Wartime pope closer to sainthood
Rome - Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday moved controversial wartime pontiff Pius XII closer to sainthood by declaring him "venerable", bestowing the same honour on beloved Polish predecessor John Paul II.
The beatification process of Pius XII has been a source of tension with Jewish groups due to the view among many historians that he remained passive while Nazi Germany killed millions of Jews.
The decree was unexpected on a day when Benedict also paved the way for the beatification of John Paul II's compatriot Jerzy Popieluszko, the "Solidarity chaplain" who was murdered by the Polish secret service in 1984.
Benedict has hesitated over Pius XII's dossier over fears of compromising relations with Jews.
The Vatican has defended the wartime pope, saying he saved many Jews by having them hidden in religious institutions in Rome and abroad and that his silence was born out of a wish to avoiding aggravating their situation.
Meanwhile John Paul II's sainthood dossier has been criticised as a "fast-track" campaign to answer the prayers of millions who adored the Pole, who headed the Roman Catholic Church for nearly three decades.
Benedict launched the lengthy process - which can take decades if not centuries - just two months after the death in 2005 of John Paul II, whose funeral was marked by calls of "Santo Subito" (Saint Now).
The final stage for beatification is providing evidence of a miracle, usually a medical cure with no scientific explanation which is reviewed by several commissions.
In John Paul II's case, the miracle under consideration - and subject to another papal decree - involves a French nun who was cured of Parkinson's disease in 2005.
Vatican watchers expect Benedict to approve the beatification, which could be celebrated next year, either on the April 2 anniversary of his death or in October on the anniversary of the start of John Paul II's papacy in 1978.
Popieluszko's beatification dossier does not require evidence of a miracle because he is considered a martyr.