Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told CNN Benedict signed a decree declaring John Paul II venerable and recognizing his heroic virtues.
The late religious leader now needs a miracle attributed to him to be deemed beatified and a second miracle would have to be confirmed before he could be made a saint.
"It is recognized that he led a Christian life in a heroic and extraordinary manner," Lombardi said. "This is a fundamental step in the road toward sainthood."
Lombardi told CNN the Roman Catholic Church would be very pleased if John Paul, who died in 2005, achieves sainthood.
"It's a joy, I think, for the Catholic Church because Pope John Paul II is very admired and loved by so many people, not only in the church but also in the world," Lombardi said. "It is good news for us all."