A powerful sense of the late Pope John Paul II's holiness – and not popular pressure – has driven his beatification cause forward so swiftly, according to the Vatican’s top saint-making official.
Cardinal Angelo Amato said the investigation into the former Pope’s holiness has been “conducted with extreme accuracy and professionalism.”
His remarks came in a speech at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross that was published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano April 5.
Some critics have complained that the former Pope’s cause is being rushed through to satisfy ordinary Catholics’ demands that John Paul be declared a saint.
But Cardinal Amato, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said that is not the case.
He acknowledged that spontaneous chants of “Santo Subito!” (Saint Now!) erupted in St. Peter's Square on the day of his death, April 2, 2005.
And he said the cause moved quickly at first because the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI had waived the normal waiting period for considering the cause.
However, he maintained there was no special treatment or exceptions made in studying the evidence.
“The invocation of the people of God was received, but the millennial prudence of the Church suggested to meticulously obey norms passed by John Paul himself in 1983,” Cardinal Amato said.
“Santo subito', yes, but above all 'Santo sicuro' (sure saint). An incautious haste was not to prejudice the accuracy of the procedure.”
The cardinal took pains in spelling out the procedure for examining a person's sanctity.
Special importance, he said, is given to the “sensus fidei,” or the universal agreement of the faithful about the holiness of the person whose cause is under investigation.
He listed several elements that must pass the test of “sensus fidei.” A person must have a reputation of sanctity among the people, a “fame” for having lived a saintly life beyond “common goodness.” The deceased must also be a point of reference for intercession in heaven on behalf of the faithful.
The candidate cannot just be a “good” person, he must be “holy” in the likeness of Christ to be considered for sainthood. It's not about recognition of greatness in theology or for single charitable acts, said the cardinal, “but a constant attitude - a habit - of charity, as a continuous expression of grace.”
This reputation of sanctity must lead to a “spontaneous” eruption of devotion and support for the potential saint after his death.
“One cannot begin a process if there was no widespread, genuine and spontaneous reputation of sanctity,” said Cardinal Amato.
“The faithful, in fact, are endowed with the divine grace of an undeniable spiritual perception in locating and recognizing the concrete existence of the heroic exercise of the Christian virtues in certain baptized people.”
He pointed to examples such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or St. Pio of Pietrelcina in this regard.
These criteria for recognizing the saintly reputation of a candidate are just the first of several steps in the process, said the cardinal, but they are all part of the “sensus fidei” and “indispensable” to beginning a cause.
It is primarily generated by the faithful and “not by the hierarchy” of the Church, the cardinal explicitly noted. The “voice of the people” who venerate the holy person are often joined by the “voice of God” through which graces, heavenly favors and even miracles are granted through the person's intercession.
Finally, the “voice of the Church” enters to examine and evaluate the person's heroic virtue and miracle - except in cases of martyrdom - and then the process moves on to beatification and canonization.
“This full theological concept of sensus fidei ... has powerfully emerged in the case of the preparation of the beatification process for John Paul II,” said Cardinal Amato.
He said that the late-Pope's Catholic orthodoxy was clear in his writings and teachings. Witness accounts were pored over and heroism was found in his manifestation of faith, hope and charity.
“Such heroism confers on the pontiff a perfection that surpasses the forces of human nature, signifying that the virtue is not only human effort but a gift of grace from God and a consequence in the heart of he who does not place obstacles (to it), but collaborates with it.”
His cause was approved by theologians and clergy of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and he was declared “venerable” in Dec. 2009.
The healing of French Sister Marie Simon Pierre Normand of Parkinson's disease through Pope John Paul II's intercession was carefully examined and declared “inexplicable” thus constituting a miracle. On Jan 14, 2011 Pope Benedict XVI signed the decree approving the miracle and at the same time officially gave legitimacy the sense of the faithful about the late-Pope's reputation for holiness.
“The undeniable and constant pressure from the faithful and mass media on the urgent conclusion of the cause - contrary to what could be thought - did not disturb the procedure. Actually it permitted action with greater attention to the screening of testimonies and events,” admitted the cardinal.
While the “door is opened” to canonization with Pope John Paul’s beatification, Cardinal Amato cautioned that time - and a miracle - will be necessary for him to be declared a saint. He invited people to spend that time “getting to better know the holy life of the blessed and imitating his virtues.”