PW: What prompted you to write The Miracle Detective?
Randall Sullivan: Wonder, essentially. I was curious about an event that had happened very close to home, an alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary that had supposedly taken place in a trailer camp in eastern Oregon. It was the first such apparition to be videotaped, and the Church took it "under investigation." This prompted me to wonder: how would one investigate such a thing? I saw the videotape, and there was something on it that I couldn't explain. And when I talked to the woman who had received the vision, she did not seem deranged.
PW: Where did your research take you?
RS: I eventually found out that all of these claims get back to the Vatican. And through a strange series of events, I was invited—although I'm not a Catholic—to go to the Vatican and speak to two people who are called "postulators." They are a pair of elderly Jesuits who investigate the claims. I hadn't realized how elaborate the scientific and medical testing is during this long process. I also went to Medjugorje [in the former Yugoslavia], as a war correspondent actually. I hadn't heard of Medjugorje, a place that is considered to be, along with Lourdes and Fátima, the most significant apparition site. Another very strange series of circumstances led to an invitation to meet Marjana Soldo, one of the six young people who had first seen the apparitions at Medjugorje. Immediately upon meeting Marjana, I had a conviction of absolute certainty that this person was not lying and was not crazy.
PW: In the book you recount some significant spiritual experiences you had in Medjugorje.
RS: There is this whole prayerful atmosphere in Medjugorje, and I was deeply affected by the place even though I was deeply resistant to it. I had some experiences that I couldn't explain away and couldn't communicate to other people. I didn't want to talk about them, but they wouldn't let go. I had planned to go to Medjugorje for maybe a week, and I wound up staying there for that whole summer. And this was right at the climax of the war. By the time I came home, I really felt I'd become a different person. Other people recognized it too. I still couldn't work out what had changed, but I had encountered some things that couldn't be explained or tuned out, and they haunted me.
PW: What was it like to lay it bare in a book?
RS: Difficult. But the great advantage of a narrative is that you can present your experience without having to justify it. There was one thing that happened to me that I decided not to write about, because to this day I don't know how to describe it or what to call it—a vision? A hallucination? All I know is that it was very profound to me at the time. I eventually decided that I don't need to know exactly what it was. I didn't write about it because all of the questions that it raises are questions that I don't have answers to.
PW: Where do you consider yourself now spiritually?
RS: Well, when I went back to the Vatican last spring, a theologian told me that I seemed to be intent on inventing my own non-Catholic version of Catholicism. But I attend Mass and had my children baptized Catholic, which is probably the ultimate expression of how I feel. I came out of it with a profound regard for the central mysteries that the Church grew out of. I probably believe more now than I ever have. But at the same time, I still haven't been able to bring myself to fully convert.
PW: Who do you hope will read this book?
RS: I hope that people from both sides and all sides will read it. It honors the point of view of both believers and skeptics. It's possible that it will offend certain rigidly devout people as well as severe skeptics. But I think that anyone between those extremes could read this book and feel that it is speaking to them. It's a reconciliation of faith and doubt. That's what the whole book is about, essentially: you don't have to give up doubt to have faith.