By Susannah Herbert in Paris
THE Bishop of Lourdes has declared the world's most visited Catholic shrine to be responsible for the "inexplicable cure" of a 51-year-old sufferer from multiple sclerosis.
The shrine's medical experts have taken almost 12 years to investigate the case of Jean-Pierre Bély, a medical worker from Angoulême, who recovered from his debilitating illness on Oct 9, 1987, the night after receiving "the sacrament of the sick" at the Lourdes shrine. M Bély is only the 66th person in the history of the shrine whose claims to be cured by a visit to Lourdes have been approved by the Catholic hierarchy.
The Church has dismissed about 6,500 similar cases since Bernadette Soubirous, a shepherdess, first spoke of seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary on the site in 1858. Each claim of "miraculous" healing is examined by the Lourdes Medical Office and the Lourdes International Medical committee, which must decide if the cure meets conditions established in 1734: it must be a sudden and permanent recovery from a terminal disease that has resisted all previous treatment.
Patrick Thellier, of the Lourdes Medical Office, said that M Bély, who was still classified as fully disabled, had undergone physical, neurological and psychiatric tests. The Church's claim that M Bély's recovery was linked to his faith and the intervention of the Virgin Mary have been challenged by sceptics.
Bertrand Fontaine, a Paris neurologist, said that multiple sclerosis
sufferers "sometimes have long periods of remission", but poured scorn
on "talk about miraculous cures". He said: "While spiritual strength [
]can help a patient to overcome a serious illness, it cannot make an infection
or a tumour disappear, nor, in the case of multiple sclerosis, can it repair
the damage to the medullary sheaths that the disease attacks."