The Rational Judgment of a Miraculous Cure
My goal in this post is to show how the Catholic Church made the rational judgment, after serious investigation, that one man received a miracle of healing through the intercession of another.
In discussing this “miracle,” I will rely on two definitions of the word miracle. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., wrote: “In theological language, a miracle is an extraordinary event, performed by God, which can be perceived by the senses and which exceeds the powers of nature.” This is what the Catholic Church means in general by a miracle.
Monsignor Michele Di Ruberto, the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, defines a miracle as an “event that goes beyond the forces of nature, which is realized by God outside of what is normal in the whole of created nature by the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed.” This is what the Catholic Church means by a miracle in connection with the process of beatification or canonization.
Dr. Manuel Nevado suffered from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis. His “miraculous cure” is known because it was carefully investigated by the Catholic Church in connection with the canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. It is the “miracle” which opened the way for Pope John Paul II to declare Escriva a saint.
Before going into the putative miracle, here is how the Catholic Church judges whether God has performed a miracle through a saint’s intercession. I’ll be quoting The Process of Investigation of an Alleged Miracle in the Causes for Canonization by Stefania Falasca.
The rules for the legal process for this were established in 1983 by the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister.
In it, there are two subsequent phases. The first is the diocesan phase. It is undertaken in the diocese in which the alleged miracle took place. The second phase takes place in Rome and is undertaken by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
At the diocesan-level, “the bishop opens an inquiry into an alleged miracle during which both the testimony of eyewitnesses, questioned by a duly constituted court, is taken and the complete clinical and instrumental documentation inherent to the case” is recorded.
When the diocesan enquiry is completed, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints sets in motion its process, which, when completed, will be the basis of its verdict. The Congregation subjects the material gathered to two separate investigations, again, one after the other. The first is medical and the second is theological.
According to Falasca, “The medical examination is conducted by...the medical Consulta, a collegiate body made up of five specialists plus two in-house experts. The specialists vary according to the clinical cases presented and the request for consultation or eventual convocation of other experts and specialists is not ruled out. Their testimony is purely scientific, they do not pronounce on the miracle. The examination and final discussion of the medical Consulta conclude by establishing the exact diagnosis of the illness, prognosis, treatment and end result.”
In order for the event “to be regarded as a possible miracle the healing must be judged by the specialists as rapid, complete, lasting, and inexplicable by current medical and scientific knowledge.”
If the medical Consulta pronounces “a majority or unanimous verdict in favor of the extra-natural character of the healing” according to that criteria, then the inquiry passes to the Consulta of theologians.
Why to theologians? It goes to theologians because the medical experts can only look at a healing and declare that it is, at least currently, empirically inexplicable.
The job of the advisory theologians is to identify “the causal link between the prayers to the servant of God and the healing, and express their opinion on whether the prodigious event is a true miracle.”
When the theologians have drafted their verdict, “the evaluation is submitted to the ordinary Congregation of bishops and cardinals, who debate all the features of the miracle.”
All these opinions are then submitted to the pope, who decides whether to declare the event a miracle or not. If he approves the miracle, he authorizes the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to promulgate a decree to this effect, declaring the event a miracle. In the case of Dr. Nevado’s cure and St. Josemaria’s intercession as its cause, the pope declared in the positive.
Here is the full decree declaring the approval of the miracle, a summary of the facts, and the process of examination.
JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ DE BALAGUER
The Miracle Approved for the Canonization
On December 20, 2001, Pope John Paul II approved the decree issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on a miraculous cure attributed to the intercession of Blessed Josemaria Escriva. The miracle was the cure of Dr. Manuel Nevado from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis, an incurable disease, which took place in November 1992. The decree opened the doors for the canonization of Blessed Josemaria.
Radiodermatitis is a typical skin disease of medical professionals who have been repeatedly exposed to radiation from X-ray machines over a long period of time. The disease is progressive and evolves inexorably, causing the appearance of skin cancers. Radiodermatitis has no cure. The only known treatments are surgical interventions: skin grafts, or amputation of the affected parts of the hand. To date, no case of a spontaneous cure from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis has ever been recorded in medical literature.
Dr. Manuel Nevado Rey was born in Spain in 1932. A specialist in orthopedic surgery, he operated on fractures and other injuries for nearly 15 years with frequent exposure of his hands to X-rays. The first symptoms of radiodermatitis began to appear in 1962, and the disease continued to worsen. By 1984, he had to limit his activities to minor operations because his hands were gravely affected. He stopped operating completely in the summer of 1992, but did not undergo any treatment.
In November 1992, Dr. Nevado met Luis Eugenio Bernardo Carrascal, an agricultural engineer working for the Spanish government. On hearing about his disease, Luis Eugenio offered him a prayer card of the Founder of Opus Dei who had been beatified on May 17 that year, and invited him to pray for the cure of his radiodermatitis.
The Intercession of Blessed Josemaria
Dr. Nevado began praying for a cure through the intercession of Blessed Josemaria. A few days after that meeting, he traveled to Vienna with his wife in order to attend a medical conference. They visited several churches and came across prayer cards of Blessed Josemaria. “This impressed me,” explained Dr. Nevado, “and it encouraged me to pray more for my cure.” From the day that he began to entrust his cure to the intercession of Blessed Josemaria, his hands began to improve. Within a fortnight the lesions had completely disappeared and the cure was complete. By January 1993, Dr. Nevado had returned to perform surgical operations without any problems.
The Canonical Process
The canonical process on this miracle took place in the archdiocese of Badajoz where Dr. Nevado lives, and was concluded in 1994. On July 10, 1997, the Medical Committee of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously established the following diagnosis: a cancerous state of chronic radiodermatitis in its third and irreversible stage; therefore with certain prognosis of infaust (without hope of cure). The complete cure of the lesions, confirmed by the objective examinations carried out on Dr. Nevado in 1992, 1994 and 1997, was declared by the Medical Committee to be very rapid, complete, lasting, and scientifically inexplicable.
On January 9, 1998, the Committee of Theologian Consultants gave its unanimous approval for attributing the miracle to Blessed Josemaria. The Congregation of the Causes of Saints confirmed these conclusions on September 21, 2001.
According to Hardon, a miracle is (1) an extraordinary event, (2) which can be perceived by the senses, (3) which exceeds the powers of nature, and (4) is performed by God.
(1) If the facts alleged are true, the event certainly appears to be extraordinary: Nevado was cured of an incurable form of cancer.
(2) It also was an event that was perceived by the senses. Physical evidence was studied from before and after the cure.
(3) It also appeared to exceed the powers of nature, as far as are now know. That, of course, is a judgment of reason limited by our current, best understanding of this form of cancer and the healing powers of the human body.
(4) That leaves “performed by God.” This point goes to Di Ruberto’s definition that a miracle is “realized by God...by the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed.” The judgment that anything is actually performed by God is a judgment of reason even if you are the pope. Anyone who wants to can judge either way based on one’s assumptions and how compelling the evidence is.
If you are not convinced that this was a miracle, at least I hope you are convinced that the pope's decision was based on a serious investigation and a rational judgment, either by a preponderance of the evidence or evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Catholic Church has set up criteria for determining whom it will recognize as being in heaven, and so, who is worthy of the faithful’s veneration and petition. The Church has a canonization process for the benefit of the faithful of the Catholic Church. In the case of Josemaria Escriva, it was to hold up to the faithful a model of the Christian life that has a special relevance to living the faith in our time. The pope is acknowledging that St. Josemaria is in heaven and is a worthy example to be followed in his message that holiness is for everyone and that it can be found in the ordinary circumstances of our lives.
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