Padre Pio became famous because he had wounds on his hands, known as stigmata, which were claimed to be similar to the wounds in the ands, feet and side of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. These first appeared on 20 September 1918 and he was the first priest ever to be a stigmatist.
G Cruchon SJ, a Jesuit priest, wrote of this: 'A long Calvary had begun and with it the answer to a prayer: the prayer of his profound desire to dientify with Christ crucified not only by participation in the priestly apostolate but in some mysterious way in that supreme immolation of Our Lord on Calvary.' However Calvary was a perfect sacrifice and there can be no other Calvary. It was a perfect sacrifice by our great high priest Jesus Christ and never to be repeated.
Padre Pio died on 23 September 1968, almost exactly 50 years after the 'stigmata' first appeared and he was canonised by Pope John Paul II on 16 June 2002. During his lifetime tens of thousands of people came to see him conduct masses and today many Roman Catholics pray to him, in spite of the Biblical truth that there is only one mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. However many others believe that the wounds were self-induced or self-inflicted and some writers suggest that they were the result of a psychological disorder or demonic activity.
But back to Professor Rooney and in his letter to the Irish News he wrote:
Padre Pio received the visible stigmata in 1918 and was thoroughly investigated in the next few years by medical experts and high-ranking clerical authorities acting on behalf of the Vatican. The full report deafted in 1921 is kept in the Archive of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
However, it was only in 2006, when Pope Benedict XVI gave free access to the archives up until 1939 that there was an intense revival of interest into the life of Padre Pio.
The Jewish historian Sergio Luzzatto published his version of the facts in a book in 2007 when he argued that the wounds on the friar's body was (sic) deliberately caused by carbolic acid in order to fake the stigmata.
However Luzzatto's conclusions have been strongly rejected by many other scholars who have also examined the information in the archive.
This is very clear, thanks to Francisco Castelli in a recent book entitled Padre Pio Under Investigation - The Secret Vatican Files, Ignatius Press, 2011.
Castelli's book is the most thorough and balanced account of all the information about the saint in the Vatican archives, and it is quite clear that the stigmata were genuine.
The life of Padre Pio helps to strengthen the faith of many Catholics, so it is a pity that The Irish News with the slogan Pro fide et patria over its editorial should publish an article casting doubts on the authenticity of the many remarkable aspects of the life of the great saint.
Prof JOHN ROONEY
1. Professor Rooney notes that the motto of the Irish News is the Latin phrase Pro fide et patria, which means 'For faith and country' or 'For faith and fatherland' and of course the country is 'Ireland' and the faith is Roman Catholicism. He also chides the newspaper for publishing an article which he describes as 'misleading' and 'casting doubts on the authenticity' of Padre Pio's sitgmata. It is interesting that Professor Rooney expects the Irish News to adhere to Roman Catholic doctrine.
2. Professor Rooney endorses the traditional Roman Catholic position on the authenticity of the stigmata and dismisses the book by 'the Jewish historian Sergio Luzzatto' as 'very biased'. Instead he advocates another book by Father Francisco Castelli, Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files. The letter appeared in the newspaper but attracted absolutely no comment in the media. Time and again the religious views of evangelical Protestants who are in public life, including academics, have been analysed and dissected at length but not a word was said about this letter by a former Queen's University professor in which he stated that he believed in the authenticity of the stigmata. That too is interesting but not altogether surprising.