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Key milestone in John Paul II sainthood process

Catholic Church officials reach a key milestone in the drive to make Pope John Paul II a saint Monday, closing an investigation into his life and handing over a dossier detailing the purported miraculous cure of a nun who prayed to him.

The events come two years to the day after John Paul died - a remarkably fast pace that underscores the Church's keen interest in beatifying John Paul and responding to the calls of "Santo Subito" or "Sainthood Immediately!" that erupted after his death.

Pope Benedict XVI put John Paul on the fast track for possible sainthood just weeks after his April 2, 2005, death, when he waived the customary five-year waiting period and allowed the investigation into John Paul's virtues to begin immediately.

Such a waiver had only been granted once before, to Mother Teresa.

Benedict won't attend Monday's ceremony at the St. John Lateran basilica to close the investigation into John Paul's life, a key step in the process of beatification and canonization. He was, however, scheduled to celebrate a Mass later in the day at St. Peter's Basilica to mark the second anniversary of John Paul's death.

Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Polish prelate who is spearheading the beatification cause, acknowledged recently that his probe was completed unusually quickly - particularly considering the vast amount of material that had to be collected.

About 130 people were interviewed, historians gathered books about John Paul from libraries around the globe, and theologians studied his private writings to determine if he ever wrote anything heretical.

Critics were also heard from, although Oder said the vast majority of the criticism was not against John Paul as a person but against some aspect of his teachings or church doctrine. "To tell the truth, this doesn't weigh heavily on the merit of the process itself," he said.

Such complicated investigations often take decades or centuries, not a matter of months.

"But speed doesn't mean a lack of seriousness," Oder said. "Aside from the dispensation of the delay to start the process, we have not sought any other waiver."

Indeed, he dismissed renewed calls by John Paul's longtime private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, Poland, to proceed to canonization immediately, saying the church's procedures must be respected.

But John Paul's cause has been bolstered by the testimony of a French nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, who says she was cured of Parkinson's disease after she and her fellow sisters prayed to the late pope.

The nun, 46, emerged from secrecy last week, telling a news conference in France that she felt reborn when she woke up two months after John Paul died, cured of the disease that the pope himself had lived with.

The Vatican's complicated saint-making procedures require that a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession be confirmed before beatification. A second miracle is necessary for canonization.

Simon-Pierre is expected to attend Monday's events in Rome and to be on hand as her superiors deliver to the Vatican the documentation supporting her testimony about the purported miracle.

After receiving the documentation, the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints will appoint medical experts to determine if there are medical explanations for the cure. Theologians will then determine if the cure came as a result of prayer to John Paul.

If panels of bishops and cardinals agree that John Paul led a virtuous life and that Simon-Pierre was indeed miraculously cured, they will forward the case to Benedict. He will then decide if his predecessor deserves to be beatified, the last formal step before possible sainthood.

Beatification allows the candidate to be called "Blessed" and honored locally or in a limited way in the liturgy. Canonization is an infallible declaration by the pope that a person who was virtuous to a heroic degree in life is now in heaven and worthy of honor and veneration by all the faithful.

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