By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis has moved Father Michael McGivney, the Irish-American priest who founded the Knights of Columbus worldwide charity in the 19th century, a step closer to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican said on Wednesday that the pope had approved a decree crediting McGivney with interceding with God for a miracle. This means he will be beatified, the last step before sainthood, and receive the title Blessed.
McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882 to help struggling immigrant families. He died during a flu pandemic in 1890 at the age of 38.
Today the Knights are one of the world's largest Catholic organisations, with about two million members around the world.
The Knights said the miracle attributed to McGivney involved the healing of a unborn child who had a life-threatening condition in-utero that improved after his family prayed to the priest.
After a beatification ceremony, which will take place in Connecticut at a date yet to be determined, another miracle would have to be attributed to McGivney for him to be declared a saint.
The Catholic Church teaches that only God performs miracles but that saints who are believed to be with God in heaven intercede on behalf of people who pray to them. A miracle is usually the medically inexplicable healing of a person.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella)