Pope John Paul II has been fast-tracked to sainthood - so where do we sign up?

This is one of those moments which people like Richard Dawkins must relish, when the secular and the sacerdotal collide with a screech of metal.

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The Independent Online

I see Pope John Paul II could be “Saint John Paul” by October, according to the Vatican. He’s already been “beatified”, given the title “Blessed John Paul”, in May 2011. If the late Pontiff achieves sainthood this year, it will be the fastest ascension to divine glory since the Virgin Mary’s.

There’s something vulgar about the way popes can be “fast-tracked” to glory, don’t you think? It smacks of indecent haste, the way politicians can be bumped up to the House of Lords if it’s expedient.

Pope Benedict XVI kick-started the beatification process a month after his predecessor died, in April 2005, rather than waiting a few years. The reason? “Exceptional circumstances” – namely, the cries of “Make him a saint now!” that were heard from the crowd during John Paul’s funeral. That was all it took to get the ball rolling. Six years later, he was named a Blessed. Any minute now, he’ll be a saint. This is one of those moments which people like Richard Dawkins must surely relish, when the worldly and the numinous, the secular and the sacerdotal collide with a screech of metal. So we ask: what must a chap do to become a Blessed or a Saint?

The answer is, you must come to the attention of the Vatican's Congregation for the Recognition of Saints, which will check to make sure you lived “a heroic, virtuous life” and investigate to see if miracles – invariably health-related – occurred because somebody prayed to you.

Coincidentally, two miracle cures have been attributed to John Paul. One involved a nun called Sister Marie, who was cured of Parkinson’s Disease – though nobody could prove she ever had the disease and, annoyingly, she suffered a relapse after being cured. A second was reported at St Peter’s Basilica, when a wheelchair-bound boy suffering from kidney cancer visited the former Pope’s tomb and began walking normally. Does that mean John Paul was responsible for the child’s recovery? Does post hoc mean propter hoc?

It’s a marvellous thing that, in the 21st century, religious elders are debating the existence and dimensions of a miracle, as their medieval predessors once dissected human bodies to look for the soul. And they’re not finished. One further miracle must be claimed, in order to canonise John Paul. And guess what, says the Vatican. It’s already happened! They won’t say what it was – but “when the nature of the cure is revealed,” they told La Repubblica, “it will amaze many people.”

It will astonish lots of us to think such quasi-mystical, crowd-dumbfounding baloney is still being advanced as serious argument in intelligent society.

These critics must know something you and I don’t

Ben Elton’s new TV show has come in for some criticism. No, let me put that another way. Ben Elton’s new TV show has been flayed alive, eviscerated, crucified and buried under a ton of curses. It’s not a surprise, is it?

Elton has been the whipping boy of the British press since he ditched the sparkly suit and the anti-Thatcher rants of the late 1980s, and started doing too many things. He’s written some iffy TV shows, but he turned Blackadder from tiresome (Series 1) to hilarious (Series 2, 3 and 4). He’s published nine bestselling novels. He’s written three West End plays. He acted in Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing.

None of this pleased the critics, who refused to forgive him for having once been the leading light of alternative comedy. Unforgivably, he linked up with Andrew Lloyd Webber to make We Will Rock You, a huge hit in 11 countries. People complain that he’s “sold out”, as though he was once a political leader, rather than a gag writer and a fluent piss-taker who’s been successful in six genres and made a vast fortune.

When I hear the abuse raining down on him, I think of the waiter in George Best’s hotel room, who looked at the empty champagne bottles, the rumpled Savile Row suit and brace of blonde companions and said, “George, George – where did it all go wrong?”