December 20, 2012 / 1:38 PM / 6 years ago

Late Pope Paul VI takes step toward sainthood

File photo of Pope Paul VI during a visit to the Osservatore Romano newspaper released July 4, 2011. Picture taken taken July 4, 1963. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican moved the late Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978 after leading the Roman Catholic Church for 15 years and oversaw the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, a step closer on Thursday to sainthood.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict had approved a decree recognizing the “heroic virtues” of Paul VI, who was born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897 and held numerous high positions in the Church before he became pope in 1963.

The recognition of heroic virtues, which means the person lived a exemplary Christian life, is an early step in the sainthood process. The move means that Paul VI could be beatified if the Vatican ascertains that a miracle can be attributed to his intercession with God.

Another miracle would be necessary after the beatification in order for him to be made a saint.

Paul VI oversaw the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The Council was one of the most important events in modern Church history, introducing major changes in liturgy and in Catholic dialogue with other religions.

He also led the Church in one of its most turbulent periods in modern history, as deep cultural changes took root around the world in the 1960s.

Paul VI is also remembered for his major encyclical Humane Vitae in 1978, which banned artificial birth control.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Michael Roddy

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