Friday, October 28, 2016

Vatican Tightens Rules on Miracles and Money in Sainthood Cases

New rules approved by Pope Francis and released by the Vatican on 09 September 2016 are designed to make the process for approving a miracle in a sainthood cause more stringent, and also to ensure there's a clear paper trail behind who's picking up the tab and how much is being spent.
The text was approved by Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, in the name of Pope Francis in August and released on Friday
Italian Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, the number two official at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presented the highlights of the new measures in a note released by the Vatican’s Press Office.

The new rules include:
  • To approve a miracle, at least 5 out of the 7 members of the body of medical experts within the congregation must approve, or 4 out of 6, depending on the size of the group, as opposed to a simple majority.
  • In case a miracle report is rejected on the first go-around, it may only be reexamined a total of three times.
  • In order to reexamine a miracle claim, new members must be named to the consulting body.
  • The president of the consulting body may only be confirmed to one additional five-year term after the original mandate expires.
  • While in the past payments to experts could be made in person by cash or check, now the experts must be paid exclusively through a bank transfer.
In general, the going rate in sainthood causes is roughly $560 for each of the two medical personnel asked to perform a preliminary review, and about $4200 in total for the seven members of the medical consulting committee.

The new rules are not retroactive, and hence they do not invalidate any beatifications or canonizations performed under earlier procedures.

Bartolucci said work on the new rules began one year ago, around the same time that leaks of confidential Vatican financial documents raised questions about financial practices in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

In his book “Merchants in the Temple,” Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi charged the congregation was among the most reluctant Vatican offices to cooperate with new transparency measures imposed as part of Francis’s project of Vatican reform, and asserted that the average cost of a sainthood cause was about $550,000.
U.S. Catholic officials traditionally have used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level, to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, though that cost can increase depending in part of how many people take part in the canonization ceremony and the logistics of organizing the event.

In March, Pope Francis had already approved a new set of financial procedures for the congregation, outlining procedures for handling contributions and specifying which authorities are charged with overseeing the flow of money.

Under those measures, while the postulator, or promoter, of a sainthood cause can continue to administer the funds for each cause, the bishop of the diocese or the superior general of the religious order that initiates the cause or another church authority must review financial statements and approve the budgets for each cause.

The rules approved in March also confirm a “Solidarity Fund” created by St. Pope John Paul II in 1983 to help cover the costs of causes where resources are lacking, giving the congregation discretion to transfer unused money from one case into the fund to cover the expenses of another.

Pondering Miracles, Medical and Religious

Kingston, Ontario — THERE was no mistaking the diagnostic significance of that little red stick inside a deep blue cell: The Auer rod meant the mystery patient had acute myelogenous leukemia. As slide after slide went by, her bone marrow told a story: treatment, remission, relapse, treatment, remission, remission, remission.

I was reading these marrows in 1987, but the samples had been drawn in 1978 and 1979. Median survival of that lethal disease with treatment was about 18 months; however, given that she had already relapsed once, I knew that she had to be dead. Probably someone was being sued, and that was why my hematology colleagues had asked for a blind reading.

Imagining an aggressive cross-examination in court, I emphasized in my report that I knew neither the history nor why I was reading the marrows. After the work was submitted, I asked the treating physician what was going on. She smiled and said that my report had been sent to the Vatican. This leukemia case was being considered as the final miracle in the dossier of Marie-Marguerite d’Youville, the founder of the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal and a candidate to become the first Canadian-born saint.

As in the case of Mother Teresa, who was canonized Sunday by Pope Francis, miracles are still used as evidence that the candidate is in heaven and had interceded with God in response to a petition. Two miracles, usually cures that defy natural explanation, are generally required. For Mother Teresa, the Vatican concluded that prayers to her led to the disappearance of an Indian woman’s incurable tumor and the sudden recovery of a Brazilian man with a brain infection.

The “miracle” involving d’Youville had already been overturned once by the Vatican’s medical committee, unconvinced by the story of a first remission, a relapse, and a much longer second remission. The clerics argued that she had never relapsed and that her survival in first remission was rare but not impossibly so. But the panel and her advocates agreed that a “blind” reading of the evidence by another expert might provoke reconsideration. When my report confirmed what the Ottawa doctors found, that she had indeed had a short remission and then relapsed, the patient, who had prayed to d’Youville for help and, against all odds, was still alive, wanted me to testify.

The tribunal that questioned me was not juridical, but ecclesiastical. I was not asked about my faith. (For the record, I’m an atheist.) I was not asked if it was a miracle. I was asked if I could explain it scientifically. I could not, though I had come armed for my testimony with the most up-to-date hematological literature, which showed that long survivals following relapses were not seen.

When, at the end, the Vatican committee asked if I had anything more to say, I blurted out that as much as her survival, thus far, was remarkable, I fully expected her to relapse some day sooner or later. 

What would the Vatican do then, revoke the canonization? The clerics recorded my doubts. But the case went forward and d’Youville was canonized on Dec. 9, 1990.

That experience, as a hematologist, led me to a research project that I conducted in my other role, as a historian of medicine. I was curious: What were the other miracles used in past canonizations? How many were healings? How many involved up-to date treatments? How many were attended by skeptical physicians like me? How did all that change through time? And can we explain those outcomes now?

Over hundreds of hours in the Vatican archives, I examined the files of more than 1,400 miracle investigations — at least one from every canonization between 1588 and 1999. A vast majority — 93 percent over all and 96 percent for the 20th century — were stories of recovery from illness or injury, detailing treatment and testimony from baffled physicians.

If a sick person recovers through prayer and without medicine, that’s nice, but not a miracle. She had to be sick or dying despite receiving the best of care. The church finds no incompatibility between scientific medicine and religious faith; for believers, medicine is just one more manifestation of God’s work on earth.

Perversely then, this ancient religious process, intended to celebrate exemplary lives, is hostage to the relativistic wisdom and temporal opinions of modern science. Physicians, as nonpartisan witnesses and unaligned third parties, are necessary to corroborate the claims of hopeful postulants. For that reason alone, illness stories top miracle claims. I never expected such reverse skepticism and emphasis on science within the church.

I also learned more about medicine and its parallels with religion. Both are elaborate, evolving systems of belief. Medicine is rooted in natural explanations and causes, even in the absence of definitive evidence. Religion is defined by the supernatural and the possibility of transcendence. Both address our plight as mortals who suffer — one to postpone death and relieve symptoms, the other to console us and reconcile us to pain and loss.

Respect for our religious patients demands understanding and tolerance; their beliefs are as true for them as the “facts” may be for physicians. Now almost 40 years later, that mystery woman is still alive and I still cannot explain why. Along with the Vatican, she calls it a miracle. Why should my inability to offer an explanation trump her belief? However they are interpreted, miracles exist, because that is how they are lived in our world.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Father Ralph Pfau: A Strong Supporter of Matt Talbot

Glenn F. Chesnut, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, renowned AA historian, founder of the Hindsfoot Foundation (, and Moderator of the leading international webgroup for the study of Alcoholics Anonymous history and archives at, has recently posted the final manuscript of his forthcoming book later this Fall titled, Father Ralph Pfau and the Golden Books: The Path to Recovery from* Alcoholism and Drug Addiction.

The subject of this book, Father Ralph Pfau (1904 -1967) aka Father John Doe, is recognized as the first Roman Catholic priest to become sober in Alcoholics Anonymous who wrote multiple ”Golden Books” about recovery topics under his imprint of “Sons of Matt Talbot Guild” in Indianapolis beginning in the early 1940's. These and Fr. Pfau’s major books (Sobriety and Beyond and Sobriety Without End as well as his autobiography, Prodigal Shepherd) are available at Hazelden Publishing and other sites as are multiple presentations.
Among early AA authors, according to Dr. Chesnut, Father Ralph Pfau was a strong supporter of Matt Talbot as an example of how a spiritual triumph over alcoholism could be accomplished.

For a PDF file of this final draft, go to 
For an MS Word file of the final draft, go to

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Recovery Meditation on the Seven Sorrows of Mary

The USA headquarters of the Calix Society at offers a 25 minute free download of a recovery meditation at with the following comment:

"The Blessed Virgin Mary grants seven graces to the souls who honor her daily by saying seven Hail Mary's and meditating on her tears and dolors (sorrows). The devotion was passed on by St. Bridget of Sweden. In this recovery meditation, Our Lady shows us the way of humility and true compassion for the alcoholic and addict." 

Note: As Matt Talbot once commented to a sister, "Where would I be, only for God and His Blessed Mother. No one knows what a good mother She has been to me."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Breaking the Chains: Matt Talbot Novena during October and November 2016

In his yearly Matt Talbot Novena, Fr. Tom Ryan, author of Comfort my people: Prayers and Reflections Inspired by the Venerable Matt Talbot at, notes at the end of this article that petitions can be left at the shrine in both churches or, in an attempt to reach out to as many people as possible who are dealing with addiction, sent anonymously via the petition form on the Shannon parish website at The Novena can be viewed live each week on Tuesdays at 7 pm on the Shannon parish website at

Breaking the Chains
Fr. Tom Ryan P.P. 
Shannon Parish, Co Clare, Ireland

As we prepare for the 24th Matt Talbot Novena next Tuesday (October 4th, 2016), I think on the many stories that have been shared and those that have yet to be told. Historically, addiction has been defined as physical and psychological dependence on substances such as alcohol, heroin and other drugs as well as tobacco, and some people may not realise that there are many more addictions that can affect our lives. As someone once said, “I didn’t know I was addicted until I tried to stop.” Nowadays addiction can also be described as a continued dependency on activities such as gambling, food, pornography, computers, work, exercise, watching TV, self-injury and shopping that can, at least, change personalities and, at worst, destroy lives.

I received the following from a parishioner via email. It’s the text of a reflection she shared at a Pastoral Council meeting some time ago, and I would like to share it now with you:

“It’s four years since my addiction with the cigarettes ended and since then, pretty much my new addiction to food started. The biggest effect on me giving up the cigarettes is the increased weight and nowadays this and sugar seems to be the new killer. During the last 4 years, I have lost the weight, put it on, lost it and put it on again; it’s like a yo yo. In January I said right, New Year, new me, and started the couch to 5K which I have achieved, not very fast but I did it. I began to think about all this lately and I’m wondering who am I trying to please??? Do I want the weight loss for me or society?? On every advert, Facebook post, magazine, and television screen it’s all about being slim and trim; great, I’m beginning to think Lent should be for 40 weeks instead of 40 days!! Having said all that, the pressure from society is huge and we can bring that pressure on ourselves, so for now my aim is to accept who I am and be happy for me or hope I get an addiction to healthy food!!!!”

There are 3 additional quotes I would like to share:

“I was at a funeral one day and the lady beside me said, “God love her, she’s the size she always wanted to be and she’s in the coffin.”

“If everyone in the world was blind, how many people would you impress?” 

And from the parish website: “Today count your blessings instead of calories and thank God you have calories to count.”

Addiction is nothing new. Matt Talbot was an unskilled labourer who was born in 1856 and lived all his life in Dublin. We probably would never have heard of him were it not for the cords and chains discovered on his body when he died suddenly on a Dublin street in 1925. On further investigation of his life it was learned that he had struggled with addiction to alcohol from a very early age but that he had found sobriety through prayer and self-sacrifice and that he remained sober for the next forty-one years until his sudden death.

His life story has been an inspiration for alcoholics and addicts throughout the world. Turning away from alcohol was only a small part of Matt’s transformation because he also turned to God. Matt’s programme of recovery was built around devotion to the Eucharist, love of Mary, Mother of God, spiritual reading, self-discipline and manual work. But he never forgot his struggle with his addiction. He once told his sister “Never look down on a man who cannot give up the drink because it is easier to get out of hell!” and the same is true for any addiction but Matt’s life story shows us that a very ordinary person can totally transform.

For the past 24 years parishioners have gathered together for nine consecutive weeks at the Matt Talbot Novena to pray for people suffering from all forms of addictions and for those who share their lives at home and at work with people who endure such addictions. This year’s novena will begin on Tuesday 4th October in SS John & Paul Church, Shannon and will continue each Tuesday for the months of October and November. This year’s preachers include: Rev. Damien Nolan, Corofin, Rev. Pat Coffey, Golden Co Tipperary, Rev. Frank Bradley, Buncrana, Co Donegal, Rev. Pat Malone, Clarecastle, Mgr. Ken McCaffrey, Dundee, Scotland, Rev. Vincent Stapleton, Thurles, Rev. Ignatius McCormack, Quin, Rev. Pascal McDonnell OFM, Franciscan Friary, Ennis, and Most Rev. Alphonsus Cullinan, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.

On one occasion Matt Talbot said, “Three things I cannot escape: The eye of God, the voice of conscience, the stroke of death. In company, guard your tongue. In your family, guard your temper. When alone, guard your thoughts.”

The Matt Talbot Novena is offered each year to give encouragement and spiritual support to people in times of suffering and stress. A warm welcome waits all who come.

Petitions can be left at the shrine in both churches or, in an attempt to reach out to as many people as possible who are dealing with addiction, sent anonymously via the petition form on the Shannon parish website at The Novena can be viewed live each week on Tuesdays at 7pm on the Shannon parish website. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Lifesaving Gift from an Unknown Addict's Death

According to reports, although the donation is “high-risk” due to the addiction, doctors tested it and it is in great condition and visually looks excellent.

Prayers requested for my niece, for her recovery from the operation and that she doesn’t reject the liver.
Also, prayers requested for the soul of the donor. May we meet in Heaven.”

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Pope Francis: "Overcome Desolation with Prayer, not Pills or Drink"

The Pope’s advice on how to get through hard times and help others do the same

September 27, 2016
VATICAN CITY — What should you do when you, or a friend or loved one, are experiencing spiritual darkness due to a family tragedy, illness, or something that is weighing you down?

Today, Pope Francis said that prayer is the way to overcome our darkest moments, rather than resorting to pills or drink to escape the reality of our troubles. His comments came during his homily at Holy Mass this morning in the chapel of his residence at Santa Marta.

Commenting on today’s first reading from the Old Testament, in which Job pours out his sorrows to God after losing everything, even his children, Pope Francis focused on the spiritual desolation that we all experience and explained how we can overcome it.

The pope pointed out that, although Job had lost everything, he did not curse God but rather poured out his troubles to him as “a son to his father.”

Sooner or later all of us experience spiritual darkness

“Spiritual desolation is something that happens to all of us: it can be stronger or weaker but that feeling of spiritual darkness, of hopelessness, mistrust, lacking the desire to live, without seeing the end of the tunnel, with so much agitation in one’s heart and in one’s ideas…Spiritual desolation makes us feel as though our souls are crushed, we can’t succeed, and we also don’t want to live: ‘Death is better!’ This was Job’s outburst. It was better to die than live like this. We need to understand that when our soul is in this state of generalized sadness we can barely breathe: this happens to all of us, whether strong or not, to all of us. We need to understand what goes on in our hearts.”

Pope Francis went on to pose the question: “What should we do when we experience these dark moments, be it a family tragedy, an illness, something that weighs us down?” Noting that some people would think of a sleeping pill to help them escape their problem, or drinking one, two, three or four glasses,” he warned that these methods “do not help.” Instead, today’s liturgy shows us how to cope with this spiritual desolation, “when we are lukewarm, depressed and without hope.”

The Pope said the way out from this situation is to pray, to pray loudly, just as Job did, day and night until God responds. “It is a prayer to knock at the door but with strength! ‘Lord, my soul is surfeited with troubles. My life draws near to Hell. I am numbered among those who go down into the pit; I am a man without strength.’ How many times have we felt like this, without strength? And here is the prayer. Our Lord himself taught us how to pray in these dreadful moments. ‘Lord, you have plunged me into the bottom of the pit. Upon me, your wrath lies heavy. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.’ This is the prayer and this is how we should pray in our darkest, most dreadful, bleakest and most crushed moments that are really crushing us. This is genuine prayer. And it’s also giving vent just like Job did with his sons. Like a son.”

Silence, closeness, and prayer: how to help those who are suffering

Silence, closeness, and prayer is the best way to be a friend to those going through times of darkness, Pope Francis said, as he warned that sometimes  words and speeches in these situations can do more harm than good.

“First of all, we must recognize in ourselves these moments of spiritual desolation, when we are in the dark, without hope and asking ourselves why. Secondly, we must pray to the Lord like today’s reading from Psalm 87 teaches us to pray during our dark moments. ‘Let my prayer come before you, Lord.’ Thirdly, when I draw close to a person who is suffering, whether from illness, or whatever other type of suffering and who is experiencing a sense of desolation, we must be silent: but a silence with much love, closeness and caresses.  And we must not make speeches that don’t help in the end and even can do harm.”

The Pope concluded his homily by asking the Lord to grant us these three graces: the grace to recognize spiritual desolation, the grace to pray when we are afflicted by this feeling of spiritual desolation, and the grace to know how to be close to people who are suffering terrible moments of sadness and spiritual desolation.”

Note: Even after his conversion and in recovery from drink at age 28, Venerable Matt Talbot had moments of spiritual darkness, yet he persevered by the grace of God. 

Also note an article titled, "Pope Francis to Addicts: You are Never Alone" at