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Oct 25 2012

The Church’s Low Bar for Miracles

This past weekend, Pope Benedict XVI formally announced that the Catholic Church had created seven new saints, including two Americans, Kateri Tekakwitha and Marianne Cope. Tekakwitha’s new title reveals just how absurd the church’s standards are for what constitutes a miracle. The Albany Times Union has the details:

To become a saint, a person first must be declared “venerable,” which Kateri was in 1943. Then he or she must be beatified, or deemed “blessed,” and then they may be considered for canonization. Usually, proof of two miracles must be attributed to the person – one before beatification, one after. But Pope John Paul II waived the miracle requirement in order to beatify Kateri in 1980.

Kateri’s supporters submitted evidence of miracles but believed Kateri’s chances of sainthood died with Pope John Paul, who bestowed sainthood on more people than all other popes combined.

Then, in 2006, a 6-year-old boy cut his lip during a basketball game in Washington state.

Overnight, Jake Finkbonner’s face swelled up and he developed a high fever, according to an NPR report. Doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital said a flesh-eating bacterium called Strep A was attacking the boy’s face. Over the next few weeks, it destroyed his lips, cheeks and forehead. Doctors told the family the boy was going to die.

The family’s priest asked his congregation to pray to Kateri on Jake’s behalf. The priest chose Kateri because of her facial scars and Indian heritage – Jake is half Lummi Indian.

The prayers started coming in from around the world, and a representative from the Society of the Blessed Kateri went to the hospital to place a pendant of Kateri on the boy’s pillow. The next day, the infection stopped progressing and Jake recovered.

Investigators from the Vatican researched the incident for three years, and on Monday, Pope Benedict approved it as a miracle attributed to Kateri’s intervention.

Wouldn’t you just love to see what that “research” revealed? Because the boy’s recovery couldn’t possibly be explained by the fact that he was receiving medical treatment. No, people prayed to a dead woman and that’s what did it. Of course, others have almost certainly prayed to this woman many times before for someone to recover from a medical problem and they didn’t, so would those be anti-miracles?

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Mr Ed

    This is just marketing plan and simple. John Paul II figured out that people related to spokespersons who looked like them so he started stamping out saint in under performing markets.

    When one pope creates more saints than 15 hundred years of previous popes and waves conditions and wait times you should ask why.

  2. 2
    imrryr

    When one pope creates more saints than 15 hundred years of previous popes and waves conditions and wait times you should ask why.

    It’s a miracle!

  3. 3
    Didaktylos

    One thing I’ve always wondered about canonised RC saints: every saint has a feast day – but they’ve made so many saints over the years that they must all have to share their day, unless they’ve kept a few days ‘unsainted’ just in case somebody really big comes along.

    And the other thing – if you become a Roman Catholic saint, you get to spend eternity working in an inbound call centre …

  4. 4
    bbgunn

    I’m guessing that the ‘miracle’ didn’t include removing the disfigurement associated to the destruction of said lips, cheeks and forehead.

  5. 5
    Moggie

    Strange that the Catholic church claims to be monotheistic, given that they’re creating new minor gods all the time.

  6. 6
    busterggi

    If the RCC considers these miracles I ca’t understand why Mark Wilson & Nani Darnell weren’t made saints long ago.

    Loved the ‘Magic Land of Alakazam’!

  7. 7
    Gretchen

    So if the Pope had had a sufficiently high opinion of Michael Jackson before he died, and then the family of a sick kid prayed to him and the kid recovered, would Michael Jackson be a saint?

    What if Michael Jackson did intervene and cause this kid to recover, and Kateri had nothing to do with it? They just went and sainted the wrong corpse.

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    God: creates strep A and (among others) inflicts it on a helpless child
    God: empowers a dead person to ctrl-Z his earlier work
    MIRACLE!

  9. 9
    brucecoppola

    @3 Didaktylos:

    And the other thing – if you become a Roman Catholic saint, you get to spend eternity working in an inbound call centre …

    Bwahahahahaa! Enjoy your shiny new Internet.

  10. 10
    lancifer

    Reminds me of what Father Guido Sarducci said when the Vatican beatified Mary Seton-Hall,

    …this woman comes along with-a three lousy miracles. I understand that-a two of them was-a card tricks.

  11. 11
    Leo Buzalsky

    Well, duh, here’s the most important part: “Doctors told the family the boy was going to die.”

    And doctors can never misdiagnose or lie a little to the family (in order to not give them false hope). So if the doctors said he was going to die, then there is 100% certainty he was going to die…without intervention of prayer. Amiright?

  12. 12
    jakc

    Wow. Even the Rock Hall of Fame has more stringent standards.

  13. 13
    Ellie

    I was familiar with Kateri Tekakwitha as a young girl, because the nuns appeared to firmly believe she was a role model for Roman Catholic girls. She embraced corporal mortification: fasting for long periods, flogging herself, cutting herself, burning herself with hot coals, standing in icy rivers and dying young….this was supposed to be a model for we girls to admire.

    I didn’t. I saw no reason that God would be pleased with someone hurting and mutilating herself. I still don’t. The difference is that now, nobody will smack me with a ruler for questioning it.

  14. 14
    Michael Heath

    Buzz Saw writes:

    Well, duh, here’s the most important part: “Doctors told the family the boy was going to die.”

    And doctors can never misdiagnose or lie a little to the family (in order to not give them false hope). So if the doctors said he was going to die, then there is 100% certainty he was going to die…without intervention of prayer. Amiright?

    I’ve been involved in some tough medical decisions. And in every case the Christians who experienced those events with me grossly mischaracterized what the doctors actually communicated. Those misrepresentations resulted in the consistent narrative expressed here. So I never trust Christians when it comes even to those events they claim to have personally experienced, they’ve earned my distrust.

    When I hear these stories I also have a personal story I respond with a different kind of lesson than the fact some Christians lie.

    In the early- to mid-1990s I was diagnosed with a tumor at a physical. According to the specialist, given the location of the tumor, this sort of tumor was almost always malignant. Given the size it’s also fatal about 90% of the time since these size tumors normally results in cancer having already spread to one’s brain and lungs. I was immediately sped off to surgery without announcing my condition to anyone besides my wife, so no prayers saved me (she nor I pray). I ended up fine, the tumor was benign.

    One of the first things I did when I got access to an information-rich Internet years later was research the type of cancer I was suspected of having. I learned my odds of dying were not 90% but instead about 50% IIRC (on the latter odd). So the specialist himself under-stated my odds of both having this type of cancer and the negative ramifications if I did. Since it was years later, I validated his error by asking my personal physician where he verified my research was correct even for the time years prior when I had this little adventure.

    So for whatever reason, sometimes the doctors also lie.

  15. 15
    frog

    Moggie@5:

    Technically, the saints don’t have the power–they’re interceding with god on the person’s behalf, and then god is doing the miracle. Saints are kind of like advocates, or god’s favorite kids who he has a hard time saying “no” to (or something. As with all things religious, it’s a little fuzzy).

    So instead of being all alone and asking for a favor, you get a “made man” (or woman) to approach the godfather on your behalf. The Vatican has no official stance on if it works better if you ask on the day of god’s daughter’s wedding.

  16. 16
    kagekiri

    Yeah, a few verses from “Thank You God” by Tim Minchin always come to mind with these kinds of stories…

    “This story of Sam’s has but a single explanation:
    a surgical God who digs on magic operations.
    It couldn’t be mistaken attribution of causation,
    born of a coincidental temporal correlation
    exacerbated by a general lack of education
    vis-a-vis physics in Sam’s parish congregation.
    And it couldn’t be that all these pious people are liars.
    It couldn’t be an artifact of confirmation bias,
    a product of groupthink,a mass delusion,
    an Emperor’s New Clothes-style fear of exclusion.

    No, it’s more likely to be an all-powerful magician
    than the misdiagnosis of the initial condition,
    or one of many cases of spontaneous remission,
    or a record-keeping glitch by the local physician.

    No, the only explanation for Sam’s mum’s seeing:
    they prayed to an all-knowing superbeing,
    to the omnipresent master of the universe,
    and he liked the sound of their muttered verse.

    So for a bit of a change from his usual skit*
    of being a sexist, racist, murderous git*,
    he popped down to Dandenong and just like that,
    used his powers to heal the cataracts
    of Sam’s mum – of Sam’s mum!”

    *Edited to take out sexist lyrics

  17. 17
    Cuttlefish

    I remember this story from earlier. http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2011/12/20/its-a-miracle-officially/

    The nice thing is, Jake seems to be a great kid, and he credits the doctors with saving his life.

    As for doctors (or religious figures) getting things wrong… I was assured by a very devout woman that her prayers would help my brother pull through. So it’s not just doctors who occasionally… or more than occasionally… get it wrong.

  18. 18
    yoav

    @ imrryr #2
    I think that mean he just covered the per-requsits for sainthood.

  19. 19
    Sastra

    Doctors told the family the boy was going to die.

    Most doctors are more cautious than that (unless the situation is bleedin’ obvious.) But “there is a good chance that your son could die” is often heard and interpreted as “your son is going to die” when shock and adrenalin kicks in. It will be misremembered this way as well, especially if later events prove more fortunate.

    Critics of ‘alternative medicine’ are well-used to hearing the common trope of “the doctors sent him home to die” but THEN he took this woo and he recovered and so forth and so on. When it can be researched, it usually turns out that no, nobody was really “sent home to die.” In this particular case, doctors who are questioned by priests looking for a miracle might well be sympathetic to fudging a bit on their diagnosis.

  20. 20
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    This has been all over the local papers (‘cuz the kid’s from right around here), and all I’m seeing is “God this”, “Saints that”, blah blah blah.

    What about the doctors? Where’s the praise for their hard work?

  21. 21
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Ah. I see that Jake himself credits the doctors. Smart kid.

  22. 22
    Kilian Hekhuis

    Indeed. When someone receives a medical treatment for a very serious condition, there’s no 100% change of survival. Medicin can only do that much. So when someone beats the odds, it is very well possible to call it a “miracle” (rather than statistics, or just plain luck) without devaluing the work the doctors did.

  23. 23
    lancifer

    kagekiri,

    Seriously, you felt the need to edit the word “cunt” from Tim Minchin’s lyrics? Heaven forbid we should be exposed to the “c” word.

  24. 24
    dingojack

    Lance – dear me, I hope kagekiri never discovers that Tim Minchin wrote a song about the pope that has quite a few ‘naughty’ words in it. ;)
    Dingo

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