Apparitions and Mystical Phenomena: March 2010 Archives

Let me introduce you to Mr. Mark Waterinckx, a Belgian who has become known as a critic of the alleged Medjugorje apparitions.

He started out as a great supporter of them, and he was close to the people involved. From 1984 to 1989, his confessor was Fr. Jozo Zovko, who was at times pastor of St. James Church and a spiritual advisor to the visionaries. Mark wrote for Medjugorje magazines, and went to the place 24 times. But things changed.

The other day, Mark summed up the state of the case from his point of view. His article describes the non-believers, the believers, and the fanatics. He tells some history about how the bishops tried to restrain Medjugorje, but were prevented from doing so by the war. He also places the new wave of criticism toward Medjugorje in the context of Pope Benedict's efforts to clean up cases of corruption.

[NB: The headers within the article were added by me for the sake of clarity.]

Now, after that little survey, written with Mark's characteristic bluntness, it's not surprising that he drew fire from some supporters, just as this hit piece.

Such a reaction may be understandable: if some guy took a tough stand against your favorite apparition, why wouldn't you be puzzled at his anger?

Well, there's a reason for it.

Mark Waterinckx was the first man from Belgium to make contact with Medjugorje and has made 24 pilgrimages there since 1984. He has raised thousands and thousands of dollars for Medjugorje. In the summer of 1989 he had become friends with [Fr.] Jozo Zovko [OFM] in Tihalijna Mark Waterinckx (right) and Fr. Jozo Zovko, then his confessor, in 1984when an American woman came to him and told him that Zovko had sexually assaulted her. Waterinckx went to Zovko the next day, and Zovko denied everything but was pale and in a terrible state. The incident precipitated a crisis of faith for Waterinckx, who had a conversion experience at San Damiano, which he now doubts. After praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, Waterinckx decided to walk barefoot to Tihalijna to try to get to the bottom of the matter. When he arrived in Tihalijna, Zovko had regained his composure; he laughed at Waterinckx in spite of the fact that he had severe burns on his feet. Since that time, Zovko has pretended that he doesn't know Waterinckx.

Waterinckx now claims to know 12 women who Zovko has molested including a woman whose father still conducts pilgrimages to Medjugorje, One or two months after his first encounter with the American woman, Waterinckx, seeing that nothing was being done, went to see Leonardo Orec, then curate at Medjugorje. Orec seemed unconcerned about the whole thing. "If you don't do something," Waterinckx told Orec, "I'll go to the provincial in Mostar." Eventually Waterinckx had to write to Herman Schalueck, the Franciscan general, and it was he who finally brought about Zovko's suspension a few months later on August 23, 1989. Rene Laurentin mentioned the suspension in one of his books in '89 adding that the severity of the actions must have indicated that it happened for a good reason. In spite of being suspended, Zovko continued living at Tihalijna. Zrinko Cuvalo, one [of] the Franciscans who was in Medjugorje on day one of the apparitions, was sent to keep an eye on him, but since Cuvalo had a drinking problem the eye was probably not all that observant. Zovko was disciplined a second time in 1994, this time under Bishop Peric for pertinacious disobedience.

Waterinckx had had a number of negative experiences which shook his faith beginning in 1986, but the events of 1989, particularly those associated with Jozo Zovko's behavior were so devastating that Waterinckx decided that he had to warn people. However, when he tried to warn people in articles he had written, he suddenly found that his access to the Medjugorje publications which were previously so eager to print what he wrote had been cut off. It was a pattern which would repeat itself over and over again. Only "positive" articles got published. As a result, people were kept in the dark until the truth suddenly overwhelmed their defenses, at which point they became alienated from the Church and disillusioned. Vain credulity was quickly replaced by a general skepticism on the part of people who were having difficulty coping with changes they didn't understand in the first place.

The evidence against Zovko was particularly damning, not only because he had, in effect, created the apparitions by bringing them into the church and thereby conferring on them what seemed to be Church approval, but also because the Blessed Mother herself, at least according to the testimony of Marija Pavlovic on October 21, 1981, had said, "Jozo Zovko is a saint." By March of 1994, Marija had had enough experience with the Franciscans to convince her that Franciscans like Zovko and Vlasic were no saints, but apparently not enough to get her to admit that she wasn't seeing the Gospa. "We must not like only persons like Father Jozo," Marija said in March 1994, "or the seers themselves, since they can become a disillusion [sic] to you. They are not saints." Marija had by then forgotten that she, speaking for the Blessed Mother, had said the exact opposite 13 years before. By the time her caveat of 1994 was made public, Marija Pavlovic had been caught twice in lies involving the two Franciscans who had taken control of the apparitions over the summer of 1981, but by then the Herzegovina Franciscans had shown that they were not interested in the truth -- Father Barbaric had no difficulty inviting the twice-suspended Zovko to attend the International Youth Festival in August of 1997 -- and the pilgrims were too befuddled to know the difference.

(source: E.M. Jones, "The Medjugorje Deception", South Bend, IN, 1998, pp. 164-166. I have corrected a few typographical errors.)

That's reason enough, I'd say.

The other day I offered some fairly conventional thoughts about the possible outcomes of the new international study commission on the Medjugorje phenomenon.

In that piece I suggested that the study could lead to possible verdicts of "constat de non supernaturalitate", or "non constat de supernaturalitate", or merely a decision to wait and let things go on with no verdict. But I may have been wrong about the possibilities. One of those may no longer be an option.

I learned earlier today about a 2008 interview with Abp. Angelo Amato, then secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, about the discernment of alleged apparitions. In addition to his past responsibility, Abp. Amato is reportedly now a member of the study commission on Medjugorje.

In the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire of July 9, 2008 (reproduced here and here), he answered some questions about a 1978 document from CDF on this subject.

I've translated most of the interview (below), but here is the part that draws my attention:

Q.: At the end of these proceedings, what positions can authority take?

A.: There can be approval, the constat de supernaturalitate, as was recently done by the bishop of Gap [France] for the apparitions of Laus. Or disapproval, the non constat de supernaturalitate, as for example quite a few pseudo-mystical manifestations.

Q.: But can the "non constat de supernaturalitate" be considered a wait-and-see decision, compared to the negative, which would be the "constat de non supernaturalitate"?

A.: In the Norms we are talking about there is only mention of constat de and non constat de. There is no sign of constat de non.

Well, I get to learn something new every day.

So, if CDF does follow the 1978 norms exactly, then the old distinction between non constat de supernaturalitate and constat de non supernaturalitate may have been dropped.

One has to wonder: what motivated this change from past practice? Was the omission intended to limit what options authorities should consider in future cases? Would Pope Benedict keep this change, or act to make it clear that the more clearly negative formulation remains an option?

If this reduction of options is real, it would imply that the Yugoslav bishops already gave the Medjugorje phenomenon the most negative verdict possible (non constat) in 1991. Perhaps a clarification from Rome about these norms would be helpful.

Perhaps this explains the statement of Cardinal Puljić in 2009: "The doctrinal issue of the Medjugorje phenomenon is resolved, but its pastoral significance must still be taken into account."

The Avvenire interview follows. Thanks to Diane K. of the Te Deum Laudamus blog, who tipped me off about it.

[UPDATE (10/2011): Welcome, Jimmy Akin readers!

Since writing this, I've become more reserved about the speculations I made above. Some months ago I asked Mariologist Fr. Manfred Hauke whether the 1978 document means that constat de non would be excluded in the future, and he replied that it would be best to apply the "hermeneutic of continuity" to the document. The three constat options are long established in Catholic practice, so it's best not to assume from SCDF's omission that there was any intent to change the possible options. If SCDF had wanted to take on that issue, they could have done so directly. Moreover, I suppose, such a change would need to be addressed in a published document, not one issued sub secreto to the bishops. A published document would have a more thorough process of preparation and review. --RC]

The Vatican's new study commission is conducting its research behind the scenes, but an open theological debate continues, mostly in Europe, regarding the alleged apparitions and supernatural messages of Medjugorje.  Here at Catholic Light, I've been covering some of the discussion from the German Catholic press.

In his latest contribution, Fr. Manfred Hauke, a professor in the Catholic theology faculty in Lugano (Switzerland), has followed up on arguments by Medjugorje defenders Dcn. Thomas Müller and Dr. Christian Stelzer, who disputed some of Hauke's historical points.  He offers a response with information from two experts:

  • Medical expert Dr. Thilo Buchmüller explained that the reported healing of three-year-old Daniel Setka in 1981 was not proof of a miracle.

  • Anthropologist Mart Bax responded to complaints about name discrepancies in his writings about ethnic violence near Medjugorje.
A third Medjugorje supporter, Fr. Ivan Dugandzic, OFM, a member of one of the previous commissions, offered his own defense which appeals to the theories of Karl Rahner.   Professor Hauke responds to Dugandzic's argument as well.   The article follows.

From the Vatican Information Service:

VATICAN CITY, 17 MAR 2010 (VIS) - The Holy See Press Office today published the following communique:

"An international investigative commission on Medjugorje has been constituted, under the presidency of Cardinal Camillo Ruini and dependent upon the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Said commission - made up of cardinals, bishops, specialists and experts - will work privately, submitting the results of its work to the authority of the dicastery".

I assume that this is good news for Bishop Perić of Mostar, as he has wanted an intervention from the level of the Holy See for a long time. It has been twenty years since the last official investigation, held at the level of national bishops' conference in the former Yugoslavia. While the facts of the case's early years have not changed, the intervening years have allowed us to examine the historical record, and they have confirmed the wisdom of the bishops' decision to deny approval.

After the commission presents its report to CDF, there may eventually be a declaration on the case, containing a doctrinal judgment and pastoral directives.

The doctrinal judgment could be:

  • "constat de non supernaturalitate": the phenomenon is confirmed to be not of supernatural origin
  • "non constat de supernaturalitate": the phenomenon is not confirmed to be of supernatural origin
  • no judgment, but cautious encouragement: "nihil obstat"
Because the phenomenon is ongoing, it cannot be given a fully favorable evaluation ("constat de supernaturalitate"), so the most favorable result theoretically available is to give cautious encouragement on the grounds that "nothing stands in the way". 

I mention that last option as a theoretical possibility, but the many objective reasons against approval, and the relatively few and subjective reasons for approval make me expect that the doctrinal judgment will be negative.  Readers unfamiliar with the case against the apparition  can see the archives of this blog.  Under the category of "Apparitions and Mystical Phenomena", there are translations of commentaries from experts and reports by Bishop Perić, which point out questionable aspects of the "messages".

[UPDATE (3/21): I have some further discussion of possible verdicts here.]

In addition to a doctrinal evaluation, CDF can also issue pastoral directives.  Possibly it might leave them up to a lower authority, either the local bishop or the Bosnia-Herzegovina bishops' conference. 

In the case of a negative doctrinal evaluation, the current vague limitations could be left as is, or there might be new restrictions.  

What cannot be forbidden totally is travel to Medjugorje and visits to the parish church: after all, it is a lawful parish, and Catholics are free to attend Mass there.  Also, the long-standing devotional traditions of the country, such as the saying of seven Our Fathers, etc., are perfectly acceptable, and their spread to other places is unobjectionable.

What can be regulated or prohibited?  Devotions based on the alleged apparition; the use of titles such as "Our Lady of Medjugorje"; the publishing of promotional material (in literature, through the mass media, on the internet); the use of Church facilities to promote the claims of supernatural revelations; the participation of the clergy in promotional events; perhaps even the participation by the laity in promotional events. 

Promotional events which could be regulated or restricted may include prayer services, speeches, journeys to Medjugorje: perhaps any event based on a belief in the claimed supernatural origin of the phenomenon.   If the Church wishes, She can regulate or forbid the formation of associations to promote belief in the apparitions: that is, She can forbid the various "Medjugorje centers" or "Marian centers" from promoting the claims of supernatural apparitions.

At present, foreign priests can celebrate Mass or hear confessions in Medjugorje without the local bishop's permission, merely by presenting proof (a celebret) to the pastor, attesting that they are in good standing with their own diocese or religious order.   It is conceivable that this freedom could be restricted in some way.

Of course, these are only possibilities that indicate the range of actions that could be taken, depending on how permissive or restrictive an approach the authorities of the Church decide to take. 

Is it possible that the Church might issue a split decision: say no to the apparition, impose some restrictions, and yet allow or encourage visitors to keep going to Medjugorje as a "place of prayer" or of "retreat"? Such a mixed verdict would be intended to smooth over difficulties among those faithful who are very attached to the alleged apparitions; it would seek to spare the poor country a loss of tourist revenue; it might seek to keep the reported "good fruits" going.  But it seems there would be a fundamental inconsistency about it, and it opens Church authorities to an accusation of consequentialist decision-making.  

Some voices, pro- and con-, are saying that the goal of the commission should be to render a decision before the 30th anniversary of the start of the affair: that is, before mid-June, or before this summer's planned youth festival in early August.   I'm not holding my breath for that: if a commission with twenty members (so says papal spokesman Fr. Lombardi) reaches conclusions and writes a report that quickly, that may be the first real miracle to happen in connection with Medjugorje.

I've just finished translating the late Fr. Jean Galot, SJ's article on the role of private apparitions in the life of the Church and in salvation history. It has a good section with principles of discernment and an explanation of why Church approval of an apparition is never an infallible judgment. An excerpt:

Often apparitions have been received with a passionate enthusiasm, and have made crowds of faithful rush to the place where they have occurred. In effect, many expect to find a confirmation of their faith in those who "see". This favorable prejudice could easily encourage a credulity that does not really seek to test the signs of authenticity of the phenomenon.

Others, in contrast, assume in regard to apparitions an attitude of scepticism that closes them to any judicious examination of the facts stated. Sometimes this scepticism touches their faith itself, because it is from a lack of faith that some reject all sensible manifestations of the supernatural. In other cases scepticism is simply that of the believer who wants to hold to the faith as given and feels repugnance in the face of something that seems to introduce elements of vision.

While Mons. Ratko Perić, bishop of Mostar, is going to Rome this week (according to the Croatian press), I'm going to catch up by presenting his most recent article reviewing problematic aspects of the alleged supernatural messages from the Medjugorje phenomenon.

(Translated from the Italian version.)

The deviations of Medjugorje
Bp. Ratko Perić, January 25, 2010

Introduction. Recently, after his "private" visit to Medjugorje, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, stated that in the discernment of the phenomenon, beyond the positive elements, it is necessary to take account also of "some open questions". [1] In this article we report some "dubious" things, erroneous answers or heresies, that is, doctrinal errors written in the Chronicle of the apparitions of the parish of Medjugorje and in some other writings connected with the "Medjugorje phenomenon". The original of the Chronicle is located in the archive of the parish office of Medjugorje, and a copy at the diocesan curia of Mostar. It is not surprising that the "young people of Medjugorje" at one time attributed their imperfect doctrinal knowledge to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but we are surprised at how priests, parochial vicars of the era at Medjugorje, Fr. Tomislav Vlašić (who edited the Chronicle from September 11 [1981] to August 31, 1984) and Fr. Slavko Barbarić (who continued from September 2, 1984 and died in 2000) could have recorded such suspect and heretical phrases. How could they have supposed, not only that there was new knowledge that was supposed to be adopted by individual persons and by groups of the faithful who yearn for "miracles" and "healings", but that the Church herself would also change her biblical and magisterial doctrine! We have already seen various "games" about the "great sign" as well as the innovation about the change of the liturgical calendar relative to the Nativity of the Madonna. Bishop Pavao Žanić wrote several times, with arguments, about these remarks or obvious lies in the context of the Medjugorje phenomenon:

  • In the supplement to the diocesan newsletter of 1982;
  • In the "Current (unofficial) position of the diocesan curia" from 1984;
  • In the "Declaration on Medjugorje" at Medjugorje in 1987;
  • In the booklet "The truth about Medjugorje" in 1990 (in Italian, German, English, and French)

Here we will limit ourselves only to the self-evident deviations that are recorded by the chroniclers of Medjugorje as "revelations" and "messages", delivered through the individual "seers".

Image of Panorama magazine, March 11, 2010The Italian weekly magazine Panorama, in its March 11 issue, has a piece about the anticipated commission of inquiry on Medjugorje. There's no official word yet, but for your interest, here's a translation. (The original article is only accessible to subscribers, but the blog Dagospia has the text.)

N.B.: The article uses the term "shrine", and I present it as-is, but this is not officially correct, as Church authorities have not given the title of "shrine" to the parish church of St. James or to any other place at Medjugorje.

UPDATE 3/7: The Croatian press is reporting that Bishop Perić is making a visit to Rome this week. Diane K. at Te Deum Laudamus has the information she found. [PS: Diane, have you ever considered changing that name to Te Deum Blogamus? :-)]

Miracles of Medjugorje: Ruini investigates
The Pope opens an inquiry on the apparitions

VATICAN -- Benedict XVI wants a clear understanding about the apparitions of the Madonna of Medjugorje. That's why he has decided to form a commission of inquiry, led by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, associated with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

And the next few months are predicted to be stormy for the shrine of the Queen of Peace, near Mostar (Bosnia-Herzegovina), which has become the #3 Marian shrine of Europe (over 1 million pilgrims a year and thousands of conversions).Cdl. Camillo Ruini; photo from dagospia

In spite of the title, though, the Queen of Peace of Medjugorje has brought chaos in the Church: accused of manipulating consciences and of having an affair with a Sister, Fr. Tomislav Vlasic, former assistant pastor and, in the first years, spiritual advisor of the six young seers (now married adults) who receive the apparitions of the Madonna and speak her messages to humanity, had to leave the Franciscan habit to avoid a trial by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Nor is there peace in the conflict between the diocese of Mostar, led by Bishop Ratko Peric, and nine ex-Franciscans, expelled from the Order of Friars Minor, who have not agreed to give up their parishes. The recent visit to Medjugorje by the cardinal of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, reignited spirits: the bishop of Mostar took a stand against the purple-clad cardinal because he had celebrated Mass and met with seers.

"Next year will be the thirtieth anniversary of the beginning of the apparitions. It is time to make clear: whether we're dealing with the most colossal blunder in the history of man, or the most important event in the history of Christianity since the Resurrection of Christ," observed Saverio Gaeta, journalist and author of the volume "Medjugorje. È tutto vero" (Piemme). And those want to check it out in person can plan for March 13 at the "palasport" in Casalecchio di Reno (Bologna), where a twelve-hour prayer meeting will be held, dedicated to the Madonna of Medjugorje, with Paolo Brosio and Nek taking part. The seer Mirjana will be there, and according to the program, in the course of the meeting she will receive her daily apparition of the Madonna. --Ignazio Ingrao

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This page is an archive of entries in the Apparitions and Mystical Phenomena category from March 2010.

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