Late Pope Paul VI to move closer to sainthood

VATICAN CITY - The late Pope Paul VI, who led the Roman Catholic Church during one of its most turbulent modern periods and enshrined its opposition to contraception, will move a step closer to sainthood in October, the Vatican said on Saturday.

Pope Francis, who last month declared saints of two of his predecessors, will beatify Paul, declaring him a "blessed" of the Church, at a ceremony on October 19.

The timing of the ceremony, which will take place at the conclusion of a Vatican synod of bishops from around the world on the theme of the family, means Francis will have either canonised or beatified three of his predecessors in the unusually short space of six months.

Beatification is the last step before sainthood. The late pope's move towards canonisation was made possible after the Vatican recognised what it says was a miracle attributed to Paul, who died in 1978.

The purported miracle concerns a pregnant woman in California whose unborn child was discovered to be at high risk of dying in the womb or being born with severe birth defects in the 1990s.

Doctors advised the woman to have an abortion but, at the advice of a nun, she prayed to the late Pope Paul. The child, now an adult, was born without problems.

A Vatican medical committee ruled that the healing was medically inexplicable.

The Church teaches that God performs miracles but that saints who are believed to be with God in heaven intercede on behalf of people who pray to them.

Paul became pope in 1963 after the death of Pope John XXIII. He guided the Church through the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, which had started under his predecessor, and the implementation of its modernising reforms.

Pope Paul headed the Church through the 1960s when many priests left religious orders and vocations to the religious life fell sharply in the turbulent era of social change.

He is perhaps best known for his controversial encyclical Humane Vitae (On Human Life), which enshrined the Church's ban on artificial birth control in 1968.

Born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897, Paul spent much of his career in the Vatican's diplomatic service before becoming cardinal of Milan.

After the beatification, a separate miracle would be necessary in order for Paul to become a saint.

Last month Pope Francis presided at the canonisation of two of his predecessors, John Paul II and John XXIII.