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Expect delays before John Paul II is made a saint

The current church scandal will further prolong efforts to beatify the late pope.

A woman holds a picture showing John Paul II during a mass to mark the second anniversary of the death of the late pope in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 2, 2007. (Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — Airline ticket prices often seem to fluctuate randomly, with a given route affordable one day and costly the day after.

But there is a reason why a round-trip ticket from Warsaw to Rome on the weekend of Oct. 16 costs up to three-and-a-half times as much as one for the weekend before or after that: Poles were sure that on that day — the 32nd anniversary of his ascent to the pontificate — the beatification of their beloved Pope John Paul II would take place in St. Peter's Square, and they bought tickets en masse.

But it looks like the Poles were wrong. Karol Wojtyla's beatification process is very close to its end, but is turning out to be more complicated than anticipated. A battle has erupted in the Vatican around the late pope and how he should be remembered, while investigations into how the church handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests is casting new shadows on his image.

On Monday, John Paul II's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, celebrated a memorial mass for the Polish pope at the Vatican: He praised Wojtyla's pontificate and presented him as a model for Catholics, but gave no hint as to when his beatification might happen.

So even though millions of pilgrims called for him to become a "Santo Subito" (saint now) at his funeral on Apr. 2, 2005, the fifth anniversary of John Paul II's death is likely to pass without any news, just like those before it.

The delay is quite unexpected. Pope Benedict waived the mandatory five-year period to begin the beatification process, and after a two-stage process with dozens of interviews and meetings, he signed a decree on Dec. 19, 2009, recognizing Wojtyla's “heroic virtues.” This is usually a stepping stone to beatification and only the Vatican recognition of a “miracle” — such as an inexplicable act of healing — is missing before he can be beatified and declared “blessed.”

Finding a miracle for such a popular pope shouldn't be too complicated a task. In fact, according to reports in the Italian press, the office of the Postulatore — the central bureau that oversees the beatification process — has received reports of more 250 "miraculous" healings by John Paul II.

The Chief Postulatore, Polish Monsignore Slawomir Oder, has settled on the case of a French nun, Marie Simon Pierre, whose Parkinson's disease — the same illness suffered by the late pope — disappeared for no evident medical reason just two months after Wojtyla's death. She says she had prayed asking for the pope's help.

Recently, though, reports in the Polish press have suggested that the nun's illness might have been misdiagnosed. According to the newspaper Rzeczpospolita, she could have suffered from a syndrome similar to Parkinson's, for which there is a known cure.