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Church declares weeping Virgin statue a hoax and chases the missing donations

Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
Aug. 6, 2004
Mark Todd • Thursday August 5, 2004

After finding that a statue of a weeping Virgin Mary was an elaborate hoax, the Catholic Church is investigating another mystery: where is the money donated by the faithful who came to see it?

The Vietnamese Catholic Centre, in the working-class western Brisbane suburb of Inala, collected an undisclosed sum of money from thousands of visitors

The centre is raising funds for extensions and refurbishment, but Father Joseph Liem has said that much of the money went into a poverty fund to help people in Vietnam and Africa.

“I just want to find out if there was any connection between the actual phenomenon that happened there and the collections that came in at that time,” the Archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, said yesterday.

“There’s been accusations it was driven by a money-making process and it was a phenomenon organised by someone to bring in funds for the centre. There are so many accusations and counter-accusations that I just don’t know what’s the truth of the matter.”

The archbishop hopes to conclude the investigation soon.

Father Joseph was not available for comment yesterday.

Apart from taking in donations, the centre received money from the sale of statues, crucifixes and other religious objects. Archbishop Bathersby said the centre denied any association with souvenir DVDs offered for sale on its internet site.

After a two-month investigation using X-rays and mass sprectroscopy, the Catholic Church found that the weeping statue appeared to be a marvellous event but was no miracle.

The report suggested the oil could easily have been injected into the statue with a syringe – two tiny holes were found in the base – or rubbed in.

The oil, commercially available Rose otto (or Bulgarian rose) oil, flowed when candles or lights warmed the statue.

The statue has been removed from public veneration by order of the archbishop. It is now in a display cabinet in a hall to the side of the chapel, looking out over a model of the community centre with its proposed extensions.

At the height of the religious fervour that gripped the centre, hundreds of people – true believers and the plain curious – flocked to see the statue each day. Now the car park is almost empty and, except during evening Mass, the worshippers can be counted on two hands.

“I still believe in my heart,” said one person who was there to pray. “Just because someone says it did not happen here … we still believe it was a miracle.”

Read the Sydney Morning Herald online

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