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Trickster Padre

Padre PioI happened to come across this 2011 piece by CSI’s Joe Nickell the other day:

…In fact, notwithstanding the claims in uncritical biographies, Pio’s stigmata devolved—from bleeding wounds that could easily have been self-inflicted (like those of many fake stigmatists before and after, as I described in my 2001 book Real-Life X-Files) to merely discolored skin that appeared to have been irritated by the application of a caustic substance. Indeed, a bottle of carbolic acid was once discovered in the friar’s cell, and Luzzatto cites letters from Padre Pio in which Pio requests that carbolic acid, and at another time a caustic alkaloid, be secretly delivered to him. Eventually Pio began wearing fingerless gloves, supposedly to cover his stigmata out of pious humility; however, to me, the practice seems instead a shrewd move to eliminate the need to continually self-inflict wounds.

Nor were the fake stigmata the friar’s only deception. Years before, Pio had written numerous letters to his spiritual directors describing his mystical experiences; however, it is now known that he copied these words verbatim from the writings of stigmatic Gemma Galgani (1878–1903) without acknowledging they were hers. And that is not all: Pio attempted to divert suspicion from his plagiarism by asking for help in procuring copies of Galgani’s books—saying he would very much like to read them!

…By the time of his death in 1968, Pio’s stigmata had disappeared, but that was effectively remedied in death. Although there was no need to cover his hands and feet—and indeed Capuchin rule forbids the wearing of socks—Pio’s “father guardian,” Father Carmelo of San Giovanni in Galdo, worried that the absence of stigmata might cause a faulty rush to judgment. Carmelo therefore had Padre Pio’s hands and feet covered, as if the covering still concealed his allegedly holy gift. And so the deception continued.

In 2002, the late friar was canonized Saint Pio of Pietrelcina—not for the stigmata he was so famous for but for his healings that were, with due illogic, assumed miraculous because they were said to be inexplicable. And when his remains were exhumed for display forty years after his death, those hoping his body would be found incorrupt… or that it would still exhibit the stigmata, were disappointed. The embalmed corpse had deteriorated sufficiently that it required a silicon mask—complete with bushy eyebrows and beard—fashioned by a London wax museum. Of the supposedly supernatural wounds there was not a trace.

Oh well.

That the friar was a fake is no great surprise, That the Capuchins forbid socks, on the other hand…

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The Miraculous Deception

Here (via the Guardian) is just another reminder of the timeless appeal of the miraculous:

The name Jesus is stamped behind the pulpit in thick blue lettering. But at the Pentecostal Church of the Miracle the headline act is not the Son of God but a six-year-old girl in a pink dress. A banner advertises “an explosion of miracles” at the entrance to the church – a converted warehouse on the impoverished outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. “She places her hands and the miracle happens.” On the roof a placard promises “health, happiness and victory”.

On the street outside, anxious followers quiz dapper evangelical doormen: “Is she here? Is she here?”

“She” is Alani dos Santos, a “child healer” better known as the Missionarinha or Little Missionary, who is reputedly capable of healing the sickest of congregants with a touch of her hands. Twice a week, bandage-clad and cancer-ridden believers pack this cramped “temple” in search of a miracle.

“Thousands of people have been touched,” says her father, Pastor Adauto Santos, 44, a former hairdresser and car thief who runs what is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most talked-about churches and believes his daughter can cure ailments from cancer to Aids and TB.

“She’s a normal kid – apart from this gift,” he says, adding: “It is Jesus who cures. She is an instrument.”

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Medical miracles

The Lutheran Hour takes over New York’s sole remaining classical music station for part of Sunday mornings.   Its announcer, whose stylized speech inflections recall a more theatrical era of radio or a pitch for hair elixir, was today as usual promoting the benefits of Christian belief: You’re never lonely on Christmas; you have an antidote to death; you have someone who loves you.  The fact that these attributes of God are exactly what a frightened, vulnerable human being would like to be true does not mean that they are false.  Just because we witness again and again man’s overpowering desire for a special friend or fixer who can get him out of tight spots, to whom he can address urgent calls for help when he is in danger, who keeps a special ear out just for him, in recognition of his unique and precious worth, who gives him an exemption from mortality . . . just because all these things are the case does not mean that there is not a God who conforms exactly to our emotional needs.  But it is an interesting coincidence, all the same; it is perhaps “overdetermined,” as they say in the academy.  (more…)

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Mary avoids consubstantiation with a tortilla

The Virgin Mary has been spotted in a California restaurant griddle, which has since been retired from use and turned into a shrine.  No word yet from the Church about the authenticity of the sighting, though a local associate pastor confirms: “If God wants to do something like this, he can do it.”

Such is the stuff of modern miracles.  No more walking on water or raising the dead.  Or snuffing out swine flu.




Miscellany, March 20

  • Pareidolia is “that phenomenon wherein people see things that aren’t there because human brains are wired for pattern recognition”. Children see animals in the clouds or letters in a pile of sticks; adults are likely to see images fraught with special meaning, especially (though not only) religious images such as the Virgin Mary, the cross or the face of Jesus. Via Orac comes an irresistible six-minute video of the highlights of Christian pareidolia stories for 2008.

    Orac hazards the view — though I’m not sure what the evidence is in either direction — that in societies with a different religious foundation or none at all, people would see something else in grilled cheese sandwiches, tree bark, cinnamon bun residues, dirty windows, and other objects presenting random visual patterns. (Compare the 2005 story in which Burger King redesigned the swirl on an ice cream lid after a Muslim man objected that it was too reminiscent of the Arabic inscription for Allah).
  • From the same blog, but on an entirely different subject, a study of medicine and religion finds that (to quote the blog, not the study) “Faith in a higher power can often lead to more aggressive treatment than is medically warranted”. In cases of incurable cancer, strong religious conviction on the part of patients is apparently more likely to correlate with the use of ventilators, death while in intensive care, and other heroic/invasive measures, as opposed to hospice. Orac (who is a medical doctor specializing in cancer) has an extended and interesting discussion.
  • Finally, a Missouri library has agreed to settle “Deborah Smith’s claim that she lost her job as a librarian assistant in Poplar Bluff, Mo., because she refused to attend a ‘Harry Potter Night’ promoting the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ in July 2007.” Smith believed the Potter books dabble in the occult and was not mollified at the library director’s offer to let her participate behind the scenes where her fellow church members would not have to realize she was involved.

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Giving science its due?

Nadya Suleman’s publicists refer to her “eight tiny miracle children,”  which we should celebrate because they will be raised in a “Christian, caring environment.”  I assume her PR team means a medical miracle.  Taxpayers’ potential bill for the octoplets continues to rise.

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