VATICAN CITY — Regarding the beatification of Pope John Paul II, one thing is certain: no date will be set until the pope formally approves a miracle attributed to his intercession.
Many people were expecting Pope Benedict XVI to approve a miracle in December when he issued the decree recognizing that Pope John Paul had heroically lived the Christian virtues. And there was widespread expectation that the beatification would take place Oct. 17, the Sunday after the anniversary of Pope John Paul’s election in 1979.
When the miracle wasn’t recognized and the Oct. 17 date was set aside for a canonization ceremony for six saints instead, stories started circulating about Pope John Paul’s cause being derailed.
The story that has received the most attention so far was a Polish newspaper report Wednesday saying Pope John Paul’s beatification would be delayed, potentially for years, because a Vatican-appointed board of physicians cast doubt on the proposed miracle they were asked to study. The case involved the healing of a French nun who believed she had been healed of Parkinson’s disease, the same disease that afflicted Pope John Paul. The paper said the doctors were not convinced that the nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, had had Parkinson’s, but that she may have been cured medically of another nervous system disorder.
But a Vatican official told ANSA, the Italian news agency, that the Polish newspaper report was “absolutely without foundation” and that the physicians’ board was not expected to meet until April.
At the same time, the Vatican is not saying that approval of the miracle is automatic. Far from it. It is one thing for symptoms to disappear and another to be cured.
The church also insists that the cure be unexpected and instantaneous, as well as complete and lasting. If Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre is still symptom-free, the physicians will have to determine whether the five years that have passed since she experienced healing are enough to certify the cure as lasting.
Then a panel of theologians must certify that the healing was related to prayers for Pope John Paul’s intercession. Then members of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes must vote to recommend that Pope Benedict recognize the miracle. In other words, it may be a while longer.