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Pope John Paul II a step closer to sainthood

Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, at age 84.
Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, at age 84.
  • Pope John Paul II closer to sainthood after Pope Benedict XVI signs decree recognizing late pontiff's "heroic virtues"
  • Two confirmed miracles must be attributed to John Paul before he becomes saint
  • Usually, process begins five years after death, Benedict OKs early start for John Paul

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II was a step closer to sainthood Saturday after Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree recognizing the late pontiff's "heroic virtues" and declaring him "venerable," the Vatican said.

A miracle attributed to Pope John Paul's intervention will have to be verified for him to be declared "blessed," or beatified. A second miracle would have to be confirmed for him to then be officially canonized, or made a saint.

It's too early to say how long that process may take, said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

"It is recognized that he led a Christian life in a heroic and extraordinary manner," Lombardi told CNN. "This is a fundamental step in the road toward sainthood. Now comes the examination of a miracle, which is the proof of the divine interceding power of John Paul II on behalf of God."

John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, at the age of 84. Several months after his death, his successor said he had dispensed with rules that normally impose a five-year waiting period before beatification.

The rule is intended to allow time for evidence and witnesses supporting the sainthood cause to be prepared, as well as to wait for emotions to dissipate after death.

But John Paul himself set a precedent in 1999 when he granted a dispensation and let Mother Teresa's sainthood cause begin only two years after her death.

"It's a joy, I think, for the Catholic church because Pope John Paul II is very admired and loved by so many people, not only in the church but also in the world," Lombardi told CNN. "It is good news for us all."

Pope Benedict signed another decree Saturday declaring Pope Pius XII, who died in 1958, venerable, the Vatican said.

"The cause for sainthood for Pius XII was introduced a long time ago," Lombardi said. "Today's decree is not a historical judgment on Pius XII or on his papacy. It is a judgment that the church gives on Pius XII's personal sanctity, on his Christian life achievements. The congregation and the pope have no doubts that Pius XII led a Christian life in an extraordinary and heroic way."

CNN's Hada Messia contributed to this report.