Interview With Expert Father Gianfranco Berbenni
By Paolo Centofanti
ROME, 15 FEB. 2008 (ZENIT)
Leaked information about a BBC interview to
air on Holy Saturday reports that Christopher Bronk Ramsey, director of
the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, thinks the 1998 tests on the
Shroud of Turin should be re-evaluated.
The 1988 carbon-14 tests
done in the Oxford laboratories
dated the shroud in the Middle Ages, thereby negating that it could be
Christ's burial cloth.
ZENIT spoke with Capuchin Father Gianfranco Berbenni, professor of
"Science and Theology Regarding the Holy Shroud" at Rome's Regina
Apostolorum university. In this interview, he comments on the long
history of research on the shroud, as well as photographic reproduction
made for display at this summer's World Youth Day.
Q: How do you see these possible new elements related to the Holy Shroud
and to a possible disproving of the 1988 carbon-14 analyses?
Father Berbenni: Going beyond the leaked information, I think that a new
era of investigations about the Shroud is opening; 20 years have passed
since those scientific studies.
Q: Did Ramsey form part of the 1988 analysis team?
Father Berbenni: He worked in the laboratory in which the analyses were
done. We could say that this is a new generation of scientists who are
joining the research on the Shroud. Many of the older generation have
left us, even physically, and this new generation rightly is taking up
again the investigations, also because of a refining of the methods and
instruments for archaeological dating over these years.
Some have even spoken about a kind of conspiracy, as if the $1 million
offered for verifying the non-authenticity of the Shroud could have
motivated the scientists, let's not say to falsify, but at least to
direct the final results.
Perhaps this could be considered a bit of "scientific gossip." Little
credit should be given to rumors when they do not have serious proof.
The problem perhaps is that both sides, the one favorable to the Holy
Shroud and the other against it were very much in conflict. Perhaps both
sides brought to the surface their best arguments in that period. Both
probably need to historically review those events.
Q: Regarding your statement about "scientific gossip," how do you
evaluate the communication and information generally published about the
Holy Shroud and up to what point do you think that at times it is used
to make a circus of the information?
Father Berbenni: One of the weak points, recently examined as well in
the International Center of Turin, is indeed ensuring the quality of
information related to the Holy Shroud. Because of this a good press
office is fundamental in order to give journalists trustworthy
materials. It is, therefore, more than anything, a task of organizing
communication. Information, if incomplete, becomes more easily
Q: Therefore the manipulation of information can even be involuntary?
Father Berbenni: About the willfulness of it, there are many hints, but
beyond the hints, there are no proofs.
Q: What do you think about the photographic enlargement being made of
the Holy Shroud to be displayed in Novara, Italy, and then for World
Youth Day in Sydney? Do you think that it can run the risk of
trivializing the Holy Shroud?
Father Berbenni: The essential thing is that this initiative of the
enlargement maintains that elegance of communication that the Holy
Shroud has always brought to its surroundings. Thus this is a very good
initiative; the essential thing is that a non-superficial tone is
Q: Is there anything new in the studies about the Holy Shroud?
Father Berbenni: Beyond the intervention regarding protecting the
preservation of the Holy Shroud, in these days, I think the Church does
not intend to accelerate, at least at the moment, new investigations.
The essential thing is its optimal conservation, something that has been
verified for almost 10 years with its placement in the new, and splendid
Q: Are there misunderstandings about the theological meaning of the Holy
Father Berbenni: Sadly this is one of the weakest areas right now, in
the popular and social perception of this cloth. In part because of the
conflict that has sometimes marked it.
It is a splendid cloth, but is always at the center of aggravated
discussions with a cultural character, and at times even about
Q: Can you speak to us about the scientific or chemical theories about
the way in which the image of the Holy Shroud could have formed?
Father Berbenni: Substantially there are two major schools. Our center
in Rome, which is inclined toward accepting a normal physical-chemical
formation, and the majority, at least presently, of the scientific
positions, in which there are groups with hypotheses going from the
mysterious, because they do not yet have demonstrated bases, to the
Investigations about the formation of the image are very linked to the
characteristics of the investigations of the STURP [Project of
Investigation of the Shroud of Turn] from 1976 to 1988, but with some
The important thing is that they continue investigations without
exaggerated positions of "scientific fantasy" but with freedom of
Regarding ourselves, we would suggest returning to much simpler,
"normal" hypothesis, given that we always have available the high
resolution photo of the negative of the Holy Shroud, which until 2002
was not analyzable except in small parts. It helps in that which refers
to the technical aspects of formation of the image.