A Master Class in sycophancy: Catholic superhero Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

Pulling the wool over the eyes of the faithful: A silicone Padre Pio was displayed as ‘a miracle of incorruptibility’ 40 years after his death.

WHEN one operates a blog such as this, it is vital to subscribe to newsfeeds from religious sources. They are gold mines of information, and the stuff they pump out frequently provides shining nuggets of nonsense that we most enjoy poking fun at.

But when writers, who are clearly educated and intelligent folk, rush to their keyboards not only to tap out trash, but trash that takes no account of well-documented facts, I am left feeling more irritated than amused.

Case in question: a blog called Canterbury Tales, run by a fella called Dr Taylor Marshall.

Prof Taylor Marshall

Marshall is Dean of the Fisher More College where he is also Professor of Philosophy.

This is what he recently wrote of a man even the Catholic Church at various times regarded as a complete fraud who faked his stigmata, and was, by all accounts, a sex pest –  though, unusually for a Catholic priest, women were the focus of his lust:

God chose Saint Pio of Pietrelcina to reveal the supernatural life to our tepid era. His supernatural interior life was made visible through his immense suffering and his well-known stigmata.

Well-known, yes. Genuine no!

Marshall recounts a number of encounters Pio had with, among others, a man who died in a poor house when he fell asleep with a lighted cigar that set his bed on fire, and concluded:

Without a doubt, many souls from Purgatory visited Padre Pio seeking his prayers, sacrifices and sufferings to obtain their release.

WITHOUT DOUBT? What colour is the sky on the planet Marshall occupies?

Reviewing Padre Pio, the Scandals of a Saint by Sergio Luzzatto, Joe Nickell, over at the Skeptical Inquirer, relayed this piece of information about Pio’s “stigmata”.

Indeed, a bottle of carbolic acid was once discovered in the friar’s cell, and Luzzatto cites letters from Padre Pio in which Pio requests that carbolic acid, and at another time a caustic alkaloid, be secretly delivered to him. Eventually Pio began wearing fingerless gloves, supposedly to cover his stigmata out of pious humility; however, to me, the practice seems instead a shrewd move to eliminate the need to continually self-inflict wounds.

An hilarious section of Nickell’s review centres on the fact that the the saint was schlepped out of his tomb and his corpse put on display in 2008 for the delectation of battalions of Pio devotees (just what is it with Catholics and their sick obsession with dead bodies, or bits of dead bodies?):

When his remains were exhumed for public display forty years after his death, those hoping his body would be found incorrupt (a supposed sign of sanctity), or that it would still exhibit the stigmata, were disappointed. The embalmed corpse had deteriorated sufficiently that it required a silicon mask – complete with bushy eyebrows and beard – fashioned by a London wax museum. Of the supposedly supernatural wounds there was not a trace.

There was also a deliciously funny piece about the old charlatan by Eamonn McCann in the Belfast Telegraph. Here’s a taster:

According to the account embraced by believers, Pio’s life was a continuous miracle, or a succession of miracles. He had the stigmata. He could fly. He beat the devil at wrestling. He could be in two places at the one time … Cynics would mutter sotto voce that he never ran a three-legged race or played himself at tennis or impersonated the Everly Brothers.

McCann added:

Bi-location enabled Pio to visit the United States and the Holy Land without leaving San Giovanni. The 1998 work The Voice of Padre Pio relates that he returned from one flying visit to Palestine disgruntled by his discovery that: ‘The room of the Last Supper is looked after by Moslems!’

His most famous flight came during World War Two when American planes sent to pulverise San Giovanni noticed a monk in full robes arrowing towards them at 10,000 feet as they began their bombing run. Reasonably enough, they turned tail and headed home.

Yet, for all this, plus a great deal more evidence that Pio was a conman, a consummate liar and a plagiarist, this highly educated philosophy professor, charged with shaping young people’s minds, is cheerfully prepared to throw facts and all critical thinking to the wind and paint a sycophantic portrait of a man who manufactured fantastic tales of engagements with confused, dislocated spooks.

But to be fair, Marshall is a Catholic, and can’t help being wired up all wrong. If forced to confront REAL truth, not the Roman Catholic “truth” to which he subscribes, I reckon all of his circuits would spectacularly blow all once.

Note: the picture of the “incorrupt” body of Pio was found on Doug (“Just another faithful Catholic”) Lawrence’s  VERY homophobic blog, where he declares:

To see him resting so peacefully it’s hard to believe that he died 40 years ago.