John Paul II sainthood 'a great day' for native Poland

Poland's powerful Roman Catholic church on Monday hailed a Vatican announcement that its own John Paul II would be one of two late popes to be made saints next April.

"It will be a great day for the whole church worldwide, for Poland's church and for our country," episcopate spokesman Father Jozef Kloch told reporters Monday in Warsaw.

But sainthood for the popular late Karol Wojtyla, the only pope from eastern Europe, comes at trying times for his native church, which has been hit hard by a paedophilia scandal.

Pope Francis made the historic announcement on Monday that the conservative Polish pope who died in 2005 would be canonised on April 27, 2014 along with Italy's progressive John XXIII.

The unprecedented joint ceremony is seen by Vatican watchers as a bid to unite Catholic conservatives and liberals.

On Friday, senior church officials in Warsaw apologised over two Polish priests under investigation for alleged child sex abuse in the Dominican Republic.

One of them, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, was ordained by Wojtyla before he became pope.

The 65-year-old Wesolowski, a former Vatican envoy in Santo Domingo, is accused of engaging in sexual relations with underage prostitutes there.

Poland's church is also seeing its influence wane.

The EU member of 38 million people is among Europe's most devout countries, but while over 90 percent of Poles identify themselves as Roman Catholic, ever fewer are heading for the pews on Sunday.

John Paul II, elected pope in 1978, was immensely popular both at home and abroad and became a cult figure in Poland after his death.

"I always knew I was at the service of a holy man," Archbishop of Krakow Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II's former secretary, told the Polish press agency PAP Monday.

He said "hundreds of thousands of Poles will head to Rome for the canonisation," just as they did for the papal funeral.