The jury has finished its deliberations and submitted its judgment to a higher authority. Now we’re on verdict watch. What will it be?
I refer, of course, to the disputed apparition case of Medjugorje.
It’s A Wrap!
What has the Holy See said?
2014-01-18 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, confirmed on Saturday that the international commission investigating the events in Medjugorje held its last meeting on 17 January. The commission, created by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is presided by Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
The commission has reportedly completed its work and will submit the outcomes of its study to the Congregation. (source)
And we don’t know much more than that about the process.
Who Will Speak?
The decision, when it comes, could be issued by one of three sources. First, CDF could make an announcement itself, since CDF’s ordinary authority delegated from the Pope allows it to do so.
The Pope might make a pronouncement directly, in order to eliminate any talk of appealing a CDF decision to the Pope personally.
Or CDF might encourage the local bishop to make the statement, as they did with Bishop Lennon in the Cleveland diocese’s “Holy Love Ministries” case.
Speculation in the Croatian press says that the Commission might recommend a verdict of non constat de supernaturalitate and might recommend a policy that visits to the place not be impeded; which is to say, they’re speculating that the current judgment and policy of the bishops’ conference remain in place.
That’s the “best” apparition supporters can hope for; the Church is not going to give a positive endorsement to an apparition while it’s underway. But I doubt that the Church would want a commission to work for four years and then issue a report that says nothing new and proposes no change to the situation. And Church authorities are tired of the issue: at least Cdl. Puljic has said so.
What Are The Options?
First, when no judgment has been made by the Church, the Church’s “customary prudence” is to act with reserve: to withhold acceptance of supernatural claims.
The classic three options for a judgment are these:
Favorable: constat de supernaturalitate: The supernatural nature of the event is confirmed, according to the human testimonies of the event and the criteria of the Church.
Most negative: constat de non supernaturalitate: a non-supernatural cause has been identified, such as mental illness or deception.
The more common negative verdict: non constat de supernaturalitate: the event has not been confirmed as supernatural in nature, but a cause has not been identified.
Implications Of The Judgments
In the case of a negative decision, the judgment is normally accompanied by pastoral directives warning the faithful not to engage in devotional activity (pilgrimages, prayers, etc.) based on a presumed belief in the alleged apparition.
In the case of a positive decision, the faithful are permitted to believe in the apparition on the basis of human testimony, including any verified miracles. The Church deems the story credible, but does not put her authority behind it, so the faithful are not obliged to believe in it.
Limits Of A Positive Decision
Did you notice the different effects of the two decisions? A negative decision comes with a warning, while a positive decision comes with a permission.
That is, a negative decision comes with directives which are authoritative, while a favorable decision, a permission, is not binding on the faithful.
We might wonder: why doesn’t the Church make a positive decision binding?
The difference has to do with when the events happened, and how we know them. The Church holds that every doctrine revealed by God comes from the time of Christ and from the apostolic era. These are the doctrines we profess in our baptismal vows, and we believe them (and are obliged to believe them) because God revealed them. These doctrines revealed in the apostolic age are the “Deposit of Faith”, and this revelation is infallible, because God cannot err or deceive.
In contrast, an apparition event that took place after the death of the apostles is not directly revealed by God; we know it through human testimonies, so it is later than the Deposit of Faith and it is believed on a human basis. This human faith is fallible, and the Church does not have authority to impose it. Thus positive verdicts only create a permission.
An Opinion: What Would I Like To See?
I think it is not possible to identify the specific cause of the initial events, whether it was psychological or perhaps diabolical, but it’s one or both; so I think there is enough demonstration of falsehood in the initial events to produce a judgment of constat de non supernaturalitate: the event is proven not supernatural.
Along with that judgment, there should be a ban on promoting the apparition claims or messages, and a ban on pilgrimages, conferences, and other devotional events based on a claim of supernatural origin. The seers should be prohibited from making public statements on religious matters for five years. Unauthorized religious communities operating in the area should be rebuked by the Holy See and directed to comply with the local bishop. Foreign priests and religious should be forbidden to conduct ministry within the diocese without the bishop’s permission.
Do I expect all that to happen? No.
A Good Commentary
Lastly, let me recommend Diane Korzeniewski’s fine column on why it has taken so long for Church authorities to make a decision on the Medjugorje case.