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John Paul II will be beautified in Rome on Sunday, bringing him just one step away from sainthood.
But as NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, some Catholics question whether the late pontiff is being elevated too quickly.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: The chants began even before John Paul had been put to his final rest.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
CROWD: Santo subito. Santo subito.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Santo subito, sainthood now, the crowd shouted during his funeral procession.
A month later, Pope Benedict XVI - his successor and close friend - launched the process that would do just that.
TIMOTHY DOLAN: I was not surprised at all
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who observed John Paul up close when he lived in Rome, says this is not a difficult call.
DOLAN: I was able to see him with people. I was able to see him at prayer and worship. I was able to see him with the poor. I was able to watch him in his travels. And I knew there was something mystical, there was something transcendent, there was something unique.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Dolan says John Paul's character and achievements are indisputable. The Polish pope is credited with helping bring down communism. He restored relations with the Jews. He forgave the assailant who nearly killed him. And he wooed a young generation back to the faith. John Paul revitalized every part of the church, says theologian and author Michael Novak.
MICHAEL NOVAK: We have a whole wave of priests throughout the Catholic Church who call themselves John Paul II priests. There are also a wave of people who became Catholics because of John Paul II. I mean, just his effect on minds and hearts is just unparalleled, maybe in all human history.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: In short, John Paul had charisma, said 21-year-old Joseph Leveratto as he ran into noon Mass at St. Matthew's cathedral in Washington, D.C.
JOSEPH LEVERATTO: Kind of like the Reagan or the Obama of popes. He was appealing. You felt like he was a warm, caring, loving holy father.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Twenty-four-year-old Julia Sendor said her family is throwing a party on Sunday to celebrate the beatification.
JULIA SENDOR: It's a sign that even in our modern world, you can have people who can make a change, you know, with their faith. So, yeah, we're really excited.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: But Nicholas Porritt was less enthusiastic.
NICHOLAS PORRITT: His record was far from unblemished, and there are certainly many bad things that happened in the church while he was pope. So I'm not sure this rush to beatify him is necessarily in the best interests of the church.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Under normal circumstances, the Vatican waits five years before it even starts the process of making someone a saint. But in John Paul's case, Pope Benedict waived the waiting period. That has Catholics across the spectrum concerned.
Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in New Jersey says, what's the rush?
CHRISTOPHER BELLITTO: One of the reasons why you want to go slowly is you don't want to have a horrifying oops moment. Because saints cannot be unsainted. I don't think that anytime in history anyone has been de-canonized.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Popes require special care, says Father Joseph Fessio, the founder of Ignatius Press. He says it's one thing to fast-track Mother Teresa, who founded a ministry for the sick. But Fessio says the Vatican should take more time with the head of the church.
JOSEPH FESSIO: And as a pope, he's an historic figure. And usually historic figures don't take their place in history until after some history has gone by and they can be assessed, you know, from a longer distance.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: The same rigor should apply to miracles, says Michael Matt, editor of the Catholic newspaper The Remnant. For beatification, the Vatican must conclude that Pope John Paul is responsible for a miracle. And the miracle says a French nun was healed from Parkinson's disease after praying to the late pontiff. But Matt says there are questions surrounding the miracle, whether her symptoms have come back, whether she had Parkinson's at all.
FESSIO: So when you combine those sort of question marks about the science, about the miracle, about the cure, many of us are very concerned about the reputation of our own church, and about the scandals that could come out after this.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: And then there's the sex abuse scandal. Matt says John Paul may not have been directly responsible.
FESSIO: But at end of the day, the church has gone through this terrible period in which there was a dereliction of duty at every level of the hierarchy, including, it would appear, at the level of the papacy.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: For example, John Paul failed to punish the American bishops who protected pedophile priests. And he neglected to investigate Father Marcial Maciel of the Legionaries of Christ, despite mounting evidence that Maciel had abused countless children.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan says the pope was initially slow to recognize the problem. But once he did, he summoned the U.S. bishops to Rome and told them to fix it.
DOLAN: So there might be some glitches and there might be things that when you look back to say, boy, I wish that would have been responded to in a different manner. But overwhelmingly, you're talking about a man of radiant virtue and extraordinary sanctity.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: With the beautification assured, the Vatican will be looking for a second miracle that would elevate John Paul to sainthood.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.
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