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Last Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Vatican under pressure in John Paul push
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News

Catholic Church officials have reached a milestone in the drive to canonise Pope John Paul II.

Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre
A French nun is at the centre of miracle claims
The first stage in the beatification process that could eventually lead to sainthood, closes on Monday, the second anniversary of the pontiff's death.

The Church has moved remarkably fast on this issue. An investigation to assess the Pope's reputation for holiness was launched after chants of "Santo Subito" or "Sainthood Now" erupted during his funeral.

Canon law normally only allows a beatification process to begin five years after a candidate's death, but this was waived by Pope Benedict XVI.

Investigations at diocesan level have now closed and findings will be handed to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

These will include interviews carried out by a board of experts in both Rome and Krakow - where John Paul was cardinal before being elected Pope - in which witnesses will have testified to his life and soundness of faith.


According to Church historian Professor Michael Walsh, this is turning into an unusually speedy process.

"Joan of Arc, who fought the English back in the 14th Century, has had to wait 600 years, but John Paul II, looks likely to do it in five or six," he told the BBC.

A large picture of Pope John Paul in the Vatican
A push to fast-track the process is coming from Poland
"It depends how much pressure people bring to bear. If there's a great deal of devotion to an individual and there's enough money around - not that people are being bribed, but it does cost money to go through the whole process - then it can be speeded up."

Much of the drive to canonise Pope John Paul II quickly is coming from his native Poland. The investigation there was headed by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's former secretary and now Archbishop of Krakow.

In a carefully timed interview last week, he told a newspaper in Poland that he believed the beatification process could be bypassed and the canonisation process embarked on quickly.

Church author John Wilkins told the BBC there was historical precedent for this.

"In the Middle Ages people could become saints straight away - they were just assumed to be saints. A similar push is coming from Poland. But the Vatican, on the whole, appears to be erring on the side of caution."


Beatification allows for the veneration of the person in their home diocese - in this case in Poland. A beatified person is given the title "Blessed".
Canonisation allows for the person to be venerated throughout the world. They could then be given a universal saint's feast day

Mr Wilkins points out that the recent furore in Poland over collaboration between Polish priests and the communist-era authorities is one reason for this caution.

"The Vatican will want to ensure that no errors turn up after a hasty beatification. This would stop the canonisation," he says.

"This all needs to be seen in the perspective of history - we're too close to it. There are people who are urging caution, who are saying: 'Don't rush ahead so that you're living in John Paul's slipstream - wait a bit so you can see things in the round and this will prevent you from making errors.'"

At the centre of the case for beatification are claims by a French nun that she has been cured of Parkinson's disease by praying to the late pontiff.

The Vatican requires one miracle to have been performed at both the beatification and canonisation stages.
A nun walks towards the Vatican
Experts at the Vatican will have to study thousands of documents
It used to be two at each stage, but that was changed by John Paul II, who canonised more saints than any other pope.

The purported miracle - often the recovery from a medical condition - has to be attributed to an intercession by the putative saint and it must have been posthumous. The recover needs to be sudden, complete and enduring, and certified as inexplicable by doctors.

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre - who is with an order in the southern French city of Aix en Provence - is said to suffered from Parkinson's, a degenerative disease of the nervous system, since 2001.

She has testified that she was cured in June 2005 shortly after the death of John Paul II, whose final years were marked by the disease.

Medical experts will now have to assess these claims.

Medical claims

Dr Charles Clarke, a consultant neurologist told the BBC News website that he knew of no recorded incidents of recovery for established, advanced Parkinson's disease.

It is not easy to diagnose Parkinson's, as there are no particular tests that can prove whether or not someone has the condition.

Once canonised, it would give a strong push to his policies vis-a-vis the Church, which were very centralising
John Wilkins, author
"It is possible to misdiagnose Parkinson's disease," says Dr Clarke. "There are various other disorders of movement that in their early stages can look like it - symptoms could be tremors or lack of movement."

In an account of her ailment, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre said her illness was so far advanced that she found it difficult to write. But after she prayed she found her writing was clearly legible and she had explained what had happened to her mother superior.

"I went to bed... I woke up at 0430 in the morning," she told a press conference last week. "And I got up all at once from my bed... and there I felt transformed, I was not the same person, in the inside there was something difficult to explain to you, I cannot tell you what I felt inside, it was too strong, too big, a mystery."

Medical experts will take into account whether or not the nun suffered from what Dr Clarke described as "psychiatric mimics", which can show similar symptoms as Parkinson's disease, but those symptoms cannot be attributed to neurological disease.

These include such things as somatoform disorder - in which symptoms tend to range from sensory or motor disability, hypersensitivity to pain - and conversion disorder, which is also known as hysteria.

Theologians and church historians will also examine evidence from the Pope's huge body of works to establish whether he was indeed saintly.

So what may influence them? Experts believe it will not be the obvious political factors, such as the key role that he is held to have played in bringing down Communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

They say the focus will most likely be on the more simple, human things, such as the fortitude with which coped with Parkinson's and, more importantly, the way in which he forgave the man who tried to assassinate him.

Experts say there has been a trend towards saints who can provide models of holiness in what many describe as very confusing times.

According to Mr Wilkins, there are other more political reasons for the push to fast-track canonisation.

"It's about legitimacy," he says. "Once canonised, it would give a strong push to his policies vis-a-vis the Church, which were very centralising."

But there are those who believe that the Pope was too conservative and out-of-touch with some realities, particularly in the developing world and countries with problems of HIV/Aids.

But, says Mr Wilkins, there is "widespread belief among the faithful that this man should be a saint. Saints can be very difficult to live with - they don't go in for compromise."

Pope seeks to beatify John Paul
13 May 05 |  Europe

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