A look at the unprecedented Medjugorje commission


I was one of several American Catholics interviewed recently for this Our Sunday Visitor newspaper article on the vexing subject of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje.

Those who’ve read my previous comments about that on this blog or who have heard me discuss it on my radio show already know where I’m coming from. I consider myself an open-minded skeptic who is not only willing to be wrong about Medjugorje (though I don’t think I am), but I sincerely do hope I am wrong and that it is an authentic Marian apparition. Good golly, do I ever hope I’m wrong about this.

Here’s the article by Emily Stimpson:

Vatican panel to weigh authenticity of alleged Marian apparitions
in Bosnia-Herzegovina

For many, it was an announcement that seemed long overdue.

On March 17, the Vatican announced the formation of a commission to investigate the authenticity of the Marian apparitions centered in Medjugorje. The commission, requested by the bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina, will take place under the auspices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and will begin work almost immediately. Its findings will be subject to the final authority of the CDF.

The announcement was, in many ways, unprecedented.

Franciscan University of Steubenville theology professor and mariologist Deacon Mark Miravalle noted it’s typically the local bishop or ecclesial conference that establishes these types of investigatory commissions.

It is possible for that call to come from the Vatican “if it’s not pleased with what takes place at the local level” or, if the Vatican “thinks things have not gone ideally, for the CDF to step in and take a more active role.”

But, Miravalle continued, it’s usually the local bishop who has the final say on the commission’s findings, not the CDF.

Fruits of visions

The announcement is unprecedented, but, in many ways, so is what’s taking place at Medjugorje.

It all began in 1981, when six Croatian teenagers, who lived in the small village in Bosnia-Herzegovina, reported that the Virgin Mary had appeared and given them a message to share with others. Nearly 30 years on, some of the visionaries still claim to see the Blessed Mother daily. The rest say she now appears to them only yearly.

For those inclined to accept the apparitions as true, the number of years Mary has appeared to the visionaries — 29 — as well as the number of messages received — upward of 30,000 — are signs that God is at work in Medjugorje.

“In 30 years you have no notable contradictions between the seers, and no observation — to my knowledge — that any of the messages are in any way off the beaten track in terms of faith and morals,” said Father Johann Roten, director of the University of Dayton’s Marian Library — International Marian Research Institute.

Father Roten pointed out that scientifically and medically the apparitions are among the most studied in Church history.

In addition to the messages themselves — which consist primarily of calls for repentance, conversion and peace — proponents also point to the tremendous fruits that the messages have born in the Church.

To date, more than 30 million men and women have visited Medjugorje, with countless conversions and vocations to the priesthood and religious life resulting from those visits.

“There seems to be an undeniable explosion of supernatural graces in Medjugorje,” Miravalle said.

‘Not good’ fruits

But there also seems to be an undeniable storm of contro-versy surrounding Medjugorje.

“The good fruits of Medjugorje are undeniable,” said Patrick Madrid, director of the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College. “But we can’t disregard the fruits that aren’t good.”

Madrid, who calls himself “a skeptic, not a critic,” of Medjugorje, points to accounts of scandal surrounding several key figures as an example of those “not good” fruits.

He likewise finds fault in the very thing that so many proponents find good: the messages.

“From very early on, you see an incitement to disobedience in the messages,” Madrid said. “If this really is the Mother of God urging disobedience to the bishops, that seems at odds with her messages to people like St. Faustina, where she urged obedience even in the wake of disbelief and disapproval.”

Both proponents and skeptics have ample evidence to which they can point and ample arguments with which to respond to those who disagree with them. At this point, it can feel difficult, if not impossible, for faithful Catholics in the middle to know who’s right.

Up until now, however, the Church hierarchy has been almost as divided on the question as Catholics themselves. Both of Medjugorje’s local bishops took firm positions against the apparitions, while other bishops, such as Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph
Schönborn, have caused a stir by making pilgrimages to the apparition site. . . . (
continue reading)

58 Comments

  1. Markc

    Patrick,Regarding the alleged message: "Do not obey anyone!" (Nemojte slušati nikogo!)", I have never seen that message before and I am a bit perplexed that it is only available from one source, the Italian blogger Marco Corvaglia. My first reaction is: this doesn't sound ANYTHING like any message I have ever heard from Medjugorje – is it authentic? What is the true context, sense and who is the intended audience? If this were truly a "smoking gun", why is it in the possession of one source only? How is it that three previous commissions could have failed to note it? As you know, while a declaration of "supernatural origins is established" would be highly unlikely during ongoing apparitions – a negative judgment could have been rendered at any time (although I would note that at Kibeho, a positive declaration was made to the core events and some but not all of the visionaries – a certain "firewall" of parts of the events). If there really was an "incitement to disobedience" – then why hasn't the negative judgement already been rendered? Certainly, we can wait for the IC. Anyone who is really following the core messages of Medjugorje (prayer, fasting, confession, the bible, and the Eucharist) would not be troubled – even by a negative verdict.

  2. Patrick Madrid

    My examination of the messages leads me to think that the egregious examples of incitements to disobedience, questionable theology, and just plain odd statements within the messages are found in the early days, months, years of the alleged apparitions. It seems to me that they were quietly shelved, and eventually ignored, as it became clearer that there was a problem here.In response to your question, "If there really was an "incitement to disobedience" – then why hasn't the negative judgement already been rendered?" I would respectfully propose that there already have been at least two negative judgments rendered: those of the two ordinaries of Mostar, Bishops Zanic and Peric.

  3. Markc

    @Patrick,If you are going to fall back on the personal verdicts of the two ordinaries, then I think you somehow have to respond to Dr. Miravalle's points. He says that normally the local bishop's judgment is dispositive. In this extraordinary case, the local bishop's verdict has been rendered his "personal opinion" and the investigation has been usurped by the CDF."It is possible for that call to come from the Vatican “if it’s not pleased with what takes place at the local level” or, if the Vatican “thinks things have not gone ideally, for the CDF to step in and take a more active role.”I would submit that local Bishops' complicated involvement in the Herzigovinian affair and comportment on the the matter of the apparitions have compromised their reliability in the investigation.

  4. Patrick Madrid

    "Fall back on"? No, that's not it at all. I am just reminding you, in response to your open-ended question, that there have already two negative judgments on this from the bishops of the diocese. Disparaging the bishops and dismissing their determinations on this matter doesn't negate them, much less refute them.I would submit that the Vatican's long delay in clarifying and either condemning or approving the alleged apparitions complicated the whole thing. There are plenty of precedents of the Church condemning ongoing alleged "apparitions" (Bayside, Necedah, Holy Love Ministries, etc.). If the Church does approve Medjugorje, I hope it happens soon, so people will have clarity and closure.Similarly, if the Church condemns Medjugorje as spurious, we all will have to wonder why that couldn't have been done much sooner, saving a lot of good people a lot of headaches.

  5. Diane Korzeniewski

    Similarly, if the Church condemns Medjugorje as spurious, we all will have to wonder why that couldn't have been done much sooner, saving a lot of good people a lot of headaches.I suspect that the Holy See, perhaps as a matter of prudence, didn't want to deal with it in the aftermath of a terrible war. There are still serious issues in BiH. One news report from two years ago speculated that violence could erupt again. Hopefully, things have stabilized, but as I look at news from BiH, there is a lot of rancor among the three groups: Croatian (mostly Catholic), Serbian (mostly Orthodox), and those whom some refer to as "Bosniaks" who are Muslim (descendants of the invading Turks or those who converted to Islam, and often of varying ethnic backgrounds, including Croatian and Serbian). Catholics are a minority now in an area where they were once the majority. I am hoping to write a blogpost in the future which explains the plight of Catholics in that area. There's more going on than Medjugorje. I do believe that the time is right for the Commission though. Apparition claims are at an all time high and many of them can be traced back to folks who have visited Medjugorje or have some other link to Medjugorje. This alone is reason to address it. Medjugorje has actually spurned anti-ecclesial behavior, which is why I believe the Church will not simply allow it to continue for the sake of good fruits (God can draw straight with crooked lines).This anti-ecclesial behavior is visible in the chasm between supporters of the phenomena and the shepherd of the local Church. It is visible when priests and bishops either openly promote it or turn a blind eye to open promotion within their dioceses (such as allowing a "seer" of Medjugorje to have "visions" in their cathedral). It flies in the face of traditional protocol regarding such things. When visionaries are prohibited from having public manifestations of visions within the diocese of origin, other dioceses ought not give those "seers" a platform. But, it happens. This is not ecclesial in nature.Yet, we see that in 2007, a memo from the Bishop's of Tuscany to the priest of the diocese offering proof that the CDF was solidly behind Bishop Peric and his prohibitions. Every time a bishop sets foot in Medjugorje and celebrates Mass publicly or speaks there without first contacting the local Bishop, we continue to get division.

  6. Sam

    All I have to say is: Praised be Jesus and Mary!

  7. Dawn

    When Father Neil Buchlein was on Al Kresta to speak about Medjugorje with Pat Madrid, he thought he would be speaking alone. He did not even know that Pat was going to be debating him, because he was not told beforehand. He says so on blessedmotherschildren.com, his website. I love you and Al, Pat, but I find this totally unfair.

    God Bless,
    -Dawn

    1. Patrick Madrid

      Don’t blame me for any “unfairness.” When the producer for Al Kresta’s show called and asked me to be on, he told me the other guest would be Dr. Mark Miravalle of Franciscan University of Steubenville. I agreed to do the show, no problem. However, when the time came to start, completely unbeknownst to me, they had, at the last minute, switched to Father Buchelein. I had no idea ahead of time that there was going to be any deviation from what I had been told earlier. I had never heard of Father Buchlein before I was introduced on the show that day. So, if you want to level any charges of unfairness, please feel free, but kindly do not level them at me, as I had nothing to do with the arrangement of the show’s discussion, guests, or format.

      What’s more, given that Father Buchlein is a forceful and articulate promoter of Medjugorje, it would not have been even remotely “unfair” for him to have been asked to defend his ideology in a radio-interview discussion with me.

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