March 8, 2006

Lourdes moots “miracle lite” for sudden healings

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic pilgrimage shrine at
Lourdes may introduce a kind of "miracle lite" category for
sudden unexplained recoveries because modern medicine
increasingly refuses to declare any disease incurable.

Every year, dozens of seriously ill people leave the site
in southwestern France convinced they have been cured, but the
Church does not rate their cases as miracles because its rules
say doctors must attest their ailments could not be remedied.

Bishop Jacques Perrier said the Vatican need not change the
rules for declaring miracles, but could create a new category
of "authentic healings" so those who recover can share the
story of their physical and spiritual experiences with others.

The Catholic Church teaches God sometimes performs miracles
including cures doctors cannot explain. Sceptics reject this as
unscientific and explain sudden recoveries as psychological
phenomena or the delayed result of earlier treatment.

Unlike in the past, Perrier said, doctors are now very
reluctant to say a disease is incurable -- one of the strict
requirements laid down in the 1700s for recognizing miracles.
Uncertainty is a key element in modern thinking, he noted.

"Doctors today speak in statistical terms, saying, for
example, that the chances of recovery are very slim," he told
Reuters. "They have a very hard time saying a disease is
completely incurable."

"Most healings may fail to meet this or that criterion for
a miracle," he added. "We want to get recognition for a
category of authentic healings linked to Lourdes."

Perrier said he was working on a proposal for the new
category of Lourdes healings to put to the Vatican for


The bishop insisted Catholicism's leading miracle shrine
was not considering this to boost pilgrimages to the grotto
where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a peasant
girl in 1858. "There's been no decline in visits," he said.

Rather, it sensed a lost opportunity since those said to be
cured during a Lourdes visit but not declared miracle cases do
not get Church approval to share their story in public, for
example at retreats or meetings with other Catholics.

Six million people flock annually to the pilgrimage town in
the Pyrenees Mountains. About 7,000 have claimed to have been
cured since the shrine's medical bureau began keeping records
in 1883, but only 66 have been declared miraculously healed.

Perrier says the shrine's International Medical Committee
examines possible miracle cases and rejects most of them. The
last official miracle, a man said to be cured of multiple
sclerosis, was declared in 1999 after 12 years of inquiries.

Sometimes the doctors -- a 20-strong group including
Catholics and non-believers -- see an ill person has been
healed inexplicably, but do not draw further conclusions, he

"They say 'since miracles are by definition religious, it's
up to you religious authorities to draw a conclusion. We can
only say this is something serious, but don't put us in your

"What we want is to authenticate these healings and say the
people who say they have been healed are not making it up or
swindling people," Perrier said.

"It's meant to give a certain moral guarantee so we don't
have just anybody going around claiming to have been healed."