VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II has cleared the final obstacle before being made a saint, awaiting just the final approval from Pope Francis and a date for the ceremony that could come as soon as Dec. 8, a Vatican official and news reports said today.
The ANSA news agency reported that a commission of cardinals and bishops met today to consider John Paul's case and signed off on it. A Vatican official confirmed that the decision had been taken some time back and that today's meeting was essentially a formality.
One possible canonization date is Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a major feast day for the Catholic Church. This year the feast coincidentally falls on a Sunday, which is when canonizations usually occur.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized by the church to discuss saint-making cases on the record, confirmed reports in La Stampa newspaper that John Paul could be canonized together with Pope John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council but died in 1963 before it was finished.
There is reasoned precedent for beatifying or canonizing two popes together, primarily to balance one another out.
John Paul has been on the fast track for possible sainthood ever since his 2005 death, but there remains some concern that the process has been too quick. Some of the Holy See's deep-seated problems - clerical sex abuse, dysfunctional governance and more recently the financial scandals at the Vatican bank - essentially date from shortcomings of his pontificate.
Defenders of the fast-track process argue that people are canonized, not pontificates.
But the Vatican in the past has sought to balance concerns about papal saints by giving two the honor at the same time. Such was the case in 2000, when John Paul beatified John XXIII, dubbed the "good pope," alongside Pope Pius IX, who was criticized by Jews for condoning the seizure of a Jewish boy and allegedly referring to Jews as dogs.
By canonizing John Paul II along with John XXIII, the Vatican could be seeking to assuage concerns about John Paul's fast-track sainthood case by tying it together with the 50-year wait John XXIII has had to endure.
Many Poles have been awaiting the final steps of John Paul's progress, which has been pushed for by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish pope's longtime private secretary.
"We should be very happy if it is confirmed," Dziwisz's spokesman, the Rev. Robert Necek told Polish TVN24 television. "This is the next and the last step towards canonization. It will be presented to Pope Francis and the pope will take the appropriate decision."
During John Paul's 2005 funeral Mass, chants of "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood Now!" erupted in St. Peter's Square. Heeding the calls, then-Pope Benedict XVI waived the typical five-year waiting period and allowed an investigation into John Paul's life to begin immediately. The investigation determined that the beloved Polish-born pope lived a virtuous life, the first step in the sainthood process.
Subsequently, the Vatican determined that a French nun who prayed for his intercession was miraculously cured of Parkinson's disease. A second miracle is needed for canonization. The Vatican hasn't divulged any details about that second purported miracle.