VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI hailed the legacy of John Paul II yesterday, five years after his death, while questions swirled over the late pontiff's record in combating pedophile priests and whether a miracle needed for his sainthood really happened.
During an evening Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to pay tribute to the late pope, Benedict told pilgrims from John Paul's Polish homeland that his predecessor had "without interruption taught us to be faithful witnesses to faith, hope and love."
Krakow Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who for decades was John Paul's personal secretary, was among the prelates at the commemoration. Also attending was Cardinal Bernard Law, who after resigning as Boston archbishop in the sex abuse scandal that rocked his diocese, was put in charge of a prestigious Rome basilica by the late pope.
John Paul died at 84 on April 2, 2005, after battling Parkinson's disease. The commemoration was early because April 2 falls on Good Friday, when Benedict will preside over Lenten services at the Vatican and at the Colosseum in Rome.
Immediately after John Paul's death, faithful began clamoring for his sainthood, and Benedict in December signed a decree proclaiming his predecessor "venerable" for his holy virtues.
At first, the inexplicable healing of a young French nun from Parkinson's disease had initially seemed like the miracle required for remarkably swift approval for beatification, the last formal step before canonization. The nun, who had prayed to John Paul for years, woke up one morning two months after his death, seemingly inexplicably cured of the progressively degenerative neurological disorder.
But a Polish newspaper recently reported that doubts had been cast about whether the nun might not have had Parkinson's at all. Without citing sources, Rzeczpospolita, one of Poland's most respected and dailies, said the Vatican had summoned new experts to scrutinize the case. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, an estimated 20 percent of patients thought to have the disease were found at autopsy not to have had it.