Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beato Subito: JPII Beatification Gets Green-Light

(SVILUPPO: The miracle decree formally accepted by Pope Benedict on 14 January, John Paul II will be beatified on May 1st.)

In a development that promises to spark intense reactions across the ecclesial spectrum, Italian reports this morning declare that, nearly six years since his last hospitalization began, Pope John Paul II's path to beatification has cleared its final hurdle.

Under the headline, "The cardinals OK the miracle, Wojtyla will be beatified," the most reliable of vaticanisti -- Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale -- revealed that the cardinal-members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted yesterday to affirm the finding of the dicastery's medical board that no natural explanation could be found for the healing of a French nun from Parkinson's disease, the same condition which ravaged the Polish Pope in the final act of his monumental 27-year reign.

With the miracle approved, all that remains is for Pope Benedict to accept the conclusion -- something which would normally take place in a routine private audience with the prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Angelo Amato, which could occur within days. Preparations would then begin in earnest for what will inevitably end up being the Vatican's biggest gathering since the late pontiff's 2005 funeral, which drew 5 million people to Rome; according to Tornielli, the formal beatification rites could take place in the fall, with 16 October -- the anniversary of John Paul's 1978 election (and, conveniently, a Sunday this year) -- cited as the most likely date.

Thanks in part to the waiving of the traditional "five-year rule" to open the cause on the part of the then newly-elected Benedict XVI, the process bringing the church's greatest saintmaker in history to the penultimate step to sainthood in his own right has reached the milestone with a speed matched by but one other figure: Mother Teresa of Calcutta -- of course, celebrated in life as a saint -- who was raised to the altars by John Paul six years after her 1997 death, but whose required miracle for canonization remains pending.

As other high-profile processes go, it took the cause of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina -- a figure whose devotion among Italians has been measured as surpassing that of Jesus Himself -- 32 years to reach his 2000 beatification; the founder of Opus Dei, now St Jose Maria Escriva, was beatified 17 years after his 1997 death. In earlier times, two exceedingly-popular, eventually-canonized figures of the first half of the 20th century, the Italian virgin-martyr Maria Goretti and the French Carmelite mystic Therese of Lisieux (the beloved "Little Flower") were respectively beatified 45 and 27 years after they died.

All that said, indications over the last month that the medical examination of the Wojtyla miracle had cleared the scrutiny of the sainthood office -- a probe that comes complete with the traditional "Devil's Advocate" -- have, in some quarters, seen a renewed focus on controversial aspects of John Paul's pontificate.

Albeit dwarfed by his enduring worldwide cult, exponents of a protest have focused on what the late Pope knew about matters ranging from the Vatican Bank's handling of the 1982 Banco Ambrosiano scandal to the sexual abuse crisis that erupted over the course of his three decades as the 264th Roman pontiff. In particular, the latter thread has drawn an outcry in light of John Paul's prominent favor for the late founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Mexican Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, a serial abuser who was removed from ministry after an investigation opened by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the months before John Paul's death. Under Benedict XVI, Maciel's extensive history of sexual and financial misconduct -- which included his fathering of at least one child and, in the Holy See's posthumous judgment, "at times constitute[d] real crimes" -- saw the Legion placed under an Apostolic Visitation and then given a papally-appointed overseer with broad powers, who recently ordered all traces of the disgraced founder to be purged from the community's public life.

While the miracle phase completes the beatification process, any overpowering concerns about John Paul's biography would have seen the cause halted at the point of the positio -- the extensive study of a candidate's life conducted by the postulator. B16's declaration of his predecessor's heroic virtue in December 2009 (alongside that of Pope Pius XII) signaled the current pontiff's acceptance of the report's conclusion that Karol Wojtyla had emitted the "odor of sanctity" in life, laying any questions to rest and allowing the process to continue on to the investigation of the reported cure.

One question that does remain open is the matter of selecting a feast day for the reported Blessed-in-waiting. As the 2 April anniversary of John Paul's death often falls within Holy Week or the Octave of Easter -- and, as such, would see the feast frequently wiped off the calendar -- it's more than likely that a different date would at least be considered, much as Blessed John XXIII is commemorated on 11 October (the opening-date of Vatican II) and Blessed John Henry Newman is now celebrated two days earlier, on the anniversary of his 1845 reception into the Catholic fold.

Even for a Pope, however, it's important to recall that -- at least, according to the classic ecclesial understanding of things -- beatification designates a figure for veneration solely in their local church, a devotion which is only supposed to extend to the wider communion on the blessed's elevation to sainthood.

Then again, having broken the rules as a matter of habit in life, perhaps John Paul's defying convention anew might just be the most fitting thing of all.

SVILUPPO: According to an "informed source" cited by Catholic News Service's Cindy Wooden in Rome, the aforementioned audience for the presentation of decrees to Pope Benedict -- is scheduled for this Friday. The pontiff normally approves the decrees on the spot, and their acceptance is immediately announced.