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Bishops during the Mass in honour of the late Pope John Paul II at St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican yesterday. The late Pope moved a step closer to
sainthood in yesterday's ceremony. Photo: REUTERS/STEFANO RELLANDINI

Bishops during the Mass in honour of the late Pope John Paul II at St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican yesterday. The late Pope moved a step closer to sainthood in yesterday's ceremony. Photo: REUTERS/STEFANO RELLANDINI

Bishops during the Mass in honour of the late Pope John Paul II at St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican yesterday. The late Pope moved a step closer to sainthood in yesterday's ceremony. Photo: REUTERS/STEFANO RELLANDINI

AN alliance of church establishment and popular piety marched triumphantly in Rome yesterday as a throng of cardinals, bishops and hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful applauded Pope Benedict XVI's elevation of his Polish predecessor to heavenly status as Blessed John Paul.

The German Pontiff and a global 'people of God' overrode widespread disquiet among a sizable section of the Catholic population of 1.3 billion at the sheer speed of John Paul's beatification just six years after his death.

Yet, in the calendar of the Roman Church, the former Karol Wojtyla officially joined the hallowed ranks when Pope Benedict proclaimed in Latin: "From now on Pope John Paul shall be called 'Blessed'."

With these awesomely timeless words, Pope Benedict, who had waived the customary five-year rule before the initiation of a cause for sainthood, magisterially silenced concerned critics who urged delaying the advancement of the beatification process.

Their point of departure was that it was too soon for a proper investigation of John Paul's handling of clerical child abuse scandals during his 27-year-long stewardship of the See of St Peter.

It requires the passage of time to test the historical legacy and life of a pope.

Numerous theologians claim Pope Benedict, in the interest of elevating the power of the papacy, is ignoring evidence John Paul shielded the notorious paedophile, Fr Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the wealthy Legionaries of Christ.

The 'American National Catholic Reporter' has published well-sourced articles showing how the late Maciel had multiple affairs with women that produced out-of-wedlock children. He also sexually abused some of his own children as well as seminarians.

According to the advocates of delay, Benedict's beatification of a pope, who has been accused by abuse victims of knowingly allowing little children to suffer by Maciel, merely adds to the biggest scandal ever to have rocked Rome.

Acknowledging doubts were raised about the appropriateness and timing of the beatification, the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, was adamant the first Slav pope was now present with God in the other world above.

Cardinal Brady, who a year ago weathered calls for his resignation over his role in suppressing knowledge of the heinous crimes against children by Ireland's most notorious paedophile monk, Brendan Smyth, deployed his skills as a canon lawyer in the cause of John Paul.

Recalling the clamour of the crowd when John Paul left this world on April 2, 2005, calling for his sainthood immediately -- santo subito, Cardinal Brady cited this manifestation as a return to an earlier church tradition of sainthood by popular acclamation.

In even greater certitude of mind and body, a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, told a large crowd on Saturday evening of how her praying for healing to John Paul, himself a victim of Parkinson's disease, cured her.

Even although medical doubts remain about the inexplicability of the cure, it was the church's approval of this claimed miracle as absolute divine truth that constituted the grounds for John Paul's beatification, the last stage before sainthood.

Yesterday, the immortality of John Paul was declared beside his mortal remains, which were placed prominently in front of the main altar of St Peter's Basilica.

The biggest crowd in Rome since his death thundered acclaim just seconds after Benedict read out the beatification proclamation, followed by unveiling of a Hollywood-style tapestry displaying the beamingly benign smile of John Paul.

It was a celestial choreography recalling the edifying death of the man considered by many to be the greatest historical figure of our times.

Ecclesial pageantry helped to create the illusion that Pope John Paul had returned from death, a phenomenon blasphemous to the Protestant mind and anathema to secularists but central to the Catholic credo of the communion of the saints.

The Vatican does Hollywood better than Hollywood.

A touch of Alfred Hitchcock mystery came on Friday when the coffin was exhumed from the crypts below St Peter's Basilica. Poland's Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was his compatriot's private secretary, exclaimed: "He is no longer in the tomb. The tomb has remained empty because he is here again."

In a mixture of papal triumphalism and Polish nationalism, the marble slab that covered John Paul's first burial place, is to be returned to Poland for display in a church in Krakow, where he was ecclesiastical governor in a Communist-ruled state before his election as pope in 1978.

Meanwhile, John Paul's remains will be moved to a new crypt under a side chapel altar near Michelangelo's magnificent statue of the Pieta -- Karolus Magnus alongside Jesus, Mary and Michelangelo.

Yesterday's beatification will soon be upstaged by his canonisation, according to the Catholic World News agency.

Columnist Peggy Noonan argues that the church should move on promptly to canonise John Paul.

Clearly, cautionary advice about moving slowly has been drowned out by the Sistine choir tuning up to the roar of 'When the saints go marching in'!

Hovering in the shadows is Bishop John Magee, John Paul's former secretary, as we await the Murphy report into his handling of abuse allegations in the diocese of Cloyne.

Irish Independent