Monday, December 31, 2012

Was a "cultus" permitted by the Church for "Our Lady of Medjugorje?"

One of the many images that come up
when doing an internet search on
"Our Lady of Medjugorje"

Reviewing official documents on Medjugorje, do we find that a public cultus (cult of devotion) has been granted in the name of "Our Lady of Medjugorje?"  Or, is the Church permitting merely private devotion according to the teachings of the Church, which would not include devotion in the name of the alleged apparition, not yet deemed worthy of belief?

In the 1978 norms that deal with discernment of presumed apparitions, the Church sets up three stages (emphasis mine in bold; added emphasis underlined with my comments bracketed in red)
When Ecclesiastical Authority is informed of a presumed apparition or revelation, it will be its responsibility:
a) first, to judge the fact according to positive and negative criteria (cf. infra, no. I); [See the document for criteria used. Note that fruits are not yet judged at this stage; rather, it is the events themselves that are examined.] 
b) then, if this examination results in a favorable conclusion, to permit some public manifestation of cult or of devotion, overseeing this with great prudence (equivalent to the formula, “for now, nothing stands in the way”) (pro nunc nihil obstare). [Note the word "public" was used in reference to the cult of devotion permitted.  ]

c) finally, in light of time passed and of experience, with special regard to the fecundity of spiritual fruit generated from this new devotion, to express a judgment regarding the authenticity and supernatural character if the case so merits. [If a cultus is granted for a presumed apparition we would see approval to use devotions in it's name. Devotions like the Rosary belong to the patrimony of the Church and are recommended in the exhortation, Marialis Cultus.]

Let us go back to the 1991 Zadar Declaration, which, as of today, remains the official position of the Church. 19 bishops of the former Yugoslav Bishops' Conference said it cannot be affirmed that anything supernatural is connected with the phenomenon, and one bishop abstained from voting. Did the 1991 Zadar Declaration permit a public cultus? Here is a clue (emphasis mine in bold; added emphasis underlined):

Yet the gathering of the faithful from various parts of the world to Medjugorje, inspired by reasons of faith or other motives, require the pastoral attention and care, first of all, of the local Bishop and then of the other bishops with him, so that in Medjugorje and all connected with it, a healthy devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the teachings of the Church may be promoted. The Bishops will also provide special liturgical and pastoral directives corresponding to this aim. At the same time,they will continue to study all the events of Medjugorje through the commissions.

Before we move on to examine later communications on this point, let's look closer at the above paragraph from the Zadar Declaration.  First, it acknowledges people are gathering in Medjugorje. It did not prohibit people from visiting, but it also did not grant a cult of devotion to the lady of Medjugorje. Rather, the devotion it wanted fostered was to be "according to the teachings of the Church."

Where do we find explanation of what the Church considers, "a healthy devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary?" Once again, we can point primarily to Marialis Cultus - For the right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Any true devotee of Mary should carefully read this beautiful exhortation which sets out to:

"...dwell upon a number of questions concerning the relationship between the sacred liturgy and devotion to the Blessed Virgin (I), to offer considerations and directives suitable for favoring the development of that devotion (II) and finally to put forward a number of reflections intended to encourage the restoration, in a dynamic and more informed manner, of the recitation of the Rosary, the practice of which was so strongly recommended by our predecessors and is so widely diffused among the Christian people (III)"

If the 1991 Zadar Declaration had granted a cultus, we would have seen actions similar to those associated with Our Lady of America.  Cardinal Burke, upon reviewing the case for his canonical opinion on it's status, had this to say:

Our Lady of America
Having reviewed the correspondence between Sister Mary Ephrem and her spiritual director of many years, Monsignor Paul F. Leibold, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, who later became the Bishop of Evansville and, then, Archbishop of Cincinnati, it is clear that the devotion, as proposed by Sister Mary Ephrem, received his approbation. In addition to the correspondence by which Monsignor Leibold declared the approval of the devotion, he also carried out the first of Our Lady of America's requests, made through Sister Mary Ephrem, namely, he had a medal struck with the image of Our Lady of America on one side and the coat of arms of the Christian family on the other.
Just to be clear, Cardinal Burke didn't grant the cultus since this belongs to the ordinary of the diocese; rather, he is saying that, by his actions, the former Archbishop of Cincinnati had permitted the cult of devotion.  Signs of this included his approval of a devotion and the striking of a medal, among other things.   Note that we do not see an opinion on the judgment of the alleged apparitions themselves; it is merely an acknowledgement that public devotion to Our Lady of America was granted by then Archbishop Leibold.

To contrast this, we can look at Bishop Ricken's approval of apparitions, in 2010, of Our Lady of Good Help.   Prior to that, it was in the same state as was Our Lady of America, with only a public cult of devotion approved.

Bishop Ricken at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help

Was a cultus permitted after the Zadar Declaration?

Without a doubt, many point to a 1998 letter by then Archbishop Bertone to Mons. Gilbert Aubrey concerning pilgrimages to justify what they believe to be permission for a cult of devotion to "Our Lady of Medjugorje." In fact, such a title would be inappropriate to use since it was never granted by the Church, as we will soon see.

At the bottom of this collection of communications on pilgrimages that flowed in the late 1990's, we will find the letter to Mons. Aubrey. On pilgrimages it says (emphasis mine in bold; added emphasis underlined):

Finally, as regards pilgrimages to Medjugorje, which are conducted privately, this Congregation points out that they are permitted on condition that they are not regarded as an authentification of events still taking place and which still call for an examination by the Church.

Nothing here grants public cult of devotion, but merely tells people they may visit Medjugorje privately.   Prior to that, in the same link we find a 1996 statement by then Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls who offered this:

The problem is if you systematically organize pilgrimages, organize them with the bishop and the church, you are giving a canonical sanction to the facts of Medjugorje ... This is different from people going in a group who bring a priest with them in order to go to confession ... 
Note that in everything we have seen thus far, the statements have attempted to help people understand that facts and events are still being studied and care must be taken not to give the impression that the Church has granted canonical sanction.  In fact, this is what is so contradictory in the behavior of certain bishops who have permitted visionaries of this unapproved apparition to have manifestations of visions in their own cathedrals, and in parishes or shrines in their dioceses.  It leads people to believe that the alleged apparitions have been sanctioned by the Church. Put another way, such things lend credibility to a phenomenon not yet deemed worthy of belief, and not granted a public cult of devotion.

CDF Responds to Bishops of the Region of Tuscany, Italy

In 2007, bishops from Tuscany met with then Archbishop Angelo Amato who was the secretary for the  Congregation for the Doctrine of the  Faith (and now a member of the Medjugorje commission).  They inquired about Medjugorje and the CDF secretary's response is captured in a fax they sent to the priests of the diocese.  This is a cleaned up Google translation of the fax:

During their "ad Limina" visit, the Bishops of the Region of Tuscany, from April 16-20, 2007, in a meeting at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Secretary Monsignor Angelo Amato, who spoke to us of apparitions of Medjugorje, has invited us to make public the homily the Bishop of Mostar, in order to clarify the religious phenomenon linked to this site. 
In compliance with this invitation to make known, and pray, especially priests, to read it carefully and to learn the lessons necessary for the proper enlightenment of our faithful.

The 2007 fax sent out to priests then duplicated what was in section III of Bishop Peric's 2006 homily in Medjugorje. Among the things that the secretary of the CDF wanted the bishops of Tuscany to convey by his recommendation for them to study that specific homily:

I am truly grateful to the Holy Father the Pope, to John Paul II of blessed memory and to the reigning Benedict XVI, who have always respected the judgements of the bishops of Mostar-Duvno, of the previous as well as the current bishop, regarding the so-called “apparitions” and “messages” of Medjugorje, all the while recognizing the Holy Father's right to give a final decision on these events. The judgements of the bishops, after all the canonical investigations made thus far, can be summarized in these following points (emphasis mine in bold; added emphasis underlined; comments bracketed in red]:
1 - Medjugorje is a catholic parish in which liturgical and pastoral activities are carried out, just as in all the other parishes of this diocese of Mostar-Duvno. No-one except the official Church authorities is then authorized to attribute the formal title of “shrine” to this place
2 - On the basis of Church investigations of the events of Medjugorje, it cannot be determined that these events involve supernatural apparitions or revelations. This means that till now the Church has not accepted, neither as supernatural nor as Marian, any of the apparitions.  [He is deferring to the 1991 Zadar Declaration].
3 - Priests who canonically administer this parish of Medjugorje or those who come as visitors, are not authorised to express their private views contrary to the official position of the Church on the so-called “apparitions” and “messages”, during celebrations of the sacraments, neither during other common acts of piety, nor in the Catholic media[!!!].  
4 - The Catholic faithful are not only free from any obligation to believe in the authenticity of the “apparitions” but they must also know that church pilgrimages are not allowed [watch for the qualifier, "if"], whether official or private, individual or group, or from other parishes, if they presuppose the authenticity of the “apparitions” or if by undertaking them attempt to certify these “apparitions”

This goes back to what then Archbishop Bertone said in his 1998 letter on pilgrimages. and on what Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in 1996.

Even when the new commission was announced in 2010, we saw no approval for a cult of devotion, nor has there been anything even remotely resembling approval of a cultus since then.


A cult of devotion to "Our Lady of Medjugorje" has not been granted by the Church.  Items and devotions bearing this title have been made illicitly, without approval by the Church, which is responsible for authorizing these things.  This has contributed to confusion among the faithful for some 30 years. Likewise, priests and bishops permitting their own local cultus to "Our Lady of Medjugorje" do so ahead of the Church.  How much more confusion is caused when they bring visionaries in to their parishes, shrines, and cathedrals to have public manifestations of visions to "Our Lady of Medjugorje?" It should leave us all that much more perplexed that any bishop in any other country would permit these things when no where in the regions making up the former Yugoslavia do we see bishops allowing them.  Division at an ecclesial level can only give rise to division among the laity, as we have seen.

I have laid out my understanding of the documents and I defer to the Church should further clarifications be offered that say otherwise.  This is among the things I hope to see the Holy See address after the Holy Father pronounces his clear message on the question of Medjugorje.

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