By Michael H. Brown
Global Phenomenon Of Weeping Statues, Pictures Baffling Bishops Everywhere
A declaration this week by a prelate in Australia was informative, as well as a sign of our age. In the decision, Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth declared that there is no scientific proof that a statue of the Blessed Mother which had been weeping tears of oil since last March and continuously since August 15 (at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Rockingham) is at all miraculous. Indeed, the statue suddenly stopped exuding during the four days a small team of scientists was examining it (with x-rays and C-T scans). It also failed to exude the month Archbishop Hickey asked for the statue to be isolated in the office of the parish priest of Rockingham.
Was this because someone was manipulating it? Or simply because God doesn’t like to be put under a microscope — that such matters are always supposed to leave room for faith? No fraud was unearthed (the statue was dry inside, with no tubes or other channels found that could have been transporting the fluid externally) and though the archbishop himself had seen the statue weep, it stopped after it was dried. Archbishop Hickey refused to call the fiber-glass statue a fake because he said mystery still surrounded the reason for its tears. Still, there was nothing that definitively pointed to the supernatural. Analysis of the fluid showed it was vegetable oil with globules of rose oil mixed in and, although that could have been of Divine origin, it could also be the result of human intervention, the Archbishop said. “I’m not saying it wasn’t a miracle, I’m saying we haven’t sufficient proof,” Archbishop Hickey told a newspaper. “I don’t know how it happened. All I can say is other interpretations are possible.”
And so we have the dilemma of our times: around the world, bishops are at a loss at how to handle such situations, which seem to be proliferating. In recent years, in some cases recent months, there have been similar claims in Italy, Canada, Panama, Venezuela, the Philippines, Russia, Colombia, Bolivia, Israel, Trinidad, Romania, and even Bangladesh. In the U.S., an allegedly exuding statue has been kept under wraps near Sacramento (we are not allowed at this point to divulge the details) while other such claims have been made in recent times near Detroit, on Long Island, in Florida, Indiana, New York, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Nevada (Las Vegas), Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia — and, well, almost everywhere. Some have to do with “Mystica Rosa” statues that have reportedly exuded in dozens of locales. We’ll explore one especially intriguing case next week because we don’t think miracles are irrelevant.
In most cases, bishops simply ignore such claims and let nature — or supernature — take its course. In some cases, there is outright rejection. In all cases there is befuddlement: the strictures of a scientific world, of a world controlled by a physical, cause-and-effect viewpoint, with all but suffocating protocol, all but excludes final “proof” (let us remember that there are still debates over the theory of relativity). And so we wonder: can science prove such alleged marvels? Is it suspicious that the Australian statue began to exude again when it was returned to its owners? Or is this because the owners possess a special charism?
Apparitions often occur in the presence of a certain person, of course, and we have seen a number of cases where the presence of a particular person or situation has been decisive in the initiation of such phenomena (that is, that statues will begin to exude at a particular home, although in some cases they then continue to tear or exude when the statues are taken home by those who brought them). We reported one such case in central Florida in connection with a man named Stanley Rutherford, who claims apparitions of the Blessed Mother in Lakeland. The same occurred in the presence of a priest, Father James Bruse, in Virginia. We lose track of other such claims. The challenges this poses to bishops has been especially evident in Italy, where a statue from Medjugorje wept bloody tears 14 times in Civitavecchia on March 15, 1995 (and on other occasions), in the presence of many people who have given sworn testimony in front of a theological commission instituted by the Bishop — who held the statue in his hands the last time the blood tears fell; here, having overcome any doubts, the prelate paved the way to official recognition. In this case, the miracle was approved and as far as we know there was no requirement for the statue to weep in the actual presence of scientists. The same happened in the Sicilian town of Syracuse.
That was the opposite of what occurred last June in Messina, Sicily, where a large outdoor statue of St. Padre Pio appeared to be weeping blood (Church authorities claimed this to be a fraud perpetrated by a local drug addict, although questions about whether it was actually a fraud linger). Many times, there is almost an hostility from the local chanceries, which fear trickery (although we know of no such cases, this has almost certainly occurred in some cases) and embarrassment in front of the local scientific communities and even theologians to whom miracles are less than fashionable (even though the Bible is full of miracles).
We ourselves have watched statues weep oil or shed tears in cases where there seemed to be no means of chicanery. We have seen oil come right out of a statue’s surface, in volumes that were highly impressive — materializing right in front of us. There was no sign that the people involved would ever perpetrate a lie. They appeared to be sincere and holy.
But we have to be careful — and we don’t blame bishops for their caution. In fact, the manner in which the Australian archbishop handled this was in many ways laudable. We do respectfully wish, however, that more observation was allowed, and that the statue was not moved from public view — not yet.
Can we prove it? Can we prove such cases?
It depends on what you mean by “proof.” On this place called earth, it’s getting hard to prove anything.