John Paul II could be beatified 'this year': ex-spokesman
John Paul II could be beatified as early as this year, which would move the late pope a big step closer to sainthood, his former spokesman told an Italian newspaper.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who ran the Vatican press office for 22 years, told the daily Il Sole 24 Ore that two key elements of the beatification process could be completed "this year".
The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints must issue a decree on John Paul's "heroic virtues" while a miracle linked to the late pope must be certified.
After that, Pope Benedict XVI "can decide when the beatification takes place and he can choose when that happens," Navarro-Valls said.
The former press chief said the beatification process "continues moving forward" and "will not be delayed" by the publication in Poland of correspondence between the late Polish pope and a female compatriot.
Wanda Poltawska published a book with extracts of letters that she exchanged with the pope, whom she met in 1962 while he was in Krakow.
The book is set for release in Italy in February.
According to reports in the Italian press, the Vatican fears the letters could contain details that may delay the beatification.
Navarro-Valls said there was no special connection between Poltawska, 88, and the pope, while the Polish woman claims to have been a close friend.
"I saw Mrs Poltawska sometimes in the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo (the pope's summer residence)," said Navarro-Valls.
"She didn't seem to know the pope any better than other people. The pope had known her for a long time but in the same way he knew many other people, both before and after his election" to the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
The process leading to sainthood usually takes decades if not centuries.
But Benedict launched the beatification process for John Paul just two months after his popular predecessor's death on April 5, 2005.
John Paul's beatification dossier was handed to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in November.
The miracle -- said to have taken place when a French nun was cured of Parkinson's disease -- is also being reviewed.
Convincing evidence of a miracle, usually a medical cure with no scientific explanation, is essential in the beatification process. A second miracle is required for sainthood.