BY FREDDY GRAY
JOHN PAUL I, the "smiling pope" whose papacy lasted just 33 days, has taken a decisive step towards canonisation, according to the vice-postulator of his cause.
Mgr Giorgio Use has announced that the investigatory process for the Pontiff's Cause is nearly complete, meaning that John Paul I could be beatified within the next 12 months.
Speaking ahead of the 28th anniversary of John Paul I's election, which is tomorrow, Mgr Lise confirmed that the finished paperwork would be submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the end of the year.
Mgr Lise said that 170 witnesses had answered questions about the widely admired Pope.
Christina Odone, the partItalian Catholic broadcaster and writer, described the development as a sign of "God's work at its most beautiful".
She said: "This is probably more a recognition of his holiness and goodness in the years before he was elected, not necessarily of what he achieved in the short time he was Pope.
"In Italy he is still widely recognised for his piety and good nature."
Despite the brevity of his tenure, John Paul I introduced several reforms that are thought to have "humanised" the papal office.
He was the first modem pope to employ the singular form formally, using "1" instead of "We" in his speeches. This practice has been imitated by both his successors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
John Paul I was well known for his deep humility. He was the first pope to refuse to wear the papal tiara at his coronation, choosing instead to have a simplified, less monarchical, inauguration Mass.
Indeed, he was even reluctant about accepting his elevation to the papacy. "May God forgive you for what you have done," he allegedly joked to the College of Cardinals after he was elected.
He was popular among leading Catholics at the time of his election. Cardinal Basil Hume, when asked in 1978 what he thought about the new Pope. famously replied that John Paul 1 was "God's candidate".
Some months later, Mother Teresa of Calcutta said of Pope John Paul 1: "He has been the greatest gift of God, a sunray of God's love shining in the darkness of the world."
Pope Benedict XVI, who attended both conclaves in 1978, has also expressed his admiration for his predecessor.
This week, however, not all Catholics were enthusiastic about the prospect of John Paul I's canonisation. Lord Rees Mogg, the former editor of the Times, said that the appoint
ment was "something of a historical tidying up exercise".
He said: "I would have thought that the Church's priority should be to canonise his predecessor, John XXIII, whom I regard as the greatest pope of the 20th century.
"If John Paul I were to be canonised first, it would leave us with the bizarre situation of having two popes canonised from the 20th century: Pius X and John Paul I, and though both were no doubt very holy men, neither springs to mind as the greatest pope of the last hundred years."
Fr Sean Middleton, a Westminster parish priest, also suggested that there were more worthy causes than that of John Paul I.
He said: "1 am not sure it is very wise to canonise a man who was Pope for only 33 days. He certainly was a very holy man and a wonderful bishop but perhaps we should be looking towards others, someone such as Cardinal Newman, for example, because of his contribution to the theological canon. I think this cult of the personality has gone far enough. We need to think more about what canonisation really is."
Within his lifetime, John Paul I was criticised for being an intellectual lightweight. He
was mocked for discussing Pinocchio in his sermons rather than reflecting on weightier issues of Catholic teaching.
After his elevation to the papacy, one senior cleric is reported to have said: "They have elected Peter Sellers."
John Paul l's sudden death on September 28, 1978, aroused mass suspicion. Conspiracy theories spread wildly.
The investigative writer David Yallop wrote a controversial book, entitled In God's Name, in which he suggested that John Paul I was murdered as a result of alleged corruption in the Istituto per le Opere religiose (commonly known as the Vatican Bank).
Yallop also claimed that John Paul I was executed by conservative agents because he was preparing to liberalise the Church's teaching on contraception.
But Yallop's arguments were successfully demolished by John Cornwell in his book, A Thief in the Night, which concluded that the pope had died from a pulmonary embolism.
However, Cornwell did accuse the Vatican of gross incompetence in looking after the pope's health.
He also argued that the Vatican lied about the minutiae of John Paul's death in a "benign conspiracy" to prevent the Church from harm, The diocesan phase of John Paul l's cause formally opened in 2003 in his home Diocese of Belluno and Feltre, Italy.
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