Did the Vatican’s Latest Saint, Pope John Paul II, Posthumously Cure a Nun With Parkinson’s?

Pope Francis has decided that two of his predecessors were honest-to-God saints.

What is the evidence that they were? Posthumous miracles. You see, Popes die, but their work is never done. While Jesus is busy helping millionaires score touchdowns, or dealing with the anger from other millionaires who blame the Son of God for making them drop touchdowns, dead Popes pick up the slack.

Enter Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a French nun whose Parkinson’s-like neurological order reportedly vanished overnight after she wrote Pope John Paul II‘s name on a piece of paper, months after he died.

The Vatican was champing at the bit to get John Paul’s canonization underway, but there are self-imposed roles that the padres must follow. Bestowing sainthood requires two certified miracles; and in the case of a medically inexplicable cure, the alleged wonder must be instantaneous, complete, and lasting.

That, right there, caused a little bump in the road. One of the doctors who looked into the “cured” nun’s medical history on behalf of the Vatican voiced doubts about the account. He hypothesized that her illness hadn’t been Parkinson’s, which is currently still incurable, but a related affliction whose symptoms sometimes go into remission.

Lo and behold: Then we learned, through a respected Polish newspaper, that Sister Marie had had a relapse. The Vatican denies it, and anyway, the padres were never worried: A spokeman said merely that

…he acknowledged that the doubts would require further investigation. In such cases, he said, the Congregation would ask more doctors to come in and offer an opinion.

That’s a good way to eventually get your biases or fantasies confirmed, especially as we may assume that the carefully chosen medical experts (good Catholics, by any chance?) were paid for their opinions and their kind cooperation.

In 2011, six years after he died, John Paul allegedly performed a second miracle. This time, he chose a Costa Rican woman with an aneurism, whose family had prayed to the deceased Holy Father:

A neurosurgeon who treated the woman, Alejandro Vargas Roman, told Costa Rican news site La Nacion, which first reported on the miracle, that the disappearance of the aneurism had “no scientific explanation.” The woman was then moved to Vatican City to be reviewed by doctors and theologians, who later declared the legitimacy of the miracle.

Well, I’m convinced. You?

Over the years, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for diagnosticians and the brainteasers they face. The fascination must have started two dozen years ago with Michael Howell and Peter Ford‘s wonderful The Ghost Disease and Twelve Other Stories of Detective Work in the Medical Field, a non-fiction page-turner that tells of 13 historical medical mysteries and the selfless (often dangerous) work of the physicians who solved them. I also loved the recent profile of the incredible Dr. Joseph Lieber in the New Yorker, who’s identified more illnesses than I ever knew existed. And I’m a fan of Dr. Lisa Sanders’ long-running monthly series in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, ‘Diagnosis.’ Each episode presents a patient’s recent medical history, and invites readers to guess what’s wrong.

All this is to say that the medical field is not only rife with science-based knowledge and hard data, but also with inevitable surprises and headscratchers. That doesn’t mean that medical miracles of the kind allegedly performed by a dead Pope ought to be taken the least bit seriously. In fact, it’s profoundly, comically irrational to think that ghostly corpses send healing vibes from the afterlife.

But I’m not a reflexive naysayer. Incontrovertible proof would sway me.

So, what would it take to convince reasonable people of dead Popes’ posthumous superpowers? A simple controlled experiment. Let’s say, prominent Catholics praying successfully to an ex-pontiff to give a quadruple amputee his limbs backs — with video cameras and physicians present, and James Randi keeping a watchful eye on things. Also acceptable: Turning a mosquito into a dinosaur on national TV. Having Antonin Scalia do backflips through the eye of a needle while balancing a mitre on his nose. Flying the Capitol Building and everyone in it to Tokyo and back on nothing but Jesus power. (On second thought, Tokyo can keep it.)

Anything less is hokum, flim-flam, and delusion. Or, as most people call it, religion.

(Top photo via U.S. News)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Rain

    I believe it. Then again I believed the peanut butter guy when he said peanut butter disproves evolution. I’m probably not the best atheist skeptic ever, so YMMV. Worst skeptical atheist ever.

    • Baby_Raptor

      I’ve not heard that claim before. How does peanut butter disprove evolution?

      • Yoav

        Apparently the fact that new life isn’t being spontaneously created in peanut butter jars on a regular basis somehow disprove evolution. Beside the issue that, like many creationists, the dude confuses evolution with abiogenesis his arguments are so inane that it would make even Ray Comfort put down his banana and bang his had on the desk with frustration.

        • Baby_Raptor

          /head-desk

          Thanks for taking the time to enlighten me.

        • islandbrewer

          In short, “information” (or “specified information” if you listen to William Demski or Stephen Meyers) is the new “quantum.”

  • Cattleya1

    OK, class can we all say ‘misdiagnosis’? Didn’t Mother Teresa get her second miracle from a woman with a uterine tuburculoma – which resolved with conventional therapy? Of course, any nay sayers opinions are immediately discounted by the faithful. He will be the next saint and he’ll still be just as dead as before.

    • Yoav

      They’re not even pretending to care anymore. When JP2 realized what a colossal mistake he made by asking Christopher Hitchens to act as Devil’s Advocate when considering the canonization of mother Theresa he just eliminated the position all altogether, because someone who actually look at the evidence rather then just play the game and then act like he was skeptic but was swayed by the Vatican’s case can be really inconvenient.

      • thebigJ_A

        Not quite right. Popey abolished the Devil’s Advocate role, officially, decades before Hitch testified against the Theresa. It was one of the acts that allowed him to canonize *five times* as many dead people as all the other Popes in the twentieth century (500 vs 98).

        According to wikipedia: In cases of controversy the Vatican may still seek to informally solicit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization.

        That’s what Hitch was there for, “representing the Evil One, as it were, pro bono” (I love that quote).

  • Mario Strada

    Cure parkinson’s? Is that a miracle? Because if it is, there are a few doctors out there that may very well ask for canonization.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBh2LxTW0s0

    Naturally, it’s not a cure and it doesn’t work on everyone, as far as I know. But to this guy in this video, it’s as close to a fucking miracle as anything.

  • islandbrewer

    I totally think Christopher Hitchens needs to be made a Saint in the RCC. I had this bad case of what I thought was an incurable melanoma, and then I prayed to Hitch, took a shower, and the incurable melanoma washed off! And you can go ahead and ask the doctors, and they’ll find no trace of the melanoma.

    And it’s true because I said so. BOOM, Miraclesville, Sainthood.

    • Beth

      Hitch help cure me of my theism after his death. That’s two miracles. Someone call the other horsemen and see if thats enough for sainthood.

  • indorri

    I actually have a harsher stance on these: the outright eagerness to accept such things as miracles is not merely misguided, it is unethical. “It doesn’t have a scientific explanation, it must be a miracle” is bad epistemology in the first place, but to basically stop searching for the truth, stop searching for why such cases were “cured”, went into remission, whatever (assuming this is actually the case) stifles actual attempts to apply it to others. It stifles the possibility of determining something that could help all of humankind. This is why I have no patience for those who are convinced when their great grandpappy miraculously recovered, it must be God.

    • tsara

      “[T]he outright eagerness to accept such things as miracles is not merely misguided, it is unethical. [...] It stifles the possibility of determining something that could help all of humankind.”

      QFT.

    • Terry Firma

      “It stifles the possibility of determining something that could help all of humankind.”

      Very good point. Never thought of it that way.

    • The Other Weirdo

      It stifles the possibility of determining something that could help all of humankind.

      You are assuming that they are even remote interested in something that would benefit all of humankind. From what I’ve seen, the only thing they care about is themselves and their own power, whatever is left of it.

  • Patrick Dunn

    Father Guido Sarducci had some informative comments on the miracle requirements for saints (wish I had a youtube link here, but this is all I could find on short notice: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0001973/quotes).

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

      Your link has a parenthesis on the end, which is causing a 404.

  • ggsillars

    There are at least two logical fallacies here. First, the appeal to ignorance: “we have no natural explanation for this; therefore God did it.” Second, post hoc, ergo propter hoc: someone appealed to JP2 and then this “miracle” happened. Can you show causation? Not hardly.

    It’s sad, really.

    • Jansen Waddell

      HA, you heretics with your “logic” and “deductive skills”

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    I support the Catholic church on this. Such flagrant bullshit further undermines their credibility. It’s as if they aren’t even trying — no smoke and mirrors; no man behind the curtain; no misdirection.

    Could it be more obvious that they are making it up as they go?

  • The Vicar

    Dateline: The Vatican

    Today, Pope Francis announced to reporters that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was responsible for a hitherto unreported miracle.

    “I was meditating in the northern room of the solid gold tower we built using the donations which people gave us for Mother Theresa’s hospitals — the smaller one, that is — and suddenly it occurred to me that the whole pedophilia scandal never happened. When I asked the cardinals, they all agreed with me — Mother Church never harbored pedophiles, nor did we transfer them between parishes to avoid detection or prosecution.”

    When asked how this could possibly be true when the convicted pedophile clerics in question are still on record and were indeed moved from parish to parish, and financial records still show enormous payouts to victims of the church’s policies, His Holiness replied “God works in mysterious ways.”

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    We should beatified Jonas Salk for prehumously curing Polio.

    • islandbrewer

      Yeah, but that was all using evil secular naturalistic methodology (i.e., science). Does beatification require miracles?

  • Ton_Chrysoprase

    You only have to pray at a particular spot to a particular version of a particular god….

    • JET

      Thank you, God – Tim Minchin (One of my favorites!)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZeWPScnolo

      • Ton_Chrysoprase

        And if you get that right, he just might
        Take a break from giving babies malaria
        And pop down to your local area
        To fix the shivering of that nuuuun.

      • Jason Hinchliffe

        I was not overly familiar with Minchin prior to watching this. I will pursue to correct this grievous oversight. Thank you.

        • islandbrewer

          Then this is a must watch:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U

        • Ton_Chrysoprase

          After hearing that song for ther first time I just knew that I would never be able to say anything on the topic of miracles that could conceivably further the argument.

  • JET

    Oh, boy! More saints with verified miracles for the Catholics to pray to! How many thousands are they up to now? The workload’s getting heavy up there, so God is hiring…

  • pRinzler

    Your last paragraph, Terry, only encourages more absurd yet hilarious scenarios that would melt the heart of a heathenistic atheist. Personally, I’d like to see Jesus appear in Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade, complete with active stigmata and a rainbow halo.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

      Sounds like a gay pride float, which might not have the intended effect.

      • pRinzler

        I think I saw that in San Francisco in 1978.

  • wombat

    Personally, I don’t think I’d need a huge miracle to start considering that god may exist – just a very well-documented one. One that can’t be explained. Then I’d entertain the idea. You’d need a few of them to convince me thoroughly though.

    • islandbrewer

      Do really good card tricks count?

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    I’m starting to gather that the “friendly” part is facetious. I also get why.

    • A+

      Oooh! I’m just one spot away from obvious troll comment bingo card I’m playing due to this comment!

      • Jason Hinchliffe

        Oooh! You’re an idiot who only reads the first sentence of a post. Perhaps you might like to think about the second one a bit.

    • Tom

      friendly != credulous

    • The Other Weirdo

      What is so unfriendly about this post?

      • GubbaBumpkin

        What is so unfriendly about this post?

        It says things Jason Hinchliffe would rather not hear.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Well, yes, but I was hoping for something in the way of details. Atheists always get complaints that we’re too aggressive in our lack of belief. Fact is, when the other side finds your very existence offensive, it doesn’t matter what you say, or how. Somebody will always come along and take offence.

          • Jason Hinchliffe

            Read above. I’m not offended. You people are dense.

            • The Other Weirdo

              You’re acting like a Poe, and not a very good one.

              You threw out a statement, eerily similar to what Christians say. You didn’t leave any Poe identification marks. Now you’re calling people fucking morons for interpreting your words exactly as they were written.

              You should learn to express yourself better before calling people ‘fucking morons’.

              • Jason Hinchliffe

                You know what, there’s validity to what you are saying. After I wrote the remarks, I regretted them. But I’m not one to erase what’s said. I thought my second sentence was fairly clear. Calling people “fucking morons” is unacceptable. You have my unqualified apology for that.

        • Jason Hinchliffe

          Once again, you’re a fucking moron with reading comprehension issues. I’m an atheist. “I get why” because this type of attribution is mind boggling to logical people. I agree with the post dumbass.

      • Jason Hinchliffe

        “Anything less is hokum, flim-flam, and delusion. Or, as most people call it, religion.”.

        Yes, quite friendly. Like I said (and all of you seemed to blatantly miss) I ALSO GET WHY. THIS KIND OF SHIT IS INFURIATING TO LOGICAL PEOPLE.

    • Matt D

      This site is called “Friendly Atheist”, not “Friendly Atheists”.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    As I keep saying, you guys need some Allah in your life, you must just believe, do not question, no shut up and believe!

  • newenglandbob

    How many dead zombie popes can dance on the side of a cracker?

    • The Other Weirdo

      Unless he rose from the dead, he is not a zombie pope. He is just an Overly Attentive Dead Guy.

  • pagansister

    Good Grief! Don’t you understand that the RCC needs even MORE dead people to “pray” to? How do they actually PROVE that PopeJP two “cured the nun?” There are so many diseases that resemble Parkinson’s, and as mentioned in the article, some have periods of remission. I seriously doubt the nun had Parkinson’s to begin with. Oh well—the more saints the merrier.

  • steve b

    Pfft. Call me when one of these clerics can cure 1d8 +1/level hit points of damage. Oh for FSM’s sake, just make it 1d8+5 hit points damage. You have to figure a pope would be at least 5th level.

    • islandbrewer

      Popes have to be dual-classed cleric-thieves.

  • Kimpatsu

    “On second thought, Tokyo can keep it.”
    No thanks; we don’t want it.

  • UWIR

    I think that you are a bit off on Catholic theology. As I understand it, Catholics believe that just as they can ask living people to pray for them, they can ask dead people to pray for them, and sometimes when a dead person prays for them, God answers the prayer. So it’s God that performed the miracle, not the late pope.

    Of course, this is still rather bizarre. The reasoning is that if someone is healed by a prayer from a dead person, then the dead person must be in heaven. Now, if you’re familiar with logic, you know that any statement of the form “If X then Y” is logically equivalent to “If not Y then not X”. So, if the statement “If someone gets a miracle, then someone in heaven must have been praying for them” is true, then the statement “If no one in heaven is praying for someone, then they will not get a miracle” must also be true. For the RCC’s logic to work, one has to belief that God hands out miracles on the basis of how many friends they have in heaven. But it’s not just that he gives preference to people with friends in heaven; it must be that not having any friends in heaven means that you are guaranteed to not get a miracle.

  • Schmorty

    These idiots have no idea how they are being perceived in the modern world. I say that they are their own worst enemies. They actually think that advertising miracles is a good idea. The stupidity is epic. The superstition is hard to fathom. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the end of the RCC. Your salads will be right out.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      These idiots have no idea how they are being perceived in the modern world..

      That’s the challenge of operating a really big tent. On the one side, you have the Jesuit scholars, and the trolls who go around to blogs and insist that the Holy Roman Catholic Church carefully vets every miracle (Has this guy shown up yet? Could be any minute.) On the other side, you have people who see Jesus or Mary in every tortilla or sewer pipe.

  • rhodent

    As far as I’m concerned, let ‘em play their canonization games. It’s harmless when compared to a lot of things they do, and quite frankly if they’re not hurting anyone then I just can’t be arsed to care what they’re up to.

  • duke_of_omnium

    A true miracle: The Cubs winning the World Series. Now for that, they could canonize everyone

  • Robster

    Ha! “But I’m not a reflexive naysayer. Incontrovertible proof would sway me” would look great on a t-shirt. Or a wafer.

  • Neil

    Soooo One positive result from a prayer. But what of all those who prayed to him for a cure, but were ignored? Do these not get entered in the negative column? In fact – given his longevity – isnt just a couple of miracles an exceptionally poor return?

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    So if I pray to Lord Ganesh to remove any and all obstacles from my path and something happens does that prove the existence of Lord Ganesh to catholics or

  • Nick Andrew

    From http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/03/29/world/main6343263.shtml

    “But he added that there are many other reports of inexplicable cures, or “graces” as he termed them, that have reached the Vatican in the five years since the pope died and any one of them could be used if need be.”

    In other words, the RCC is determined to make JP2 a saint, so they’ll keep trying until they find something that passes their bogus requirements. This is like playing a lottery where you keep buying tickets until you win.

  • AxeGrrl

    I cannot tell you how surreal it was last night to see this story on the news and hear a legitimate news reporter say (about one of the Popes):

    “He only has one confirmed miracle to his name, not the usual two”

    Can you imagine having to say that with a straight face, as though it’s a ‘fact-checked fact’??

    • thebigJ_A

      I thought the news quit checking facts twenty years ago, no? Less profitable, or somesuch.

      • islandbrewer

        The overhead on fact checking is too high, cuts into the net.

  • Carmelita Spats

    This is more than a little sad, lost and unhinged…This is desperation…JPII is popular in Latin America…The last time Ratzinger visited Mexico, a murder of Vatican crows came up with a nefarious little sideshow two weeks before his arrival in order to amp up the crowds…They actually paraded a creepy effigy of JPII in a glass coffin around several Mexican cities and devotees lined up for hours to kiss the glass coffin and beg for miracles…We were a captive audience to the Vatican’s latest Coney Island abortifacient: “Weekend-at-Bernie’s-Meets-Cabinet-of-Dr.-Caligari-Meets-Snow-White” dead guy schtick to go along with the usual Dead-Guy-On-A-Stick…Every time a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs…

    http://impacto.mx/nacional/7jO/juan-pablo-ii-se-queda-en-m%C3%A9xico

    • marzipanpieplate

      EGADS! Your link needs to come with a warning. That’s perverse. It looks like those creepy dolls people treat like real babies. You failed to mention the blood. Apparently there are three capsules of his blood around the world. And the quoted people calling this his sixth trip to Mexico? So morbid. And delusional. Also, they want this circus to go on the road.

      Also, I’m no theologian, but doesn’t that break their very first commandment?

  • LesterBallard

    No.

  • Willy Occam

    “…to be reviewed by doctors and theologians, who later declared the legitimacy of the miracle.”

    What about the astrologers, fortune tellers, psychics, palm readers, phrenologists, and dowsers? Isn’t their input as relevant as that of the theologians?

  • Troy

    Pope John Paul performed two genuine miracles, he acknowledged that evolution was probably true, and he apologized for the holocaust, two acts I figured I’d see a pig crap the complete works of Shakespeare before I’d see the light of.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Funny how you never see Joe Klein curing anybody of Parkinson’s.

  • Pithecanthropus

    I really hate the term “confirmed miracle,” it really flies in the face of Occam’s Razor.

  • pagansister

    Suspect that part of the reason JP2 was put on the fast track is to attempt to keep the peons happy—he was a popular old guy. Also perhaps it will take the peons minds off the still continuing saga of those trustworthy priests—-


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