Monday, October 04, 2010

On the Stigma of Stigmatics

For the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, here's a post from the archives, originally written on April 2, 2008.

St. Francis of Assisi ... ora pro nobis!

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Almost a month ago, "Steve" emailed me the following question:

I saw on TV that Padre Pio's body was exhumed for veneration. I tried to search for more info online because the segment was brief. Unfortunately, I ended up coming across some hostile Web sites claiming that Padre Pio was a fraud, and that someone at the Catholic Hospital in Rome referred to him as a psychopath. It further alleged that miracles like incorruptible saints are frauds because either the bodies have been proven to have been treated, or there is gross exagerration/wishful thinking. It also claimed that the Stigmata is false because the wounds appear differently and in different locations for Stigmatics.
I am certainly not an expert on this subject, but I will try my best to respond to the points that you have raised.

First of all, concerning the accusations that Padre Pio was a "fraud," the Church definitively put that matter to rest when they declared him a saint.

You have to keep in mind that canonization is no small matter. It is not as if a couple of bishops, while smoking cigars and playing cards, thought it would be a swell idea to declare Padre Pio a saint. The Church has conducted rigorous investigations into the matter of his sanctity from the moment his popularity grew with the local people. Every detail of his life and his writings has been scrutinized. Both detractors and proponents of his canonization were given their say. At the end of the day, the Church decided that this Capuchin friar deserves the veneration of the Universal Church.

As faithful Catholics, we must trust that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has made the right decision. To do otherwise is to accuse the Church of gross negligence and the misleading of the entire People of God.

Regarding the allegation that incorruptible saints are frauds, I suggest the book The Incorruptibles by Joan Carroll Cruz, which is one of the most definitive treatments on the matter. Also, my understanding is that, while the bodies of certain incorruptibles, particular those which are put on display, are given various treatments to make them more suitable for public viewing, these treatments cannot account for the remarkable preservation of the bodies that has taken place.

I also know that, if a body has been imbalmed, mummified, or perfectly sealed from oxygen and the elements, then it is usually not considered miraculously incorruptible. The truly incorruptible bodies have not undergone these treatments, nor have they even stiffened, which is another sign of decay.

Finally, regarding false stigmata, it may be that some have truly received it while others actually have not. But, that some have not does not prove that none have. Even the secular and medical community acknowledge that such a phenomenon is real, and no one has been able to account for the miraculous qualities of the stigmata, such as the lack of infection, the persistence of the wound(s) over many, many years, and the lack of a stench or foul odor coming from the wound(s).

While it is not an article of faith that the stigmata is real, the fact that the Church has proposed for univeral veneration many, many saints and blesseds who have received the stigmata tells me that it is certainly safe to believe in such a miracle.

I realize that this post is not a definitive answer to your questions, but maybe it will help in some small way.

Pax Christi,

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