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Does Vatican Insider have the inside scoop on Medjugorje? 11 things to know and share

Monday, January 20, 2014 11:23 PM Comments (64)

Vatican Insider claims to have discovered some of the findings of the Medjugorje commission. Have they? And what should we make of it if they have?

The Medjugorje Commission has completed its work, and a new phase of the inquiry has begun.

In the wake of that, Vatican Insider carried a story which purported to describe some of the Commission’s findings.

What is the present state of things, and what should we make of Vatican Insider’s claims?

Here are 11 things to know and share . . .

 

1) What is the Medjugorje Commission?

The Medjugorje Commission is a special body of experts that was called by Pope Benedict XVI to investigate the apparitions being reported in connection with Medjugorje.

These began to be reported in 1981, when Medjugorje was still part of Yugoslavia (it is now part of Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Six young people (now adults) have reported receiving numerous visions of and messages from the Virgin Mary, and the site has become an extraordinarily popular pilgrimage destination.

Local authorities, however, have not found credible evidence that these reported apparitions are of supernatural origin, though several investigations have been done.

Pope Benedict decided to elevate the question, and so he appointed a Commission to investigate the phenomenon.

More info on the Commission here and here.

General background on Medjugorje here.

 

2) What has been officially announced?

According to Vatican Radio:

The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, confirmed on Saturday that the international Commission investigating the events in Medjugorje held its last meeting on 17 January.

The Commission, created by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is presided by Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

The Commission has reportedly completed its work and will submit the outcomes of its study to the Congregation.

What happens now is that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by so-to-be Cardinal Gerhard Muller, will review its findings and (presumably) make a recommendation to Pope Francis.

Pope Francis will then be given the Commission’s findings (presumably with the CDF’s recommendation), and he will make the final decision about what—if anything—is to be done.

 

3) What does Vatican Insider claim?

Vatican Insider (part of the Italian La Stampa news service), published a piece by Giacomo Galeazzi and Andrea Tornielli with the provocative headline:

Verdict on Medjugorje nears as Commission claims apparitions are “no hoax”

 

4) Did the text of the story back up the headline?

No. The headline was misleading, given what the story actually said, which was:

Vatican Insider has learnt that the Commission has focused mainly on the first phase of apparitions.

There is apparently no proof of any tricks, hoaxes or abuse of popular credulity.

However, it is proving difficult for the Church to form a definitive verdict on the supernatural nature of a phenomenon that is ongoing.

 

5) How is this different than what the headline said?

The first claim is that the Commission focused mainly on the first phase of apparitions—presumably those that occurred shortly after the phenomenon began to be reported in 1981.

This may be a way of breaking up the work to make it more manageable if the Commission found it difficult to evaluate later apparition reports either due to their number or, as the third claim in the story holds, because the phenomenon is still being reported.

The key point, however, is that if this is the case then the statement that “there is apparently no proof of any tricks, hoaxes or abuse of popular credulity” would likely apply only to the first phase of the apparitions. It would not mean that there was no evidence of these in further phases.

That makes the headline misleading because the headline applies to the reported apparitions as a whole (“Commission claims apparitions are ‘no hoax’”), not just their first phase.

Furthermore, even if there is “no proof of any tricks, hoaxes or abuses of popular credulity,” that’s actually a fairly weak statement.

Even if we take “no proof” to mean “no evidence” (though they are not the same thing), the absence of tricks, hoaxes, or abuse of popular credulity do not mean that the reported apparitions would be of divine origin.

Saying in a headline that they are “no hoax” suggests that they are real and of supernatural origin, but that is not what the article claims.

The headline is therefore misleading on at least two grounds.

 

6) Setting aside the headline, how solid are the claims that the piece makes?

It is very difficult to know.

The main reason is that the piece does not tell us who their source is or even give us a general description of the source and its reliability. It just says “Vatican Insider has learnt” (that’s not a typo; it’s a British spelling of “learned”).

How and from whom did they learn it?

We have no way of knowing.

It would be one thing if a member of the Commission told them. Then we would have good reason to take the report seriously.

On other hand, if they weren’t talking to a member of the Commission, who did they get it from, and how reliable was that person?

Is it just one source they have that claims this, or have they heard the same thing from multiple, independent sources?

There is, both on the Internet and in Rome, an extensive “rumor net” that is notoriously unreliable, including on the subject of Medjugorje.

Without further information about the source, it is difficult to know how reliable the Vatican Insider claims are.

 

7) Does the Vatican Insider piece say anything else about the thought of the Commission?

Yes. It says:

The large volume of messages going round poses a problem for the Commission.

As does the forecasting of supernatural signs and secrets which the seers have refused to share, even with Church authorities.

Some of the Commission’s members have highlighted the need for a change of pace in the provision of pastoral care to millions of faithful who come to Medjugorje from all over the world.

The Commission and Cardinal Ruini himself thanks to visits by people close to him have noticed that people really are converting to the faith or returning to the sacraments – what the Church refers to as spiritual fruits –  in a significant way.

As before, it is difficult to know how reliable these claims are, given the fact we have no information about the source of the claims.

 

8) If the claims are true, does that mean Medjugorje will be approved?

Not necessarily. Vatican Insider immediately points out:

But this alone does not a decision on the part of the Church with regard to the supernatural nature of the apparitions.

In fact, over the past few months, Prefect Müller has cautioned bishops in the US to keep a close eye on meetings held by Medjugorje seers.

These are often public meetings with lots of apparitions on the agenda.

During last 14 November’s mass in St. Martha’s House, the Pope very eloquently said that Mary is a Mother "not a postmaster of the post office sending out messages every day."

These words were addressed to those who continuously communicate messages and prophesies about the future.

The Bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric, who also serves Medjugorje, is notoriously sceptical about the phenomenon, as was his predecessor.

Then there is the age-long problem of the relations between the diocesan clergy and the Franciscan friars of Herzegovina at the time of the apparitions.

I’ve written about some of these things before.

You can read more about the letter sent by Archbishop Muller here. That letter can be fairly described as a straw in the wind suggesting reason for caution concerning the idea that Medjugorje will be approved.

I’ve also written about Pope Francis’s statement about Mary not being a postmaster, and while this could also be a straw in the wind suggesting caution, this is not the only way to look at his statement. See here for more.

Vatican Insider thus lists several factors which could be taken to indicate that an approval for Medjugorje could be doubtful, even on the premise that its statements about the Commission’s thought and findings are correct.

There is also another factor that they do not mention.

 

9) What are they omitting?

It’s something that was dealt with in the letter sent to U.S. bishops at Archbishop Muller’s request (which Vatican Insider somewhat downplayed). According to that letter:

[T]he Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is in the process of investigating certain doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the phenomenon of Medjugorje.

For this reason the Congregation has affirmed that, with regard to the credibility of the “apparitions" in question, all should accept the declaration, dated 10 April 1991, from the Bishops of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, which asserts:

"On the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations."

It follows, therefore, that clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such "apparitions" would be taken for granted.

In order, therefore, to avoid scandal and confusion, Archbishop Muller asks that the Bishops be informed of this matter as soon as possible.

Vatican Insider downplayed this by not disclosing that the letter didn’t just “caution[] bishops in the US to keep a close eye on meetings held by Medjugorje seers.”

It actually said: “clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”

That’s a stronger statement than Vatican Insider suggested.

Vatican Insider also failed to mention that it wasn’t just “The Bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric, who also serves Medjugorje, is notoriously sceptical about the phenomenon, as was his predecessor.”

In addition to those, the letter states:

[A]ll should accept the declaration, dated 10 April 1991, from the Bishops of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, which asserts:

"On the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations."

So it wasn’t just the two bishops that have been skeptical. The bishops of the former Yugoslavia issued a declaration of a much stronger nature, and Vatican Insider chose not to inform its readers of this face.

 

10) What should we make of this?

Concerning the Vatican Insider piece itself, I think they could have done a better job:

* They could have given it a headline that wasn’t misleading,

* The authors could have given us some idea of their source and its reliability (without necessarily naming it).

* They should not have downplayed and withheld relevant information, though it is to their credit that they at least warned the reader that approval of Medjugorje is not certain.

 

11) What about the question of whether Medjugorje will be approved?

Concerning the overall question of whether Medjugorje will be approved, if Vatican Insider is correct in its claims then supporters of Medjugorje have reason for encouragement.

We don’t know what else may be said in the report (or the supporting materials), but it would appear not to contain some things that could have made it more difficult for Medjugorje to be approved (e.g., evidence of early tricks, hoaxes, or abuses of popular credulity).

On the other hand, the final two stages (CDF and papal) have yet to be done, and the final papal decision has not been made.

And there are factors that could be taken as pointing away from approval.

Consequently, I recommend—as I have consistently, since the beginning of the Commission—that people on both sides of the question should keep and open mind and be prepared for a decision that isn’t the one they would prefer right now.

Supporters of Medjugorje should not allow their faith and attachment to the Church to be challenged if there is a negative decision, and critics of Medjugorje should not allow their faith or attachment to the Church be challenged if there is a positive decision.

After all, this is a private revelation, and Mary herself would not want one’s faith or attachment to the Church challenged by the ultimate decision, whichever way it goes.

 

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Filed under andrea tornielli, apparitions, benedict xvi, cdf, commission, congregation for the doctrine of the faith, gerhard muller, medjugorje, medjugorje commission, pope benedict xvi

About Jimmy Akin

Jimmy Akin
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Jimmy was born in Texas, grew up nominally Protestant, but at age 20 experienced a profound conversion to Christ. Planning on becoming a Protestant pastor or seminary professor, he started an intensive study of the Bible. But the more he immersed himself in Scripture the more he found to support the Catholic faith. Eventually, he entered the Catholic Church. His conversion story, "A Triumph and a Tragedy," is published in Surprised by Truth. Besides being an author, Jimmy is a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a contributing editor to This Rock magazine, and a weekly guest on "Catholic Answers Live."