The title of "Venerable" is given to those whom Holy Church determined within a reasonable doubt lived a heroic life of virtue. The Congregation for Causes of Saints examines the documentation presented to make the case that the Servant of God lived all the theological and cardinal virtues in an exemplary manner and then issues a decree concerning those virtues. The decree is presented to the Supreme Pontiff in a consistory (or whatever other moment he considers opportune), and he subsequently determines to promulgate it or not as he considers it opportune.
Once a person is decreed also by the Pope to have lived a heroic life of virtue and is called Venerable, then there must be be an authenticated miracle before he or she can be beatified.
Here is the latest batch of decrees:
PROMULGAZIONE DI DECRETI DELLA CONGREGAZIONE DELLE CAUSE DEI SANTI
Oggi, 19 dicembre 2009, il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI ha ricevuto in Udienza privata S.E. Mons. Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefetto della Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi. Nel corso dell’Udienza il Santo Padre ha autorizzato la Congregazione a promulgare i Decreti riguardanti:
- le virtù eroiche del Servo di Dio Pio XII (Eugenio Pacelli), Sommo Pontefice; nato a Roma il 2 marzo 1876 e morto a Castelgandolfo il 9 ottobre 1958; [WOW.... THIS was downplayed a little]
- le virtù eroiche del Servo di Dio Giovanni Paolo II (Carlo Wojty?a), Sommo Pontefice; nato il 18 maggio 1920 a Wadowice (Polonia) e morto a Roma il 2 aprile 2005;
Paolo Rodari has an interesting comment on his blog Palazzo Apostolico about this decree about Pius XII, which sort of blind sided everyone:
The strategy of Benedict XVI to get the skeptics (among whom many Jews) to stomach the unblocking of the process of beatification and canonization of Pius XII was today made clear in a surprising way (no vatican watcher was in a position to anticipate this). In fact, the Pope, hiding his intentions from everyone (I have my doubts that even his private secretary knew about it), promulgated a decree on the heroic virtues of Pius XII together with that of John Paul II. We knew about Wojtyla. About Pacelli, no.
The Congregation actually issued the decree on heroic virtues for Pius XII some time ago, on 8 May 2007.
But, remember, the Supreme Pontiff must promulgate it. That is what happened today.