The chairman of the German Society for Mariology, Manfred Hauke, looking at the Bosnian pilgrimage site Medjugorje, calls first for a clarification on the question of the phenomenon’s authenticity and then for pastoral answers. By Regina Einig
Q. Professor Hauke, the new Apostolic Visitator to Medjugorje, Archbishop Hoser, has recently determined that the pilgrimage activity in that town in Bosnia-Herzegovina corresponds to the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council. How do you interpret this statement, and how can we place it in context?
Hauke: In his first homily as Apostolic Visitator to Medjugorje on July 22, Archbishop Hoser mentioned that the Marian devotion carried out in the parish places Christ at the center and therefore corresponds to the Second Vatican Council. It really does not belong to his assignment as papal emissary to make a statement about the authenticity of the reported Marian apparitions. In his interview on August 18, 2017, he emphasized that he had not involved himself with the content of the “apparitions”, as that was not his assignment. Such a separation between the truth of the messages and pastoral care cannot be reassuring: the question of authenticity needs to be posed first, and only then can the pastoral answer follow, and that includes concern about those who visit Medjugorje.
Q. Why must the question of authenticity be posed first?
Hauke: According to the Council, forms of Marian devotion that are “recommended by the Magisterium” (Lumen gentium 67) should be encouraged. Certainly that does not include celebrating a youth festival again on this August 5, based on the message that the Mother of God had celebrated her 2000th birthday on August 5, 1984 (and would therefore have been born in the year 16 B.C., which would mean that in the historical year of Jesus’ birth, that is, circa 7 B.C., she would have been about nine years old). This absurd message was spread by Fr. Tomislav Vlasić OFM, who was laicized in 2009, whom the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accused of dubious mysticism and transgressions against the sixth commandment, among other things. That the real Mother of God is suggesting to change the liturgical date of her September 8 birthday feast and correspondingly also the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, is ridiculous. The Second Vatican Council, moreover, emphasizes very clearly the responsibility of the bishop for his diocese and the obedience owed to him on the part of the faithful (Lumen gentium, ch. 3). The local bishop has complained against the establishment of houses by religious communities in Medjugorje without his written permission.
Q. For more than thirty years people have been streaming to Medjugorje. Archbishop Hoser points to the search for Christ as a theme of the pilgrims. Does this make the question of the authenticity of the apparitions superfluous? What good will it do to publish the results of the commission’s investigation now, if the Church is certifying de facto that there’s no problem?
Hauke: The current handling of the problem should be turned around completely: the Holy See should publish a statement, supported with historical facts and theological explanations, that takes a position on the phenomenon of the reported apparitions; the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would have the competence to do this. After that, it should rule on the pastoral issues, which would probably be resolved gradually after a disclosure of the facts and the scandals at the root of the case.
Q. The Pope wants the Visitator to give the pilgrims and those who provide pastoral care stability and guidance. Why is this needed at all, if religious practice in Medjugorje, in regard to prayer and the reception of the sacraments, is substantially more intensive than in most parishes?
Hauke: Perhaps the need for direction is due in part to the problem of five Franciscan parishes in Bosnia, which Archbishop Hoser himself mentioned in August 2017. The disobedience of the Franciscans toward the bishop can be traced in fact to the “Gospa”, who, according to the seers’ assertions, spoke more than once against the removal of two Franciscan parochial vicars and thereby criticized the bishop.
Q. Bishop Ratko Perić of Mostar-Duvno considers the apparitions thoroughly implausible—including those that took place in June 1981, which were evaluated positively by a Vatican commission in 2015. How do you interpret this assessment? What reasons are there for or against the position of the Bishop of Mostar?
Hauke: Bishop Perić has known the events connected with the “apparitions” since the beginning, including numerous details that are not known to the public. After it was reported by the press, and not denied by the Vatican, that the Ruini commission had judged the first seven apparitions on the first ten days as genuine, the bishop made his own investigation known to the public (2017). The result reflects the examination undertaken of several scholarly studies, on the basis of tape-recorded interviews made by Franciscans from June 27 to 30, 1981. Apparently the Ruini Commission did not study these interviews, which so far have been available in print only in English and French translation, at all. The very delineation of “seven” initial apparitions in “ten” days, of which a member of the commission spoke, contradicts the historical events. Depending on how you count them, there were 17-18 “apparitions” in the first ten days with quite unusual happenings. To “overlook” these facts for the benefit of the pilgrimage industry is as weighty as the mantle of silence over the moral scandals that are connected with the “apparitions”. These scandalous facts are thoroughly comparable with the abuses in Chile: the Holy See only intervened (2018), when the truth could no longer be hidden, because the secular press worldwide was showing interest. In order to prevent something similar in the case of Medjugorje, courage is needed to reveal countless facts that are uncomfortable for the Church.
Q. Are the apparitions of June 1981 formally recognized by the Commission’s reported evaluation?
Hauke: The Ruini Commission presented its report as requested by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the responsible body; according to the interview of the Pope on May 13, 2017, it asked for further study and does not share the assessment of the Commission. Pope Francis himself expressed his very personal, very negative evaluation of the “apparitions” of Medjugorje in May 2017 on the return flight from Fatima, but at the same time he took the dossier away from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This seems to be a “pastoral” way, at the expense of the question of truth, full of deep-reaching contradictions. Such an approach seriously hurts the credibility of the Church and of doubtlessly authentic Marian apparitions (Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima).
(My unofficial translation from the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, August 1; I edited a few words for clarity on August 11.)