March 6, 2015

Where faith and medicine connect

Unique March 15 presentation offers forensic medical examination of the Passion of Christ

Dr. Chuck Dietzen will combine his faith life and his medical insights in “CSI: Jerusalem,” a presentation about the Passion of Christ that he and his colleague, Dr. Joseph Bergeron, will share at St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis on March 15. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Dr. Chuck Dietzen will combine his faith life and his medical insights in “CSI: Jerusalem,” a presentation about the Passion of Christ that he and his colleague, Dr. Joseph Bergeron, will share at St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis on March 15. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Dr. Chuck Dietzen says there’s a simple reason why he decided to buy a Roman spearhead, a nail and a die “from the time of Jesus.”

It’s the same reason he has a full-size replica of the Shroud of Turin, the ancient burial cloth that captures the image of a man who has been beaten, scourged and crucified—leading many people to believe it was used to wrap Christ after his death on the cross.

Those artifacts and the replica will be on display when Dietzen and Dr. Joseph Bergeron come to St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis on March 15 to share their presentation called “CSI: Jerusalem,” a forensic medical examination of the Passion of Christ.

“We need to make it as real as possible so people will understand where their faith is coming from,” says Dietzen, an Indianapolis physician who is a member of St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in Zionsville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“The crucifixion of Christ is a trauma case. We thought, ‘Why don’t we put this together and present it as we would at a medical, legal proceeding.’ That’s how we started calling it CSI: Jerusalem. You start digging into the research of what happened to Jesus during his Passion, and it makes it more real for people. Most people are really moved by what an act of love this was.”

Their presentation on the death of Christ is an intriguing one. So is the story of the lives of faith of the three people who have contributed to the presentation: Dietzen, Bergeron and Barrie Schwortz. A Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew respectively, each of them have been deeply touched by their scientific research into the death of Christ.

Where faith and medicine connect

The bond between the two doctors began to form when Bergeron was a medical student at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis and Dietzen was on staff there.

“Somehow we started talking about Mother Teresa [of Calcutta], and that led to becoming friends over time,” Bergeron recalls.

At different times, both doctors had traveled to India to meet Blessed Teresa at the place where she and her staff provided medical and spiritual care for the most vulnerable people of Calcutta. The meetings spurred them in their desires to combine their faith and their medical knowledge to help people in need.

Since 1997—a year after meeting Mother Teresa—Dietzen has been the founder and president of Timmy Global Health, an Indianapolis-based organization that provides community-based medical care to children around the world.

Working in Christian ministry, Bergeron has made medical mission trips to Mexico, India, Kenya and Ethiopia.

So the connection between faith and medicine has long been at the heart of their lives. Yet, one of the first lessons Bergeron and Dietzen learned about their forensic examination of the Passion of Christ is that some people in the medical profession were upset that the two of them spent their time and knowledge on the subject.

“I’ve been told that you should never mix science and religion,” Bergeron says. “I’ve also been told that Jesus is a mythological figure.”

Those criticisms came after Bergeron reviewed and examined the possible medical reasons for Christ’s death in an article that was published in 2012 in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine.

That article forms part of the foundation of CSI: Jerusalem—a presentation that also focuses on the Roman practice of crucifixion, the controversy surrounding the Shroud of Turin, and a medical analysis of different theories of the Resurrection.

“CSI: Jerusalem is a forensic reconstruction of what happened to Jesus,” Bergeron says. “Short of being there and having medical records, we try to reconstruct how someone would die under the circumstances.”

So the two doctors analyze the beating that Jesus took, the suffering he endured, the sweat and blood that poured from him, and the role that shock may have had in his ultimate death.

The two doctors will also discuss the Shroud of Turin as they roll out the 14.5-foot-by-3.5-foot replica of the ancient burial cloth.

Dietzen obtained the replica through his friendship with Barrie Schwortz, an Orthodox Jew who has become one of the world’s leading authorities on the Shroud—a man whose faith has been reshaped and revived by the Shroud.

Discovering God’s plan

Neither his faith nor anyone else’s faith was a priority for Schwortz when he was asked to be the official documenting photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project, an extensive scientific examination of the Shroud in 1978.

“When they asked me to join the team, I laughed and said, ‘No, I’m Jewish. This is a Christian thing,’ ” recalls Schwortz, who also acknowledges that he had fallen away from his faith at that time.

“But a fellow team member, Don Lynn, said, ‘Apparently, you’ve forgotten that the man in question is also a Jew.’ He said, ‘Go to Turin, and do the best job you can do. God doesn’t tell us in advance what his plan is. But one day, you’ll know.’ ”

Schwortz photographed the Shroud from every perspective during the 120 hours that the research team examined it.

“I realized how privileged I was to be in that room, helping to photograph that data, study that data, review that data and publish that data,” he says. “It forced me to confront my own faith. My faith in God was restored by my involvement with the Shroud of Turin.”

His involvement with the Shroud also led to his belief that “the Shroud of Turin is the cloth that wrapped the man Jesus after he was crucified.”

In 1996, Schwortz started a website exclusively devoted to the Shroud, The Colorado resident also tours the world giving talks about the Shroud and its impact on his return to his Jewish faith. Schwortz sees it all as the fulfillment of the advice he was given in 1978—that one day he would know the plan that God had for him in joining the research team.

One memorable moment from his talks stands out to him.

“I was in California at a mainly Filipino Catholic church,” he says. “Near the end of my talk, a woman put up her hand and said, ‘Do you not accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’

“I told her I was Jewish. She started to cry. I started to tear up, too. Not wanting the presentation to end that way, I told her, ‘If it’s OK with God to have a Jew be a messenger of the Shroud, then it should be with everyone. And besides, I’m not dead yet.’

“The woman smiled. I did, too.”

‘The miracle of Jesus’

While Schwortz believes the Shroud is connected to Christ, its authenticity has been the subject of differing opinions, findings and beliefs through the ages. The Catholic Church itself has been careful to not make that direct connection between the Shroud and Christ. At the same time, the Church recognizes the Shroud’s significance to many Christians.

In 2013, Pope Francis stated, “This image, impressed upon the cloth, speaks to our heart and moves us to climb the hill of Calvary, to look upon the wood of the Cross, and to immerse ourselves in the eloquent silence of love.”

Schwortz, Dietzen and Bergeron all hope to travel to Turin, Italy, this spring when the Shroud is scheduled to be on rare public display at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist from April 19 through June 24. Whether that hope becomes fulfilled or not, they will continue to share their message of faith through their lives and presentations.

“You have to go through the Passion to get to the Resurrection,” Dietzen says. “To me, the miracle of Jesus wasn’t his divinity. It was his humanity. Jesus suffered in an excruciating, painful and humiliating way for us.”

Bergeron adds, “The reason Chuck and I do these presentations is that we want people’s faith to be strengthened. One of the biggest compliments I got was from a trauma nurse who heard me talk at a conference. She said, ‘When I was in nursing school, we took your article and used it as the basis of a Bible study.’ That’s exactly what I wanted.”

He’s experienced the impact of his research on his own faith, too.

“The Passion of Christ affects me at a more emotional level and in a deeper way than it ever has.”

(The CSI: Jerusalem presentation at St. Barnabas Church, 8300 Rahke Road, in Indianapolis at 6:30 p.m. on March 15 is free. Freewill offerings will be accepted. Anyone wanting more information about Dr. Bergeron’s research on Jesus’ death or wanting to inquire about how to schedule a presentation of CSI: Jerusalem’ should visit the website,

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