VATICAN CITY — The Vatican downplayed intense speculation that Pope Francis will decide very soon on "certain doctrinal and disciplinary aspects" of alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje, saying it will most probably take months, rather than days or weeks.
In comments to the Register June 11, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said it is “hard to say” when a ruling might be made, but that it’s certainly not likely before the Vatican’s summer break.
He noted that there has not yet been a feria quarta (a monthly meeting of cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) on the subject and that he doubted there would be one before the summer break.
“So if you ask me: days, weeks or months? I think it would be safest to say a few months,” Father Lombardi said, and he warned against feeding expectations that an announcement is “very imminent.”
His comments follow the Holy Father’s remarks June 6, in answer to a question from a Bosnian-Croat journalist on the papal plane back from Sarajevo, that a decision could be coming soon.
“We’re at this point of making decisions [and] then they will be announced,” Pope Francis said, but gave no indication of any timeline.
He recalled how, in 2010, Benedict XVI asked the CDF to create a commission, presided by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, emeritus vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, to study the reports surrounding the alleged apparitions. The commission aimed to further investigate “certain doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the phenomenon of Medjugorje.”
Pope Francis told reporters on the papal plane that the commission “made a study, and Cardinal Ruini came to me and consigned the study to me after many years. I don’t know, three or four years, more or less.”
The commission, which the Pope said “did good work,” handed its findings to the CDF in January 2014. The congregation subsequently has been undertaking its own examination before giving its conclusions to the Pope, who will have the final say.
Last Week’s Comments
In his comments last week, Francis revealed that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the CDF, told him that “he would do a feria quarta, in these times.” The Pope said he thought that meeting had been held on the last Wednesday in May but that he was “not sure.” He said a decision could be made soon and that “some guidelines will be given to bishops on the lines they will take.”
In comments to the Register June 11, a Vatican official close to the issue was slightly puzzled by the Pope’s remarks, saying, “There's no novita [news]” and stressed that the Holy Father was speaking extemporaneously.
“We’re not sure where he’s getting the information from, as we don’t know anything about this decision being imminent,” he said. “His comment may result in expediting a decision, or perhaps be intended to help push things along.”
A few days after making the remark, the Pope cautioned against basing one’s faith solely on predicted visions or anything other than Christ himself.
In a homily during his daily Mass at the Vatican’s St. Martha guesthouse June 9, he cautioned against those who look for God “with these Christian spiritualties that are a little ethereal,” calling them “modern gnostics.”
These “modern gnostics,” Pope Francis said, are tempted to avoid the scandal of the cross and are content to seek God through their “rather ethereal Christian spirituality.”
He also spoke of those who forget they have been anointed and given the guarantee of the Holy Spirit, so they are always searching for some “novelty” in their Christian identity. They ask, the Holy Father said, “Where are the visionaries who can tell us exactly what message Our Lady will be sending at 4 o’clock this afternoon?”
Some who base their faith on such novelties “live from this,” he said, but added that “this isn’t Christian identity. The ultimate word of God is named ‘Jesus.’”
The Alleged Apparitions
The alleged apparitions originally began June 24, 1981, when six children in the town of Medjugorje, located in what is now Bosnia, started to experience phenomena that they have claimed to be apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
According to the four girls and two boys, the apparitions contained a message of peace for the world, a call to conversion, prayer and fasting, as well as certain secrets surrounding events to be fulfilled in the future.
These apparitions are said to have continued almost daily since their first occurrence, with three of the original six children — who are now adults — continuing to receive apparitions every afternoon because, they say, not all of the “secrets” intended for them have been revealed.
Since their beginning, the alleged apparitions have been a source of both controversy and conversion, with many flocking to the city for pilgrimage and prayer. A significant number have claimed to have experienced miracles at the site. Others believe the visions are not credible.
In April 1991, the bishops of the former Yugoslavia determined that “on the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations.”
On the basis of those findings, and because the commission was still in the process of its investigation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directed last October 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.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.