Santo, Audrey

Santo, Audrey (1983–2007)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Audrey Santo was a young woman who resided in Worcester, Massachusetts. Since the age of three, she existed in a state known as akinetic mutism, meaning that she was unable to move and could not speak. In spite of her condition, she became the center of a movement of mainly Roman Catholic believers who claimed that she was the source of a number of miraculous occurrences.

On August 9, 1987, following an accident at a swimming pool, the three-year-old Audrey was taken to a hospital for an examination. The pool incident proved superficial, but the doctor mistakenly prescribed what amounted to an overdose of Phenobarbital. Audrey fell into a coma, and when she woke up three weeks later she was unable to speak or move. After several months in the hospital she was brought home.

As her story became publicly known, people gathered to pray for Audrey. Then, unexpectedly,the stigmata (wounds similar to those that the Bible describes Jesus having at his crucifixion) began to appear on Audrey’s body. Next, various holy objects in and around the Santo home began to exude oil or bleed. On several occasions a Eucharist host manifested blood.

In 1998 the Most Reverend Daniel P. Reilly, the Roman Catholic bishop of Worcester, appointed a small group of scholars to investigate the situation. A guarded preliminary report was made the following year in light of which the bishop neither confirmed nor denied the presence of miraculous events at the Santos’ home. The bishop promised more studies, but he was no longer among the detractors who had claimed that the oils and blood were fraudulently produced. The bishop said merely that they remained inexplicable, and called upon the faithful to refrain from visits to the home because they would interfere with the family’s care of the young girl. The investigators then focused their efforts on the alleged ability of Audrey to communicate with people, because this matter was central to the belief in Audrey’s role as an intercessor between people and God.

While waiting for further word from the diocesan chancery office, Audrey became the center of a growing devotional movement. The oil that emerges from the holy objects in her home is given away to those who ask for it. Two videos, a book, and various objects with Audrey’s picture have been produced and are available from the Apostolate of a Silent Soul, the organization formed to facilitate the devotional activity.

The emergence of devotion around Audrey Santo provoked responses from skeptics. Investigations of similar bleeding statues and miraculous oils, many of which have turned out to be hoaxes, suggest that a more rigorous inspection of the miraculous claims surrounding this new devotional activity would be appropriate.

Sources:

Apostolate of a Silent Soul, Inc. http://www.littleaudreysanto.org/. Accessed March 28, 2007.
“Diocese Issues Interim Findings on Miraculous Claims.” Posted at http://www.worcesterdiocese.org/news/communications/releases/audrey.html. Accessed March 28, 2007.
Nickell, Joe. “Miracles or Deception? The Pathetic Case of Audrey Santo.” Skeptical Inquirer (September/October 1999). Posted at http://www.csicop.org/si/9909/santo.html. Accessed March 28, 2007.