A Saintly Season in Rome

Pope Benedict XVI advanced the sainthood causes of Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII, declaring that both had lived lives of "heroic virtues." In signing the decrees on Dec. 19, the pope confirmed the recommendations of Vatican officials who have studied the causes for several years. Both popes can be beatified once a miracle is attributed to their intercession. The decree on Pope John Paul was expected, and it fueled hopes for a beatification ceremony sometime next year. The decree on Pope Pius came as a surprise. His sainthood cause has been a point of contention with some Jewish groups and others who say he failed to do enough to protect Jews during World War II—an accusation strongly rejected by Vatican historians. In 2005, Pope Benedict set Pope John Paul on the fast track to beatification by waiving the normal five-year waiting period for the introduction of his sainthood cause. The advancement of Pope Pius XII's cause prompted immediate criticism from Jewish representatives in the United States, Israel and Europe. World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said the advancement of Pope Pius XII was "inopportune and premature" as long as the Vatican archives from 1939 to 1945 remain closed, and until a consensus on his actions concerning the Holocaust is established. Pope Benedict also formally recognized the miracle needed for the canonization of Blessed Mary MacKillop, the Australian founder of a religious order dedicated to educating the children of the poor; recognized the martyrdom of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the chaplain to Poland's Solidarity labor union, who was murdered by members of the communist government's secret police in 1984; and recognized the heroic virtues of Sister Mary Ward, founder of the Congregation of Jesus and of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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