Pope Francis has authorized the French church to start the preliminary sainthood investigation for the Rev. Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by Islamic militants as he celebrated Mass in July.

Francis told reporters Sunday that he had authorized the gathering of witness testimony to determine if a beatification cause is warranted. Usually the Vatican requires a five-year waiting period before such investigations can begin. But Francis said he authorized the start of the probe now since witnesses might die or forget over time.

Hamel was killed July 26 in his parish church in Normandy. Police killed the assailants, and the Islamic State group claimed responsibility. In honoring Hamel as a martyr last month, Francis urged all to display the same courage Hamel had and denounced such slayings in the name of God as "satanic."

According to the Vatican's complicated saint-making process, people whose deaths are due to hatred for the faith can be declared a martyr and be beatified without having a miracle credited to their intercession. The Vatican, however, must do a full-fledged investigation to determine if indeed Hamel's death qualifies as martyrdom.

A miracle is needed to be declared a saint.