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'Miracle' doubts delay sainthood for John Paul II

Pope John Paul II's fast-track to sainthood is in danger of derailment after doubts were cast yesterday on the prerequisite miracle, in which the former pontiff was said to have cured a nun of Parkinson's disease.

John Paul was put on the path to sainthood by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, just a month after his death in April 2005. The Catholic Church normally waits five years after a potential candidate's death before starting the process, but an exception was made in the case of the much-revered Polish pontiff, who was the Pope for 26 years.

News of the "miracle" that was supposed to qualify him for beatification emerged three years ago when the French nun, 48-year-old Marie Simon-Pierre, claimed that her Parkinson's symptoms vanished in 2005 after prayers were made to the recently deceased John Paul, who also suffered the condition. Sister Marie said that as her whole order prayed on her behalf, she scribbled the Pope's name on a piece of paper only to wake up the next day completely cured. At the time she said: "It'"s like a second birth. I feel like I've discovered a new body."

Now, however, the Polish Rzeczpospolita newspaper has reported that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre has experienced a return of Parkinson's-like symptoms; some Italian newspapers have suggested her original condition may not have been Parkinson's at all, but a neurological illness with similar symptoms that can go into temporary remission.

A Vatican spokeswoman denied reports in La Stampa suggesting that emerging doubts about the nun's "cure", had seen the date for John Paul II's beatification put back until 2011. "There was no set date for the process, so there's no question of a delay," she told The Independent. She would not comment on reports that medical experts had raised doubts about the miraculous nature of the recovery. "The process, in which leading medical experts advise the Vatican, is conducted in secret," she said.

John Paul II moved closer to sainthood in December last year after Pope Benedict bestowed on him the title "venerable". Evidence that he performed a miracle is required for the next step, beatification. Evidence of a further miracle would be needed for him to be declared a saint.