Canonization: The Rational Judgment of a Miraculous Cure

Kevin Aldrich - canonization


My goal is to show how the Catholic Church made the rational judgment, after serious investigation, that one man received a miracle of healing through the intercession of another.

In discussing this “miracle,” I will rely on two definitions of the word miracle. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., wrote: “In theological language, a miracle is an extraordinary event, performed by God, which can be perceived by the senses and which exceeds the powers of nature.” This is what the Catholic Church means in general by a miracle.

Monsignor Michele Di Ruberto, the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, defines a miracle as an “event that goes beyond the forces of nature, which is realized by God outside of what is normal in the whole of created nature by the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed.” This is what the Catholic Church means by a miracle in connection with the process of beatification or canonization.

Dr. Manuel Nevado suffered from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis. His “miraculous cure” is known, because it was carefully investigated by the Catholic Church in connection with the canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. It is the “miracle” which opened the way for Pope John Paul II to declare Escriva a saint.

Before going into the putative miracle, here is how the Catholic Church judges whether God has performed a miracle through a saint’s intercession. I’ll be quoting The Process of Investigation of an Alleged Miracle in the Causes for Canonization by Stefania Falasca.

The rules for the legal process for this were established in 1983 by the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister.

In it, there are two phases, one after the other. The first is the diocesan phase. It is undertaken in the diocese in which the alleged miracle took place. The second phase takes place in Rome and is undertaken by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

At the diocesan-level, “the bishop opens an inquiry into an alleged miracle during which both the testimony of eyewitnesses, questioned by a duly constituted court, is taken and the complete clinical and instrumental documentation inherent to the case” is recorded.

When the diocesan enquiry is completed, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints sets in motion its process, which, when completed, will be the basis of its verdict. The Congregation subjects the material gathered to two separate investigations, again, one after the other. The first is medical and the second is theological.

According to Falasca, “The medical examination is conducted by . . . the medical Consulta, a collegiate body made up of five specialists plus two in-house experts. The specialists vary according to the clinical cases presented and the request for consultation or eventual convocation of other experts and specialists is not ruled out. Their testimony is purely scientific, they do not pronounce on the miracle. The examination and final discussion of the medical Consulta conclude by establishing the exact diagnosis of the illness, prognosis, treatment and end result.”

In order for the event “to be regarded as a possible miracle the healing must be judged by the specialists as rapid, complete, lasting and inexplicable by current medical and scientific knowledge.”

If the medical Consulta pronounces “a majority or unanimous verdict in favor of the extra-natural character of the healing” according to that criteria, then the inquiry passes to the Consulta of theologians.

Why to theologians? It goes to theologians, because the medical experts can only look at a healing and declare that it is (at least currently) empirically inexplicable.

The job of the advisory theologians is to identify “the causal link between the prayers to the servant of God and the healing, and express their opinion on whether the prodigious event is a true miracle.”

When the theologians have drafted their verdict, “the evaluation is submitted to the ordinary Congregation of bishops and cardinals, who debate all the features of the miracle.”

All these opinions are then submitted to the pope, who decides whether to declare the event a miracle or not. If he approves the miracle, he authorizes the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to promulgate a decree to this effect, declaring the event a miracle. In the case of Dr. Nevado’s cure and St. Josemaria’s intercession as its cause, the pope declared in the positive.

Here is the full decree declaring the approval of the miracle, a summary of the facts, and the process of examination.


The Miracle Approved for the Canonization

On December 20, 2001, Pope John Paul II approved the decree issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on a miraculous cure attributed to the intercession of Blessed Josemaria Escriva. The miracle was the cure of Dr. Manuel Nevado from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis, an incurable disease, which took place in November 1992. The decree opened the doors for the canonization of Blessed Josemaria.


Radiodermatitis is a typical skin disease of medical professionals who have been repeatedly exposed to radiation from X-ray machines over a long period of time. The disease is progressive and evolves inexorably, causing the appearance of skin cancers. Radiodermatitis has no cure. The only known treatments are surgical interventions: skin grafts, or amputation of the affected parts of the hand. To date, no case of a spontaneous cure from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis has ever been recorded in medical literature.

The Cure 

Dr. Manuel Nevado Rey was born in Spain in 1932. A specialist in orthopedic surgery, he operated on fractures and other injuries for nearly 15 years with frequent exposure of his hands to X-rays. The first symptoms of radiodermatitis began to appear in 1962, and the disease continued to worsen. By 1984, he had to limit his activities to minor operations because his hands were gravely affected. He stopped operating completely in the summer of 1992, but did not undergo any treatment.

In November 1992, Dr. Nevado met Luis Eugenio Bernardo Carrascal, an agricultural engineer working for the Spanish government. On hearing about his disease, Luis Eugenio offered him a prayer card of the Founder of Opus Dei who had been beatified on May 17 that year, and invited him to pray for the cure of his radiodermatitis.

The intercession of Blessed Josemaria 

Dr. Nevado began praying for a cure through the intercession of Blessed Josemaria. A few days after that meeting, he traveled to Vienna with his wife in order to attend a medical conference. They visited several churches and came across prayer cards of Blessed Josemaria. “This impressed me,” explained Dr. Nevado, “and it encouraged me to pray more for my cure.” From the day that he began to entrust his cure to the intercession of Blessed Josemaria, his hands began to improve. Within a fortnight the lesions had completely disappeared and the cure was complete. By January 1993, Dr. Nevado had returned to perform surgical operations without any problems.

The canonical process

The canonical process on this miracle took place in the archdiocese of Badajoz where Dr. Nevado lives, and was concluded in 1994. On July 10, 1997, the Medical Committee of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously established the following diagnosis: a cancerous state of chronic radiodermatitis in its third and irreversible stage; therefore with certain prognosis of infaust (without hope of cure). The complete cure of the lesions, confirmed by the objective examinations carried out on Dr. Nevado in 1992, 1994 and 1997, was declared by the Medical Committee to be very rapid, complete, lasting, and scientifically inexplicable.

On January 9, 1998, the Committee of Theologian Consultants gave its unanimous approval for attributing the miracle to Blessed Josemaria. The Congregation of the Causes of Saints confirmed these conclusions on September 21, 2001.

According to Hardon, a miracle is (1) an extraordinary event, (2) which can be perceived by the senses, (3) which exceeds the powers of nature, and (4) is performed by God.

(1) If the facts alleged are true, the event certainly appears to be extraordinary: Nevado was cured of an incurable form of cancer.

(2) It also was an event that was perceived by the senses. Physical evidence was studied from before and after the cure.

(3) It also appeared to exceed the powers of nature, as far as are now known. That, of course, is a judgment of reason limited by our current, best understanding of this form of cancer and the healing powers of the human body.

(4) That leaves “performed by God.” This point goes to Di Ruberto’s definition that a miracle is “realized by God . . . by the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed.” The judgment that anything is actually performed by God is a judgment of reason even if you are the pope. Anyone who wants to can judge either way based on one’s assumptions and how compelling the evidence is.

If you are not convinced that this was a miracle, at least I hope you are convinced that the pope\’s decision was based on a serious investigation and a rational judgment, either by a preponderance of the evidence or evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Catholic Church has set up criteria for determining whom it will recognize as being in heaven, and so, who is worthy of the faithful’s veneration and petition. The Church has a canonization process for the benefit of the faithful of the Catholic Church. In the case of Josemaria Escriva, it was to hold up to the faithful a model of the Christian life that has a special relevance to living the faith in our time. The pope is saying that God is saying that St. Josemaria is in heaven and is a worthy example to be followed in his message that holiness is for everyone and that it can be found in the ordinary circumstances of our lives.

Originally published at Strange Notions.

© 2014. Kevin Aldrich. All rights reserved.

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10 thoughts on “Canonization: The Rational Judgment of a Miraculous Cure”

  1. Pingback: This Week's Best in Catholic Apologetics | DavidLGray.INFO

  2. This does seem like a miracle. More importantly I so appreciate the way the Church investigates a miracle. I didn’t know how it was done, and now that I do, I can appreciate the Church even more. God bless.

  3. Rational and convincing? I suspect not….you fail to mention one cogent fact: that Escriva was the founder of Opus Dei, a rather secretive prelature of the Pope. Let’s look at reason and it’s ability to convince.:
    1.JP II declared Escriva “heroically virtuous” in April 1990 based upon materials worked up by a team of Opus Dei priests.
    2. In July 1991, the miraculous healing was authenticated , in most part, by Opus Dei doctors and attributed to Escriva’s intercession.
    3. There was no traditional “devil’s advocate” to challenge claims. Alvaro del Portillo, Opus Dei’s first prelate and Escriva’s successor was a member to the Commission for the Revision of Canon Law and assisted in drafting the elimination of the “devil’s advocate position” promulgated by JP II in 1983..
    4. Dr Raffaello Cortesini, an Opus Dei member, and heart surgeon headed the medical team which reviewed “miracles” for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
    5. Opus Dei claimed that Escriva’s cause was unanimously approved. However, Msgr. DeMagistris and Msgr Alonso, did not approve the cause.
    6. Opus Dei refused to allow outsiders to see materials on which Escriva’s “heroic virtues” were judged—unprecedented.
    7. According to Ken Woodward’s research (author, Making Saints,How the Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t and Why”, Simon and Schuster, 1990 …on Opus Dei’s list of forbidden books): Opus Dei members put hundreds of bishops under financial pressure to send in positive reports of Escriva…especially in Third World Countries.
    Escriva maybe a saint and intercessor….but one could not determine this from the way his cause was handled.

    The process with Mother Theresa was also flawed in the claim of a healing of an abdominal tumor in Monica Besra which the Missionaries of Charity claimed was a miracle by MT’s intercession. Doctors in India stated that it was a treatable tumor and cured by the medicine she was given. Suddenly fast-tracked by the same Pope?

    None of this is logical, nor convincing…smacks of conspiracy.

  4. Having been “ slain in the Spirit” – something I did not believe in – having had a healing miracle performed on my person – something I definitely believed in – I
    came away with the feeling that an anomaly has always been in progress re: the church and its miracles. . If the process to confirm a miracle is limited to an in-house exam of all the facts I don’t see how the rest of the world would come to believe in them. The rightful claims of the Church in this area fail the world in-so-far as secular collaboration and affirmation goes. Why these true, demonstrable and scientific wonders are not showing up on NOVA and from there to the Academy of Sciences, from there to blazing news bulletins is beyond understanding. It can only be that miraculous exposure is very limited to a small Catholic clique who do not
    publish the miracle in its entirety so a peer review can be commenced. Without faith
    there can be no miracles. In the end, it’s truly a personal encounter with a process that leaves an indelible, physical mark on a human body. I have two friends who left the CC to practice the Baptist way. When their daughter was born with a very serious
    heart defect they and their congregation prayed – lo, the defect disappeared and she is now in her 30’s doing fine. In ending I would like to post a news story that just surfaced and will hopefully leave you with a grin.
    A 35-year-old tea picker in Alipurduar, India, is getting tailed by followers every day — mainly because the 14.5-inch tail growing out of his back makes them think he’s a living reincarnation of Hanuman, the monkey god. It isn’t just the tail that make people believe, Chandre Oraon’s job is picking tea leaves and requires him to climb up trees just like a monkey. Worshippers from all over India travel to his home in hopes of touching his tail and getting blessings. One woman, Monika Lakda, said she travelled overnight to see Oraon at his small makeshift shrine, hoping he would be able to cure her nephew’s fever. “We gave him medicine but it did not work. So we came to Chandre to seek his blessings. The baby recovered soon after that,” she said, according to the Daily Mail. “They say he was born on the Holy Hanuman day. So we have faith in him.”
    I guess the question for me is: does the CC need to compete ? Answer :probably not.

  5. I was impressed that both definitions of a miracle respect nature as does nature’s creator. One definition says, “exceeds the power of nature”; the other says, “beyond the forces of nature”. My take home message from your essay is that a miracle does
    not diminish or counter nature, but is nature plus the super-natural. This
    parallels virtue and faith for which grace builds on nature. Also, both definitions require that we know the nature of things, in order to recognize a miracle.

  6. Pingback: The Holy Souls of Purgatory -

  7. Well written, Kevin!

    At first I found myself somewhat distracted by the use of the term “rational” since it carries so much modern baggage since the Enlightenment. See .

    In my own writing, admittedly influenced by my years as a lawyer, I prefer the idea of the judgment being the result of what a “reasonable person” would judge under the circumstances. See . It’s a more inductive than deductive process, developing on a case-by-case basis rather than a positive legislative basis.

    In any event, while the standard of presenting a case of evidence that goes “beyond a reasonable doubt” would seem to fit in my approach, that standard is for criminal cases. There the presumption is that a person is innocent. But I don’t think the canonization process is a criminal investigation, unless you look at the Devil’s Advocate role as suggesting a crime against our faith is about to be committed.

    This leaves me with a question. Where in the Church’s process you have studied is the standard of proof “preponderance of evidence” found? I would find it fascinating to see that stated. In the law I am familiar with, the standard is a preponderance of “credible” evidence. This is why witnesses are often impeached by bringing evidence of their previous lying. A jury can then disregard the evidence of a person they find incredible.

    But this puts the whole legal process in a curious bind of sorts. At bottom, we are having to deal with credibility, belief, and in faith.

    Miracles, I believe, are understood best in light of the first step we take when we approach the claim for one. Not just an assumption in a rational process, nor a presumption as in a court of law. Rather, our faith allows us to start with the awareness that God does continue to work in our lives and has the power to intervene and may use it for His purposes. So striking is the event, we quite naturally and understandably take the event as a miracle at the outset, then test it to see if we made a mis-take.

    As you may know, I wrote an article about a miracle I experienced. See “DO YOU SEE MIRACLES?” OUR RUBY STORY” . In that instance, my mom and I relied on St. Jude.

    The case you are describing shows how careful our Church is before declaring someone a saint. Thank you for showing us that reasonable persons can understand how the Church arrives at its judgment.

    Moreover, thanks for reminding us how we may ask for help from our saints with an understanding that derives from faith and reason both, not just one or the other.

    1. Thanks, John. On my part, I assumed that the standard of proof was one or the other (preponderance or beyond a reasonable doubt) since I don’t know of any other common ones for assessing evidence.

    2. As you might expect of lawyers, we distinguish several more levels of proof, not to mention assigning who has the burden of producing the proof required. Here’s a link to a fairly descriptive Wikipedia article:

      Of course, before you follow Alice down the rabbit hole, be sure to take your friendly attorney with you.

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