Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 68(2) May 2018
Faith in Medicine
Cures, Miracles, Doctors AND Medicine In Lourdes. A brief historical outline
Dr Alessandro de Franciscis Président du Bureau des Constatations Médicales de Lourdes
In a Sanctuary like Lourdes, some pilgrims may reckon they have benefited from an exceptional cure and wish to bear witness to this, so they approach the Bureau des Constatations Médicales (Office of Medical Observations), located in the Sanctuary, to make a declaration of an alleged cure. Why is there such a Bureau available in Lourdes (France) and in no other place of pilgrimage in the christian and non-christian world?
At the time he signed his Decree of 18 January 1862 with his judgement concerning the Lourdes Apparitions, Mgr Bertrand-Sévère Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes, used three criteria to establish that the Immaculate Conception had actually appeared to Bernadette Soubirous: the reliability of the seer, the spiritual fruits and the cures of the bodies. On that same day he declared by Decree that seven cures, among the hundreds examined by his medical expert, Prof Henri Vergez, were “Miraculous”.
Since there were too many of alleged miraculous cures in Lourdes, at the request of Father Rémi Sempé , Father of Garaison, first Rector of the Sanctuary, Dr Georges-Fernand Dunot de Saint-Maclou established the Bureau des Constatations Médicales in 1883. The Bureau would serve the purpose that no-one, who thought having been “cured”, could leave Lourdes claiming being cured if he/she had not submitted that cure to a rigorous and collegiate medical assessment. In this way, Dr Dunot turned his consultation activity, which he had been performing occasionally every summer since 1879, into a permanent activity. The letter by the Archbishop of Cagliari, Mgr Vincenzo Gregorio Berchialla, dated 3 September 1886 and sent from Rome to Dr Dunot de Saint-Maclou relates the assent of Pope Leo XIII to the Bureau’s rigorous procedures .
After Dr Dunot de Saint-Maclou’s death in 1891, it was the Bishop of Tarbes who appointed the new permanent doctor, and thus President of the Bureau des Constatations, Dr Prospère Gustave Boissarie (1892). In 1904, on the occasion of the coming celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mgr Franççois-Xavier Schoepfer, Bishop of Tarbes, travelled to Rome with an official delegation including Dr Boissarie. During their stay, different issues were discussed with the Holy See in view of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apparitions and one year later (1905), the Holy See confirmed to the Bishop of Tarbes –– in his capacity as Guardian of the Grotto –– the right to use the procedures of the Bureau des Constatations Médicales to investigate any declared cure. This right is still valid today.
The term “ Bureau des Constatations Médicales” has two meanings. (1) In the first place, it means an office in the Sanctuary with a permanent practising doctor who receives the declaration and starts a critical examination thereof and his Secretariat. The author is the 15th President and he assumed office in 2009. (2) If an alleged cure appears to be serious, the permanent physician convenes, and chairs, a “ Bureau”, i.e. a collegiate meeting for “discussion of a clinical case” . All doctors and healthcare workers present in Lourdes at that time can attend the meeting, regardless of their religious belief. In one or more meetings the professionals, answer to three main questions: (1) Was the person really sick? (For us a cure must take place for a described diagnosis with severe prognosis); (2) Is the person really cured? (For us the cure must have been unexpected, instantaneous, complete and lasting); and (3) finally was there for this cure a possible explanation? In thousands of cases we have reached the conclusion that a cure was « unexplained according to current medical knowledge ». The Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes informs at this stage his fellow Bishop of the Diocese where the cured person lives of the medical conclusion of a case. 62 Bishops have declared – after the 7 of 1862 - a cure as being « Miraculous », for a total of 69 miraculous cures. The latest in 2013.
Today, most of the doctors and healthcare professionals coming to Lourdes are members of the Association Médicale Internationale de Notre-Dame de Lourdes. On 6 September 1925, the Journal de la Grotte, the official organ of the Pilgrimage and of the Bureau des Constatations Médicales, announced the establishment of an “Association Médicale de Notre-Dame de Lourdes” at the suggestion of the Bishop of Tarbes, Mgr François-Xavier Schœpfer, and of Dr M. Petitpierre, interim President of the Bureau des Constatations Médicales. With the acronym AML, “an Association has been established among all Catholic doctors participating in Pilgrimages to Lourdes or directly interested in the Lourdes cures. The goal of this Association is to strengthen the relations among all these colleagues and thus facilitate the investigation of the ethos of Lourdes. (……) The existence of the Association will not produce any change in the way the Bureau des Constatations Médicales operates, remaining open to all doctors wishing to participate, whether Catholic or not”. Dr Auguste Vallet, President of the Bureau from 1927 to 1947, “shortly after his arrival took the initiative of ... transforming the Association Médicale de Notre-Dame de Lourdes into an international body. It thus became the Association Médicale Internationale de Lourdes –– better known under the acronym A.M.I.L. –– in order to keep in touch all doctors from all continents wishing to maintain a lasting relationship with Lourdes after their visit to the Sanctuary. This development was compulsory for a very simple reason: it was (and, no doubt, it is) necessary that one could evaluate the qualifications the candidates may show or have, in view of their admission, and listen to their clear explicit will. The creation of the new institution immediately required putting in place a Bulletin, a quarterly organ, the first issue of which was published in February 1928 and the publication of which was basically never discontinued since” .
The AMIL comprises: APIL (International Pharmacists’ Association of Notre Dame de Lourdes, established in 1935), ADIL (International Dentists’’ Association of Notre Dame de Lourdes, established in 1991), AILACS (International Healthcare Workers Association of Notre Dame de Lourdes, established in 1993), and AIIL (International Nurses’ Association of Notre Dame de Lourdes, established in 2014). The sitting President of the Bureau des Constatations Médicales is also the President of the AMIL, the headquarters of which are located at the Bureau des Constatations Médicales.
A Lourdes « Medical Committee » was set up in 1947 by Mgr Pierre-Marie Théas, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, and by Dr Fran ççois Leuret, President of the Bureau des Constatations, coopting some doctors and professors with excellent scientific reputation in their respective scientific fields with the task of assessing and, as may be the case, “certifying” that a cure, which has been declared “unexplained” by the Bureau des Constatations Médicales of Lourdes, is indeed “unexplained” on the basis of current medical knowledge” . In 1954, the Bishop wanted this Committee to acquire an international dimension becoming the International Medical Committee of Lourdes –– CMIL.
The International Medical Committee of Lourdes has about thirty members from different Countries (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, USA and Haiti) and it is jointly co-chaired by the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Mgr Nicolas Brouwet, and by one of its members, Prof Marie-Christine Mouren, appointed by the Bishop for a renewable mandate. The President of the Bureau des Constatations Médicales is the Secretary of the Committee.
All physicians, and other health-care professionals, coming to Lourdes are warmly invited to stop at the Bureau (Building Accueil Jean Paul II) to sign the Register showing their availability to work on a declared case. Signing makes that professional a member « pro tempore » of the Bureau. The same professionals can also consider applying for membership in our prestigious Lourdes International Medical Association-AMIL.
- Brustolon A., Georges-Fernand Dunot de Saint-Maclou - Il Dottore della Grotta ©© 2014 Editrice Velar, Gorle (BG), pages 443-452
- Journal de la Grotte, Lourdes, Sunday 6 September 1925, pages 1 and 3
- Dr Theodore Mangiapan, Guerisons de Lourdes-Etude historique et critique depuis l'origine jusq'en 1990 @ 2010 NDL Editions, Lourdes (Nouevelle Ed), page 194
- Mgr Jacques Perrier, Expliquez-moi les Miracles ©© 2011 NDL Editions, Lourdes, page 70