Saint Padre Pio (False Accusations)
Pietrelcina, Italy (1887–1968)
Patron: those falsely accused
Feast day: September 23
Although Saint Pio (see Figure 4-1) became famous for having the stigmata — the miraculous appearance of the five wounds of Christ — on his hands and feet, he also gained notoriety by surviving the stigma of false accusations leveled against him. Though revered today as a holy man of God, Saint Pio had enemies who at one point so twisted and distorted the facts that he was considered a devious fake.
Born Francesco Forgione, Saint Pio wanted to become a Capuchin monk — a branch of the Franciscan friars — which persuaded his father to emigrate to the United States to raise money for the seminary education of his son. Ordained in 1910, he began going into trances while celebrating Mass, and he was often in a trance for nearly an hour.
Although many, such as Saint Catherine of Siena, considered this a sign of great sanctity, others complained that Pio’s masses took too long, and he was consequently ordered to keep the daily celebration to just 30 minutes. The stigmata appeared eight years later, and Pio’s hands often bled while he conducted Mass.
His parishioners witnessed the phenomenon and word spread quickly; large crowds came from all over Italy to attend a Mass celebrated by this saintly man. Pio often spent 18 hours in the confessional and had the gift of discernment, which allowed him to read souls and tell penitents when they forgot (or intentionally omitted) a sin during confession. The number of pilgrims to visit him at San Giovanni Rotondo escalated dramatically.
The local bishop was suspicious of the Capuchin Franciscans and doubted the authenticity of Pio’s gifts. He thought that the religious community was profiting from the sales of religious goods to the pilgrims that visited. The bishop complained to what was then called the Holy Office, now known as the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (run by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005).
Both Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI started Vatican investigations into Pio’s activities in the 1920s, and one papal physician, Franciscan Fr. Agostino Gemelli, accused Padre Pio of fabricating his stigmata by using carbonic acid. The mere allegation of fraud — despite the lack of due process or adjudication — led Church authorities to forbid Pio from receiving visitors, hearing confessions, or celebrating Mass in public.
The censures were lifted in 1933, but the suspicion remained, and many didn’t believe that Pio was an authentic stigmatist. Others, a large majority of the faithful, never doubted his sincerity. Area Communists tried to implicate him in financial malfeasance, but again, nothing was ever proved. Another investigation by Pope John XXIII in the 1960s was also inconclusive, but some influential Vatican bureaucrats kept the scrutiny going.
More accusations were cast against Pio, this time alleging sexual misconduct with some of his female devotees. Not only was no credible evidence discovered, but a thorough investigation exonerated Pio of all allegations. It took some time for his name to be cleared; Pio remained obedient through it all and quietly obeyed his supervisors, even when being unjustly punished. When Pope Paul VI was seated in 1963, a Polish bishop, Karol Wojtyla, visited Pio.
This bishop later became Pope John Paul II, who beatified Pio in 1999 and canonized him in 2002. Padre Pio is the patron saint of those falsely accused and/or those whose reputations are destroyed by slander and calumny. Instead of retaliating or seeking revenge, Pio prayed for his persecutors and forgave his enemies.
Last updated: March 21, 2013 at 21:39 pm
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