14 things to know and share about the new letter on Medjugorje

Archbishop Gerhard Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has just directed that a letter be sent to all the U.S. bishops about Medjugorje. Here are 14 things to know and share.
Archbishop Gerhard Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has just directed that a letter be sent to all the U.S. bishops about Medjugorje. Here are 14 things to know and share. (photo: Register Files)

The Vatican has just directed a letter to all of the U.S. bishops about Medjugorje.

Some are calling it a “bombshell”!

What does it say, and how much of a change does it represent?

Here are 14 things to know and share


1) What is Medjugorje?

Medjugorje is a town in Herzegovina (part of the former Yugoslavia).

In 1981, several children from Medjugorje began reporting apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Since that time, Medjugorje has become a major pilgrimage site, and some of the children (now adults) conduct extensive speaking around the world, often reporting apparitions during their speaking events.



2) What has happened now?

The head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, asked the apostolic nuncio to the United States (i.e., the Vatican ambassador to the U.S.) to send a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The letter, dated October 21, 2013, deals with the Medjugorje phenomenon, and he asked that the letter be sent to all U.S. bishops.

This letter appears to call for a more restrictive policy than the Holy See has insisted on thus far.


3) Why was the letter sent?

One of the Medjugorje seers—Ivan Dragicevic—has a residence in the United States and has been conducting a speaking ministry in which he reports receiving apparitions.

The apostolic nuncio (Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano), explains in the letter:

[O]ne of the so-called visionaries of Medjugorje, Mr. Ivan Dragicevic, is scheduled to appear at certain parishes around the country, during which time he will make presentations regarding the phenomenon of Medjugorje.

It is anticipated, moreover, that Mr. Dragicevic will be receiving "apparitions" during these scheduled appearances.

Concern about the reported apparitions during public events is what occasioned the letter.


4) What does the letter say?

Basically, it says that the policy announced in a previous letter, dated February 27, 2013, should be followed.

That policy held that the faithful are not permitted to participate in events in which the authenticity of such apparitions would be taken for granted.


5) How does the letter explain this policy?

The letter explains it this way:

[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.


6) I don’t get it. The letter says the CDF is investigating Medjugorje and “for this reason” people should follow the 1991 Yugoslavian bishops’ decision. What’s the connection?

The thought here is a little unclear.

It may be due to language problems (the letter is in English, but may be drafted by a native speaker of Italian or another language).

A possible reading would be that, while the CDF is studying the phenomenon, the existing judgment of the Yugoslavian bishops is to be followed.

In other words: Don’t assume that the Yugoslavian bishops’ judgment is going to be overturned simply because the CDF has the phenomenon under study; stick with the current judgment until and unless something different is announced.


7) How does the conclusion follow that people shouldn’t participate in events where the credibility of the apparitions is taken for granted?

If one accepts the 1991 judgment of the Yugoslavian bishops—that “it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations” connected with Medjugorje—then it would not be possible to take the credibility of these reported apparitions for granted.

If it’s not possible to state that such apparitions are authentic, then you can’t take their credibility for granted.

For an event to take them for granted would thus be inconsistent with the 1991 declaration.


8) Didn’t the CDF previously say that people could go to Medjugorje on pilgrimage?

In 1996, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone (then secretary of the CDF) responded to a query by a French bishop about whether the faithful could go to Medjugorje as a site of pilgrimage.

Any place where there is a holy site (such as a church) can be the site of a pilgrimage, so it is not surprising that Bertone replied that pilgrimages were possible, but with an important qualifier.

He wrote:

[O]fficial pilgrimages to Medjugorje, understood as a place of authentic Marian apparitions, are not permitted to be organized either on the parish or on the diocesan level, because that would be in contradiction to what the Bishops of former Yugoslavia affirmed in their fore mentioned Declaration.

So while pilgrimages to Medjugorje are permitted, they could not be organized by Church bodies (parishes, dioceses) with the understanding that Medjugorje is “a place of authentic Marian apparitions.”


9) Isn’t it something new, though, to apply this to events outside of Medjugorje? To things that aren’t pilgrimages?

The CDF does not appear to think that the reasoning behind the statement (sketched in point 7, above) to be new, but as far as I am aware, it is new for the CDF to make this application to non-pilgrimage events.

They appear to be taking the same logic applied to pilgrimages to Medjugorje that would present it as a place of authentic Marian apparitions and extending it to other events as well.


10) What implications does this have for Medjugorje-related events?

It would seem that, to be faithful to the CDF’s direction on this matter, those putting on such events should not present Medjugorje-related apparitions as things whose credibility can be taken for granted.

Presenting them as if they are simply authentic would risk disciplinary action by the local bishop.

It also may result in some events being cancelled. For example, Ivan Dragicevic’s recent appearances have been cancelled.


11) What does this tell us about how the Church is likely to rule on Medjugorje?

Not a great deal.

It certainly is not an encouraging sign for those who would want to see Medjugorje approved.

On the other hand, sticking with the existing policy and applying its logic more rigorously is not a change of substance and does not tell us anything in particular about what the ultimate ruling is likely to be.

The current Medjugorje commission is expected to deliver its findings to the CDF for evaluation, and, after the CDF has had a chance to study them, the results will be presented to the pope.

It will be the pope who makes the final decision.

Sticking with the current policy at the present time does not tell us anything, one way or another, about what that decision will be.


12) Do we have any insight on what Pope Francis’s view is?

There are various reports—some of them making it sound like he has a positive view of Medjugorje, some making it sound like he has a negative view.

These are just rumors or straws in the wind, and it is not wise to attribute a great deal of significance to them.

We simply don’t have a clear and definite indication of his view—or even that he has a definite view. He may not have a settled opinion on the matter.


13) Is the timing of this letter significant?

It may be.

You will recall that this letter reaffirms the policy announced in a previous letter, which was dated February 27, 2013.

That was the day before Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation took effect.

The transition from one pope to another could affect this kind of policy, and so to have a new letter released now can plausibly be read as an indication that Pope Francis supports the present policy.

It is easy to see how some on the American side might have asked for a clarification of whether the policy—announced just before Benedict left office—is still in effect.

Archbishop Müller meets with Pope Francis on a regular basis, and my guess is that he queried Pope Francis about the matter. For a letter to be sent to all U.S. bishops, I would expect that he would do that.

The timing of this letter thus may indicate that Pope Francis has reaffirmed the policy, though, as we noted, it is a provisional one that does not tell us anything in particular about the final decision.


14) What kind of decision should we ultimately expect?

I can’t tell you what the pope will ultimately rule—or if a public announcement is even made.

I would counsel both supporters and critics of Medjugorje to be flexible and open-minded toward whatever the final decision is.

Ultimately, our allegiance must be to Christ and his Church and to the public revelation he has given us.

Private apparitions can be helpful to our spiritual lives, but they must remain secondary.

If the pope were to decide that Medjugorje is not authentic, that should not challenge our faith.

If he were to decide that it is authentic, that should not challenge our faith, either.

Keeping our prime focus on the public revelation Christ has given us is what is most important.

Having a healthy respect for the judgment of the Church on matters of private revelation is also important.


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