Thursday, October 25, 2007

James White Readily Grants Possible Legitimacy to the Flimsiest "Evidence" That Padre Pio Faked His Stigmata

From the "I thought I'd seen everything" department:

Reformed Baptist anti-Catholic apologist Bishop James White has reported on a Telegraph article alleging that St. Padre Pio faked his stigmata with carbolic acid. Of course he doesn't let his readers know that he would (I think it is safe to say) deny virtually any reported Catholic miracle (if not all of them) because he thinks the Catholic Church is a false church with a counterfeit gospel, led by the devil, leading people to hell (and -- I don't know; it wouldn't surprise me -- he may also be a cessationist regarding the continuing of miracles after the apostolic period). That's the presupposition he starts from, and that more than likely determines his public response to this article beforehand: before he even reads it or considers whatever "evidence" is offered.

After ridiculous comments about Catholic beliefs on saints and asking their intercession (including the potshot: "note the response to even daring to suggest that Padre Pio might just have been faking his alleged godliness"), White briefly presents the basis of the charge and then mocks supposed quick (and implied, improper or illegitimate) dismissal of Catholics of the charges:
[article] The new allegations were greeted with an instant dismissal from his supporters. The Catholic Anti-Defamation League said Mr Luzzatto was a liar and was "spreading anti-Catholic libels".

[White] That can't be how anyone would respond to such an allegation, is it? Surely not! I mean, we have documented repeatedly how fair and even handed Roman Catholic apologists are in responding to criticism and refutation, so this is truly amazing, isn't it? Excuse me while I extract my tongue from my cheek.
Apparently it never occurred to him that the impulse behind such charges is probably much the same as the nefarious skeptical intention behind things such as the "Da Vinci Code": that he himself (along with at least two Catholic authors that I know of) has opposed. That's fine and dandy, on the principle of "my enemy's enemy is my friend." Never mind an examination of whether the charges have any substance: just accept it and assume the distinct possibility of guilt as charged because it is against the Catholic Church: that Beast that White despises. Here is the profound "proof" presented from a lady named Maria De Vito:
"Padre Pio called me to him in complete secrecy and telling me not to tell his fellow brothers, he gave me personally an empty bottle, and asked if I would act as a chauffeur to transport it back from Foggia to San Giovanni Rotondo with four grams of pure carbolic acid.
"He explained that the acid was for disinfecting syringes for injections. He also asked for other things, such as Valda pastilles."
That's it! We're supposed to believe that Padre Pio was lying through his teeth about the reason for obtaining the acid? That's enough for White to think it is serious evidence of possible fraud, I guess. The charge is made: a beloved saint is spoken of as if he were a liar and deceiver, and White thinks that is compelling enough to mock a denial of it, as rash and unreasonable. After all, according to him, Catholics lie all the time about theology (I've been accused personally by White of "knowing deception") so why not a saint? Even the article stated:
It was examined by the Holy See during the beatification process of Padre Pio and apparently dismissed.
Anyone who knows anything at all about the Catholic canonization process (as well as that regarding any miracle or apparition, etc.) knows how rigorous and exacting it is. In fact, this is the origin of the term "devil's advocate": the person in such procedures who is a sort of prosecutor against the cause of someone being considered for sainthood. Is White actually foolish and silly enough to think that the Church didn't examine this instance of the stigmata with the greatest care? I wouldn't put it past him, given his oft-shown profound ignorance of Catholic teaching and practice.


Another article in The Independent provides some further relevant information:
A doctor sent by the Vatican to examine them concluded that the wounds were probably caused and maintained artificially. To test the hypothesis he bound the wounds and sealed the bandage to prevent it being tampered with. But on examination a month later the doctor was nonplussed to find that the wounds had failed to heal.
The article notes that Padre Pio had written: "I am in need of 200g or 300g of carbolic acid for sterilising. I pray you to send it to me on Sunday." And based on this compelling "evidence" some pharmacist concluded: "My thought was that the carbolic acid could be used by Padre Pio to procure or further irritate wounds on his hands."


 There goes Bishop White, stretching the truth again!



What further proof is needed? Is that not compelling? It's not as if use of carbolic acid (aka phenol) for such purposes is immediately suspect. It was standard practice in those times (this was an incident from 1919). For example, note the article, "Antisepsis and Sterilization," from the online Encyclopedia of Public Health:
Joseph Lister (1827–1912) experimented with carbolic acid dressings and continuous carbolic acid sprays during surgical operations in the mid-1860s. He reported a reduced incidence of gangrene and mortality. He eventually abandoned carbolic acid around 1890 when Koch demonstrated heat to be more effective than chemicals for sterilizing instruments, and when Ernst von Bergmann (1836–1907) achieved better results through cleaning techniques for operating rooms, instruments, patients, and surgeons.

Another article on the history of antiseptic procedures notes:
Through his research, Lister had heard that 'carbolic acid,' a coal-tar derivative used to preserve railway tracks and ships' timbers, was effective in controlling typhoid, which was spread in sewage, and in curing cattle of parasites. By cleaning wounds and dressing his patients with carbolic acid, Lister was able to keep his hospital ward in Glasgow free of infection for nine months. Lister's cloud of carbolic spray drenched the whole area, surgeon and all, and so killed the bacteria before they had a chance to invade the wound.
Much more fair-minded and reasonable than White's presuppositional-driven anti-Catholic knee-jerk bigotry is the outlook expressed by a woman, Chrissie, in a Physics Forum discussion thread on the stigmata:
Regarding Padre Pio, the saint from Italy (1912) whose bleeding from palms, etc is well documented. I don't deny his symptoms, at all. What does cause me to feel some skepitism, coming from a medical/nursing background, is that the areas where the bleeding occurs seems to be areas where blood vessels meet up in a network of capillaries to send the blood back up to the heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated. Because the actual blood flow has also been very well documented in this type of "stigmata", I wonder if there may be a physiological underpinning - a disease process that we just aren't familiar with at this time. Padre Pio, himself, describes feeling very tired prior to the onset of this bleeding, which is consistent with a decrease in oxygenated blood flow to the body and brain. That we don't know why it occurs does not give us the right to say that "it just doesn't occur", or "its impossible", or "he's lying". That is truly arrogant, is it not?
Now, it's true that she is not seeming to accept the possibility of the miraculous, but this is an intermediate position that is far more charitable than immediate recourse to the charge of lying, based on altogether insufficient evidence, that is almost White's stock-in-trade these days.

The same thread directed readers towards a fascinating article, "An Unusual Case of Stigmatization," by Marco Margnelli, from Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1999, 461-482, which noted that the stigmata "in this century it has also appeared in Protestants . . . several cases" (p. 461) and "whereas in the past the phenomenon was observed only in Europe, in this century there have also been cases in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Africa and India" (p. 462) After describing general characteristics of the stigmata, the author concludes:
None of these characteristics (particularly the sudden appearance/disappearance and absence of suppurative phenomena) can be explained by the usual laws of general pathology and pathological anatomy . . . (p. 463)
The Italian woman who is the main topic of this article, Anna Maria T., has been extensively studied under scientific conditions. For example:
From March 1995 until July 1995 Anna Maria was examined eight times: every first Friday of the five months (March 3, April 7, May 5, June 2, July 7), Good Friday (April 14) and twice in free periods when no stigmatic marks were visible (May 27 and June 16). Further observations were made on July 2 and 3, and on August 6 and 7, 1998. On each of these occasions :

(1) Color photographs of the stigmatic marks, normal close-ups and also
highly magnified close-ups were taken.

(2) Infrared photographs of the palms and the backs of the hands were
made.

(3) Prints of the entire hands and detailed sets of fingerprints using triketohydrinden
hydrate were taken.

(4) The electrodermal activity of all the fingers of both hands was studied.

(5) A plethysmographic study of all the fingers of both hands was made.

In addition Anna Maria underwent a psycho-spiritual interview and the tests
of Rorschach and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. These examinations were recorded on video.

As Anna Maria had stated, the shape, size, color and entity of the stigmatic
marks varied from one month to another. (pp. 470-471)

[physiological details are then provided by the author]

The author concluded:

With regard to the possible productive mechanisms, an effort has been made, as is usual in these cases, to gather together the elements that exclude fraud and disease, and any possible ones that could indicate a psychosomatic nature of the marks. As has already been stated, the preliminary data seem to make it improbable that Anna Maria could cause the lesions herself. As far as the possibility of a psychosomatic genesis is concerned, the examinations carried out demonstrate sympathetic hyperactivity indexes only within the reddened areas themselves, while the sympathetic functions of the rest of the hands (sweating, symmetry of the electrodermal responses and vasoconstrictor reflexes) always appear within the norm. To complete the observations an hourly assessment of the microcirculatory activity needs to be made on the Thursday night preceding the first Friday of each month. As far as the hypothesis of a miracle is concerned, it is not within my competence to make any judgement.
Another article (from Zenit) contains the scientific descriptions of Dr. Nicola Silvestri (I cite excerpts):

From the medical point of view, the stigmata cannot be considered as wounds or sores, because they do not heal even when treated. They neither become infected nor do they decompose; they do not degenerate in necrosis, and do not exude a bad odor. They bleed and remain constant and unaltered for years, against all laws of nature.

The Church is strict when it comes to these phenomena. It has pronounced itself in a rather limited number of cases only after rigorous studies and controls by doctors and theologians.

[A] multiplicity of theories have been proposed by different schools that attempt to deny the supernatural character of the stigmata. However, none of these hypotheses can stand up to objective and scientifically rigorous criticism. Neither medicine nor psychology, nor intransigent positivists like Jean-Baptiste Dumas, have been able to deny the reality of the phenomenon.
If the stigmata depended on natural forces, they would have appeared in all ages and the description would be found in medical literature. However, it was not until the 12th century, when they appeared in St. Francis' body, that there was reference to the stigmata.
By their internal and external characteristics, the real stigmata studied to date are outside all the laws that regulate physiopathology and must be considered as phenomena of a supernatural character.
The author continues:
The Church exacts certain conditions before recognizing the validity of stigmata. The wounds must all appear at the same time; they must cause considerable modification of the tissues; they must remain unaltered despite medical treatment; they must cause hemorrhages; and they must not result in infections or suppuration, or in instant and perfect healing.
There are at least 80 saints and blessed whose stigmata have been validly documented, the doctor said. Although the Church recognizes the phenomenon, it does not oblige the faithful to believe in it as a dogmatic or doctrinal fact.
It so happens that I also recently saw an extraordinary movie about St. Padre Pio's life: Padre Pio: Miracle Man. I was profoundly moved by it, and consider it the best religious movie I have seen, second only to my perennial favorite, Jesus of Nazareth (that was a key factor used by God to help make me decide to seriously devote my life to Jesus as an evangelical Protestant in 1977). In the movie you see the persecution that the great man had to undergo: most of it from within the Church (as with almost all saints), including ludicrous charges that he was having sexual relations with several women. At one point his confessional was bugged. How sad. Even Pope John XXIII was a skeptic, so recent articles have stated.

This will probably become a big stink in the months to come. It appears to have been the successor in a propagandistic / sociologically anti-Catholic sense of the same mentality that went after Mother Teresa, because she experienced the dark night of the soul (as if that is unusual for saints and other holy people to experience: it is common knowledge). Entire books have been written about this phenomenon, such as the one by St. John of the Cross.

If people don't want to believe in some supernatural phenomenon, they will always find some "reason" not to do so, no matter how implausible and ridiculous. It's simply the human condition. It is one thing to be intelligently skeptical of any claim. The Church certainly does that, and I do myself (very much so); quite another to be prejudiced against the supernatural on philosophical or emotional grounds, and to thus automatically discount every alleged incident as a fraud, hallucination, or what-not.

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