Today the 129-year-old ghost of Cardinal John Henry Newman will be upgraded to a saint, by way of a magic trick conducted by the Christian God and presided over by Pope Francis in the Vatican.
To be promoted to a saint, a ghost must perform two miracles.
- Cardinal Newman’s ghost ‘healed’ a trainee Deacon in Boston of spinal injuries, five days after the man had surgery for his spinal injuries.
- He later ‘healed’ a woman in Chicago, who had spent years talking to pictures of Cardinal Newman, of pregnancy-related bleeding that can stop by itself.
Both attributed their recoveries to Cardinal Newman’s ghost. But both were in the habit of frequently praying to Cardinal Newman, ever since they saw a TV programme about him on EWTN, so they would be likely to link unusual events in their lives to him.
Also, the EWTN programme told viewers that the Catholic Church was waiting for decades for a miracle in order to beatify Cardinal Newman, and it specifically asked viewers to contact them with details of any divine favours they got after praying to him.
Strangely, Cardinal Newman’s ghost employed different ways of communicating his presence to each of them. He caused Jack Sullivan to feel a lengthy burst of intense heat, and he caused Melissa Villalobos to smell the strongest ever scent of roses.
Sullivan now has his own website. He heals people himself, by touching them with a piece of Cardinal Newman’s hair, which he says is a first-class relic. He says he has healed a teenage boy with a brain injury after a car crash, and a man with advanced stages of liver cancer.
He starts every day by saying, ‘Good morning, Cardinal Newman, my intercessor and my very faithful friend’.
Medicine or miracles?
Both Sullivan and Villalobos had serious versions of their illnesses, and both of their recoveries were more sudden than typical similar recoveries. Because of this, in both cases, their doctors could not explain what caused things to happen in that way.
But at any stage of medical history, there have been phenomena beyond the edge of what current medicine can explain. That does not mean that they are caused by the ghost of a specific dead human being interceding with the creator of the universe.
And it does not mean that the creator of the universe is today going to change the ghost of Cardinal John Henry Newman from one type of ghost into another type of ghost. The universe will have as many ghosts and as many saints tomorrow as it had yesterday, which is none.
At today’s magic trick, the Irish Government will be represented by Education Minister Joe McHugh, the Irish State by Ambassador to the Holy See Derek Hannon, and the secular University College Dublin by Vice President Professor Orla Feely.
This is embarrassing, although to be fair it comes just weeks after a Catholic priest, while blessing an airplane runway to make it safer, gave Taoiseach Leo Varadkar a bottle of holy water to throw over British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The first ‘miracle’ of Cardinal Newman’s ghost
The first ‘miracle’ attributed to the ghost of Cardinal Newman involved a Boston man called Jack Sullivan, who was studying to be a Catholic Deacon.
Here is how Jack explains what happened on his own website:
- Jack awoke on the morning of 6 June 2000 with severe pain in his back and legs.
- He had a CT scan that showed severe stenosis, or narrowing, of his spine, with lumbar disc and vertebrae deformities turning inwards and squeezing his spinal cord.
- Jack met a surgeon in late July 2000, who said he needed immediate surgery and scheduled it for early September 2000.
- This meant Jack would miss the start of classes for becoming a Deacon.
- Returning home he accidentally stumbled on a show on EWTN about Cardinal Newman. He prayed to Cardinal Newman to help him to walk so that he could attend his Deacon classes.
- The next day he woke up
pain free. He had an MRI and Myelogram which showed that his underlying condition had not changed, but his pain symptoms had gone.
- His spinal surgeon, Dr Banco, suggested
cancelingthe surgery until the symptoms returned, and Jack attended his Deacon classes.
- Jack’s severe pain symptoms returned nine months later
inApril 2001, and Dr Banco rescheduled his surgery for 9 August 2001.
- Between then and the surgery, Jack continuously prayed to Cardinal Newman for the strength to walk, so that he could complete a Pastoral internship.
- Jack had his surgery on 9 August 2001. It was a complicated surgery, as the lining of his spinal cord was torn, and his spinal cord was badly compressed.
- He was in severe pain for the next four days, despite high doses of morphine.
- On the fifth day after surgery, a doctor told Jack that he should forget about returning to his classes because it would take many months to recover, if at all.
- On hearing this, Jack felt an urge to get out of bed. As he tried to stand, he prayed to Cardinal Newman to help him to walk. He was then able to walk and was discharged two hours later without rehabilitation or medication.
- This happened on 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.
- Jack was later told that his recovery and regeneration of his nerve tissue had been unexplainably accelerated during that moment.
The ‘miracle’ that the Catholic Church attributes to Cardinal Newman is the event five days after the surgery, in which Jack found himself able to walk. But whatever happened that day did not ‘heal’ Jack. It merely speeded up his recovery after medical surgery. So is anything unexplainable more likely to be an unpredicted consequence of the surgery or the supernatural?
If we take this story at face value, the ghost of Cardinal Newman healed Jack of the symptoms of his injury for nine months, then allowed the symptoms to return, but helped him to walk during a summer internship, then left him in agony for four days after his surgery, before intervening again to enable him to walk.
Also, in the run-up to his surgery, Jack prayed regularly to Cardinal Newman to enable him to walk to carry out his intern duties. But after his surgery, while lying in bed in agony that could not be relieved even by high doses of morphine, Jack did not bother to pray to Cardinal Newman for relief of his pain until the fifth day of agony.
The second ‘miracle’ of Cardinal Newman’s ghost
The second ‘miracle’ attributed to the ghost of Cardinal Newman involved a Chicago woman called Melissa Villalobos, who was a pregnant married mother of four.
Here is how Melissa explains what happened in interviews with the Catholic News Agency and Catholic Herald:
- While doing her ironing in 2000, Melissa accidentally stumbled on a programme on EWTN about Cardinal Newman. This seems likely to be the same programme that Jack Sullivan accidentally stumbled upon around the same time.
- A year later (CNA story) or a decade later (Herald story), her husband brought home two picture cards of Cardinal Newman. She put one in the living room and one in the bedroom, and she talked to him and prayed to him every time she walked past one of the images.
- Melissa thought the expressions on the images changed to match her mood: Cardinal Newman looked pleased when she was happy, and sympathetic when she was sad.
- Melissa became pregnant with her third child in early 2013.
- In late April, during her first trimester, she developed subchorionic hematoma, or bleeding, when her placenta became partially detached from her uterine wall, causing a blood clot between the two. Her doctors told her to stay on strict bed rest.
- The bleeding got worse on 10 May, and she went to the emergency room. She was again told to stay on strict bed rest.
- On the morning of 15 May 2013, Melissa woke up in a pool of her own blood.
- Her husband was away on a business trip, and she didn’t want to call an ambulance because there would be nobody to look after their four children.
- Melissa decided to give her four children some breakfast before deciding what to do.
- She then went upstairs to the bathroom, where she collapsed on the floor.
- She didn’t have her mobile phone, and she was afraid to call out to her children, so she prayed: ‘Please Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.’
- The bleeding stopped, and Melissa smelled the strongest ever scent of roses fill the bathroom. She asked Cardinal Newman if he had stopped the bleeding, and there was a second burst of rose smells.
- That afternoon, a weekly ultrasound showed that her placenta was okay. After that, there was no more bleeding, and she went on to deliver her baby on 27 December 2013.
The Rome Reports TV News Agency specialises in covering Vatican affairs. It asked Dr Gerald M. Casey of Chicago how the case was medically certified during the canonisation process. Dr Casey said:
“My main role as the medical expert was to appoint two ‘ob’ inspection physicians who were experts in maternal fetal medicine, to evaluate the medical records and the materials that had been brought to the United States and to Chicago by the postulator, Dr. Ambrozy and then to examine Melissa take a very detailed history.
And then after examination and the detailed history, be deposed by the tribunal as to what they felt were the possibilities of this having a medical explanation or not having a medical explanation. We also deposed her treating physician.
All of those physicians felt very strongly that there could be no explanation medically for this instantaneous and spontaneous cessation of bleeding that occurred upon the intonation of only the words: ‘Cardinal Newman, please stop my bleeding’. The fact that that could occur at that moment and time, we felt could not be established by any medical intervention, etc.”
Note what it is that Dr Casey is saying could not be established by any medical intervention. It is not that the bleeding stopped, because this type of bleeding during pregnancy can stop by itself. What they cannot explain is that it stopped ‘upon the intonation of only the words: Cardinal Newman, please stop my bleeding.’
Now that might be a huge coincidence if a random person said that just as her bleeding stopped. But Melissa had spent years praying and talking to two pictures of Cardinal Newman that she had displayed in her house. She talked to him as a regular person, and said prayers to him for whatever her family’s needs were at the time.
In that context, as Melissa lay bleeding on her bathroom floor, and as her bleeding stopped, it would have been more amazing if she had not called out to Cardinal Newman than it was that she did.
I’ve recently written about how unreliable belief in miracles is. If you go to Lourdes, you have about one in 3 million chance of being cured. That’s less than the rates of spontaneous remission from cancer. Also, you had a better chance of dying at Lourdes than being cured.
Infections in patients in hospitals throughout Europe have been traced back to holy water from Lourdes, and over 86% of holy water from springs and churches around Europe has been found to be contaminated with the equivalent of faecal matter.
Add into this the idea that the ghosts of specific long-dead human beings are interceding on our behalf with the creator of the universe, and you see how belief in miracles corrupts our natural understanding of reality.
We should not be taking this seriously, and our Government should not be represented at this event.