Doctors' panel won't rule on 'miracles' at Lourdes

Paris, France - An international doctors panel appointed by the Roman Catholic Church says it's getting out of the business of judging if pilgrims to the French shrine of Lourdes may have benefited from miracle healing.

The panel known as CMIL, decided over the weekend that it will still acknowledge cases of "remarkable" healing, but leave it up to the church to decide whether they make the cut as miracles, the panel's secretary said.

Dr. Patrick Theillier, the French doctor who gets first crack at judging claims of unexplained healing in Lourdes, said Wednesday the move amounts to a call for the church to update its centuries-old criteria about miracles.

"It's a sort of rebellion, if you will, against laws that don't concern us — and shouldn't," Dr. Patrick Theillier said in a telephone interview. "The medical corps must be independent of the ecclesiastic power."

"Before, what we presented to the church was a gift all wrapped up — and all the church had to say was 'I approve,' without making a lot of effort," said Theillier, referring to the question of judging miracles. "Not today."

The decision also grew out of a recent recognition within the medical community about its limits to diagnose and cure diseases or injuries compared to its mind-set in the mid- to late-20th century, he said.

"The medical community isn't as sure of itself as it was 20 or 30 years ago," he said. Back then, it was "much more triumphalist, and thought it knew everything" — before new illnesses cropped up to debunk that idea, he said.

The Lourdes shrine in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France draws 6 million pilgrims a year, many of whom believe that its spring water has the power to heal and even work miracles.

Over the years, more than 7,000 pilgrims have claimed to have been healed after bathing in or drinking the water in Lourdes — but the church has officially deemed only 67 cures miraculous.

Pope Benedict XVI traveled to the town in September as part of celebrations of the 150th anniversary of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to a local 14-year-old, Bernadette Soubirous.