Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
Pope cracks down on miracles
By David Sutton
What have the Catholics ever done for us? a humourless Darwinist might ask (in a Monty Python-esque voice). Of course, if you’re a fortean, it’s hard to know where to begin when the Catholic Church has provided us with such a treasure trove of phenomena over the centuries: everything from bilocating saints and possessed nuns to miraculous healing, bleeding statues and frequent visits by the Blessed Virgin Mary to the unlikeliest of spots.
Now, it seems, all that is to stop.
New guidelines are being drawn up in an attempt to stem the tide of miracles that has provided us at FT (http://www.forteantimes.com
) with our bread and butter for the last 36 years. In a bizarre piece of bureaucracy, more reminiscent of an edict from Brussels than a vademecum from the Vatican, Catholics who claim to have seen the Virgin Mary or developed stigmata will have to submit to a battery of tests and visits from psychologists, theologians, exorcists and even atheists before they are given any credence. What’s more, they will be forced to remain silent about the matter while under investigation. The Pope has asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (yes, the Holy Office of the Inquisition as it was in the good old days) to draw up a new handbook to aid bishops in distinguishing between genuine miracles and bogus claims. The most controversial aspect of the new rules would be the insistence that anyone claiming, say, to have seen the BVM, would have to keep it to themselves; if they refuse to obey, their vision will immediately be discounted as false. But that’s only the first hurdle; they will then need to have their mental health assessed while the content of any messages received is checked for conformity with Church doctrines. Finally, exorcists will step in to ensure that Satan isn’t, in fact, behind the whole thing anyway.
Not only does all this insistence on jumping through hoops fly in the face of centuries of Catholic experience and the nature of popular belief (no song of Bernadette, then, just a gagging order) but it will surely lead to a regrettable dearth of quality material in these pages. We hope you will join us in sincerely urging Pope Benedict to think again.
Independent, 13 Jan 2009.