AFP - The late pope John Paul II is on the fast track to sainthood and will be beatified on May 1, the Vatican said Friday, to the joy of supporters and alarm of clerical abuse victims.
Pope Benedict XVI's decision to beatify the Polish-born pope in the preliminary step to canonisation was immediately celebrated in his home country.
The archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, a longtime influential aide and friend to the late pope, spoke of his "great joy" on behalf of "the whole of Poland."
The country's Solidarity legend Lech Walesa, a fervent Catholic, said he was delighted. "A man who was a living saint will officially become a saint. Our Pope did great things," Walesa told AFP.
But news of John Paul II's beatification alarmed clerical abuse victims who called on the Church to "move cautiously" in honouring the ex-pontiff, saying he did not do enough to combat abuse by priests during his pontificate.
Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) condemned the "hasty drive to confer sainthood on the pontiff under whose reign most of the widely-documented clergy sex crimes and cover ups took place."
Benedict himself will conduct the ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica, according to Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
The process of beatification is usually lengthy, but calls for John Paul II to be canonised came immediately after his death on April 2, 2005 and Benedict waived the usual rules which require a five-year cooling-off period.
Karol Wojtyla, the first non-Italian pope in four-and-a-half centuries, will beat Albanian nun Mother Teresa's record, being speed-tracked to beatification just six years and a month after his death.
May 1 falls this year on the first Sunday after Easter, which is the Feast of the Divine Mercy, a devotion promoted by John Paul II.
As is traditional, his remains will be moved up from the crypt to the nave of the basilica after he is beatified.
Works are under way in St. Peter's to make space for the pope's tomb in the Chapel of St. Sebastian, between the Chapel of Michelangelo's Pieta and the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament.
The ex-pontiff's body "will not be displayed, it will be placed in a tomb closed by a simple marble tombstone with the words: Beatus Ioannes Paulus II," (Blessed John Paul II), Lombardi said.
The beatification follows the Congregation of the Causes for Saints' decision this week to recognise the first miracle attributed to the Polish pope's first miracle.
The commission confirmed that French nun Marie Simon-Pierre was miraculously cured of Parkinson's disease through the intercession of John Paul II, who also suffered from Parkinson's.
Simon-Pierre was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2001. After John Paul II's death her condition quickly deteriorated, and her community began praying for the late pope's intercession to cure her.
Simon-Pierre recovered overnight in June 2005, an event that doctors could not explain.
One miracle is required for beatification and a second one is needed for sainthood.
The process of validating his second miracle cannot begin before John Paul is beatified. But speculation over which marvel will be chosen has already begun.
In April 2009, sources in Poland and in the United States spoke of two possibilities, involving a wheelchair-bound Polish boy who walked after praying at John Paul II's tomb and an American who recovered from a serious head wound after he was given a rosary blessed by the pope.
The process of canonising John Paul kicked off immediately after his death, with mourners waving banners in St Peter's Square during his funeral in 2005 that read "Santo Subito!" (Sainthood Now!)