- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

ATLANTA — Pope John Paul II declared more people saints than all other popes before him combined. Now many Catholics are wondering whether the late pontiff will become Saint John Paul.

A poll this week by Zogby International for Le Moyne College showed that more than two-thirds of Roman Catholics in the United States think John Paul should be set on the road to sainthood. In the same poll, 98 percent said they had a favorable impression of him.

But saints are not decided — at least officially — by public opinion. Only a pope can declare someone a Catholic saint.

“An awful lot is going to depend on who the next pope is,” said Sister Elizabeth Johnson, professor of theology at Fordham University in New York. “Clearly, it’s his decision.”

Already some people are calling John Paul by the honorific “the Great,” which requires no formal process.

“There’s nothing official about that,” said Michael Slusser, professor of theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. “People either get called ‘the Great’ or not.”

Sainthood requires a long, complicated, quasi-legal process that isn’t even supposed to begin until at least five years after a candidate’s death. John Paul dispensed with the delay for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, allowing the case for her sainthood to begin two years after her death.

Some people may think he should be put on a similar fast track, but the five-year policy is probably wise, Sister Johnson said. “Right now there’s a lot of emotion over his papacy.”

Canonization, the declaration by a pope that a person is a saint, is the last step in a three-rung process that usually takes years. It involves extensive investigation of the candidate’s life, writings and teachings and proof that his or her intercession has resulted in two miracles, such as healings, that are verified by a medical panel — except in the case of martyrs, for whom only one miracle is required.

The most recent pope to be made a saint was Pius X, canonized in 1954, who fought modernism, prosecuted suspected heresy and prepared a new code of church law during his papacy, from 1903 to 1914.

Two other pontiffs were beatified under John Paul and are awaiting canonization: John XXIII (1958-63), who called the Second Vatican Council, which instituted sweeping changes in the church, and Pius IX (1846-78), who called the First Vatican Council, which defined papal infallibility.

Undoubtedly, as a result of his long papacy and his popularity, John Paul’s legacy will be large, said Thomas Noble, professor of history at University of Notre Dame.

Liberals in the church criticize his inflexibility on birth control, marriage for priests and ordination of women, while conservatives see the same approach to those issues as evidence of his firm leadership.

“But none of those are the kind of things that normally get you canonized,” he said. “Is he going to be seen as a holy man? … That’s very different from saying he was a good man or a sweet man or a man who did many things.”

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