The Phenomenon of Medjugorje: A Response

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Medjugorje: Important Distinctions

To discuss the whole phenomenon of Medjugorje objectively it is necessary to make important distinctions between 1) responses to Medjugorje and 2) the Medjugorje "apparitions." Far too often responses are used to validate the "apparitions" themselves in a post hoc ergo propter hoc method of argumentation. That one thing follows another does not make one the cause of the other any more than one's rising in the morning is the cause of subsequent world events.

With Medjugorje we are dealing with two distinct phenomena: the claim of "apparitions" of the Mother of God and the responses to those claims. It is more than possible for wonderful fruits to be claimed from reading about the alleged apparitions, or making a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, and for these alleged apparitions to be fraudulent, deceptive and diabolical in origin. It's also possible for those same good fruits to be the predictable consequences of a valid Marian apparition. The point is that no valid conclusions can be drawn from good fruits about the validity and reality of the alleged "apparitions." They are separate issues that must be addressed separately.

By far the most important truth to be determined is whether the alleged apparitions are, in fact, from the Mother of God Herself. Given the supernatural character of valid Marian apparitions, the final determination of the truth of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje are beyond the capacity of science and human beings using natural methods. This means that even the one claiming to have had a Marian apparition is unable themselves to demonstrate the truth of their claims. All they can do is report what they have experienced. This experience is capable of being judged as hallucination, mental illness, innocent error, diabolical deception, some combination of the preceding, or completely valid. If the individual claiming to have had an apparition is unable to judge the validity of their experience themselves, then no combination of other people studying their experience is capable of anything more.

Given the supernatural character of all alleged apparitions, only those charged with the responsibility of teaching, governing and sanctifying within the Catholic Church can render judgments regarding alleged supernatural phenomena. Shepherds must have the power and authority to protect their flocks from whatever may jeopardize their salvation, and it is to these shepherds that the validity of alleged supernatural apparitions must be submitted for judgment. Even though Church shepherds are always fallible human beings, they and their office are given whatever grace is necessary to teach, govern and sanctify their flocks. As fallible human beings, they may not always cooperate with divine grace. Even in such cases, however, the final judgment concerning the supernatural character of alleged apparitions is their decision alone and the only proper response to their judgments by the Catholic faithful is submissive obedience.

Church's Official Position

In December 2017, Abp. Henryk Hoser, papal envoy to Medjugorje, assigned solely to look at pastoral solutions for the faithful, issued unofficial remarks about the status of Medjugorje. A number of Medjugorje adherents claimed his remarks have officially reversed the Church's ban on pilgrimages and that the Church has given Her stamp of approval to the apparitions, but this is not the case.

Hoser's remarks were offered to the press as his personal opinion, and he afterwards backtracked, admitting that official pilgrimages remain forbidden if based on authenticity of the visions. He also acknowledged that the Vatican has yet to issue any official judgment. Until the Vatican issues an official decree reversing its ban on pilgrimages and giving formal approval of the apparitions, the situation remains as it was, and the official decree of the Yugoslavian Bishops Conference — which judged that "it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations" — stands.

Ruini Report

The results of the papal investigation of Medjugorje were released in May 2017, and they show an overwhelmingly negative judgment on the authenticity of the bulk of the "apparitions." 

The Ruini Commission voted 13 out of 14 in favor of holding only the first seven apparitions to be authentic. But the many thousands of alleged apparitions taking place from 1982 onwards resulted in zero votes in favor: two votes against, and 12 votes claiming no opinion could be given.

The results themselves carry no official weight. Only the Holy Father has the final say. He is free either to accept or reject the recommendations of the Ruini Commission's investigation. 

Pope Francis: 'This isn't Jesus' mother. And these alleged apparitions don't have much value.'

It should be noted that Cdl. Gerhard Mueller, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expressed severe skepticism toward the Medjugorje "apparitions," and his opinion carries at least as much weight as the results of the Ruini Commission.

Again, the Holy Father has the final say, and he has the freedom either to accept or reject Cdl. Mueller's opinion on this matter.

Pope Francis himself has expressed extreme skepticism about the authenticity of the Medjugorje "apparitions," saying to the press in 2017, "The report has its doubts, but personally, I am a little worse. I prefer Our Lady as mother, our mother, and not Our Lady as head of the post office who sends a message at a stated time."

He continued, "This isn't Jesus' mother. And these alleged apparitions don't have much value. I say this as a personal opinion, but it is clear. Who thinks that Our Lady says, 'Come, because tomorrow at this time I will give a message to that seer?' No!"

Yugoslavian Bishops' Conference

Until the Holy Father issues a final judgment, the Vatican has made clear that the judgment of the Yugoslavian Bishops' Conference remains the official position. That judgment was unanimous in declaring Non constat de supernaturalitate, i.e., not confirmed as of supernatural origin. In October 2013, at the direction of the CDF, Cdl. Carlo Maria Vigano, then-Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, wrote to the USCCB general secretary with instructions that his communication be distributed to every U.S. diocese:

"[T]he Congregation [of the Doctrine of the Faith] 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."

The letter also reminded the faithful that they are forbidden to participate in any events where "the credibility of such 'apparitions' would be taken for granted." 

Bishop Ratko Peric

Bishop Ratko Peric of the diocese of Mostar-Duvno, within which Medjugorje is located, wrote in a letter dated September 1, 2007:

On the basis of studies made so far, it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations. …

30 chosen priests and physicians, working together in three Commissions for 10 years, in more than 30 meetings, dutifully and expertly investigated the events of Medjugorje and brought forth their judgement. And not one, but twenty bishops responsibly declared that there exists no proof that the events in Medjugorje concern supernatural apparitions. The believer who respects both principles: ratio et fides, therefore adheres to this criterion, convinced that the Church does not deceive. …

The Church, from the local to supreme level, from the beginning to this very day, has clearly and constantly repeated: Non constat de supernaturalitate! This practically means no pilgrimages are allowed that would presuppose any supernatural character to the apparitions, there exists no shrine of the Madonna and there are no authentic messages, revelations nor true visions!

It is a thorough and comprehensive report of the history of the phenomenon of Medjugorje and is far more than the statement of an individual bishop. Multiple studies are referenced, multiple decisions by multiple bishops are cited, even alleged but falsely attributed statements of support from Cdl. Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II are refuted.

On the so-called supportive statements by Pope John Paul II, Cdl. Ratzinger in April 1998 responded in writing:

“The only thing I can say regarding statements on Medjugorje ascribed to the Holy Father and myself is that they are complete invention.”

Bishop Peric quotes Ratzinger after his election to the papacy:

"During my official visit to the Holy Father Benedict XVI, I not only expressed my doubts but also my disbelief in the 'apparitions' of Medjugorje. The Holy Father, who prior to his election was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, replied with this thought: 'We at the Congregation always asked ourselves how a believer could possibly accept as authentic, apparitions that occur every day for so many years?' "

The alleged apparitions have been studied diligently for more than 30 years and have been judged consistently Non constat de supernaturalitate. This phrase occurs three times in Bp. Peric's document on the diocesan website.

In a more recent statement from February 2017, Peric reiterates his judgment that Medjugorje is false: "The position of this Chancery throughout all this time has been clear and resolute: this is not an authentic apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

All of the above has been well and thoroughly documented in at least two books: The Medjugorje Deception: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives by Dr. E. Michael Jones and Medjugorje Revisited: 30 Years of Visions or Religious Fraud? by Donal Foley. Professor Howard Kainz summarizes everything in a much shorter and accessible presentation online: "What Is Happening at Medjugorje?" A number of problematic actions and statements surrounding Medjugorje and the alleged apparitions can be found here.

These and many other books and essays documenting the history of the phenomenon of Medjugorje should be sufficient to provide discernment for faithful Catholics. The alleged apparitions have not been judged to be of supernatural origin. Therefore, no pilgrimages, conferences, retreats or lectures should be organized around any belief that these apparitions are valid and of supernatural origin. This is beyond dispute. Anyone who acts or speaks otherwise is guilty of sin against the Faith and of disobedience to due ecclesiastical and magisterial authority.

Fruits

Unfortunately, such disregard and disobedience to Church authority has become legion and is now a veritable industry unto itself. Pilgrimages, conferences, books, magazines, blogs and websites have erupted like mushrooms in response to the "apparitions" and "messages" from Medjugorje. This leads us to the necessary discussion of the second of the two distinctions that must be made when discussing the phenomenon that is Medjugorje: the response of the faithful and the good fruits that have flowed from rejecting what the Church has declared to be Non constat de supernaturalitate.

Good fruits have been attributed to devotion to the Mother of God allegedly appearing at Medjugorje. How must we deal with that and what, if anything, does it have to do with the judgment of the Church? Can a false apparition produce good fruit? Apparently so, but it proves nothing about the validity of the judgment of the Church. All it proves is that God can bring good to those who seek Him with a sincere desire to find Him and do His will, even when responding to an angel of light.

Books, essays, short articles and blog postings can be and have been written documenting all the good fruits of Medjugorje. Church Militant has been inundated with emails from Catholics witnessing to the alleged good fruits of Medjugorje in their lives and others: stories of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, reversions to the Faith, healed families and marriages, growth in devotion to Our Blessed Mother and the Rosary, the emergence of a new or renewed sacramental and spiritual life, etc., all inspired by Medjugorje. Many have visited Medjugorje, and many have not. What they all have in common is the claim that their good experience validates Medjugorje, even though the Church has judged otherwise. 

In truth, it's really a variation on "It can't be wrong when it feels so right. Medjugorje was good for me. Therefore it is good." Some even say this while acknowledging that the alleged apparitions might, indeed, be false!

Let's accept all these claims of good experiences and good fruits as valid and ignore, for the moment, that there are also claims of bad experience and bad fruits that could just as easily be advanced as evidence in judging the phenomenon of Medjugorje. Is an "argument from fruits" a valid argument?

No, it is not. Few forms of logical argumentation are more vulnerable to subjectivity and rationalization than the "argument from fruits." Precisely how does one define a good fruit? While a renewed sacramental and spiritual life, or a religious vocation, might seem to be irrefutably good fruit, is that always so? Is a religious vocation inspired by a false apparition an unambiguously good thing? Is a spiritual life nurtured by the messages of a false apparition good without qualification? Is a person who leaves a bad marriage to marry a fellow devotee of Medjugorje with whom they then have a "good marriage" an example of good fruit? Is "whatever makes me feel good about God and Our Blessed Mother" automatically a working of the Holy Spirit? What about those who leave the Catholic Church altogether to be fed in a more "nourishing" Protestant setting? Is that good fruit?

No one can say that God isn't at work striving to bring good out of evil. That is the very nature of God and the spiritual combat in which all souls are (or ought to be) engaged. But it is never permitted to choose or enable something evil so that God can bring good out of it. If the "apparitions" of Medjugorje have been judged false by the Church, then whatever "good fruit" is claimed for the phenomenon of Medjugorje must have some other explanation than the supernatural character of the "apparitions." That explanation must be natural, or diabolical, or the power of God overcoming the forces of evil to bring about good. The "good fruit" of Medjugorje can only be judged to be a consequence of the grace of God in spite of those false apparitions. Knowing that the Church has judged these "apparitions" to be false means that attributing any credibility, much less devotion, to the "apparitions" or the "messages" is a defiant act of disobedience compatible with the Non serviam! of Satan himself when he fell.

Bishop Peric, in the statement on his diocesan website referenced above, alludes to the inherent dangers of bad fruit attached to the Medjugorje phenomenon:

Regarding Medjugorje, there exists a real danger that the Madonna and the Church could be privatized. People could start contriving a Madonna and a Church according to their own taste, perception and deception: by not submitting their reason as believers to the official Magisterium of the Church, but rather forcing the Church to follow and recognize their fantasy.

When you depart from the clear guidance of the Church, you travel a very dangerous path. You have knocked down the walls of safety erected to protect you and enhance your freedom. You're pretty much on your own in the land of private judgment and discernment.

Consider another example of "good fruits" flowing from something not just false but evil: the Legionaries of Christ. The history of that religious order is replete with evidence of "good fruit," even more than what is claimed for Medjugorje, but the entire enterprise was founded and and presided over by a moral monster, Fr. Macial Maciel. It should be obvious that Satan can and does orchestrate good fruit while reaping less obvious but even greater bad fruit that satisfies his utilitarian calculus. We are limited in our ability to discern this utilitarian calculus, so we must trust the Church to guide us. 

The Unam Sanctam Catholicam blog posted an excellent and thorough dismantling of the "argument from fruits" advanced by supporters of Medjugorje. There is also an excellent Forward Boldly Radio interview (0:00–33:00) with a priest who has himself visited Medjugorje and confirmed the many bad fruits of the whole phenomenon. John V. Gerardi provides interesting insight into a "scheduled apparition" event he attended at Notre Dame in November, 2012: A Medjugorje Evening. And, as a general caution, there is the chilling example of Sr. Magdalena of the Cross who, for 40 years deceived the world, including high-ranking prelates, with preternatural manifestations later admitted and judged to be diabolical in origin, although she died repentant and penitent. 

There have been claims that some of the statements placed in the mouth of the Mother of God at Medjugorje are incompatible with the Catholic faith. Examples of such troubling statements can be found here together with citations to where those statements were originally reported. It is also claimed that there has been post-publication editing of various messages to remove or otherwise alter troubling statements. This claim and supporting examples can be found here. (Further information on Medjugorje from the same author can be found in the book The Hidden Side of Medjugorje.)

Good fruits cannot be ignored, but they are neither definitive nor determinative of the validity of an alleged apparition or other spiritual phenomenon. Only the Church can make that judgment and, in the case of Medjugorje, She has done so: Non constat de supernaturalitate. Until the Church issues a formal decree reversing that judgment, that judgment stands.

Conclusion

In 1991, the bishops of Yugoslavia responsible for investigating the phenomenon of Medjugorje said the following:

On the basis of studies made so far, it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations.

Yet the gathering of the faithful from various parts of the world to Medjugorje, inspired by reasons of faith or other motives, require the pastoral attention and care, first of all, of the local Bishop and then of the other bishops with him, so that in Medjugorje and all connected with it, a healthy devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the teachings of the Church may be promoted. The Bishops will also provide special liturgical and pastoral directives corresponding to this aim. At the same time, they will continue to study all the events of Medjugorje through their commissions. ...

[N]o pilgrimages are allowed that would presuppose any supernatural character to the apparitions, there exists no shrine of the Madonna, and there are no authentic messages, revelations nor true visions!

This is the very citation noted in the October, 2013 letter from the Apostolic Nuncio of the United States to the General Secretary of the USCCB.

It should be clear from this that the Church recognizes that there has been good fruit from the Medjugorje phenomenon but that it cannot and will not affirm the validity and supernatural character of the alleged apparitions that have inspired this good fruit. It is, therefore, permitted to claim both good experience and good fruit from Medjugorje, but it is not permitted to project that on the alleged apparitions. In a sense, it appears that the Church is willing to encourage whatever good fruit has come from the Medjugorje phenomenon while, at the same time, insisting on a distancing of this good fruit from the clearly false character of the "apparitions."

Somehow those devoted to Medjugorje must cooperate with this separation of their devotion from its false foundations. They must do this by 1) acknowledging and accepting the judgment and guidance of the Church, and 2) renouncing the supernatural character of phenomena such as "rosaries turned to gold" and "seeing a dancing sun." Given the judgment of the Church, such preternatural phenomena must be understood as spiritual deceptions and fraudulent. Any other way forward is movement away from the heart of the Church and, therefore, God Himself and Our Blessed Mother.

Almost all of the references cited above include abundant documentation of bad fruits as well as good fruits. These bad fruits should no more be ignored than the good fruits. The good fruits are evidence of the mercy and power of God, while the bad fruits confirm the non-supernatural character of the events that have inspired the Medjugorje phenomenon. God is at work in Medjugorje, as He is everywhere, but not through the "seers" and their "apparitions."

 

Addendum

For a comprehensive although not exhaustive history and analysis of the phenomenon of Medjugorje, this article from EWTN is excellent.

From Christian Order the following articles are recommended:

Further information can be found in these resources: