‘The Seton Miracles’: Pr. William church weeping statue reports continue to spark interest — but no official inquiry

Who knew the subject of miracles was so sensitive? Some of you may remember the flood of publicity that came … Continued

Who knew the subject of miracles was so sensitive?

Some of you may remember the flood of publicity that came to a Roman Catholic parish in Prince William County, Va., in the early 1990s after hundreds of people witnessed what appeared to them to be multiple statues weeping in the presence of one of the parish’s priests. The statues were mostly of the Virgin Mary. People said crucifixes and pictures wept, too, some profusely.

Yet even as media and buses of pilgrims descended upon St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, leaders of the Arlington Diocese played it down, issuing a statement in early 1992 saying they had concluded “there is no determined message attached to the reported physical phenomena, and thus there is no ecclesial declaration to be made at this time.”

Local Catholics took that as a sign to back off and eventually, over the years, the case faded.

But not for everyone.

A small group in Northern Virginia and around the country has held fast to what they call The Seton Miracles and some have recently been pushing the diocese to open an investigation. More than 130 people have signed a petition for a deeper probe and a Woodbridge non-profit continues to sell a memoir of the weeping-statue years written by a lawyer-parishioner at the church at the time named James Carney.

And they seem– seem— to have a powerful advocate on their side.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who often speaks to crowds about spiritual and religious themes, has in the last year or so given several lectures urging Christians to embrace the supernatural, the unbelievable, the miraculous — and to reject what he calls a scornful, skeptical secular elite. In a 2010 speech in Annapolis, Scalia cited the Seton Miracles and said this: “What is irrational is to reject a priori, with no investigation, the possibility of miracles in general and of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in particular – which is, of course, precisely what the worldly wise do,” according to Catholic media that covered the talk to the St. Thomas More Society of Maryland.

Scalia appeared to mention the case again last month at a talk to a Catholic group in Denver, saying: “In Washington … the pundits and media couldn’t believe in a miracle performed under their noses,” The Denver Post reported.

Scalia’s office said he wouldn’t comment or clarify how he feels about the diocese’s decision not to investigate the case. Scalia is a pious and conservative Catholic who has been critical in the past of Catholics who challenge official church teaching.

The issue highlights the sticky business of miracle confirmation in an era when something may not be believed if no one tweeted it.

Yet a Green Bay, Wis., bishop recently became the first high Catholic official to approve a sighting of the Virgin Mary in the United States — albeit 150 years after the fact. And Bishop David Ricken is no outlier; he was last year named head of the church’s efforts on evangelization in the United States.

A spokeswoman with the Arlington Diocese told me there is no plan to open an investigation, as the claim of a miracle didn’t “meet the criteria of a public revelation or an apparition.”

Which is?

The criteria, Caitlin Bootsma wrote in an e-mail, is not about whether a physical phenomena happened, but about what its meaning or message might have been. No message, no miracle, in other words.

“The criteria is based on whether reported miraculous occurrences have a universal message attached to them or not. Apparitions and public revelations both include messages applicable to the wider Church and therefore can lead to further investigation. For example, the Church investigated and recognized as a miracle the appearance of Mary in Fatima, Portugal. In those instances that Mary appeared in Fatima, she encouraged the world to pray for peace. The Church recognized this as a verifiable miracle including a fruitful message for the whole world,” she wrote.

The Rev. Thomas Weinandy, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference committee on doctrine, also said miracles aren’t validated based on their wow-factor, but on what they say.

“If someone says they had a vision of Mary, and she said ‘Abortion is fine,’ then you know dang well it didn’t happen,” Weinandy said. Another factor in weighing an alleged miracle’s truth, he said, is how long regular Catholics stay interested in it.

But doesn’t the diocese’s lack of attention to the Lake Ridge case play a role in why most Catholics lost interest in it?

“For Christianity, the incarnation, the resurrection, weeping statutes are pretty low down on the totem pole. So you got a statute weeping, what does it mean?”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the year that Scalia gave his speech in Annapolis. It has been corrected.

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  • James210

    So, when one questions one’s faith(long haired Brunette) during a service of Mary Mourns, should one beconcerned with a giggling brunette saying the service is about her, not Jesus.

    Hence leading in a question, of procedural- authority(?) with regards, at the change of service, in submittion(?), as to address the “cloaking” in spiritual, recognition.
    Which leads to a passive non-violent – act of disobediance in refusing to aknowledge the subordinate?

    2. considering the nature of extreme “religions” lately-locally, is this a prudent -“rejection” of obsolete practices, in cleanliness?

  • Buffinator

    The position of the Arlington Diocese is absurd on its face. There are all kinds of crazy people running around claiming they have a message from one heavenly figure or another. Their claims are not investigated nor does anyone suggest they should be. But inexplicable physical phenomena do demand both attention and explanation. Pope John Paul II understood this when he declared that such signs as weeping statues belong to the “order of signs. She [Blessed Virgin Mary] is a mother crying when she sees her children threatened by a spiritual or physical evil.” He said this at the dedication of the Shrine of Our Lady of Tears in Syracuse, Sicily in 1994, for heaven’s sakes! That shrine commemorates a four-day weeping of a single holy family bas-relief in 1953. In the 1991-92 episode involving Fr. Bruse dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of statues, icons, crucifixes and pictures wept. Yet the Arlington diocesan officials think there is nothing to investigate??? How about whether these weepings were, in fact, inexplicable and, therefore, apparent signs from God? It’s a good thing these people are not running criminal investigations because, by their standards, unless the perpetrator said something at the time of the crime there would be nothing to investigate.

    The diocese piously asserts Fatima as their authority for not investigating phenomena when there is no verbal message. But Fatima would be a mere blip in the Catholic history books were it not for the “miracle of the sun” that occurred on Oct. 13, 1917. It is disingenuous at best and obtuse at worst to assert that alleged verbal messages are more critical to evaluating these things than the physical phenomena that accompanies such reported messages.

    First Bishop Keating and now Bishop Loverde have shamefully evaded their responsibility to both God and their “flocks” if these weeping statues etc. were phenomena that cannot be explained by natural or human causes. The Pope and the Archbishop of Sicily h

  • ministryvalues

    The events that took place in Woodbridge va years ago and I have never forgotten them for some reason. About six months ago I picked up the phone and called the priest who was at the center of the phenomena- he is still a priest in Klimarnock va.
    I asked him if it was all true about the weeping statues and if he still believes . He said -absolutely. Then he told me a story about an evening when there were seven priests at his rectory in Woodbridge. One priest was extremely skeptical. Suddenly a statue in the room started weeping. They took turns holding the statue and they were all amazed at the undeniable miracle. Father Bruse says he still really remembers that night

  • nkri401

    Talking about miracles…

    “Astronomers have spotted the most distant object yet confirmed in the universe – a self-destructing star that exploded 13.1 billion light years from Earth. It detonated just 630 million years after the big bang, around the end of the cosmic “dark ages”, when the first stars and galaxies were lighting up space.”

    And here we are talking about weeping statues.

  • catatonicjones

    Consider a word: condensation.

  • ElNino1


  • ElNino1

    Ok – so someone who will decide the legality of healthcare believes in the supernatural and crying statues? Great.

  • ministryvalues

    to El nino1 – you are going to die one day and and you waste your time worrying about the legality of healthcare.

  • catatonicjones

    everybody’s going to die one day, do you mind if I worry about what I’m going to have for supper?

    Tell you what, you worry about your own sorry butt dying, we’ll worry about ours.

  • Buffinator

    to nkri401 — and how is an exploding star a miracle? It is fully explainable by science. A miracle is something that is inexplicable in terms of science and natural causes. Plastic, fiberglass and porcelain statues shedding water from the eyes is not explainable by science unless there is fraud involved or some natural cause that we have not identified yet. That’s why the diocese should investigate.

  • Buffinator

    to catatonicjones — consider a word: ignorant. It means not knowing anything at all about a topic, which clearly applies to your knowledge of the events in question. Read the book and inform your brain before you open your mouth.