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What will happen to the Medjugorje Report with Pope Benedict XVI's resignation?

Michael O'Neill
February 11, 2013

The world is in shock after Pope Benedict XVI made his surprise announcement of his retirement on the eve of Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 10th, 2013. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said he received the news as most of the world did early Monday morning “I’m as startled as the rest of you and as anxious to find out exactly what’s going on.” It is the first papal resignation in almost 600 years and the Vatican says that it expects a new Pope to be elected by Easter.

An onslaught of questions and speculations have been been bandied about by Vatican insiders and observers about the state of his health, the reason for his timing, his new role (if any), what he will be called (Bishop-emeritus of Rome?), and where he will reside. Will he finish his new encyclical on faith before his final day on the 28th - and what happens if he doesn't? What is to come of his agenda for the Year of Faith? As with any period of sede vacante in Church history, speculation begins about who are the top candidates for the next Pope and will the Church break with tradition with the person they select as successor?

There are many questions that will persist in the month ahead and the faithful will be riddled with confusion over the process and the ramifications. One question that has taken a back seat to all the uncertainty surrounding Pope Benedict's transition is what will happen to the report requested by Benedict in March 2010 to assess the long-running and controversial alleged apparitions that have been reported in Bosnia-Hercegovina since June 24, 1981?

An unprecedented Vatican investigative commission comprised of 17 members in various disciplines has wrapped up the process of interviewing the seers and appears to be in the final stages of completing the report. After much speculation in the media about whether the report would be completed and given to Pope Benedict XVI by the the end of 2012, the commission's president, Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini, said In a January 2013 interview with Rome Reports that he expects a conclusion soon. He commented that “It will take just a bit longer, Not much, I hope. But, it's not an immediate thing. We are a consulting commission, we offer our opinion and pass it along to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They are the ones who will decide or not to release a statement.”

With the imminent departure of the current Pope, it is increasingly likely there won't be a public declaration regarding the authenticity of the phenomena. It is not the responsibility of the commission to inform the faithful of their findings. Rather, the purpose of the commission was to give a detailed report to Pope Benedict and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). As this was an initiative of the Pope himself, his successor may not consider a timely judgment on Medjugorje a priority and will likely take some time acclimating to his new role as leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics before tackling a project so fraught with pastoral implications. Since the start of the apparitions three decades ago, over 30 million pilgrims have traveled to the war torn region often returning with stories of miracles or conversion to the faith.

The controversial apparitions have many supporters within the Church hierarchy but are opposed by others who would have the devotion suppressed as being inauthentic. Others - believers and skeptics alike - prefer that an emphasis instead be placed in our life of faith on other things, namely on the essentials of Christ's teachings and basic practices of the faith. Benedict XVI allegedly visited the site of the apparitions while he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in holding this position was keenly aware of the happenings at Medjugorje. With the uncertainty of the election of the new Pope ahead lies the question about the leanings of the new leader of the Church regarding the controversial apparitions and his view of the role in general of mystical phenomena in a modern Church.

Whether or not the new Pope decides to be involved in any way with the final assessment of the Medjugorje apparitions remains unclear. He may follow Benedict's lead and prefer to be intimately involved as a direct recipient of the report. He may also opt to step back and tend to other matters, leaving the CDF to evaluate the final opinion formed by the commission and decide how to proceed with the information presented. Speculation on the possible actions taken following the commission have included the approval of the supernaturality of the apparitions, the establishment of Medjugorje as its own diocese, the elevation of the local parish to shrine or basilica status, or the rejection of the supernaturality of the apparitions. Many observers have suggested that with no uncovering of a reason to shut down the apparitions as contradictory to the Gospel message of Christ, a status quo will be maintained until more information comes to light in coming years.

The most recent official statement regarding Medjugorje from the Church came in the Zadar Declaration of the bishops of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. They declared that “it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations.” Even though they haven't been affirmed, they likewise have not been denied and pilgrimages have been allowed by Rome. The investigative commission will present whether these alleged apparitions are credible or not and it will be up to the CDF, with the guidance of a new Pope, to decide what announcement, if any, will be made to the world.

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