Matt C. Abbott, writing at Catholic Online, has a new piece out this morning on Medjugorje and in it, he has solicited the thoughts of John L. Allen of the Boston Glob and Crux. He also references a piece written in 2013 by Colin Donovan that is a propos. He begins with the news I blogged on the other day concerning ecclesial intervention in stopping recent, public events by the alleged visionaries. He then writes:
In recent days, a source informed me that the aforementioned Vatican commission has concluded that the alleged apparitions are false, "but because of the publicity surrounding [them] and the potential chaos that could result from the announcement, the authorities in Rome are sitting on it for now."
I asked veteran Catholic journalist John L. Allen Jr., associate editor at The Boston Globe and Crux, if he could verify what I was told by my source.
Mr. Allen responded:
"What you describe has actually been the case for a while, reaching back at least to the time when [Cardinal Tarcisio] Bertone was in the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith]. The dilemma is wanting to back up the local bishops versus not wanting to impugn the legitimate spiritual fruits."
I too have heard that which Matt describes, but it remains hearsay regardless. However, I personally believe this is the case. But, I think the Holy Father's reasons for holding back go deeper than what Mr. Allen suggests. Hold that thought for a moment.
He then quotes the last section of this 2013 document by Colin Donovan of EWTN:
"These 2013 letters [from Church officials regarding the alleged seers of Medjugorje] clearly represent a change of pastoral attitude on the part of the Holy See, one which began before the end of the pontificate of Pope Benedict and which has now been affirmed by Pope Francis.
An attitude of seeming tolerance has been replaced with a firm call for acceptance of the ecclesiastical judgments made to date, or at least publicly acting in accordance with them. Whether this is simply to dispose all parties (pro and con) to accept the final judgment of the Church when the pope issues it, whatever that judgment may be, or, in view of a decision of the same character as the previous ones, remains to be seen..
From the most recent statements of ecclesiastical authority it is clear that no Catholic may participate in events which presume the authenticity of Medjugorje. The older statements emphasized only the prohibition of those holding an office in the Church (bishop, pastor, rector, chaplain or other) who would, by virtue of that office, tend to lend official sanction to Medjugorje, and thus contradict the decisions of the competent local authorities.
Those earlier statements proscribed pilgrimages organized under official auspices; however, common sense suggests that a conference or other activity sponsored by a diocese, parish or other Catholic institution was also prohibited."
Colin's assessment here is accurate, and there has been a change in tone - even more so after that was written with additional interventions, the latest being in Italy where Medjugorje has a great following given it's close proximity. Even I was surprised to see this because the alleged visionaries pretty much had freedom, if not by bishops inviting them outright, then by bishops turning a blind eye to their visits. I say this because it flies in the face of episcopal etiquette for a diocese to host visionaries from another diocese, enabling them to engage in public activities that are forbidden in the original diocese. That they could give testimony, especially on Church property in Italy when no bishop in Bosnia-Herzegovina would permit it is further injury.
Why would the Holy Father hold back?
Speculation alert: This is only speculation, and it's only as good or as bad as anyone else's speculation.
Let's look past the low-hanging fruit. To avoid making a decision known publicly on the basis that it will be unpopular flies in the face of Church history. Similarly, to keep that decision hidden out of deference to the good spiritual fruits, is to dismiss negative spiritual fruits. Moreover, it would mean the Church acts on the notion that the ends justifies the means or that truth could somehow be sacrificed for the sake of good fruits. These popular opinions are what have scandalized so many faithful Catholics when it comes to Medjugorje. I have not been scandalized because I believe there are alternate explanations as to why the Church has not pronounced what it knows publicly.
No matter how many reasons people can come up with as to why the Church took so long to get involved in what was once a local ecclesial matter, what is often missed are some simple facts.
First, the last full commission ended, if memory serves, in April of 1991, with the judgment that it cannot be affirmed there is anything supernatural in the alleged apparitions. In a matter of weeks after that, the former Yugoslavia was in the midst of a full blown civil war. I've often wondered if the Zadar Declaration would have read the same way if the bishops back then didn't have to be concerned with what was about to befall them all very quickly. Perhaps in time we will learn from the bishops how deteriorating conditions back then led to a rapid close of that commission and the present status of the Zadar Declaration. It was said that the bishops were planning to reconvene, but of course, the country disintegrated and ultimately led to Medjugorje being contained in the tiny country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They dropped from about 20 bishops down to just four. Medjugorje had spread well beyond the boundaries and all throughout the world by 1995-96 when the war had ended. Few would accept a declaration on a matter that impacted Catholics well past their boundaries.
People in other countries expected a new Commission, or the intervention of the Holy See, but often through a lens that gave no consideration for the devastation those bishops were faced with at the time. I believe both the Bishops Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Holy See, were more concerned with a great humanitarian crisis that befell people in that region. It's difficult to justify making Medjugorje a focus while people dealt with death all around them, and others trying to get by without limbs, and the lack of shelter, food, jobs, a multitude of orphans, and ongoing political and ethnic tensions. Is it any wonder that it took just over 10 years for the Holy See to form the international commission with intent to answer the question of Medjugorje? The timing was about right as people there, bishops included, were emerging from the fallout of war, albeit still suffering in many ways.
Many reporters can tell you about Medjugorje; very few can tell you off the top of their heads what the bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina's greatest concerns are. Perhaps some worthy reporters will speak to the bishops there ahead of the visit by Pope Francis and dig into that question. I believe all the bishops speak fluent Italian.
If you want to know why I think we have not heard the Holy See or Pope Francis make a definitive pronouncement on Medjugorje, it's because I believe no one wants Medjugorje to overshadow the Holy Father's visit to the small country this June. Catholics in that country need a shot in the arm, to be lifted up by Holy Mother Church and by Catholics around the world. What they don't need is a lopsided focus on Medjugorje.
Might we hear something from Pope Francis on Medjugorje after that visit? Perhaps. And, perhaps he might find it prudent to make us all wait a little longer. I don't think the Church is intending to avoid conflict by not answering the question publicly about Medjugorje; I think the Church knows what kind of chaos might follow and is choosing a more proper time to share it with us.
Cardinal Puljic stated recently that the Holy Father's visit had nothing to do with Medjugorje at the end of a recent report at the website for the news agency of the BiH Bishops' Conference (see translation of relevant paragraph here). He urged journalists to create a positive climate. There's so much more to Bosnia-Herzegovina than Medjugorje. I hope we can all take the time to listen and learn.
That's my 0.02.
Note: This post was edited for clarity.
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