John Paul II and Pius XII move closer to sainthood

VATICAN CITY — As expected (see our post below), Pope Benedict today officially declared that Pope John Paul II had lived a life of “heroic virtues,” a major milestone toward his beatification.

But the big surprise was that Pope Benedict also signed the decree of heroic virtues for Pope Pius XII, whose sainthod process has been a cause of contention with some Jewish groups and others.

Pope Pius XII meets with Allied news people in 1944. (CNS photo/U.S. Navy)

After the Congregation for Saints’ Causes unanimously recommended the heroic virtues decree for Pope Pius in 2007, Pope Benedict appointed a commission to study how the beatification of the wartime pope would affect Catholic-Jewish and Vatican-Israeli relations. During this time, the Vatican asked both critics and supporters to stop pressing the issue.

Clearly, after more than a year of reflection, Pope Benedict thinks the time has come to move Pope Pius’ cause forward.

Today’s action does not mean imminent beatification. Both of the late popes still require verification of a miracle attributed to their intercession.

In other decrees issued today, Pope Benedict 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. 

And he recognized the martydom of Polish Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who was abducted and killed by communist agents in Poland in 1984. The priest was was known for his outspoken support of the then-outlawed Solidarity movement. The martyrdom decree clears the way for his beatification.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of Sister Mary Ward, an English religious once jailed as a heretic by the same pope who sanctioned Galileo. She founded the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Loreto Sisters.