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Panel clears John Paul II for sainthood

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II has cleared the final obstacle before being made a saint, awaiting just the approval of Pope Francis and a date for the ceremony, which could come as soon as Dec. 8, a Vatican official and news reports said yesterday.

The ANSA news agency reported that a commission of cardinals and bishops met yesterday to consider John Paul's case and signed off on it. A Vatican official confirmed that the decision was taken some time back and that yesterday's meeting was essentially a formality.

The possible canonization date of Dec. 8 would be on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a major feast day for the Catholic Church.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed reports in the newspaper La Stampa that John Paul could be canonized together with Pope John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council but died in 1963 before it ended.

There is precedent for beatifying or canonizing two popes together, primarily to balance one another out.

John Paul has been on the fast track for possible sainthood ever since his 2005 death, but there remains some concern that the process has been too quick. Some of the Holy See's deep-seated problems -- clerical sex abuse, dysfunctional governance and more recently the financial scandals at the Vatican bank -- essentially date from shortcomings of his pontificate.

Defenders of the fast-track process argue that people are canonized, not pontificates.

In 2000, John Paul beatified John XXIII, dubbed the "good pope," alongside Pope Pius IX, who was criticized by Jews for condoning the seizure of a Jewish boy and allegedly referring to Jews as dogs.

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