HE IS the saint invoked by more Catholics than Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, but now it seems Padre Pio, the beloved Italian priest who bore the marks of the bleeding stigmata for 50 years, was a fraud.
A book released next week claims that the "stigmata" Pio carried on his hands, feet and sides were not gained in a mystical seizure as he claimed, but were self-inflicted wounds maintained with carbolic acid.
The book's author, historian Sergio Luzzatto, drew on documents found in the Vatican archive. In one, an Italian pharmacist testifies that his devout cousin, Maria De Vito, returned from pilgrimage to Pio's church in San Giovanni in 1919 with a request from the young priest for a bottle of acid.
"Padre Pio called me to him in complete secrecy and, telling me not to tell his fellow brothers, he gave me personally an empty bottle and asked if I would act as a chauffeur to transport it back from Foggia to San Giovanni Rotondo with four grams of pure carbolic acid," De Vito told the pharmacist, who was immediately suspicious.
Pio told De Vito the acid was for disinfecting syringes, a claim apparently accepted by the Holy See during the beatification process. Pio, real name Francesco Forgione, was canonised five years ago to become St Pio of Pietrelcina. Luzzatto's claims were dismissed by the Catholic Anti-defamation League, which said he was spreading libels .
A recent survey by Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana found 31 per cent of respondents prayed first to St Pio for help, then Mary, and then Jesus.
Did beloved Padre Pio use acid to maintain weeping "stigmata" that led to his canonisation as a saint? A writer says he did.
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