by Marco Corvaglia
§ 1. The Scientific Reports on Medjugorje
So far, these study groups had the opportunity to collect physiological measures and run experimental (and not only observational) studies:
1. Dr. Henri Joyeux’s (1984)
The report of their research was published in René Laurentin and Henri Joyeux, Scientific and Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje, Veritas Publishing, Dublin, 1987 (French edition: Études médicales et scientifiques sur les apparitions de Medjugorje, O.E.I.L., Paris, 1985).
The team of Dr. Joyeux (an oncologist physician, close to the movement of Charismatic Renewal) was formed at the request of Father René Laurentin, who has been the most prominent Medjugorje campaigner for fifteen years:
On 20 March at 8 a.m. we telephoned René Laurentin who informed us of his desire to put togheter a medical team to carry out a scientific examination of these extraordinary phenomena.
[Dr. Joyeux in Laurentin, Joyeux, Scientific and Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje, p. 46]
This team concluded that "The phenomenon of the apparition in Medjugorje [...] is scientifically inexplicable" [ibid., p. 74].
Prof. Théophile Kammerer, President of the Lourdes International Medical Commitee, objected:
As to their level, these tests remain superficial [....] Despite this, all the sophisticated techniques impress the simple-minded readers.
[T. Kammerer, Critical Study of Medical Explorations of the Medjugorje Seers, LIMC, 20 September 1986]
2. Dr. Luigi Frigerio’s (1985)
A report of their investigation was published in Italian, as Luigi Frigerio et al., Dossier scientifico su Medjugorje, ("Scientific report on Medjugorje"), Associazione Regina della Pace, 1986. The team was formed on the spontaneous initiative of Dr. Frigerio, a gynecologist, and was named “Associazione Regina della Pace“ (“Queen of Peace Society”) as a tribute to the apparition. It was named this way before the beginning of their investigations by medical instrumentation. [cf. Frigerio et al., Dossier scientifico su Medjugorje, p. 30]. In the report there is also an excerpt of the Statute of the Association, stating that it has the "apologetic aim to highlight the harmony of Science with Faith" [ibid.].
On 21 November 1985 Dr. Frigerio stated:
Through various scientific missions we have collected some data, I can't say some proofs of the presence of the Virgin, because the proof is of a spiritual nature, ie, the conversion, but certainly some important clues that for now are all in favor of the autenticity of this phenomenon. [....]
My experience leads me to say, without presumptuousness, with great simplicity, that the changes of this century, from the methodological point of view, in order to live the Church, are two: the movement of C.L. [Comunione e Liberazione] and the insistent apparitions of the Virgin at Medjugorje. I believe that following this change one can come to a concrete experience in his own life, even in the workplace.
[E. Sala, M. Mantero, Il miracolo di Medjugorje, Edizioni Mediterranee, Rome, 1986, pp. 119 and 129]
Researchers from these two teams, together with a number of theologicians, held a meeting in Paina (Milan) in 1986, with the goal of discussing and comparing their results.
3. Dr. Giorgio Gagliardi and Father Dr. Andreas Resch’s (1998)
Their original report was published as Andreas Resch and Giorgio Gagliardi, I Veggenti di Medjugorje. Ricerca Psicofisiologica, ("The seers of Medjugorje. Psychophysiological inquiry"), Resch Verlag, Innsbruck, 2000.
This team was put together at the insistence of the priest of Medjugorje, Father Ivan Landeka [cf. Resch, Gagliardi, I veggenti di Medjugorje. Ricerca psicofisiologica, p. V]
It is worth noting that the reports, particularly the first two, are mostly disordered and generic in their expositions.
Let us consider all the instrumental tests that could be conducted during the seers’ “ecstasies”. This excludes all the (prevalently or solely) observational tests, as well as those tests that were run while the seers were not having an “apparition.” Altogether, these tests only cover 12 presumed apparitions, each lasting just over a minute, in this period of thirty years.
These are the details: Dr. Joyeux’s team managed to perform their studies on June 10, October 6 and 7, and December 28 and 29, 1984. The average duration of an appartion was 79 seconds (range: 62 to 102 seconds. See Laurentin, Joyeux, Scientific and Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje, p. 50).
Researchers from the “Queen of Peace” group could study only three of the six seers (Ivan, Marija, and Jakov) during three days (September 7, 8, and 9, 1985). In this case, the average duration of the three apparitions was 61 seconds (range: 49 to 75 seconds. See Frigerio et al., Dossier Scientifico su Medjugorje, pp.35-37. In March of that year, Vicka, Ivanka and Marija had undergone an eye examination, but the report [pp.27-28] does not provide any information about the duration of the apparition).
Finally, the team lead by Resch and Gagliardi could work on two seers, Ivan and Marija (as previously stated, we are considering only those subjects who claimed to have an “ecstasy”) and for two days only: April 22 (a 90-second apparition) and 23 (a 100-second apparition for Marija; 154 seconds for Ivan) 1998.
They were also able to collect data from one single seer (Marija) on December 12, 1998 (duration: 185 seconds. See Resch, Gagliardi, I veggenti di Medjugorje. Ricerca psicofisiologica, pp. 45-47-75-96).
One could find mention of some tests of Ivan and Marija, performed on June 25, 2005, by Dr. Philippe Loron. However, no report has ever been published on these recordings. The only documentation available about these tests consists in some statements released by Dr. Loron (link in Italian) to a Croatian newspaper (Slobodna Dalmacija, June 27, 2005). These statements contain no information on the member of the investigating team. They also do not provide an accurate description of which tests were performed. And no results were reported in quantitative (and, therefore, precise and verifiable) form.
Dr. Loron (I invite the curious readers to examine his declarations, reported in the webpage One-Sided Scientists) can be considered an associate of Joyeux. He himself stated, in a November 11, 1990 letter addressed to the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Damascus, Ignatius IV Hazim:
I am working together with Prof. Joyeux and Father Laurentin on the ecstasies experienced by the young seers of Medjugorje.
[Philippe Loron, Constat Médical et Analyses Scientifiques des Événements de Soufanieh, ("Medical Report and Scientific Analyses of the events in Soufanieh"), F.X. de Guibert, Paris, 1992, p. 73]
My own book on Medjugorje contains a detailed examination of all the tests performed by the different research groups, as well as the results they yielded [Medjugorje: è tutto falso, pp. 177-268]. Here, for the sake of brevity and simplicity, I will only comment on some of the main results.
§ 2. Scientific Method?
On October 7, 1984, Joyeux’s team ran a “test” consisting in putting a paper card before Ivanka’s and Marija’s eyes, during an apparition (see the picture).
Let us follow the report:
Screening test for Ivanka and Marija wich consisted in placing a sheet of opaque cardboard before their eyes during the ecstasy.
[Laurentin, Joyeux, Scientific and Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje, p. 64]
After the ecstasy they said that their vision of Our Lady was not impaired and that they did not see the screen in front of them.
[Ibid., p. 65]
The screening test does not impair the vision, therefore the normal visual pathways are not used.
[Ibid., p. 72]
These are odd assertions in the context of a scientific report, since they are not based on objective results but solely and exclusively on the subjects’ claims, whose sincerity is taken for granted.
Let us read the report:
During the ecstasy conductivity [of nervous signals] remains normal, the same as before the ecstasy. But there was no reaction from Ivan at the onslaught of a noise of 90 decibels (equivalent to the noise of a combustion engine at high revolution) though he jumped at a noise of 70 decibels before the ecstasy. After the ecstasy he told us that he heard nothing. The cortex had not been reached.”
[Laurentin, Joyeux, Scientific and Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje, p. 26]
In short, since Ivan claimed not to have heard anything, then it is considered as "proven" that he really had not heard anything.
And the fact that the seer, before the apparition, had jumped in response to a 70 decibel noise (comparable to that produced by a ringing phone) can't absolutely be considered as a proof of truthfulness (as Dr. Joyeux seems to believe). In fact, the boy knew perfectly well that it was in his own interest to look responsive before the "ecstasy" and unresponsive during the "ecstasy"; it is also obvious that whether one is startled by a noise or not depends not only on the intensity but also (and most importantly) by whether the noise is expected or not.
It is an entirely whimsical and arbitrary inference, therefore, to conclude, on the basis of such a test (which is not objective, and, as such, cannot be classified as “scientific”), which was additionally run on Ivan only, that:
The visionaries do not hear noise level of 90 decibels.
[Laurentin, Joyeux, Scientific and Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje, p. 33]
Even nowadays inexact claims are being perpetuated that are based only on this one experiment.
Let us consider this test’s methodology.
The doctors’ goal is to show that, during the ecstasies, the seers’ neurophysiological responses change. In this case, they focus on the spontaneous blink rate, that is, the frequency of rapid closings and openings of the eyelid. Instead of using real data from the subjects, the analysis was run on tape recordings of Marjia and Jakov.
In both cases, the analysis follows a procedure that, for various reasons, does not conform to any scientific protocol. As an example, let us pick Jakov’s case.
During his apparition, Jakov’s blink rate was of one blink every 7.4 seconds. By itself, this value seems well within the physiological range.
Then, to demonstrate that this value is actually significantly different from that of Jakov’s non-ecstatic periods, the A.R.PA. doctors make a peculiar claim: That Jakov, when he’s not having an ecstasy, blinks every 1.7 seconds.
The truth is that no healthy person blinks so frequently, as anybody can verify by himself. How did the A.R.PA. doctors come to this conclusion?
Let us read their report:
8.9.85 - Jakov Colo
During the ecstasy
The duration was 52’. There were 7 blinks, and precisely at 4”-10”-25”-31”-33”-38”-43” (arithmetic mean: One blink every 7.4 seconds)
After the ecstasy
The control recoding was 12” long. There were 7 blinks with this frequency (sic)1”-2"-3"-5"-7"-9"-12" (arithmetic mean: One blink every 1.7 seconds).
An analysis of the spontaneous blink rate shows that during the ecstasy the blink rate decreases prominently
[Frigerio et al., Dossier scientifico su Medjugorje, pp. 41-42]
This is unthinkable: the control condition consisted of a tape recording of just 12 seconds, which was not even remotely representative of real-life conditions, and where, on top of everything else, Jakov’s blinking rate was entirely abnormal.
This article continues on the page Science Demonstrates Nothing [Part 2]