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Miracle? What Miracle?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
December 23, 2017

In the drive to canonize every Pope connected to the disastrous Second Vatican Council, only Paul VI, who lived to rue that the “smoke of Satan” had entered the Church, has yet to be declared a saint. One would think that the Pope who presided over the sudden and catastrophic collapse of faith and discipline in the Church, following the liturgical and other “reforms” he improvidently approved only to wring his hands and weep over the ruinous results, is a most unlikely candidate for sainthood.

But the Vatican’s recently erected “saints factory” is up to the task.  The news has been announced that a “miracle” has been attributed to the intercession of Paul VI.  Here it is, as reported by Inside the Vatican:

“[T]heologians of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Pope Montini, after a first free go-ahead had been given by the medical consultation of the Vatican Congregation itself…. The miracle regards the birth of a girl from Verona called Amanda, who in 2014 had survived for months despite the fact the placenta was broken… Subsequently, a child in good health was born.”

Quite simply: Is this a joke?  The so-called miracle is that the baby survived a placental abruption and was born without defects.  But this happens very frequently in cases of placental abruption, as even minimal research into the condition would reveal.  As the Mayo Clinic explains, placental abruption, the separation of the placenta from the uterine wall, which “usually occurs in the last trimester of pregnancy,” can jeopardize the life and health of the baby through loss of oxygen and nutrients, and also the life of the mother, but it does not necessarily result in fetal death or birth defects. It is a serious risk factor, but not a certain cause of death or deformity. As another source explains:

“Babies born to mothers who experience placental abruption are at higher risk for some pregnancy-related complications. These include:

  • difficulty growing at a normal rate
  • premature birth, or birth that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • stillbirth

If placental abruption occurs after 37 weeks of pregnancy, a baby is less likely to experience health problems than babies born at earlier gestation.”

The alleged miracle does not constitute the unexplained healing of an existing fetal disease or deformity, nor a healing of the detached placenta itself, but merely the claim that what could have happened to the baby due to the condition did not happen. Conveniently enough, such a “miracle” is impossible to prove or disprove as no one knows whether the baby would otherwise have been born healthy.  That makes the claim of a miracle non-falsifiable and therefore purely gratuitous.

This is ridiculous. Consider, by way of comparison, the profusion of miracles supporting the canonization of Pope Saint Pius X, many performed while he was still alive, as recounted here, including the instantaneous healing of tumors and the replacement of missing bone.

The common opinion of theologians is that papal decrees of canonization are infallible, although the Church has never defined the opinion as Catholic dogma or taught definitively whether a canonization means anything more than that a given candidate has entered into beatitude (sanctity and heroic virtue in this life aside). But what if the Pope acts on the basis of a miracle that is not really a miracle?  What if the process of canonization is compromised by ideological or other motives that prompt the promoters of the cause to stretch the evidence to fit a preconceived decision to canonize, no matter what?  

I have no answers to these questions, but surely they are valid and demand further theological study. Meanwhile, we seem to be facing the prospect that a Pope who, even if he attained the Beatific Vision, presided over what he himself called the “auto-demolition” of the Church — an unprecedented disaster in Church history — will nonetheless be held up to the Catholic world as a model of sanctity and heroic virtue. Yet another sign of the great ecclesial confusion foretold in the Third Secret of Fatima.