Regarding Medjugorje - May 2002
THE FRENCH BISHOPS
During the last assembly of the Bishops of France, a question put by a member of the Conference was the subject of a written response by Msgr H. Brincard, Bishop of Puy-en-Velay, responsible for overseeing the Association of Marian organisations. This response was made at the request of the Permanent Council. Regarding some facts having a certain repercussion, Bishop Brincard wanted solely to bring an ecclesial light, which we can hope will contribute to strengthening the unity of the People of God. Is not the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, in a very particular way, the servant of this unity?
Question put: Is there an authorised and official position of the Church concerning the events which motivate pilgrimages to Medjugorje?
We know that a true devotion towards the Virgin Mary(1) is not based on claimed apparitions, nor on those which the Church recognises as authentic, nor on private revelations. We know also that these extraordinary interventions can be signs which we should not neglect once the Church, having operated the necessary discernments, has authenticated them.
Today the events of Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, attract our attention, not only because of their repercussion, but also by reason of the pastoral solicitude necessitated by the numerous faithful of our dioceses who go on pilgrimage to this place.
If we want to have an informed opinion on the subject of what has happened at Medjugorje and what is still unfolding there, it is essential to ask ourselves the question: 'Who has authority to speak about this in the name of the Church?'
THE COMPETENT ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITIES
The Local Ordinary
The norms relative to the discernment of private revelations, published on 24th February 1978 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the signature of its Prefect, Cardinal Francis Seper, specify: "It belongs in the first place (exceedingly) to the Local Ordinary to investigate and to intervene."
There was in fact an investigation, from 1982 to 1986, overseen by Msgr Pavao Zanic, Bishop of Mostar. Let us recall briefly the stages of this investigation:
On 11th January 1982 a commission of investigation is constituted composed of four members (two Franciscan priests and two secular priests).
In January 1984 this investigating commission is enlarged by the nomination of a dozen ecclesiastics "chosen from experts in theological matters from different theological faculties in Croatia and Slovenia,"(2) and medical doctors.
The Yugoslav Episcopal Conference is informed of the work of this commission of investigation. In a declaration of 12th October 1984 this same Conference makes it known that the bishops are asking "not to organise official pilgrimages to Medjugorje [...], not to prejudge the verdict."
On 30th October 1984, with the prospect of an imminent completion of the works of the commission of investigation, Bishop Zanic publishes a report entitled, "Posizione attuale, non uffiziale, della Curia vescovile di Mostar nel confronti degli eventi di Medjugorje'". ("Current non-official position of the Episcopal Curia of Mostar on the subject of events of Medjugorje").
People reproached Bishop Zanic for publishing this document. Nevertheless it is normal that before the publication of an official judgement itself, the Ordinaries of the places concerned by the events concerned publish notes of information in order to orient pastors and faithful and to thus prepare them to receive the judgement of the Church.
The Episcopal Conference
The norms previously cited, add:
"But the regional or national Episcopal Conference can become involved:
Bishop Zanic did not have recourse to the Episcopal Conference. However, on the suggestion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he accepted that the study of the dossier be confided to the Yugoslav Episcopal Conference, as the repercussion of the 'event' extended well beyond the limits of his diocese.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
The sole Roman Dicastery capacitated to intervene in the name of the Pope is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Holy Father never intervenes directly in affairs of this kind.
The norms of 1978 specify:
"The intervention of the Sacred Congregation may be sought either by the Ordinary, after he has fulfilled the obligations incumbent upon him, or by a qualified group of faithful. In the latter case, vigilance will be exercised that the recourse to the Sacred Congregation not be motivated by suspect reasons (for example, wanting to lead, by one fashion or another, the Ordinary to modify his legitimate decisions, or to have ratified the sectarian drift of a group, etc).
"It belongs to the Sacred Congregation to intervene of its own accord in serious cases, notably when the phenomenon affects a large part of the Church; but the Ordinary will always be consulted, as well as the Episcopal Conference, if the situation requires it."
Bishop Zanic did not solicit the intervention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, he well fulfilled the obligations incumbent on him, as this same Congregation affirmed that it "appreciated the work accomplished by the diocesan commission, under the responsibility of Bishop Zanic."
Moreover, let us recall that on 2nd June 1982, Bishop Zanic submits a first report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and, on 26th April 1986, he delivers to Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation, a plan of negative judgement, as the conclusions of the commission of investigation appear to be going in this sense. The Cardinal thus asks him to defer the publication of a definitive judgement
On 2nd May 1986, the commission of investigation votes, in a secret ballot, by 11 votes to 4, against the recognition of the supernatural character of the events: non constat de supernaturalitate. At the same time, having concluded its work, it accepts its own dissolution, the affair being from then on in the hands of Rome.(3) On 15th May 1986, Bishop Zanic transmits to the Congregation the negative finding of the commission.
It is therefore not correct to state that Bishop Zanic was relieved of the dossier.
Furthermore, while the phenomenon "affects a large portion of the Church", the Congregation did not intervene of its own accord.
It is Bishop Franic, Archbishop of Split, who, on 17th April 1985, during the plenary assembly of the Yugoslav Episcopate, addresses to the Bishop of Mostar the following request: "I ask His Excellency the Bishop of Mostar to ascertain the facts about Medjugorge, while also accepting the help of the Holy See and of competent persons abroad so as to act in conformity with the maxim 'cum Petro et sub Petro'."(4)
The Congregation thus applies that which is foreseen by the Norms of 1978:
"It belongs to the Sacred Congregation to discern and to approve the action of the Ordinary or, if such proves necessary, to proceed to a new examination of the events distinct from that which the Ordinary has effected; this new examination of the events will be accomplished either by the Sacred Congregation itself, or by a commission especially established to this end."
The Roman Dicastery charges the Episcopal Conference of Yugoslavia to take up the dossier, with the help of a new commission established to this end.(5) The work of this commission results in the Zadar Declaration of 10th April 1991.
THE JUDGMENT OF THE COMPETENT ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITIES
Up to this day, only the Bishops of Mostar - Bishop Zanic, then Bishop Peric - and the Yugoslav Episcopal Conference (dissolved de facto by the partition of the country after the war) have expressed a judgement on the events of Medjugorje.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the other hand, has never issued an official judgement. It has only given directives of a pastoral order.
The Personal Judgements of the Successive Bishops of Mostar-Duvno
"It is therefore forbidden to claim or to declare in churches and religious communities that Our Lady has appeared or will yet appear in Medjugorje."
These episcopal interventions occurred after long and laborious official investigations, several elements of which are not known to us. It is to be noted that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith never expressed the least reservation regarding these judgements when they were published. Bearing in mind the authority which this Congregation recognises 'in the utmost' to the Local Ordinary, in matters of discernment and of intervention, it would not be wise to take lightly that which the successive Bishops of the diocese of Mostar-Duvno have said.
The Zadar Declaration (1991)
"Based on the investigations carried out thus far, it has not been possible to establish that it involves apparitions or supernatural revelations."
That is what is called a 'non constat de supernaturalitate.' The disappearance of the Yugoslav Episcopal Conference has not permitted this same to pursue its investigations. But the fact that in 1991, ten years after the beginning of the events, not one single decisive element in favour of a possible supernatural origin of the apparitions could be put forward, underlines not only the complexity of the dossier, but leads also to suppose that there were also at the time important questions left with no answer.
The history of the Church teaches us that Rome always remits in fine to the authority and the competence of the Ordinary of the place. That is true for the apparition of La Salette - where the Bishop of Grenoble, Bishop de Bruillard, was able to pronounce, despite the opposition of his Metropolitan, Cardinal de Bonald, Archbishop of Lyon. It goes also for the events of Beauraing (1932-33) and of Banneux (1933) in Belgium. The bishops of Namur and of Liege, dispossessed for a time of the power to pronounce - in favour of Van Roey, Archbishop of Malines and Primate of Belgium, to whom was confided the totality of the dossier on the 'Belgian apparitions' of 1932-34 - in the end obtained the faculty to bring a positive judgement on the events arising in their dioceses, despite the remaining very negative opinion of Cardinal Van Roey and of the commission which he established. It is once again confirmed in Japan for the events of Akita (1974-1981) where Bishop Ito, Bishop of Niigata and Local Ordinary, was able, on 22nd April 1984, to pronounce favourably in their regard despite the opposition of the Japanese Episcopal Conference.
Intervention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- On 23 May 1985, a warning. Msgr Bovone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to Msgr Caporello, Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference. Here is the content of his letter:
"From several directions, we note and deplore - and particularly the competent Ordinary (the Bishop of Mostar) - a real propaganda for the 'events' linked to the claimed apparitions of Medjugorje. A special organisation for the organisation of pilgrimages has been set up and other initiatives have been taken which contribute to sowing confusion among the faithful and to hindering the work of delicate examination which the special commission for the study of the 'events' in question is currently carrying out. In order to avoid the spread of the above-mentioned propaganda and the speculation which it provokes in Italy, despite the advice and recommendations of the Yugoslav Episcopal Conference, may the Presidency (of the Italian Episcopal Conference) consider well the opportunity of advising the Italian Episcopate to discourage publicly the organisation of pilgrimages to the above-mentioned centre of apparitions, as well as every other form of publicity, particularly editorial, judged prejudicial to a serene study of the 'events' in question by the special canonically-constituted commission to this end."
- On 23rd March 1996, then in June 1996, Msgr Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, replies to questions which have been addressed to the Congregation by Bishop Taverdet, Bishop of Langres, and by Bishop Daloz, Archbishop of Besancon. Referring to the Zadar Declaration, Msgr Bertone reminds them above all that the cult is not authorised.
- On 26th May 1998, Msgr Bertone replies, this time to Bishop Aubry, Bishop of Saint-Denis-de-La-Reunion. After having recalled the Zadar Declaration, he adds: "I point out first of all that it is not the habit of the Holy See to assume, in the first instance, its own position vis-a-vis supposed supernatural phenomena."
Addressing the question of pilgrimages, the Secretary of the Congregation points out:
"Finally, concerning pilgrimages to Medjugorje which take place in a private manner , this Congregation holds that they are permitted on condition that they are not considered as an authentication of events in course which still necessitate an examination by the Church."
Let us recognise that it is not easy to apply faithfully this recommendation. How, in fact, to organise a private pilgrimage without it being motivated by the conviction that the events of Medjugorje are of a supernatural origin? Since this conviction is at the origin of the pilgrimage, does not this latter not become de facto "an authentication of events in course which still necessitate an examination by the Church"?
It is just this difficulty which Cardinal Kuharic and Bishop Zanic foresaw in their joint declaration of 9th January 1987.(7)
THE CRITERION OF FRUITS
On this subject, let us make an introductory remark. It emerges from the document published in 1978 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that one must "in the first place" judge the event according to positive and negative criteria and "then, if this examination results favourably, allow certain public manifestions of cult and devotion, all the while pursuing into the events an investigation of an extreme prudence (which amounts to the saying; for the moment, there is nothing against it)."
The examination of the events must, consequently, precede the examination of the fruits. When this order is not respected errors of judgment can arise.(8)
If we examine the events of Medjugorje in the light of the fruits, what do we observe?
It is first of all undeniable that at Medjugorje there are returns to God and 'spiritual' healings. It is no less evident that the sacramental life is regular there and the prayer fervent. One could not deny these good fruits in situ. We should even rejoice in them. But can we say that they continue in our parishes? Difficult question, for we must note unfortunately that the susceptibility, even aggressiveness, of some partisans of Medjugorje towards those who do not share their enthusiasm is such that it provokes, here and there, serious tensions which attack the unity of the People of God.
From where do these good fruits, observed in an indisputable manner at Medjugorje, come? A declaration of Bishop Peric, our confrere of Mostar, may on this point usefully enrich our meditations:
"The fruits, so often mentioned, do not prove that they flow from apparitions or supernatural revelations of Our Lady. But in the measure that they are authentically Christian, they may be interpreted as a product of the normal work of divine grace, by faith in God, by the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ, and by the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. And this to say nothing of the negative fruits."(9)
Finally, it is opportune to ask ourselves if the events of Medjugorje have produced good fruits in the visionaries who, at least during the duration of the "apparitions", must by their life be the first witnesses of the grace of which they say they benefit. From there it follows that we ask ourselves the following questions: "Have they obeyed the Bishop of Mostar? Have they respected him?..." Such questions and still others yet, are habitually part of a serious investigation into an event of apparitions. In order for the investigation to arrive at a solid conclusion, it is necessary that these fundamental questions receive a clear and objective response.
We would like to say nothing about the doubtful or even bad fruits. But the truth obliges us to say that they exist. Let us quote, as examples, the calling into question, even to the point of defamation, of the Local Ordinary as well as the disobedience with regard to his legitimate authority; the exacerbation of the Herzegovina 'question' following the words attributed to "the Gospa", words in favour of the Franciscans and against the Bishop.(10)
In conclusion, allow me to make the following reflection:
"I do not see how I can go to Medjugorje without giving my support, by the very fact of my having come there, to the events who's discernment and assessment rests henceforth with the Episcopal Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such support would fly in the face of a traditional teaching of the Church, recalled in Lumen Gentium and applicable to all the successors of the Apostles (11): "Individual bishops, in so far as they are set over particular Churches, exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them, not over other Churches nor the Church universal."
My wish, which I share with you, is to be able to further in my diocese a real renewal of Marian piety, in having frequent recourse to the habitual means which the Church puts at our disposition and which the Holy Father does not cease not recommend to us.
From the official bulletin of the French Epsicopal Conference [SNOP], No. 1,064 [printed in Documentation Catholique of 7 January 2000]. Translated by Jim Gallagher.
(1) Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, 2nd February 1974.
(2) Posizione of Bishop Zanic, 30th October 1984