Although the process for considering the holiness of Pope John Paul was to begin immediately, it was not expected to conclude quickly.
Even after the normal five-year waiting period, causes for beatification and canonization require years, if not decades of studying the person's life, writings and relationships.
Those who knew the candidate are interviewed, and everything the person wrote must be scrutinized, a process that may take years, especially for a pope who was a prolific writer and speaker.
Two years after the 1997 death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul set aside the five-year waiting period for the opening of her cause, but she was not beatified until 2003.
Jesuit Father Paolo Molinari -- who helped prepare her cause and is working on the cause of Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978 -- said the process for a pope entails much more work.
"If this is done properly, it will take years," he said.
Pope John Paul beatified Popes Pius IX and John XXIII in 2000 -- 122 and 37 years, respectively, after their deaths.
Just the interview with the pope's longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, "will take days," Father Molinari said.
Then there are hundreds of other people, collaborators in the Roman Curia, longtime friends, bishops and priests, who also must be interviewed. His published work will be examined, but also letters, articles and poems held in archives in Poland and in other parts of the world, Father Molinari said.
The material must be compiled into a multivolume biography, then a "positio" or position paper on how the candidate heroically lived the Christian virtues is written.
Historians and theologians examine the material and make recommendations to members of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, whose opinion is presented to the pope.
After the pope declares a candidate lived a life of heroic virtue, beatification still requires the verification of a miracle attributed to his intercession. Separate boards of theologians and of physicians are called to examine miracles alleged to have occurred after the candidate's death.
Father Molinari said that when Pope Benedict decided he would preside only over canonization ceremonies -- leaving Cardinal Saraiva Martins to celebrate beatification Masses -- "he made it clear that he was not simplifying the process for beatification."
The Jesuit said he was not surprised the pope set aside the waiting period because of the widespread public acclaim of Pope John Paul's holiness and because of Pope Benedict's long relationship with him.
"He has been a faithful servant of John Paul II. He had a personal relationship with him and admiration for him," Father Molinari said.
During Pope John Paul's April 8 funeral, people held up signs and banners proclaiming the late pope a saint or calling for his canonization.
Cardinal Saraiva Martins said that while popular recognition of holiness was important, "canonical recognition" that someone is a saint requires the certainty that comes from a process developed and refined over the years.
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