This Is How The Vatican Actually Handles And Investigates Matters Of The Paranormal
The Catholic Church has done some pretty absurd (and arguably inexcusable) things. Messing around with paranormal activity isn't one of them. For the Vatican, paranormal investigations are treated with the utmost sincerity and urgency, whether personnel are deciding on whether to put their god-plated seal of approval on Vatican certified miracles in order to canonize a saint or carefully dispelling a wayward demon who set up shop in someone's body.
Everyone who hasn't seen The Exorcist or The Conjuring has definitely seen a film that follows demonic possession tropes. What if you found out some of those stories were real? The Vatican deals with thousands of paranormal cases a year. Some of those cases include legitimizing recent miracles in the Catholic Church or performing a full-fledged exorcism. Most Vatican paranormal investigations involves working with a team of doctors to determine whether paranormal phenomena has occurred.
How does the Vatican investigate miracles, possessions and other paranormal activity? Special committees and a ton of training. Here's what goes down when the church gets wrapped up in the paranormal.
Miracles Are Overseen By The Congregation for the Causes of SaintsPhoto: Moon Man Mike / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Vatican has an office called the Congregation for the Causes of Saints responsible for investigating paranormal activity (i.e. miracles) involved in an application for sainthood. If proof of a miracle exists, the person who performed the miracle may get beatified. This is one of the first steps of becoming a saint, and is necessary for a miracle to be officially recognized by the Church.
Each case investigated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints is opened by the bishop in the diocese where the individual under investigation died. Typically, bishops must wait five years before opening a case, though the Vatican can make allowances in exceptional cases, as happened with Mother Teresa. Pope John Paul II permitted investigation into her miracles to begin two hears after her death.
The Congregation For The Causes Of Saints First Evaluates A Person's LifePhoto: United States Navy / Wikimedia / Public Domain
The path to the verification of a miracle isn't easy. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints evaluates whether the person who allegedly performed the miracle is virtuous enough to have performed a miracle before deciding whether a miracle happened. Significant evidence that the individual in question was exceedingly holy, and people have been drawn to prayer through his or her example, must be present. If the Congregation rules a person was indeed a servant of God, the case is passed to the Pope, who can beatify candidates for sainthood.
After Evaluation, The Miracle Must Meet Certain QualificationsPhoto: Evert Odekerken / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5
It takes a bit more than a great moral compass to prove someone performed a miracle. For a miracle to be seriously considered by the Church, it must meet certain requirements. Miracles, such as the miraculous curing of a disease, must be instantaneous or sudden, complete and permanent, and without scientific explanation. For example, you can't have miraculously cured cancer with a flick of the wrist and some good prayers for it to come back five years. All of these qualifications must be proven, and the burden of finding proof falls on a team dedicated to research.
The Consulta Medica Researches The Science Behind Medical MiraclesPhoto: Mikhail Nesterov / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
With medical miracles, after the Congregation for the Causes of Saints rules a person is virtuous enough to have performed a miracle, the case is turned over to Consulta Medica, a board established by the Vatican in the mid-1900s and made up of 100 renowned Italian, Catholic physicians. A panel of five Consulta Medica doctors review the miracle, examining things such as CT scans, X-rays, and medical reports. If three out of the five agree the actin question wasn't performed by science, but rather the hand of God, it's passed on to a panel of priests and cardinals.
Nearly All Modern Miracles Are Medical In Nature, Which Keeps The Consulta Medica BusyPhoto: Ilya Repin / Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow / Public Domain
The vast majority of modern miracles are medical. According to NPR, "More than 95 percent of the cases cited in support of a canonization, however, involve healing from disease."
Michael O'Neill, the owner of MiracleHunter.com, estimates an even higher percentage than NPR. As he said in an interview with LiveScience, "99.9 percent of [the miracles investigated by the Vatican] are medical miracles. They need to be spontaneous, instantaneous and complete healing. Doctors have to say, 'We don't have any natural explanation of what happened."
Because of this, the Consulta Medica is involved in nearly all miracle investigations.
A Panel Of Priests And Cardinals Search For Evidence Of Healing Prayer When NecessaryPhoto: Photographer Unknown / Archepiscopal Archives Utrecht / CC BY 3.0
For cases in which a reported medical miracle happened because someone prayed to a saintly candidate after his or her death, the prayers are investigated. If Consulta Medica can't produce a scientific explanation for the alleged miracle, doctors pass the case to a panel of cardinals and priests, who look for evidence of healing prayer. If healing prayer occurred, the panel issues a declaration.
Miraculous healing in response to prayer is seen as proof the potential saint in question is in heaven with God. The Pope can beatify the applicant, if he chooses; this is the final step before canonization (being officially declared a saint). Sainthood applicants usually need two verified miracles to be canonized, unless the individual in question was a martyr. In the case of martyrdom, the pope may simply declare sainthood.