A leading humanist in Northern Ireland has accused the Catholic Church of “thriving on superstition and mumbo jumbo” after it endorsed the belief that two former popes who have been made saints performed miracles.
John XXIII, who was a modernising pope between 1958 and 1963, was said to have cured a dying nun in 1966.
John Paul II, who was pontiff from 1978 to 2005, was said to have healed a French nun of Parkinson’s disease and to have been behind the “inexplicable recovery” of a Costa Rican woman from a serious brain illness.
The Vatican has insisted that the cures cannot be explained by science.
In Rome on Sunday, in an unprecedented canonisation ceremony made even more historic by the presence of retired Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis declared John XXIII and John Paul II saints.
Brian McClinton, a director of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland, said: “The canonisation of the two popes indicates that in the modern era the Catholic Church is still infused with a medieval bric-a-brac of relics and rosary beads, wine and wafers, incantations and exorcisms, saints and statues, miracles and holy water.
“It takes on frankly comic dimensions when the piety of popes is elevated to saintliness and they are granted an ability to defy the laws of nature by performing miracles.”
Mr McClinton added: “In the case of Pope John XXIII a nun was allegedly cured of a tumour in her stomach after an image of him was placed on her body. Here is proof that in a rational 21st century world the Catholic Church still thrives on superstition and mumbo jumbo.”
At Sunday’s Mass, relics of the two dead popes — a container of blood from John Paul and a piece of skin from John — were placed near the altar.
Pope Francis said that after deliberating, consulting and praying for divine assistance they declared John XXIII and John Paul II saints, “decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church”.
Never before have a reigning and retired pope celebrated Mass together in public. The Vatican estimated that 800,000 people in Rome saw the event from the square, nearby streets or on screens.