Pope’s Low Bar for Miracles

For an organization that doesn’t believe condoms stop HIV infection, the Catholic Church has a mighty low bar for proof when it comes to miracles. The 2001 healing of a Boston man in his sixties named Jack Sullivan was deemed “miraculous” last year by the Vatican, reports the BBC. The catch? The man’s recovery was par for the course for the surgery he had.

A panel of Vatican medical experts took eight years to miracle-ify Sullivan’s recovery from back surgery. But what they didn’t consider, or didn’t consider significant, is that Sullivan’s recuperation took the same route as most other patients’ who had the surgery. Sullivan was training to be a deacon when he was debilitated by back pain: his doctor recommended surgery. Sullivan’s surgery went smoothly but his doctor advised him that recovery might take months. A few days after the surgery, Sullivan tried to stand and said “I felt an intense heat, like an oven blast, and a strong tingling sensation throughout my whole body… I felt an indescribable sense of joy and peace, and was totally transfixed by what I believed to be God’s presence… When I became aware of what was happening around me I was standing upright and I exclaimed to the nurse that I felt no more pain.”

Sullivan was transfixed, but secular sources were less than ebullient. The BBC quotes a doctor from a London hospital as saying that a typical surgery like Sullivan’s took “about 40 minutes, and most patients… walk out happy at two days.” The Mayo Clinic’s site says patients may go home the same day as their surgery, “although in some cases a hospital stay of one to three days may be necessary following” the procedure. It was due to Sullivan’s “miraculous” cure following surgery that 19th century cardinal John Henry Newman was beatified over the weekend in England. Sullivan’s was the first miracle of two needed to make Newman a saint. Too bad one of Newman’s miracles’ can’t be curing someone of AIDS, especially in countries like South Africa where 25% of all pregnant mothers have HIV. According to the Vatican, condoms only exacerbate the African HIV/AIDS crisis, despite reducing new infections by 80 percent. A Boston man recovering from back surgery in a few days is ordinary. The Vatican reversing its position on condom use in Africa: that would be a miracle.