updated 6/28/2005 1:38:46 PM ET 2005-06-28T17:38:46

The process to beatify Pope John Paul II opened Tuesday with a solemn ceremony in which all the clerics involved took an oath of secrecy and promised not to accept any gifts that might sway their decisions.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, John Paul’s longtime collaborator and his vicar for Rome, presided over the Latin-filled ritual at St. John Lateran basilica. But even before then, it seemed that virtually all the key players were in favor of sainthood for the late pope, including the official whose job it is to play “devil’s advocate,” the one who investigates any doubts about John Paul’s saintliness.

In an interview Monday, the Rev. Giuseppe D’Alonzo, promoter of justice for the Diocese of Rome, said he was neither for nor against beatification for John Paul, who was viewed as a saint by many even before his April 2 death.

'Santo Subito!'
But when asked his personal opinion about John Paul’s merits, he conceded: “It’s the opinion that ordinary people have, simple people who we all saw in St. Peter’s Square when there was the funeral Mass.”

D’Alonzo was apparently referring to the chants of “Santo Subito!” or “Sainthood Immediately!” that erupted during John Paul’s April 8 funeral. The calls prompted the new pope, Benedict XVI, to waive the traditional five-year waiting period and allow John Paul’s saint-making process to begin immediately.

It was only the second time in recent history that such a waiver had been granted: John Paul placed Mother Teresa on the fast track for sainthood in 1998, but her cause did not begin until a year after her death.

During Tuesday’s rite, D’Alonzo and the other clerics involved will swear to “faithfully and diligently” do their work, keep their proceedings secret and not accept “any type of gift” that might corrupt the process.

The postulator, or main advocate for the cause, Polish Monsignor Slawomir Oder, will hand over the list of witnesses who will testify — a number he said last week was “more than a few dozen.” D’Alonzo also will present the list of questions to be put to the witnesses.

Also attending the ceremony is an official church delegation from John Paul’s native Poland, including the outgoing Archbishop of Krakow Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, and his replacement, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the late pope’s personal secretary.

Thousands weigh in
In an interview Monday with the Polish Press Agency, Dziwisz said he hoped Pope Benedict XVI would announce John Paul had been made a saint when he travels to World Youth Day this August in Cologne, Germany.

“The chances of that happening are close to zero,” he acknowledged, but he added: “The world already canonized John Paul II, we are now only waiting for the final confirmation of this fact.”

Indeed, by Monday, the Diocese of Rome reported that more than 20,000 people had visited the official Web site for the cause, and 100 e-mails a day were arriving at the postulator’s address testifying to John Paul’s virtues. Most of the messages had arrived from Latin America, followed by Europe — predominantly Italy and Poland.

Devil's advocate
Aside from Oder, D’Alonzo has one of the key tasks in the process — a job that used to be known as the “devil’s advocate.”

John Paul dispensed with the title “devil’s advocate” in 1983 reforms to streamline the saint-making process — a move that drew criticism from some that it removed the only checks and balances in the system.

“Put another way, everyone involved in a canonization process now has a stake in its positive outcome,” Kenneth L. Woodward wrote in his 1990 book “Making Saints: How the Catholic Church determines who becomes a saint, who doesn’t and why.”

D’Alonzo insisted the promoter of justice fulfills the same task as the devil’s advocate, which is to raise objections, investigate doubts and seek clarification about a candidate’s virtues.

“I ask questions about weak points that I have to try to clarify for the cause so it can proceed,” he said.

Once the cause officially opens, theological experts will review John Paul’s published works to determine if they are theologically sound, a historical commission will gather information to document his life and D’Alonzo and Bella will start interviewing witnesses.

Once all the material is gathered, the Diocese of Rome turns the case over to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which appoints commissions to review the case and make a final report to the pope, who must decide if John Paul has lived in a “heroic” way.

If the Vatican then confirms a miracle has occurred after John Paul’s death thanks to his intercession, he can be beatified. A second miracle is needed for him to be made a saint.

Oder said last week he had already received “interesting” reports of a possible miracle that warranted further investigation.

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