COLOGNE, West Germany (AP) _ Fire destroyed a Roman Catholic church today just over a mile from the stadium where Pope John Paul II beatified a Carmelite nun who was born a Jew, police said.

Police spokesman Alfons Selt said graffiti was spray-painted on another Catholic church earlier this week protesting sexism and the pope's authority.

''We love to see churches burn. Churches are genocide for the prophet,'' Selt said the graffiti read on the church in Cologne.

He said police were taking the graffiti and the burning of the Church of St. Brictius in nearby Huerth ''very seriously.''

The church that burned is 1.2 miles from the Cologne soccer stadium where the pontiff today beatified Edith Stein, who took the name Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce upon becoming a nun and perished in the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.

The beatification - a major step toward sainthood - was sharply criticized by some Jewish leaders, who say she was killed because she was born a Jew and not because she converted.

The fire was reported at 6:41 a.m., said Werner Schmidt, a spokesman for the Cologne police. The beatification ceremonies began at 10 a.m.

Schmidt said it was too early to tell if there was any connection between the blaze and the pope's visit, which has been opposed by leftists and womens' groups.

''The investigators are still trying to determine whether it was arson,'' said a Huerth police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He said the fire leveled the church, causing nearly $1.4 million damage.

Schmidt said laboratory tests were being performed to determine if the fire had been set, but that results wouldn't be available for several days.

On April 23, Cologne police said posters showing the pope's face framed in a gun sight had been plastered on walls of several buildings in the city. Police said at the time that the posters amounted to a tasteless joke and probably were not a sign that a local group was planning an attack on the pontiff.