Pope Benedict XVI moved two of his predecessors closer to possible sainthood Saturday. He signed decrees on the heroic virtues of his predecessor Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII, who has been criticized by Jews for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust.
From the signing of the decree on Saturday, Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII are known as "venerable." Both are a step closer to sainthood. A miracle now needs to be attributed to their intercession before they can be beatified.
The decree for John Paul II came as no surprise. Just weeks after he died in April 2005, Pope Benedict put him on the fast track to sainthood, waiving a five-year waiting period normally required after a candidate's death before procedures can begin leading up to sainthood.
Hundreds of thousands who attended John Paul's funeral called for him to be declared a saint immediately. John Paul's humble qualities were visible as soon as he was elected.
If I make mistakes you will correct me, he told the huge crowd gathered in Saint Peter's Square immediately after his election. Church officials say a miracle for the Polish pope has already been identified and Pope Benedict will soon sign off on it.
A 47-year-old nun who was diagnosed with Parkinson's, the same disease John Paul suffered from, said she was inexplicably cured after his death and her fellow nuns prayed to him. Vatican observers say a beatification ceremony may be held for John Paul as early as next year, on October 16, the day he was elected pope in 1978.
By contrast, not everyone will be as pleased with the decree signed by Pope Benedict for Pius XII. Some historians and Jewish groups have argued Pius should have done more to prevent the Holocaust. The Vatican has always maintained Pius used quiet diplomacy to try to save Jews.
In addition to John Paul and Pius, the pope also declared that a young Polish priest, Jerzy Popieluszko, was a martyr for the faith after he was kidnapped and killed in 1984 by Poland's communist-era secret police. The martyr designation means he can be beatified without a miracle.
That will give Poland a local beatification ceremony next year since the Polish-born John Paul will most likely be beatified at the Vatican.
Pope Benedict also approved a second miracle for an Australian woman, Mary Mackillop, paving the way for her to be declared Australia's first saint.