Sunday, April 01, 2007


A step toward Saint John Paul

While we're on a streak of religion-related items, here's one that's particularly appropriate for Palm Sunday:

A French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, claims that Pope John Paul II cured her Parkinson's disease (the link is from the NY Times; some of my information is also from the France 2 news on TV). The symptoms of the disease were worst on her left side, and her left hand, in particular, trembled constantly and generally remained useless against her side. After she spent a night of prayer to the late pope, she found her tremors gone.

Quite sensibly, of course, she attributes the relief of the symptoms, which have reportedly remained absent since, to divine intervention by the pope — post hoc, ergo propter hoc, and faith, and all that. The case is classified as “unexplained recovery”, but the Vatican may “upgrade” it to “miracle” status next week. If that happens, it will leave it to Pope Benedict XVI to decide whether to beatify his predecessor.

Meanwhile, the archbishop has convened a committee of physicians and academics, including a neurologist and a psychiatrist, to investigate the situation and to try to remove doubt in the matter. Even some fellow nuns were not easily convinced, less willing to take the leap of faith and reasoning that Sister Marie did. One of her colleagues notes, of her own doubt, that even the apostle Thomas took eight days to be convinced — and he had to see Christ's wounds first.

I have no trouble accepting that Sister Marie's tremors have abated. Such an occurrence wouldn't be that unusual but that it's lasted for two years, and, as a doctor from the committee pointed out on the France 2 news, Parkinson's disease doesn't get better. So that does, indeed, make it an unexplained recovery, or at least unexplained symptom relief. Since the only way to monitor the progress of Parkinson's disease is through its symptoms, I don't see that there's any way to resolve the question for sure either way.

So the result will be that people who want to think that Pope John Paul II spoke to God from his place by His side... will think so. And those of us who think there's a more prosaic but far more likely explanation, which doesn't involve divine intervention and mystic silliness... will think so. Whatever the cause, though, I do hope that Sister Marie's symptoms remain absent.


Maggie said...

Okay, it's too much of a coincidence. :-) I posted about both these subjects yesterday, but I just mentioned the sainthood thing in a comment.

(You can edit the link out if you like, I'm not trolling for readers on your blog.)

What amuses me most is the idea of "confirming" this. Sure, you can confirm that her Parkinson's symptoms have abated. You can confirm that she prayed to the late pope. But how do you confirm that the late pope intervened with god to relieve her symptoms? Even if you believe such silliness, how do you confirm it?

It's like playing make-believe as a child. "I shoot the bad guy." "But you miss!" "No I don't!" It's whoever has the most appealing imaginary happening, I guess, and the loudest voice. (My daughters used to get in fights about imaginary play. It drove me nuts. "She said that my baby said she likes her better than me." Argh. Nobody can make you pretend anything!!)

Barry Leiba said...

I can't edit comments — I either publish them or reject them as is. So if you want to make both private and public comments, you have to put 'em in separate comments. I didn't think you meant any of this to be private, so I approved it.

As to the link, you and my readers are welcome to it. I think they're what make bogs work. But more of that in a main post, probably tomorrow.

Dr. Momentum said...

I think our kids are starting to understand these religious disputes better when we explain them as arguments between imaginary friends. See, they get the idea of fighting over petty stuff. When you're a kid, there's a lot of petty stuff.

And that's why we see it as childish when adults have similar arguments.

Stew said...

Further to maggie's points:
1. We confirm she prayed to JP2
2. We confirm her Parkinson's symptoms have abated.

Now as atheists we do not see any correlation between 1 and 2.

BUT, If you are a (Catholic) believer there is no problem at all. Combine this with JP2's own Parkinsons and we have a taylor made intermediary between God & Parkinsons sufferes.

Bear in mind that Protestants and Fundie believers will have none of this. For them intermediary saints are an anathema and blasphemy.

I'll bet you a gzillion bucks that if her Parkinsons symptoms come back (I hope not, poor soul, it's not a thing you'd wish on anyone) there won't be much press coverage of it. 20 years time will probably find her quietly shaking in a remote Abbey.

Barry Leiba said...

Yes, I think you're right about the coverage if/when the symptoms return. 2 column-inches below the fold on page 22.