Doctors Scrutinize Each Case
LOURDES, France, 11 FEB. 2004 (ZENIT).
Each year more than 6 million
pilgrims visit the Marian shrine at the town of Lourdes, renowned for its
miracle cures. But who decides when a cure is a miracle?
The Catholic Church has officially recognized 67 miracles and some 7,000
inexplicable cures since the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in Lourdes in
February 1858, as attested in the book "The Doctor in the Face of
Miracles" ("Il medico di fronte ai miracoli"), written by the Italian
Dr. Patrick Thiellier, director of the medical office established at the
shrine to scientifically examine alleged cases of healing, collaborated in
In 1905, Pope Pius X asked that all cases of alleged miracles or cures
recorded in Lourdes be analyzed scientifically.
At the shrine's French-language Web page (www.lourdes-france.com) the
medical office explains that its objective is to be able to declare a cure
"certain, definitive and medically inexplicable."
To do so, it applies four criteria:
"the fact and the diagnosis of the illness is first of all established and
"the prognosis must be permanent or terminal in the short term";
"the cure is immediate, without convalescence, complete and lasting";
"the prescribed treatment could not be attributed to the cause of this
cure or be an aid to it."
The sick who come to Lourdes with a pilgrimage group are accompanied by a
doctor who is furnished with a medical file describing their present
This file forms the basis from which to work when a pilgrim declares that
he has been cured. The file, and the pilgrim who claims to have been
cured, are presented to the medical office. A doctor based there will then
gather the members of the medical profession present in Lourdes on that
day who wish to participate in the examination.
No definite conclusion is given at the end of this examination. The person
who claims to have been cured will be invited to meet the medical
commission the following year and possibly for many subsequent years.
Finally, after many successful examinations, the file of the cure will be
sent, if three-quarters of the doctors present so wish, to the Lourdes
International Medical Committee.
This second level of enquiry has existed since 1947. At first it was the
Lourdes National Medical Committee; in 1954 it took on the "International"
The committee comprises 30 specialists, surgeons and professors or heads
of department, from various countries, who meet once a year. The current
president is professor Jean-Louis Armand-Laroche.
It allows an assessment to continue over several years in order to observe
the development of the patient.
If the International Medical Committee gives a favorable opinion, the file
is then sent to the competent Church authorities.
When the file is sent to the bishop of the place where the cured person
lives, the case is already recognized as extraordinary by science and
It remains for the Church, through the intermediary of the bishop, to make
an announcement on the miraculous character of the cure.
To do this, the bishop gathers together a diocesan commission made up of
priests, canonists and theologians. The rules that guide the procedures of
this commission are those defined in 1734 by the future Pope Benedict XIV
in his treatise "Concerning the Beatification and Canonization of Servants
of God" (Book IV, Part I, Chapter VIII No. 2).
In sum, the rules demand that there must not be found in the cure any
valid explanation, medical or scientific, natural or usual. This is the
case for the cures that have taken place at Lourdes. Having established
this, it remains for the diocesan commission to determine that the cure
comes from God.
Furnished with conclusions reached by the commission, it is up to the
bishop to make a definitive pronouncement and to suggest to his diocese
and to the world that this cure is seen as a "sign from God."