A lede like the one The Associated Press published yesterday — “An international doctors’ panel appointed by the Roman Catholic Church says it’s getting out of the ‘miracles’ business at Lourdes” — might raise some eyebrows. But relax, oh faithful believers in the miraculous healing powers of the spring waters of Lourdes. The doctors never really dubbed a cure a miracle. They are the first step in a long process.
Last February while in Lourdes, I met Dr. Marco Tampellini, an Italian oncologist who collaborates with the Lourdes Medical Bureau, which reviews medical documentation for cases of potentially miraculous cures resulting from a visit to Lourdes. Tampellini helps gather medical information on cases for the bureau’s French doctor, who is appointed by the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes.
Since 1883, the bureau has examined the records of more than 7,000 people claiming they were cured after visiting the sanctuaries, Tampellini said. Only 67 such cures have been considered miracles.
It is “not so simple to say a cure is a miracle,” and the medically based evaluation process is difficult, he said.
Strict criteria govern the evaluation process. People must prove the illness, which cannot be psychological in nature. They must voluntarily notify the medical bureau of the cure, which must be sudden, complete and durable for more than five years, without medical intervention.
The case is reviewed by the bureau and its collaborators and sent to the International Medical Committee of Lourdes. This committee of 20 doctors, experts in their fields from around the world, decides if the cure is extraordinary.
All the clinical records are then passed to the bishop of the person making the claim, and that bishop decides if the cure is a miracle.
According to AP’s report, the International Medical Committee of Lourdes decided that it will only rule on whether a case is “remarkable” or not.
Remarkable or extraordinary, it still seems the church docs must check out claims of a cure carefully these days.
Tampellini said that today, because medication almost always is administered to treat an illness, it is becoming difficult to pass the no-medical-intervention rule. However, Vatican officials have been discussing how to address this issue.