Vatican: Canonizing Pope John Paul II 'not a rush,' despite criticism

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By Eun Kyung Kim

The Vatican on Friday defended the fast-track canonization process of two former popes, agreeing that the procedure is unusual but saying that saint-making is “not exactly a democratic process.”

The Catholic Church will elevate two popes this Sunday to sainthood in a historic dual ceremony. Pope John XXIII served from 1958 to 1963; the 27-year papacy of Pope John Paul II ended upon his death in 2005. Some have questioned why the Vatican sped the canonization process for John Paul, allowing the procedure to begin immediately upon his death instead of observing a typical five-year waiting period.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the enormous outpouring of support for John Paul II helped speed up the canonization effort.

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“That’s part of the saint-making process. It’s not exactly a democratic process but people do vote with their feet,” he said Friday on TODAY.

Burke said that that while the process for John Paul II may have proceeded faster than others, "rush is an opinionated word there, because there are things that have actually happened faster." He also pointed out that Pope Emeritus Benedict, whom he described as "one of the most conservative popes in the world," was the person who waived the five-year waiting period for his predecessor.

“I think that’s one sign that we’re pretty safe,” he said.

Both former popes will be declared saints in a ceremony led by the current pontiff. Pope Francis also waived another Vatican rule, in this case the need for proof that Pope John had performed two miracles instead of one.

“The pope is essentially allowed to do what he wants,” Burke said, but said that John XXIII is “one of the revered figures” in Catholic history because of the second Vatican Council he convened to help modernize the faith.

Waiving the second miracle has been done in the past, Burke pointed out.

“It’s waived all the time in the case of martyrs. I think it’s the immense popularity, the immense importance of John XXIII for the church and it’s also an incredible sign of unity having the two popes together," he said.