JUNE 29, 2013
Catalina Rivas – Jesus’ ‘little cockroach’
Stigmatist or plagiarist?
Fr Justo Lofeudo
Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2012 10:58 PM
Subject: Re: A FRIEND OF JAVIER LOPES TORRES: FROM INDIA, INTRODUCING MYSELF
In a few minutes from now, I will celebrate Mass and you and your family will be present. This is the time, time of great confusion created by Satan, that the Church needs apologists like you. And not only prophets who proclaim the Gospel but who denounce the error and evil that surrounds us. I often see that when touched issues like false seers such as Catalina Rivas or Vassula
Ryden, I’m attacked. Same with yoga, which in the West, as you very well know, is being considered as a gym (!) Or homeopathy. We are in spiritual battle and we need to speak up and also to pray and pray. I pray for you, you pray for me and my Perpetual Adoration’s mission. I bless you and your family.
P. Justo Antonio Lofeudo MSE, Rome
Well, that’s one good priest who holds that Catalina Rivas is not a genuine mystic even though her messages are mainly about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Who is Catalina Rivas? There is a lot of information about her on the Internet. Since I am more interested in criticism of her, and there is very little of that to be found, I will reproduce a little of the former and all that I retrieved of the latter so that the reader may decided for himself/herself as to what the truth is.
Click here to view a list of approved Marian apparition claims
The Holy Mass Explained to Catalina by Jesus and Mary
Catalina Rivas of Cochabamba, Bolivia, who now dwells in Mérida, Yucatán, México. She is said to receive Messages from Jesus, Mary, and the angels. She has the approval of her Bishop, René Fernández Apaza, who has given his imprimatur to her Messages. The following text is the reproduction of booklet, “The Holy Mass,” in which Our Lord and Our Lady explain to Catalina what is really going on during the Mass in the spiritual realm, and how we should be more concentrated on the great mysteries that are taking place.
Bo. Daniel Gagnon, OMI, of the Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Archdiocese of Mexico, wrote about this book: “I do not find anything against the faith or the customs of the Church. It is not my function to confirm its supernatural character; nevertheless, I recommend it for its spiritual inspiration.”
The testimony of Catalina on the Holy Mass […]
Catalina’s Testimony on the Holy Mass
The following is taken from the writings of the Bolivian mystic Catalina Rivas. The visions described below are the product of divinely inspired mystical experiences. Through these moving images, God seeks to underscore the importance of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and tell the whole truth about what transpires during every Holy Mass.
The church authorities of Cochabamba, headed by Archbishop René Fernandez Apaz, have endorsed Catalina’s mystical experiences and given their permission for these writings to be published. […]
Not all reports of private revelation are valid, even if they sound truly pious. For instance, the messages reported from God by Catalina Rivas were later found to correspond to exact pages of books written by others, and published instructional literature for Catholic seminarians.
Apparitions not approved by church authorities
Not all reports of visions and apparitions are taken seriously by church authorities. For instance, the messages reported by Catalina Rivas were later found to correspond to exact pages of books written by others, and published instructional literature for Catholic seminarians.
Visions of Jesus and Mary
Controversies: Another example is messages from Jesus reported by Catalina Rivas, which have been exposed in a number of cases as less than truthful. A number of messages which Rivas reported as having been received from God were later found to correspond to exact pages of books previously written by other authors (e.g. José Prado Flores), and published instructional literature for Catholic seminarians.
Catalina Rivas – Any ideas on her?
March 15, 2007
Q: I just received a magazine called “Love One Another” from the Society of Christ. One of the articles talked about a lady named Catalina Rivas, who is to be a stigmatist and a visionary. Does anyone know anything about her? Is she accepted by the Church as a “true” stigmatist?
A1: Katya Rivas has received an official imprimatur from the Catholic Church for several books.. In May 1999, Archbishop Fernandez, in sympathy with the sentiments of Pope John Paul II, formally approved the formation of the Apostolate of the New Evangelization.
I have a video of a Fox documentary, Signs from God: Science tests Faith, where Rivas is interviewed by journalist Mike Willessee. He went into it expecting to expose a fraud and, instead, it contributed to his return to the Church after 30 years.
You can read about it here http://www.loveandmercy.org/loveandm…deo/index.html
A2: There are only two people accepted by the Church as “true” stigmatics, St. Paul and St. Francis. The stigmata in and of themselves mean nothing. There’s no way presently to distinguish between truly spiritually given stigmata and those that are merely psycho-somatic. So other things are looked for. St. Pio, for example, was NOT canonized for bearing the stigmata (which disappeared shortly before he died), but for his signal spiritual gifts.
Katya Rivas – Stigmata?
October 18, 2007
Q: I have no clue how I found this, but here we go. Apparently there was some special on Fox that looked at stigmata and weeping statues or something. Look at these sites and tell me what you guys think.
A1: I think that this is something to be very careful about. This is one of those spirits that must be carefully tested. Some “stigmatists” have been found to have a psychological condition rather than holiness. I mean, even in the times of St. Teresa of Avila that was happening. I also think you need to look at the fruits of the phenomenon. Is the focus on God or on Katya?
A2: The Church has only ever approved one stigmata and that was of St Francis of Assisi.
A3: I would guess that St. Paul had stigmata, since I’m pretty sure the word stigmata originated from Galatians 6:17 where “stigmata” was translated to “marks”.
Vulgate: De cetero nemo mihi molestus sit; ego enim stigmata Iesu in super corpore meo porto.
Douay-Rheims: “From henceforth let no man be troublesome to me: for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body.”
A4: There are a lot of saints who experienced the Stigmata and other mystical wounding that are approved by the Church. St Catherine of Siena, St Teresa of Avila, St Veronica Guiliani, St Gemma, St Rita etc. None of them, including St Francis were canonized because of the wounds. They were canonized because of their holiness.
Catalina Rivas – Any ideas on her?
March 12, 2013
Q: Would like some comments on her stigmata. Was continuous film coverage ever done showing such appearing so as to rule out fraud?
A: I am fascinated by this stigmata case. I watched this video on YouTube that you might find interesting as well.
January 24, 2013
Q: Has the church proved her testimony about what happens during mass. I have read two different versions.
A: When it comes to these kinds of private revelations or visions of Our Lady, the Church does not make official pronouncements so long as they are continuing. The Church waits until they have stopped, or the person has died. Until that time, you will have to view them with caution.
Rivas, Catalina (Katya or Catia)
Last updated July 28, 2012
Catalina Rivas is almost certainly a pious fraud. The thrice-married woman hails from Cochabamba, Bolivia, though she now dwells in Mexico (Merida, Yucatan). Her piety is expressed by her alleged stigmata and her alleged “messages” from Jesus, Mary and angels who, for some unexplained reason, dictate their messages to Rivas not only in Spanish, but in Greek, Latin and Polish. (For some unknown reason, Jesus and Mary don’t dictate to Rivas in English, so her “messages” have to be translated into that language. Many are posted on the Internet.) She does not sign her name to her “messages,” preferring to refer to herself as “la sierva de Dios” (the servant of God [sic]) or “la secretaria de Dios” (the secretary of God [sic]). She doesn’t claim to be the author of her books; rather they are said to be channeled (“dictada a la sierva de Dios”). Nor does she have a publishing house. Her books are sold as photocopies.
Because of her alleged stigmata and “messages,” Rivas is considered the spiritual mother of international religious movements known as the Apostolate of the New Evangelization (ANE) (in Spanish, Apostolado de la Nueva Evangelización and The Great Crusade of Love and Mercy (in Spanish, La Gran Cruzada del Amor y Misericordia) and has followers all over the world.
If asked how it is possible for her to have the stigmata and be a pious fraud, the answer is that she does not truly suffer inexplicable wounds. They are most likely self-inflicted wounds, as evidenced by her performance on the Fox Network special “Signs from God [sic]: Science Tests Faith.”
If asked how it is possible for her to write books in languages she does not understand, the answer is simple: she copies them. She has already been caught plagiarizing the work of José Prado Flores and Salvador Gómez of Guadalajara, Mexico. Her messages from God [sic] published in 1996 as “Renovacion Evangelica” (Evangelical Revival) bear a remarkable resemblance to Formacion de Predicadores (Training Preachers) published several years before she got them from “god.” The work of Prado Flores and Gómez was actually written many years before Rivas claimed to have gotten remarkably similar and often identical messages from god. According to Prado Flores, he and Gómez prepared the first version of their work in 1980, gave it as a workshop in 1982 and published it in 1988 [ISBN 83-7224-026-4]. Their work has been translated into Portuguese (1990), Italian (1992) and Polish (1999). Formacion de Predicadores has been published in later editions with different ISBNs: 03-2001-0612 and 10-4933-00-01. I have the 1992 edition published by Kerygma.
José Prado Flores is a respected Mexican author of Catholic books. He has numerous publications to his credit. Salvador Gómez is the author of Para Un Matrimonio Feliz (For a Happy Marriage). Prado Flores has written to me that Rivas has even kept his Mexican examples in her work, which, he says, would only be understood by Mexican readers. Also, in one of her books Rivas claims that Jesus warns us against listening to the authors of books!
Rivas has not always been such a holy person. She was a “fallen-away Catholic” in 1993 when she saw and heard Nancy Fowler in Bolivia. She even went to Conyers, Georgia, in the U.S. to see Nancy Fowler, a woman who claims the Virgin Mary appeared to her on the 13th of each month (à la Fatima) for several years. (For some reason, the visions have stopped and for various reasons Fowler has dissociated herself from the Conyers people.) It was in Conyers that Rivas claims to have had her first stigmatic experience. For a while Rivas was a Fowler follower, but she broke away and, as mentioned above, is now considered the spiritual mother of another religious movement. (Fowler has distanced herself from Rivas and a group who tried to publish some of Rivas’s “messages”, noting that Rivas claims to have been in Conyers when she received one of her messages but she could not have been there because of an airline strike.)*
Rivas has credibility in part because she has the approval of her bishop, René Fernández Apaza, who has given his imprimatur to her “messages”. He has also given his blessing to a bleeding, weeping statue, claiming it is worthy of veneration. He has even asked the Vatican to declare it a Signum Dei, a Sign of God [sic]. The Bishop is joined in his support of Rivas by Miguel Manzanera, a Jesuit theologian and member of the commission of Faith and Doctrine in Bolivia.
Some Catholics even think that the approval of Michael Willasee, who produced the Fox program mentioned above, is significant evidence in her favor. Willasee, however, has proved himself to be highly untrustworthy. He is either a dupe or a dope or both. He is not without his fans, however. Mr. Alastair Thompson thinks Willasee and Fox walk on water. The able Mr. Thompson is joined in support of Fox with Mr. Michael Cain of Catholic PewPoint who writes
…this time FOX truly has lept [sic] over the wall of division and immorality by bringing us programming that produced excellence in depth and devotion.
Whatever the opposite of skeptic is, Willasee, Thompson and Cain are the reigning triumvirate.
Rivas also has the support of Dr. Ricardo Castañón Gómez of La Paz, Bolivia, who is known as a former atheist and one with a keen eye for pious frauds. He also has been involved with the establishment of the Apostolate of the New Evangelization (ANE), which has centers in Bolivia and Mexico, among other places.
He is the author of Father of All Mankind. Chapter 13 of this book is published on the Internet. He quotes Rivas and says of her, “Catalina is a stigmatist from Cochabamba, Bolivia whom Dr. Castañón has studied extensively. The Archbishop of Cochabamba has given his Imprimatur to eight books of Catalina’s writing which she attributes to receiving from Jesus and the Blessed Mother.” Both she and Dr. Castañón might also attribute some of these “messages” to José Prado Flores and Salvador Gómez, for the English words of Ch. 13 translate beautifully into the Spanish of Formacion de Predicadores. [See Document 1]* *See page 15
Rivas’ spiritual advisor is Fr. Renzo Sessolo Chies, S.D.B., of Bolivia, founder and president of ANE* and an active supporter of the La Gran Cruzada. Prado Flores claims that Sessolo was kicked out of his religious order.
Not everyone has been taken in by Catalina Rivas. Besides those she has plagiarized, she has apparently lost favor with Juan Cardenal Sandoval Iñiguez, the Bishop of Guadalajara, who cancelled a scheduled appearance in Guadalajara by Rivas last summer (2001) after Prado Flores showed the bishop copies of his book and her “messages”. Prado Flores wrote to me:
Catia was scheduled to appear in Guadalajara, Mexico where I now live. You can understand my total amazement when I put 2 and 2 together and figured out the famous “visionary and stigmatist” was the same lady that had “stolen” my book. A friend showed me a set of books which were to be sold during the convention. We then went to the bishop of Guadalajara, Juan Cardenal Sandoval Iñiguez, who after seeing our study on her material immediately cancelled her participation. This of course made her write a letter accusing me of “stealing” her visions to write my book.
According to Prado Flores, Rivas sent a letter to Fr. Argulo, who had invited her to Guadalajara, in which she made the accusation that they “stole her visions.” How this was possible, since her visions and “messages” occurred many years after their book, is left to the reader to discern.
Reader comments, September 3, 2009
I cannot believe that you can actually say that Catalina Rivas is a fraud. I watched the documentary in which a skeptic was with her before the stigmata appeared and stayed with her until the stigmata was gone (the next day by the way). The doctor there said that the wounds she had were impossible by medical terms [?] to disappear in one day. Also, the man who conducted the test (who by the way started out as a skeptic) found that there was no fraud there. You speak of her three marriages, as if she were doomed for it. Well, Jesus forgave a criminal while on the cross. And the man he gave the keys of the church to was a murderer and criminal before he followed Jesus. Be careful with your accusations because the bible says that with the tape you measure shall you be measured. God Bless You.
Your sister in Christ, Maria Lourdes Mikula
St. Peter was a murderer? I don’t remember being taught that in parochial school. I like the idea of forgiveness, however, and wish more people would engage in that emotion.
Anyway, I don’t say she’s a fraud; I say she’s a pious fraud. The so-called skeptic you refer to, Michael Willesee, may have been introduced by Giselle Fernandez as “an internationally respected journalist,” but Willesee is actually recognized as an internationally ridiculed buffoon. I am constantly being reminded by viewers like you of the power of television to deceive. Fernandez and Willesee have a story to tell, but it is not the complete story. It is selective and deceptive in its presentation. Without knowing a little bit more about these folks, it is difficult to see how they try to manipulate the viewer.
The program you refer to was shown by the Fox Network and is called “Signs from God: Science tests Faith.” In reality, it should have been called “Dollar Signs: Fox Tests Gullibility.”
Fernandez and Willesee take viewers on an uncritical tour through exotic places like Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Monterrey, Mexico, to “scientifically” examine an uneducated woman who writes books in Greek and Latin dictated to her by Jesus, and who is filmed while apparently undergoing a stigmata; weeping and bleeding statues; and rose petals with “miraculous” images of Jesus and Mary. You might ask why Jesus would speak to Catia in Greek and Latin. It’s not because those were languages he excelled in but because those were languages that other writers had already published and she could easily copy them.
The program was mostly a rehash of “For All Humanity,” a film produced several years ago by Ron Tesoriero, an Australian lawyer, about Catalina “Catia” Rivas, the bleeding statue of Cochabamba, and Nancy Fowler, a nurse who started having visions in 1985 and began causing traffic jams near Conyers Hill in Georgia when word got out that the Virgin Mary was appearing there on the 13th of the month. (The 13th is special for Mary visionaries since she allegedly appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal, on the 13th of May, 1917)
Fernandez does not pretend to be anything more than the host, even if a gushing and fulsome one. The program’s credibility depends primarily on the reputation of Willesee. Who is he?
Willesee is introduced by Fernandez as an “internationally respected journalist” and declares that it is “an honor to work alongside” him. She proclaims that he is renowned for his “skepticism and investigative abilities.”
The truth is that Willesee is not much of a skeptic, even though his reporting on such topics as psychic ability, dowsing, and acupuncture earned him the 1987 Responsibility in Journalism Award from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (now known as CSI, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry)*. *See page 7
The program demonstrates that he is not much of an investigator, however. His honesty might be questioned as well, based on the fact that he does not mention Tesoriero or his work by name, even though Willesee’s program is largely a rip-off of the lawyer’s documentary on “scientifically inexplicable happenings.”
Willesee only says that “a lawyer” got him interested in the subject and states that his own film was “seven years in the making.” The bulk of “Signs from God,” however, revisits Tesoriero’s work on Catia (identified as “Katya” by Fox), including interviews with the same “experts” that Tesoriero used, such as Dr. Ricardo Castoñan, a Bolivian psychologist who claims he’s investigated many miraculous claims and found that most of them were authentic. The credits for the program list Tesoriero as one of the “segment producers.” That is the only recognition he is given.
Willesee was an Australian television broadcaster who did a Current Affairs program for some thirty years before quitting. He found God and returned to the Catholicism of his youth (though he’s been divorced twice) due to his belief that God intervened and saved him from dying in a plane crash in 1998. In 1997, he was listed as one of the top 200 richest men in Australia by Business Review Weekly. Things got even better in 1998. After making a few dollars in radio and real estate investments, he turned to filmmaking. His first film was on “primitive tribes.”
Willesee’s critical skills were revealed early in the Fox program with his comment on the main proof that Jesus dictates books on theology in Greek to “Katya” Rivas: she has the “imprimatur” of the local bishop. Maybe he doesn’t know what an imprimatur is. It is not a seal of approval that a miraculous claim has been authenticated. The imprimatur indicates only that the material is doctrinally sound, not heresy, according to an official censor. Later, he asserts that he believes that blood from a “bleeding” statue of Jesus, which was determined by a scientific lab test to be the blood of a human female, was that of the Virgin Mary! Even Fernandez balked at that speculation. (He also had a CAT scan done of the “bleeding weeping” statue, but for what reason one can only guess.) When two scientists reproduced holy images on rose petals by pressing holy medals into the petals, Willesee commented that they didn’t “completely answer” the question of whether the Monterrey, Mexico, petals were authentic. He also claims that since the Mexican rose petals were not for sale, there was no possible motive for deceit. Hence, he believes God is involved in their production. This I notion that if money is not a motive, the probability that the “miracle” is authentic increases, was stated at the top of the program by Willesee. (He also is impressed if the claimant does not have a “cult” following and is humble.) He seems completely oblivious to the possibility of pious fraud or mental disorders that might motivate a person to deceive for Jesus.)
Finally, Willesee’s objectivity, skepticism, and critical skills should be questioned if only because the film is so one-sidedly Catholic. Not only do his alleged miracles that science can’t explain involve only Catholics, his experts are Catholics, including the one expert he brings in as a skeptic, Fr. Peter Stravinskas, editor of “The Catholic Answer.”
Nevertheless, even a pious though uncritical investigator who thinks he is doing God’s work might stumble upon a true miracle. Does Willesee’s film demonstrate anything of interest to those looking for a miracle? To me, the only miracle is that anyone takes his work seriously.
The program made it clear at both the beginning and the end that there is some connection between natural disasters and claims of apparitions of Jesus and Mary. I can understand the dramatic effect of trying to connect apparent apparitions with doomsday prophecies and the spate of bad weather we’ve had on this planet during the last decade, but I can’t say that this was a particularly unique decade weather-wise. It is easy to get people to think of weather and natural disasters in terms of human time, rather than geologic time. Comparisons of one decade with another or even one century with another are, however, misleading. Which assumption do you prefer: an All-Good God created the world in such a way that floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves, etc., would be a regular feature of life on earth; or, an All-Good God created the world as a benign place but intentionally destroys us on a regular basis to remind us to stop sinning? I think both views are absurd. Even more absurd, however, is the belief that God reveals trivial messages to us, such as “repent” or “Remember: I came to save you.”
The film itself does not provide anything of interest except as a lesson in how not to do a scientific investigation of such matters. For example, the main proof that the voices Katya hears (giving her theology lessons in Spanish, Greek and Latin) and the images she sees are not delusions or hallucinations or lies is that when she was given an EEG she produced measurable delta waves while awake. (Delta waves usually occur only during sleep.) If this segment was authentic, all it proves is that Katya has an abnormal brain. Where is the Rosetta stone that declares that God speaks in delta waves? (Note: the film was edited to make it appear that Katya and the doctor performing the EEG [who, for some reason, was in another room behind a soundproof glassed enclosure] were communicating telepathically. We have Mr. Willesee’s word that there was telepathic communication regarding whether Katya has epilepsy.)
The segment of the film likely to persuade uncritical viewers that they have witnessed a miracle is the stigmata segment. Some effort went into priming the viewer by stating that the Catholic Church had authenticated some twelve cases of stigmata, including St. Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio. Without belaboring the point, Katya dictated the conditions for the event (telling everyone that Jesus was dictating when and where it would happen). The film showed her before, during, and after the event. At the start, she has scars, but no bleeding wounds on her hands and feet. During the film she starts to show scratches on her face and hands, then bleeding from slashes, not punctures, from her hands and feet. A blood sample is taken and proves to be almost certainly her own blood. Willesee indicates that he expected the blood to be the blood of Jesus! He asserts “there’s no way” [the wounds] were self-inflicted.”
How thorough was this investigation? First, the film clearly shows that Katya has a rosary with a holy medal wrapped around her left hand and a white cloth clutched in her right hand. On each hand, she is wearing a ring with a protruding setting. Her first wounds are some scratches on her right temple. These are declared by an observer priest to be “consistent” with the crown of thorns wounds of Jesus. Her largest facial wound, however, was on her left cheek. Is this a new wound that Jesus had, that no one knew about until now? Could she have cut herself with her rings, fingernails, toenails, rosary, something concealed in the white cloth? Of course.
Did the investigators make sure she had no sharp objects available to her? No. Did they use several cameras, focusing on her hands and feet at all times, to detect any self-mutilation? No. The cameras focused almost exclusively on her agonizing face and the agonized faces of those watching her suffer. Did they try to duplicate her wounds by using only rings, finger and toe nails, and a rosary? No. Did they even try to duplicate a single scratch using such primitive implements? No. Did they identify any medications Rivas takes and whether she took her meds that day? (Does she take blood thinners, diuretics, etc.?) What kind of investigation was this? If this was the “thorough expert analysis” promised us by Fernandez at the top of the show, then new meaning has been given to that expression. The only thing Willesee did that was remotely scientific was to have the blood tested. The results of that test? Well, they are consistent with self-mutilation. Where I come from self-mutilation is a symptom of a mental disorder. That does not mean that Rivas does not suffer real agony. Her suffering is most likely authentic, unlike the investigation of Michael Willesee.
Two Australian readers have informed me that Willesee left his current affairs program under less than honorable circumstances. They say he appeared on TV appearing to be drunk; Willesee claims he was on medication and was tired and emotional. Matt Crowe described the scene this way:
[Willesee] appeared one day looking very dazed. In between stories he was slurring, mumbling and giggling. Then it all became too much and he burst into uncontrollable laughter for several minutes. He kept trying to compose himself but it was no good. At one stage he had almost fallen off his chair.
Andrew Dare put it this way:
[Willesee] claimed to have taken some medicine, but the fact that he was on air, slurry, giggling and almost falling over ruined his credibility. That show was going downhill anyway into the “We put a suit in to be dry-cleaned with $50 in the pocket and 9/10 drycleaners took the money” and “New diet pills – do they really work – our scientific tests (i.e. they hire a guy in a lab coat with a clipboard) prove it” sort of stories.
Mr. Willesee is probably still giggling and falling off his chair at how gullible Americans are and at how ready the Fox Network is to take advantage of that fact.
One reader, Ermanno D’Annunzio of Adelaide, South Australia, wanted to know how I could explain the “colored crystals” that appeared on a floor painting. I don’t know why I should try to explain it, since Willesee didn’t offer any explanation himself. We were told that the glitter miraculously appeared on a print of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Nevertheless, anybody can put glitter on a print. Nothing miraculous about that. Mr. D’Annunzio wants to know how pictures can cry and how a tear got on a print of the Virgin Mary that was under glass. There are many ways to make statues or prints appear to cry, none of them miraculous. For example, you can surreptitiously dab, squirt, or spray water, salt, or oil on the object. We’ll never know what method was used in this case because Willesee didn’t follow anything resembling a scientific method to investigate the matter. We are asked to take it on faith, on the word of a person who says it’s true. Finally, Mr. D’Annunzio is puzzled by how quickly the alleged stigmatic’s wounds healed. Since we only have the word of Willesee that the after pictures were taken the day after the wounds appeared, we don’t have a very reliable source for this claim. But even if he isn’t lying, there is nothing miraculous about wounds healing quickly, especially if they are superficial wounds (mere scratches). Wounds can appear to be worse than they are in some people because they are taking medications or herbs that thin the blood. A tiny cut can emit a quantity of blood that indicates a larger wound. Also, makeup can do wonders to hide scratches, marks, blemishes, and other signs of our humanity.
Another believer in Katya has written:
Re: your attempt to disprove the story of Katya Rivas aired on Fox.
Just wondering if you have actually looked at or read the writings of this woman? What do you make of a woman with a high school education writing things like this? In these languages etc? Her writings are located at www.greatcrusade.org (archived here). What is your explanation for this? So far, we really haven’t seen hard core proof from you that any of this didn’t occur. The public is not stupid. We all realize that there are elaborate hoaxes out there but the point of faith is believing in what we can see right?
I took at look at the writing posted at the site you mention and found nothing unusual about them coming from a woman with a high school education. Anyone raised Catholic who has heard priestly devotees of Mary preach would be familiar with the messages of her “writings”.
You are right. The public is not stupid, but the public’s faith can be easily manipulated by a pious fraud with accomplices like Giselle Fernandez and Michael Willesee.
Finally, Rivas has been accused of plagiarizing her “messages” from God, taking them from José H. Prado Flores book Formacion de pedicadores (Training preachers), published six years before Catia’s “messages.” This aspect of her life is discussed in detail in the entry on Catalina Rivas.
p.s. You sign off as my sister in “Christ,” so I think I should say that I’ve met many people who are followers and worshippers of Jesus, but none of them seem to be referring to the same person. I’ve concluded that Jesus is what a person imagines him to be. Some imagine a savior, some a preacher of love, some a fire and brimstone angry god, some a kind teacher or moral guide, some a miracle worker, some a healer, some a kind being who listens to their troubles and intervenes on their behalf, and so on. As for harping on the multiple marriages and divorces: it’s a Catholic thing, Catia’s a Catholic, and I’ll just say the Catholic Church doesn’t remember Henry VIII very fondly.
Books and articles
Pranks, Frauds, and Hoaxes from Around the World
By Robert Carroll, Volume 28.4, July/August 2004
It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference.
We want to be deceived –Blaise Pascal
I think Pascal is right. We want to be deceived. Deception is an essential tool for the survival of our species. We might well be hardwired for deceiving others and taking delight in being deceived. On the other hand, there are many times when we don’t appreciate deceiving or being deceived. And most of us feel uncomfortable when we’re not sure whether we’re being hoaxed. Is there any way to reconcile our love of a good prank or magic trick with our hatred of being defrauded or made to look foolish? Is there any surefire way to avoid being hoaxed?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Most of us have been victims of pranks, hoaxes, or frauds. We may even have mistaken one for the other. For example, in April 2002, in Loomis, California, two teenagers got inspired by the MTV reality show Jackass. One of them videotaped his buddy as he ran along a rural road wearing handcuffs and an orange jail jumpsuit that he’d bought at a flea market. Unfortunately, some local citizens and law enforcement officers didn’t know it was a prank, and they pursued the “escapee” with tracking dogs, patrol cars, and a helicopter. Folsom Prison ordered a full-scale lockdown and did a head count. They also did head counts at the jails in Placer and Sacramento counties, at some expense to the taxpayer.
It’s sometimes hard to know whether something is a prank or a hoax or whether we’re being defrauded. The jackass could well have been an escapee. If you saw someone in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs running down the road and you didn’t see the cameraman, your first thought probably would not be: “Ah, another Jackass prank.”
Most of us have heard of the 1938 Halloween Eve radio broadcast by Orson Welles of an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds that many took to be an announcement that Earth had been invaded by Martians. Announcements that the story was fiction were made four times during the broadcast. Welles ended the show by announcing that the broadcast was a “holiday offering”: “the Mercury Theater’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and shouting boo.” The disclaimers did little to prevent many people from believing we’d been invaded by Martians. It’s been called the hoax of the century, but it wasn’t even a hoax. It wasn’t a prank, either. It wasn’t intended to fool people but to entertain them. Yet it fooled many people for several reasons.
1. It was presented realistically and authoritatively.
2. The story itself was credible at the time. There were flying machines, and the possibility of interplanetary travel was easily conceivable. It was not farfetched that some other race of beings might be more technologically advanced than we were.
3. Radio would have been the medium used to announce such an invasion.
Fooling the Experts
We can excuse ourselves, I think, for being taken in by some hoaxes because they’re so believable. But others are so unbelievable, we have to wonder how anybody could fall for them. For example, how could Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, have fallen for the Cottingley Fairy hoax? Two children, Frances and Elsie, photographed cutouts of fairies that shouldn’t have fooled anybody. And how could the King’s surgeon and the most famous obstetrician in eighteenth century England be duped into believing that the servant girl Mary Toft had given birth to rabbits?
How did the children and the servant fool such eminent men? It was easy: (1) The hoaxers put on a good game face. The kids didn’t let on that they were making it all up—and we all know that children don’t lie. Frances maintained until her death in 1986 that at least one of the photos was genuine. It wasn’t until Elsie was a grandmother that she gave broad hints that the stunt was a hoax. And Mary Toft must have been a pretty fair actress as well. (2) The hoax fit with the beliefs of the eminent men. Doyle was a believer in the occult and paranormal, so the idea of fairies appearing to children and allowing themselves to be photographed did not strike him as obviously preposterous. He corresponded with Elsie and even wrote a book about the fairies (The Coming of the Fairies). The event was within the realm of the possible for him. And once Doyle gave his nod to the belief, others would follow.
The belief that a human could give birth to rabbits is a bit more complicated, yet the same principle applies. The medical establishment seemed to be willing to believe in this absurdity because of another false belief that was consistent with the rabbit-birth hypothesis: the theory of maternal impressions.
Maternal impressions is the notion, widely believed in eighteenth-century England, that a pregnant woman’s experiences could be directly imprinted on her unborn child. The theory was used to explain birth defects. A child being born deaf was due to the mother having been shocked by a loud sound during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman looked at a blind person her baby might be born blind. Toft, who had been pregnant but miscarried, claimed to have had an intense craving for roast rabbit. She said she admired rabbits, dreamed about them, and spent time trying to catch them. Thus, her claim of giving birth to rabbits fit with the notion of maternal impressions and didn’t seem absurd to the local doctor, the King’s surgeon, or a famous obstetrician, and with their support for the claim Mary’s hoax took root.
Now, I may not have fallen for any whoppers lately—to use Marvin Minsky’s description for unbelievable beliefs—like the Cottingley Fairy or the Rabbit Birth hoaxes, but I’ve been hoaxed more times than I care to remember (actually given the state of my memory, more times than I can hope to remember).
For example, I was once hoaxed by my online editor John Renish, who sent me a link to a Web site with the cryptic note “I do like the part about how women are different from men.” I looked at the Web site and it claims to be a report on the Fellowship Baptist Creation Science Fair 2001. I went right to the part about how women are different from men and found an essay that supposedly won second place in the Middle School Division called “Women Were Designed for Homemaking” by Jonathan Goode (grade 7):
physics shows that women have a lower center of gravity than men, making them more suited to carrying groceries and laundry baskets;
biology shows that women were designed to carry unborn babies in their wombs and to feed born babies milk, making them the natural choice for child rearing;
social sciences show that the wages for women workers are lower than for normal workers, meaning that they are unable to work as well and thus earn equal pay;
and, exegetics shows that God created Eve as a companion for Adam, not as a coworker.
Given other things I believe about fundamentalist creationists, it was not outside the bounds of credibility for me that some poor kid might actually believe this stuff and be encouraged to believe it by his elders.
The caption under the first-prize winner’s picture reads, “Patricia Lewis displays her jar of non-living material, still non-living after three weeks.”
Even the notion that such an experiment would be thought relevant to the belief that life doesn’t come from non-life isn’t that farfetched when you consider some of the other things some creationists teach their children.
But if you dig around a bit on the Web site, there are some giveaways that this site is an elaborate hoax, such as the advice to dress up like John the Baptist on Halloween and scare kids when they come trick-or-treating before sending them off with no candy and a Bible tract. Somebody (actually a man named Chris Harper) had gone to an awful lot of trouble to make fundamentalist Christians look very silly.
Being hoaxed by my editor reminded me that it is people you trust who can most easily mislead you, because you let your guard down and aren’t critical enough. If you’re trying to avoid being hoaxed, here’s lesson number one: Don’t trust people you trust!
I think it goes without saying that anybody can be hoaxed. Nobody is exempt. Even famous newscasters can be duped. Tom Brokaw and many others were hoaxed by David Rorvik in 1978 when Rorvik claimed he had proof of human cloning. Twenty-five years later we saw the same hoax perpetrated by the Raelian Bishop Brigitte Boisselier, who claimed a group she headed called Clonaid had cloned five humans and that proof would be forthcoming. (That’s proof, not truth, that would be forthcoming.) The leader of the group, Rael, was a race-car driver and sports journalist who was known as Claud Vorilhon until he was picked up by aliens near a volcano in France, taken to a planet in the Pleiades, and sent back to start a UFO cult. He says the cloning hoax was worth millions in publicity. Who could doubt him?
The idea of a human cloning is not as farfetched today as it was twenty-five years ago. Human cloning doesn’t deserve to be categorized in the whopper class of beliefs. The whoppers are ones we should recognize immediately as 99.99 percent likely to be hoaxes. The hoaxes I’m going to go over with you now I think are of the whopper variety.
For example, there’s the Indian Rope Trick. How could any rational person believe such a story, which, on its face, is as absurd as that of a woman giving birth to rabbits? This alleged trick involves an Indian fakir who throws a rope to the sky, but the rope does not fall back to the ground. Instead it mysteriously rises until the top of it disappears into thin air. A young boy climbs the unsupported rope, which miraculously supports him until he also disappears into thin air. The fakir then pulls out a knife and climbs the rope until he, too, disappears. Body parts fall from the sky into a basket next to the base of the rope. The fakir then slides down the rope, empties the basket, throws a cloth over the scattered body parts, and the boy miraculously reappears with all his parts in the right places. Thousands of people claim to have witnessed this trick that never happened.
Actually, the only thing needed for this trick is human gullibility. According to Peter Lamont, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a former president of the Magic Circle in Edinburgh, the Indian Rope Trick was a hoax played by the Chicago Tribune in 1890.
Lamont claims the newspaper was trying to increase circulation by publishing this ridiculous story as if there were eyewitnesses to the event. The Tribune admitted the hoax some four months later, expressing some astonishment that so many people believed it was a true story. After all, they reasoned, the byline was “Fred S. Ellmore.” They hadn’t reckoned that their audience, many of whom believe in magicians with miraculous powers, wouldn’t find this story that hard to accept.
Our next hoax is about an event that really did happen in India. Ramar Pillai astounded the world when he announced that he could change water into diesel fuel. He claimed he had some magic herbs that, when added to boiling water, could produce a virtually pollution-free diesel fuel or kerosene for about twenty-three cents a gallon—not quite as impressive as Pons and Fleishmann’s cold-fusion claim, but impressive nonetheless. Pillai was promoted on the Internet as the new Isaac Newton. To produce his fuel, Pillai cooked leaves and bark from a special plant for about ten minutes in hot water. He stirred the mixture and let it cool down. The liquid fuel would float to the top and be separated by filtering. The entire process took less than thirty minutes.
His fuel was allegedly tested at the Indian Institute of Technology and was shown to be a pure hydrocarbon similar to kerosene and diesel fuel. Engineers conducted tests and concluded that the herbal fuel offered better fuel economy than gasoline. One scientist tried to explain the magic by offering the theory that atmospheric carbon dioxide might be sucked in during the reaction. The carbon dioxide combines with hydrogen liberated from water and forms the hydrocarbon fuel.
A better explanation seems to be that Pillai’s stirring stick is filled with fuel and when his mixture is heated up, a wax plug at the end of the stick melts, liberating the fuel. Pillai, it seems, was part of gang who hoped to trick people into buying fuel they’d stolen from Indian oil companies. Pillai was very convincing in his role as a peasant-genius. I remember reading one news account in which he described how he’d been kidnapped and tortured by a gang trying to wrest from him his secret recipe. He described how he’d been hung from a ceiling fan and burned with cigarettes. Poor fellow.
Next, we go to Peru and Dr. Javier Cabrera’s stones. Dr. Cabrera gave up his medical practice in 1996 to open a museum for some stones he bought from a local farmer that depict stylized men who look like ancient Incas or Aztecs. What is unique about these stones is that they depict activities such as astronomy and surgery, indicating a very advanced civilization. Furthermore, there are also stones that are said to show extinct fish and humans riding dinosaurs. The stones are said to provide evidence that the ancient locals not only had an advanced civilization, but they lived at the time of the dinosaurs. The stones call into question just about everything science has taught us about the origin of our planet, ourselves, and other species. The farmer who sold Dr. Cabrera the stones at first claimed that he had found them in a cave, but later admitted that he made them himself to sell to tourists.
Even though this hoax was created for a tourist trade, there are three groups in particular who have endeavored to support the authenticity of the stones: (1) the followers of Erich von Däniken (author of Chariots of the Gods?) and those who believe that extraterrestrials are an intimate part of Earth’s “real” history and were the ones who brought advanced civilization to the ancient Indians; (2) fundamentalist creationists who drool at the thought of any possible error made by anthropologists, archaeologists, or evolutionary biologists, and who relish the thought of evidence that humans, dinosaurs, and extinct fish lived together a few thousand years ago; and (3) the mytho-historians, followers of Immanuel Velikovsky or Zecharia Sitchin who claim that ancient myths are accurate historical records to be understood literally.
Any rational person examining all the evidence should conclude that the probability is about zero that these stones are evidence of extraterrestrials or the validity of ancient myths or proof that men lived with dinosaurs. But if you already believe that extraterrestrials have been among us for millennia, and then you may well find the extraterrestrial account plausible or even probable. Likewise, if you believe that Earth is only a few thousand years old and are well-versed in Flintstone science, then the idea that these stones depict actual events may well be believable to you.
The Visions of Catalina Rivas
Catalina Rivas of Cochabamba, Bolivia, was a “fallen-away Catholic” until 1993, when she went to see a woman named Nancy Fowler. Fowler is from Conyers, Georgia, and for several years claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to her on the thirteenth of each month (à la Fatima). Rivas claims she went to Conyers and had her first stigmatic experience there. You may have seen Rivas in the July 1999 Fox television special “Signs from God: Science Tests Faith.” A more apt title would have been: “Dollar Signs: Fox Tests Gullibility.” In that program, reporters Giselle Fernandez and Michael Willesee took viewers on an uncritical tour to “scientifically” examine weeping and bleeding statues, rose petals with “miraculous” images of Jesus and Mary, and the stigmata of Katya Rivas, among other things.
Rivas is hailed by her thousands of admirers as the spiritual mother of not one but two international religious movements, The Great Crusade of Love and Mercy and the Apostolate of the New Evangelization. In 1996, she claimed she was getting messages from God, not only in Spanish but also in Greek, Latin, and Polish. These allegedly divine messages were photocopied and sold at religious rallies. Her bishop, René Fernández Apaza, authenticated both her stigmata and her messages from God.
On June 22, 2001, I received an e-mail from a man named José H. Prado Flores, who told me that he was “a writer of books oriented to forming leaders in the Catholic Church.” Several years ago, he wrote, he had co-authored a book with Salvador Gómez called Formación de Pedicadores (“Training Preachers”) and that Katya Rivas had rewritten their book as “messages from Jesus ‘dictada a la sierva de Dios’ (‘dictated to God’s servant’).”
He told me that when Rivas, “the famous ‘visionary and stigmatic'” was scheduled to appear at a religious rally in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Prado Flores lives, a friend showed him a set of books that were to be sold during the convention. “You can understand my total amazement,” he wrote, “when I put two and two together and figured out she was the same lady that had ‘stolen’ my book. We then went to the bishop of Guadalajara, Juan Cardenal Sandoval Iñiguez, who, after seeing our study on her material, immediately cancelled her participation.”
Why, you might wonder, would a Catholic author contact an atheist who is skeptical of all things miraculous about this matter? José had read my rather unflattering review of the Fox special, and said he wanted any information I might have that would help prove that Rivas “is a compulsive and professional liar.”
For over a year and a half, I exchanged e-mails with José and his wife Susan about Catalina Rivas. I obtained copies of his book and copies of her messages. I established that he and Salvador Gómez had written hundreds of pages that are nearly identical to the material being published by Rivas, and that the pair of Mexican authors had written some of the material at least sixteen years before Katya’s “messages.” My edition of Formación de Predicadores is dated 1992, four years before her messages, which have page after page of nearly verbatim plagiarizing.
To her followers who ask me how it is possible for a peasant woman with no formal education to write books in Spanish, Polish, Greek, and Latin, I say it is simple: she copies them. It seems obvious that she did it for her Spanish messages from Jesus, and I suspect that if the Bishop who authenticated her stigmata would have put a little more energy into authenticating her messages, he would find the same is true for her works in other languages as well.
Channeling Dr. Fritz
Another whopper began with Zé Arigó (1918—1971), a Brazilian faith healer who, in the early 1950s, claimed to channel the spirit and healing power of Dr. Adolf Fritz, a German doctor who allegedly died during World War I. Arigo developed quite a reputation as a faith healer and psychic surgeon, but his ploy seemed to have been aimed at directing business toward his brother, a pharmacist. He would write out illegible prescriptions for people that only his brother could read. People came from far and wide to be cured by Arigo. His reputation soared after it was alleged that he did a bit of psychic surgery and removed a cancerous tumor from the lung of a well-known Brazilian senator. For twenty years, Arigó’s fame spread as he “cured” and “operated” on thousands of people, including the daughter of Brazil’s president. Despite his fame, he was twice convicted of practicing medicine illegally.
Arigo performed his psychic surgery with a pocketknife and a heavy German accent, perhaps to misdirect people so they wouldn’t notice his lack of concern for medical hygiene.
Arigo died in a car crash in 1971, but Dr. Fritz didn’t go with him. He took over the body of another Brazilian healer who went by the name of Oscar Wilde. (I’m not making this up.) Wilde didn’t last too long before he, too, died a violent death. After that, a gynecologist from Recife, Dr. Edson Queiroz, claimed Dr. Fritz was his. The doctor, however, was stabbed to death in 1991.
The current channeler of Dr. Fritz is engineer Rubens Farias Jr., who heals the astral body with energy healing and does some psychic surgery with unconventional instruments such as scissors. Farias is also unique in that he claimed Dr. Fritz came to him in 1986, while Dr. Queiroz was still alive. I had to consult Thomas Aquinas to see whether it is possible for the same spirit to appear in two bodies simultaneously; it turns out spirits don’t occupy space so they can be everywhere at once. Anyway, despite the dual channeling and the fact that he has also been accused of practicing medicine without a license, Farias has endless lines of people with faith in miraculous cures waiting for a bit of his magic.
Exposing the Hoaxes
Some skeptics suggest that the best way to undermine such faith and enlighten people is to demonstrate how easy it is to fake the paranormal and the supernatural. I’m not so sure. I think we could expose dozens of fake healers, but it would not make it any easier to expose the next one who comes along because we wouldn’t be destroying the underlying belief system that is needed to make the faith healer plausible. I believe this partly due to what happened with a fake psychic and a fake channeler who were sent to Australia to enlighten the people.
In 1986, Mark Plummer, former president of the Australian Skeptics and former Executive Director of CSICOP, and Dick Smith, a patron of the Australian Skeptics, invited magician and mentalist Bob Steiner to come to Australia to perform as a psychic. Steiner often pretends he is an astrologer, tarot card reader, palm reader, or a psychic. After his performances he reveals that he is not psychic but uses trickery and deceit to fake paranormal powers.
For two weeks, Steiner hoaxed Australia as Steve Terbot. He appeared on television programs, gave performances at cultural centers, and in a very short time became a hit. He appeared on Tonight with Bert Newton (similar to The Tonight Show) three times and in his last appearance revealed the hoax, explaining that he used cold-reading techniques and other tricks to deceive people into thinking he was psychic. The purpose of the hoax was to “warn the people of Australia to beware of people claiming to be psychics.” Plummer and Smith had brought Steiner to Australia because of a fairly large influx of foreign psychics who were being welcomed and accepted with incredible credulity by the natives. They hoped that once the people saw how easy it is to fake being psychic, they would see the error of their ways.
Did it work? According to Steiner, it worked extremely well and effectively put an end to the influx of foreign psychics. Mark Plummer agreed. Here’s what he told me in a recent e-mail message when I asked him whether he thought the hoax did any good:
Yes. Before then Australia was regularly visited by “internationally known” psychics. Since then we have only had a couple. Also the organisers are terrified that if they promote someone that person will turn out to be a skeptic.
To put it in a wider international context: Before, there were skeptics groups in most countries [but] individuals had no easy way of checking up on the claims of “international psychics.” Once CSICOP could act as a central library and clearing house and the national skeptics groups started talking to each other it became much harder for such charlatans to operate internationally. Then, with the invention of the fax and the Internet, the exchange of skeptical information has become much easier.
Steiner also exposed a man named John Fitzsimons as a fraud, paving the way for a $64,000 judgment on behalf of one of Fitzsimons’ clients. Seventeen years later, however, I found Fitzsimons on the Internet. He runs a New Age group called Aspects in a small town outside of Melbourne. He leads discussions on topics such as past lives, karma, out-of-body experiences, spirit guides, prayer, healing, White Eagle (a channeled being), multiple personality disorder, mediumship, cults, night terrors, spiritualism, psychic readings, exorcism, Ouija, channeling, Seth, aliens, Atlantis, UFOs, and chronic fatigue syndrome. In short, Steiner was about as successful in putting away Mr. Fitzsimons as he and Randi were in putting away Peter Popoff, the faith healer they exposed as a fraud in 1986.
Speaking of the Amazing Randi, a tour of world hoaxes would not be complete without a discussion of the “Carlos” hoax. According to Randi, in 1988, channeling was the rage in Australia, and an Australian television program contacted him about finding someone who might go down under and pretend to be a channeler. The plan was similar to the Steve Terbot hoax. This time, José Alvarez would channel an ancient spirit he called Carlos. Alvarez would tour Australia, appear on TV, and appear in various venues, including the Sydney Opera House. At the end of a few weeks, the hoax would be revealed. Again, the purpose was to enlighten Australians by demonstrating how easy it is to fake channeling. Like Steiner, Alvarez was very convincing and he had a large following in a very short time. And, in the end, everything was revealed.
Did the hoax work? Was anybody enlightened? I was able to discuss this question at length with both Alvarez and Randi while at the JREF Amazing Meeting in February 2003. Both think the hoax accomplished its mission. In fact, Alvarez continues to take Carlos on the road in an effort to enlighten people with what he calls “performance art.”
What was most revealing about both the Steve Terbot and Carlos hoaxes was how the media didn’t bother to check their credentials or their claims about themselves. The media took it for granted they were who they said they were and did what they said they did. Looking to the media for protection against being hoaxed is probably an exercise in futility. So, here is valuable lesson number two: Don’t expect help from the mass media.
Nevertheless, I sought the opinion of someone in the Australian media and asked him if he thought there were any benefits or long-term effects of either the Steve Terbot or the Carlos hoaxes. I tried to contact Phillip Adams, a well known Australian journalist, writer, and media personality. Adams wasn’t directly involved with either hoax. In fact, he was writing scathing articles condemning the phony psychics plaguing the land during the time Bob Steiner was gathering his flock as psychic Steve Terbot. Adams was out in the bush or someplace where they don’t have e-mail when I tried to contact him, but his assistant, Amanda Bilson, got in touch with him and relayed this message:
. . . He asked me to pass on a couple of comments to you. First of all he wasn’t involved with the Randi/Terbot hoax[es] and is not convinced [they were] entirely successful. Perhaps the media learned to be a little more sceptical—but they soon returned to their old standards of gullibility. And many people blame the messenger for the message, turning their anger on the Sceptics rather than the charlatans. He thought [they were] great fun but, given the attention span of public and media alike, of little long term significance.
Recently, Michael Shermer, of the Skeptic Society, discovered the same thing: It’s easy to hoax people and its great fun, but rather than enlighten people, it seems that you just anger some of them. Shermer used the cold-reading techniques described by Ian Rowland in his book The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading and pretended to be a tarot card reader, a palmist, an astrologer, a psychic, and a medium who could get messages from the dead. He did this on camera with five strangers who did not know who he was or what he was doing. He seems to have been pretty successful in convincing his clients of his paranormal powers. However, when he revealed to them that the whole thing was a hoax, two were so upset that they refused to sign a release to use the material in the show he was filming. Three of his subjects were college students who seemed less concerned about being duped than in finding out when they would be on TV. If any of them thanked Shermer for helping them see the truth about the paranormal, he didn’t mention it.
So what can we learn from all this? Well, it’s pretty easy to hoax people. Pascal is right: We want to be deceived, and that makes it easy to hoax us. Also, many of us already have beliefs that make us vulnerable to being hoaxed about certain kinds of things. Furthermore, most of us enjoy being deceived by a good magician or by someone pulling off a non-malicious prank or hoax.
But we don’t always want to be deceived. We don’t want to be made to look like idiots or be led into believing something foolish. Nor do we ever wish to be defrauded. And most of us don’t like that uncomfortable feeling that rises in us when we’re not sure whether we’re being hoaxed. We know some hoaxes are benevolent and pleasant, while others are malicious and unpleasant. Ideally, we’d like a surefire way to tell the difference so we’d never be hoaxed against our will.
That’s why I wrote the book Don’t Get Hoaxed, in which I explain such things as the hoax-prone personality: the person who is trusting and honest; attracted to attractive people; believes the believable and the unbelievable; and lacks a good understanding of confirmation bias and cold-reading techniques.
I also reveal that if you map out the locations of the world’s greatest hoaxes, you will find that they lay along ley lines that, when connected by a line to the north star at the vernal equinox, form a pyramid with the exact proportions as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Trust me, I teach ethics.
Carroll, Robert Todd. 2003. The Skeptic’s Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. Also online at http://www.skepdic.com
Levine, Robert. 2003. The Power of Persuasion: How we’re Bought and Sold. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Pickover, Clifford A. 2000. The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: A True Medical Mystery. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books.
Polidoro, Massimo. 2002. Ica stones: Yabba-dabba do! Skeptical Inquirer 26(5): September/October.
Randi, James. 1989. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books.
———. 1982. Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books.
Rowland, Ian. 2002. The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading. 3rd ed. London: Ian Rowland Limited.
Shermer, Michael. 2003. Psychic for a day, or how I learned tarot cards, palm reading, astrology, and mediumship in 24 hours. Skeptic 10(1): 48—55.
Stein, Gordon. 1995. Hoaxes!: Dupes, Dodges & Other Dastardly Deceptions. Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press.
Steiner, Robert A. 1989. Don’t Get Taken!—Bunco and Bunkum Exposed: How to Protect Yourself. El Cerito, California: Wide-Awake Books.
Robert Carroll is co-chairman of the Philosophy Department at Sacramento City College in California and creator of the skeptical Web site www.skepdic.com and author of the book The Skeptic’s Dictionary. This article is based on his talk at the CSICOP conference on “Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias,” Albuquerque, New Mexico, Oct. 23—26, 2003.
Claims of Private Revelation: True or False?
An Evaluation of the messages of Catalina Rivas
By Ronald L. Conte Jr., February 8, 2008
In my humble and pious opinion as a faithful Roman Catholic theologian, the messages and claimed private revelation to Catalina Rivas, a.k.a. Katya or Catia, (http://www.greatcrusade.org) are false and are not from Heaven. A list of reasons and examples follows.
1. Association with other false prophets
The messages portray Jesus as implying that Nancy Fowler and Vassula Ryden* are true prophets.
“However, I give some of My children, owing to the nature of the responsibility that I give them, another type of life. I want to talk to you about this. My Love has let you meet Nancy Fowler and Fr. Stefano Gobbi and allowed you to receive many videos and books from other people who were chosen in this era of the salvation of a planet that is sinking into the abyss of sin, of the rejection of God.” http://www.pdtsigns.com/katyaongobbi.html
The implication is the Nancy Fowler is chosen by God and that her messages are true. But there are many reasons to believe that the claimed private revelation to Nancy Fowler is false. See my article on the subject:
After seeing a videotape of Vassula Ryden*, Catalina received the following message, supposedly from Jesus:
“She is the messenger of My Peace, you are the messenger of My Love.” 9-Jan-96
However, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has repeatedly condemned Vassula Ryden‘s* messages. See number 13 on this page: http://www.catholicplanet.com/apparitions/index.htm
*At this ministry’s web site, there are over 60 reports and articles exposing Vassula Ryden as a false mystic –Michael
2. Worldly language and ideas
Jesus is repeatedly portrayed as speaking in a worldly manner, not in a heavenly manner, and not at all like the manner of speaking so clearly presented, in many passages, in all four Gospels of the New Testament.
For example, ‘Jesus’ refers to Catalina as “my cucarachita,” which means “my little cockroach.” Jesus uses worldly expressions, such as: “Do not cry over spilt milk.”
The messages repeatedly claim that Jesus is asking for prayers for the former USSR, which no longer exists:
“My daughter, much beloved, today I want your prayers for the conversion of the former USSR… Yes, you heard correctly, for the former USSR.”
Again, a worldly expression is used: ‘you heard correctly.’ In the following quote, Jesus is portrayed as complaining in a worldly manner, as pressuring people to join Catalina’s group, and as if he is frustrated and powerless himself.
“It is each one’s decision to belong to this group or to ruminate over the frustration of having failed Me in the things that are truly important to Me… It is very sad to see every instant on earth that indeed the commandment of love of neighbor is destroyed by selfishness, envy, hatred, division and, in this way, the dignity of God’s creatures is crushed by the anvil of interior slavery, which makes them victims of disorderly passions” (from Catalina’s book called ‘Divine Providence,’ chap. 2)
The emphasis in the quote above is love being destroyed by evil and on God’s creatures being crushed by interior slavery and disorderly passions. These are the words of fallen angels, not the words of Jesus who is Love. Jesus does not give messages describing love and God’s creatures being destroyed and crushed by what is evil.
“The responsibility that I place in the hands of My chosen ones implies an enormous quota of persecutions, suffering and bitterness.”
“In the majority of cases, I and My Word have been the nucleus…. In some cases the group has grown and therefore, strengthened its work; widened its radius of action. They have won over more and more souls for Me until they have joined together with another group of chosen ones….”
Language such as ‘the nucleus’ and ‘the radius of action’ and ‘an enormous quota’ are worldly terms, which are fine for us here on earth, but which are not befitting of the Savior of the world in Heaven.
3. A different message from the true Gospel
Notice that the messages quoted above speak as if Jesus were distinct from the Word of God, saying “I and My Word,” as if Jesus were not the Word of God. They also speak as if the various claimed visionaries, such as Vassula and Catalina and Fowler, were “chosen ones,” who will reform the world apart from the Church.
More generally, these messages present the future as if the only salvation were from these visionaries, not from the Pope and the body of the Bishops, with the priests and religious and the whole laity. This gospel of Catalina is offering salvation from claimed private revelation, rather than from the Church established by Christ. This is a common characteristic of false private revelations; the idea is presented that truth and salvation are not found in Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, but in the messages of various visionaries. Such an idea is fundamentally contrary to the Catholic Faith itself. The Faith teaches that there is no salvation outside of the universal Church. But these messages say otherwise:
“The mission of certain angelic spirits is to plant the seed of wisdom in the new nations, according to the divine plans. And once men assimilate them and their intelligence is opened to all teaching and research, they are left at the mercy of their own strength without them noticing the absence of such spirits.”
The above message even goes so far as to claim that angels have been sent to give some new wisdom to the world (some type of truth not found in Tradition and Scripture and in the teachings of the Magisterium). This claim to present a Divine Revelation outside of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture is contrary to the teaching of the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “…no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation…. [The] Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment…” (CCC, n. 66-67).
4. The false claim that the Antichrist is in the world today
“He [The Antichrist] lives hidden; it is as if everything were only eyes that look at the world; mouth that speaks words that confuse and seduce the minds of man, causing them to rush to their perdition.”
“In his pride, his heart full of hatred, he will carry through the most monstrous action, throwing himself towards where the Pope is, trying to raise himself.” 11-Jan-96
This claim, that the Antichrist is in the world today, is found only among the many false private revelations. None of the true private revelations have taught such an idea. Furthermore, Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Saints make it clear that now is not the time of the Antichrist. See my article, ‘The Antichrist is NOT in the World Today’:
5. The false claim that Jesus will return for this generation
“I am about to return to you who love Me and I will return, no longer hidden, but obvious and glorious.” 18-Jan-96
“Wait attentively for My Return.” 23-Jan-96
Again, this is common claim among the false private revelations, many of which also teach abject heresy. But the same claim is not found among any of the true private revelations. Also, the same article cited above also gives good reasons, based on Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Saints, why Christ will not return until several more generations have passed by. http://www.catholicplanet.com/future/antichrist-timeline.htm
6. False teaching about angels
“I shall tell you where these angels come from. When the battle in Heaven broke out, there was a certain number of undecided angels who at the last moment united and fought against Lucifer. Those separated angels were judged by God and are in a special place so that, in carrying out the mission for which they were created, may again possess Heaven at the end of time. However, when their help is needed, they hear the divine mandate and go forth to the place to which they are sent and they fulfill their mission. They do not lead to evil. They have been judged and their state is similar to those souls that are purifying themselves in Purgatory, in order to be able to go to God and enjoy Him.” 10-Jan-96
This teaching is false for a number of reasons. A holy angel cannot be undecided in a battle between good and evil. Angels are not like human beings; they cannot have both sin and virtue in the same person. Angels are simple beings and are either entirely sinless holy angels, or fallen angels who are evil and are without any grace at all. There is no Purgatory for angels, nor anything similar. Once an angel falls from grace, thereby becoming a devil, he cannot repent. Due to the simplicity of nature of angels, they are either entirely good or entirely evil. Those who are evil are obstinate in evil, as St. Thomas taught in the Summa Theologica, I, Q. 64, 2. Therefore, it cannot be true that some holy angels were undecided about whether or not to fight against evil angels, nor that some holy angels sinned, but were given a kind of penance to regain heaven, nor that fallen angels can repent at all, nor that there is some state like that of Purgatory for repentant angels.
7. False teaching about Mary’s role as intercessor
“Before her entry into Heaven, your mediator, the most valid intercessor after Me, was missing but, since then, you have to your advantage, the most powerful and most affectionate Mother.” 11-Jan-96
This teaching is false because Heaven is beyond Time. Mary in Heaven is able to be an intercessor throughout all of Creation and throughout all of Time, because she dwells now with God who is Eternal. Therefore, the claim in this alleged message from Jesus cannot be true. Mary was never missing as an intercessor, not in the time prior to her entrance into Heaven, not even in the time prior to her Immaculate Conception. For the Queen of Heaven is now beyond time and place.
The claimed private revelations to Catalina Rivas resemble the other false private revelations, contain serious doctrinal errors, contain the false claim that the Antichrist is in the world today and that Jesus will return for this generation, and are therefore not in harmony with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus it is my conclusion that these messages are not from Jesus or Mary, are not from God or Heaven at all, and are an example of false private revelation.
Medjugorje, Garabandal, Bayside, Vassula, Maria Simma and Catalina Rivas are all false apparitions that support each other. For example, Vassula’s [false] Jesus will mention that Mary just appeared in Garabandal. Catalina’s [false] Jesus will mention that Vassula is a true prophet. Maria Simma will mention in her book that both Medjugorje and Garabandal are true apparitions. Now what do all of these in common? EVERY SINGLE one of them believe that communion in the hand is a mortal sin! What else do all of these have in common? EVERY SINGLE one is disobedient to the Church!
Immutable deception: Handlers develop rift with Virgin visionary
By James Pilcher, Associated Press, September 5, 1999
CONYERS — The tour bus brakes squeal to a stop, the door hisses open and the sightseers from as far as Louisiana, Mexico and Canada tumble out, hoping for a dose of the mysticism that supposedly surrounds this tranquil farm in Rockdale County. But recently, pilgrims hoping to visit the woman who claims to see visions of the Virgin Mary have been told Nancy Fowler is not taking visitors and has fenced off her house adjacent to ”Holy Hill.”
Fowler denies this. She says it’s just another falsehood from her one-time partners, a couple she is now feuding with. Bob and Bernice Hughes originally created a non-profit organization to support Fowler’s messages and handle the yearly invasion of the farm during each of Fowler’s visions.
And the rift has gone beyond the barbed wire around the house. A suit by Fowler’s chronicler George Collins against Our Loving Mother’s Children Inc. and the Hughes over publishing control of Fowler’s messages has reached federal court. Fowler is planning to file a suit of her own against the Hughes, whose retirement fund owns the land surrounding Fowler’s house and leases it back to OLMC.
”They are trying to turn what I’ve been blessed with into a commercial enterprise,” says Fowler, a 51-year-old former nurse who says she’s been having the visions since the mid-80s. ”And they are trying to put God on the table as a commodity subject to the rules of supply and demand, and take my ministry in a direction that is not pure.”
Fowler wants to recoup the nearly $3 million in donations and book proceeds OLMC has collected since its inception in 1991 — with a possibility of returning the donations to the donors. Some donations were as large as $100,000.
”Our objection is that they are taking assets from a trust and going in a direction that Ms. Fowler does not agree with,” says James Carter, a Madison-based lawyer representing both Fowler and Collins. ”Not only do they not have a legal right to do this, but they don’t have a moral right.”
Fowler says that soon after what she says was her final vision of Mary last October — an event that drew more than 300,000 to her farmhouse — the Hughes began working with Catalina Rivas, a Bolivian woman who claims to have visions of Jesus Christ. She also claims to have experienced stigmata, or spontaneous bleeding from the palms, while visiting the ”Holy Hill” in Conyers, about 35 miles east of Atlanta. Fowler says she has never believed Rivas was genuine, and has doubts about why the Hughes’ have started following her.
”It just makes me think they want to keep the commercialization going even more,” Fowler says.
The Hughes referred all questions to their Atlanta lawyer Michael Powell, who says that Fowler supported Rivas’ claims until recently.
”They didn’t just dream up this ‘new direction,”’ says Powell. ”There are substantial connections between these two until Ms. Fowler and Mr. Collins decided they didn’t like Bolivia anymore.”
Hughes, a businessman from North Carolina, says in an affidavit that he and his wife have only had the best interests of Fowler at heart, and that the purchase of the land around Fowler’s farm was only done to accommodate the increasing number of visitors.
He also says he has personally donated nearly $1 million in cash and property to OLMC since he helped create it. He and his wife have been directors of the organization since its inception.
But Fowler objects to the solicitation of donations all over the farm and on the organization’s Web site, saying that shouldn’t be the goal of a place of prayer. She says she’s removed five collection boxes from her property.
“The pilgrims who come are told they have to stay on the Hughes’ property, almost held captive,” says Fowler. “Maybe it’s because they have a bookstore there for things to buy and a lot more collection boxes.” A divorced mother of a 14-year-old son, Fowler claims not to have taken any money from the donations, surviving only on what she calls “the generosity of friends.”
She says she still has a mission and a ministry, and still receives visions. The Roman Catholic Church has not ruled on the authenticity of either Fowler’s or Rivas’ visions.
“I have been chosen to bear witness to the living son of God, and I don’t see that changing at all,” Fowler says. “But with everything that’s been going on, it’s been hard to continue, and that’s the truly sad thing.”
Document 1 – The Plagiarism of Catalina Rivas
From the book FATHER OF ALL MANKIND by Dr. Ricardo Castañón Gómez (The International Group for Peace, La Paz, Bolivia 1999) taken from Renovacion Evangelica 1996, p. 9).
From the book Formacion de Predicadores by Salvador Gómez and José Prado Flores (Kerygma, 1992, p.11)
Jesus says to Catalina: “Observe My daughter every morning, even when it is still dark, the farmer walks down the path that takes him to his land. His path is well-worn from so much coming and going on the same place. Even his animals come and go alone to the field. His schedule is routine…The case of the fisherman is very different. In the sea there are no roads or paths, new ways will always be taken. Waves are never the same. Every day the wind blows in a different way and a new way has to be invented. Every morning the fisherman stands in front of the sea and wonders: “God, and now, where should I go? Where are the fish today? Therefore the fisherman repeats daily with psalmist: “Show me thy ways, O Lord. Teach me thy paths” (Psalms 25, 4)
Document 2 – The Plagiarism of Catalina Rivas
Comparison of two typical pages from Renovacion Evangelica (Evangelical Revival) allegedly dictated to the alleged stigmatic Catalina Rivas by Jesus Himself in 1996 to Formacion de Predicadores (Training Preachers) by José Prado Flores and Salvador Gómez of Guadalajara, Mexico, taken from the 1992 edition.
Nearly every page of Renovacion Evangelica can be found to correspond to nearly identical pages of Formacion de Predicadores.
From Renovacion Evangelica, “dictada a la sierva de Dios,” [Catalina Rivas] Cochabamba – Bolivia, 1996, pages 34-35
From Formacion de Predicadores (Training Preachers) by José Prado Flores and Salvador Gómez of Guadalajara, Mexico, taken from the 1992 edition. Compare everything from the 4th sentence on to the above.
NORMS REGARDING THE MANNER OF PROCEEDING IN THE DISCERNMENT OF PRESUMED APPARITIONS OR REVELATIONS
PAUL VI/CDF FEBRUARY 25, 1978 & DECEMBER 14, 2011
NORMS REGARDING THE MANNER OF PROCEEDING IN THE DISCERNMENT OF PRESUMED APPARITIONS OR REVELATIONS 02
CDF MAY 29, 2012
PRIVATE REVELATION-RULES FOR DISCERNMENT OF PHENOMENA-FR FELIX BOURDIER
CARDINAL IVAN DIAS PROMOTES CONTROVERSIAL MARIAN APPARITIONS
AKITA, JAPAN-ARE THE SUPERNATURAL EVENTS GENUINE?
CHRISTINA GALLAGHER-THE HOUSE OF PRAYER
FALSE PRIVATE REVELATION OF MICHAEL DIBITETTO – RON SMITH
FR STEFANO GOBBI-MARIAN MOVEMENT OF PRIESTS
JULIA KIM-MARYS ARK OF SALVATION
MARIA DIVINE MERCY-THE WARNING SECOND COMING AND THE BOOK OF TRUTH
MARIA SIMMA-GET US OUT OF HERE
MARIA VALTORTA-POEM OF THE MAN-GOD
MAUREEN SWEENEY-HOLY LOVE MINISTRIES
PATRICIA DE MENEZES-THE COMMUNITY OF DIVINE INNOCENCE
QUO VADIS PAPA FRANCISCO 02-MEDJUGORJE
VERONICA LUEKEN-OUR LADY OF THE ROSES
Categories: False Mystics