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.