The Remnant Press
1. MEDJUGORJE: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
by Geoffrey Lawman Co-founder of Approaches; Co-editor of Apropos;
and Editor of Fatal Star, the autobiography of Hamish Fraser.
We are hearing more and more about Medjugorje, the Yugoslavian village where, it is said, Our Lady has been appearing almost daily to some or all of six young visionaries ever since 1981. The natural question, as with all such claimed apparitions, is "Are they authentic?" To this there are three possible answers: "Yes," "No," and "We'd better wait for the Church's verdict." The third is clearly the wisest answer for any Catholic who recognizes the Church's teaching authority and the limitations of his own private judgment. Yet equally it is part of our tradition to revere Our Lady in the context of her numerous authenticated apparitions, and, historically speaking, popular devotion to any new apparition has often spread and become as it were "established" well before the Church gave its final approval.
We cannot therefore object to devotees of Medjugorje trying to enlist our support for phenomena which they strongly believe to be of God, provided their publicity is balanced and honest and they are ready to leave the last word to the Teaching Church. But they, for their part, must be equally ready to face the questions of other Catholics, possibly as devoted to Our Lady as themselves, but who have serious doubts about the events in question.
A New Type of Apparition?
One reason for questioning the events at Medjugorje is that they are so strikingly unlike all previous Marian apparitions. Which other apparitions have gone on almost daily for over 12 years and are still going on? Which others were announced a month in advance (at a charismatic congress in Rome)? Which others have been so well publicized internationally as to attract (it is claimed) 5 million pilgrims to date? These 3 features may not in themselves constitute arguments against the authenticity of the alleged apparitions (though one may well wonder what Our Lady could have found to say that needed some 26,000 appearances!), but it is clear that Medjugorje is following a pattern quite different from that of earlier (and approved) apparitions-----Lourdes, La Salette, Pontmain, Fatima or Beauraing, for example.
A 'Holiness Explosion'
Supporters point to the devotional and spiritual impact of the occurrences on both villagers and pilgrims, and it is true that the apparitions have repeatedly urged greater assiduity in prayer and fasting and regular confession, together with Bible reading, Eucharistic devotions, etc., and that these recommendations have been enthusiastically followed. However welcome this is, we should remember that it is not in itself any guarantee of holiness or even of orthodoxy, let alone evidence that the apparitions are authentic. The Church's history shows numerous cases of heretical groups noteworthy for intense devotion, prayer and fasting (the Fraticelli of the 13th century, for example). One may perhaps question the prudence of the "Lady's" subsequent extension of fasting, even partial, from 1 to 2 days per week (for growing teenagers!) and her unrealistic recommendation of up to 3 hours of prayer daily. And the frequent practice of "laying on of hands" and "the baptism of the Spirit" suggests that the "holiness explosion" claimed for Medjugorje is as much charismatic as Catholic.
Graver Reasons For Doubt
Three further, and far more serious, characteristics of the Medjugorje phenomenon -----disobedience, lying and false doctrine-----form the essential grounds for the view that Our Lady has not, and could not have, appeared there at all.
Disobedience: The diocesan bishop, Msgr. Zanic of Mostar, has on several occasions given legitimate instructions to the Franciscan priests active in Medjugorje parish, which they have consistently disobeyed. He has ordered certain priests to leave the parish, and they have stayed. He has asked that the occurrences should not be publicized, and that pilgrimages
should not be organized or welcomed (until his canonical enquiry was complete). These orders have been ignored. But the most flagrant and (to my mind) conclusive case is that involving Fathers Prusina and Vego, two Franciscans being disciplined by their superiors (and who have since been expelled from the Order). Bishop Zanic' had ordered them to leave the parish. "Our Lady", questioned by the "visionaries", is stated to have said on two occasions (19.12.81 and 20.1.82) that the bishop was "in the wrong" and that the Franciscans "should stay put"! "Our Lady" is thus shown as inciting disobedience to a lawful order of a bishop.
Lying: I can understand the indignation this word will cause to convinced Medjugorjists. Yet I honestly do not see how otherwise to describe certain behavior on the part of the visionaries Ivan and Vicka and of Fr. Vlasic: Vicka's alternate denials and admissions that she was keeping a day-to-day chronicle of the events (and her concealment of large sections of it from the bishop's commission); the unbelievable perjury of Fr. Vlasic, swearing on the cross in the bishop's presence that he knew nothing of Vicka's diary (though he had earlier supplied extracts of that very diary to Fr. Grafenauer); young Ivan's "message" regarding the great sign to come "in the sixth month", written and signed by him and lodged in sealed envelopes with the canonical commission, but which he retracted nearly 3 years later when the "messages" were opened and shown to be invalid. Ivan, by then twenty years old, agreed that the "Lady" had not objected when he wrote the "message" originally, conveniently delaying her admonition for 3 years until the day before he admitted his "mistake"! Only lack of space dissuades me from continuing this distasteful and saddening list. A whole study could be devoted to the subject, particularly if one includes the suppressiones veri and suggestiones falsi purveyed by Medjugorje's chief propagandists, Frs. Laurentin, Bugalo, and Co.
False Doctrine: Properly doctrinal statements are rare among the interminable reported words of the "Lady", but a single example of a doctrinal falsity ought to be enough to discredit any apparition. Here are two examples, both dating from 1983. In January, Mirjana told Fr. Vlasic how "Mary" was distressed by the lack of unity between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, since there was only one God: "You are not a believer if you do not respect the other religions, Muslim and Serbian (i.e. Orthodox). You are not Christians if you do not respect them." [This is false doctrine: we owe proper respect to non-believers, but none at all to their false religion; this would be a betrayal of Christ and His Church.] Even Fr. Vlasic was taken aback by this, but to his further questions-----Mirjana could only reply by repeating herself: ". . . lack of unity among the religions. You must respect each person's religion," adding "Keep your own for yourselves and your children." This Masonic syncretism in a supernatural message is quite inadmissible; it rules out the missionary charity whereby we try to win our neighbors over to Our Lord.
The second example is from April 1983. "Our Lady" is supposed to have dictated to Helena (a charismatic 'mystic', aged 10 or 11 years, who does not "see" the visions but hears what is said) a prayer of consecration to her Immaculate Heart. Bear in mind that these words are of the "Lady's" composition, but are intended to be addressed to her. In them we find the following:
1. . . . give me the grace to love all men as you loved Jesus Christ . . .
2. . . . give me the grace to be merciful towards you . . .
3 . . . if, by chance, I should lose your grace, I ask you to restore it to me.
To love all men . . . yes, God said we may all achieve that height of charity. But to love them as Mary loved Jesus (her God, King and Savior as well as Son), as in petition 1, is impossible and scandalous; it amounts to making gods out of our fellow-creatures. Petition 2 is just stupid, not to say insolent; she who is: "full of grace," the Queen of Heaven, has no need of our mercy. Of petition 3 one could at least object that grace is never lost by chance, but only through sin. The exercise as a whole is not impressive; whatever "Spirit" inspired it was clearly not the Holy Ghost.
Other Reasons for Doubt
A fuller critique of Medjugorje would go into other doubtful aspects which I can only mention in passing: the unedifying expatiation of "the Lady" by the Franciscans in their
dispute with the bishop over the allocation of parishes; the pretentious pseudo-science deployed to authenticate the "ecstasies" of the "visionaries" (including the use of an electroscope to measure the intensity of "spiritual energy" developed during "apparitions"!); the rather suspect discrepancies in the testimonies as to what actually happened
during the "miracle of the sun" of August 1981; the sentimental banality of so much of the interminable stream of oracles uttered by the "Lady", and the unlikely vulgarity that has marked some of the "apparitions" (outbursts of laughter, "Our Lady" touched, and even caressed by visionaries and pilgrims.) And Bishop Zanic has voiced his own suspicion that the "visions" are less likely to be hallucinations than well-rehearsed play-acting. Such a suggestion is bound to enrage supporters of Medjugorje; the fact remains that if the ever-present local Franciscans had left the young people alone and the world charismfitic movement had followed suit-----in other words, if the bishop had been obeyed-----the whole question of authenticity could have been resolved long back.
There is one aspect of Medjugorje which I find particularly unsatisfactory; I refer to some of the material put out by the London Medjugorje Centre. It would be too much to expect, for example, that their introductory leaflet, The Facts About Medjugorje, would enter into all the minutiae of such a controversial affair, but even in such a short document one would at least have expected a more balanced account than this-----one which was just to Bishop Zanic, and which showed some awareness of the doubts raised by the apparitions. One is surprised to find no mention in it of such important issues as disobedience, lying and unacceptable doctrine, even if only to refute them.
Here are some of the facts that The Facts About Medjugorje does not choose to tell us:
-----that the diocesan canonical commission of enquiry has found (by 11 voices to 4) that the apparitions are not authentic.
-----that Bishop Zanic is speaking as the responsible bishop of the diocese (and therefore in somewhat more than "a private capacity") when he dismisses the apparitions as not authentic.
[See text of his July 25 sermon at Medjugorje.]
-----that if Rome and the Yugoslav Bishops' Conference have put the findings of his canonical enquiry into "cold storage", the most likely explanation, to any objective observer, is the enormous influence of the international propaganda campaign orchestrated by a pro-Medjugorje pressure-group.
-----that the local Franciscans "counseling" the "visionaries" are virtually all connected with the charismatic renewal movement (i.e. a sect of Protestant, "pentecostalist" inspiration, busy "colonizing" the Church since 1967). The same is true of the 'leading theologians' cited by the leaflet: Laurentin, Urs von Balthasar, and Faricy are all avowed charismatics. As for the "several other Yugoslav bishops" who, the leaflet claims, "fully accept Medjugorje as a precious gift from God," the only name that readily comes to mind is that of Archbishop Franic of Split, an enthusiastic charismatic; the others, even the initially favorable Cardinal Kuharic of Zagreb, seem now to have adopted a waiting posture. Why did the London Medjugorje Centre feel it necessary to conceal this heavy charismatic involvement?
Two other statements in this leaflet call, I feel, for comment. Firstly: "The Holy See usually waits at least until apparitions are over before making any pronouncement." True . . . but has it ever before been faced with apparitions that continue for 12 years and show no sign of stopping? What better way of putting off any definitive verdict until these "apparitions" achieve a sort of de facto respectability through their sheer indefmite continuance?
And secondly: "Unless and until the Church condemns Medjugorje . . . we enjoy the right to have as much to do with it as we like." Even if its messages clash with Catholic teaching (as I have tried to show above)? Even if they incite priests and visionaries to reject the Church's proper authority?
No, the leaflet, The Facts About Medjugorje presents in my view a most unsatisfactory and one-sided account, which cannot help but mislead inquirers who have no access to the fuller picture. One would like to excuse this as the result of enthusiastic devotion and inadequate research-----pray God this is so-----but the fact remains that, objectively, it is a travesty of the truth in important respects, and as such should be withdrawn.
The Threat To The Church
Some readers may well be surprised at the severity of my criticism. To them, the word "Medjugorje" conjures up Our Blessed Lady, humble and hopeful pilgrimages, all that is best in Marian devotion and spirituality. I assure such readers that I could have attacked much harder and adduced even more evidence of the negative aspects of Medjugorje. But what I have written above is already sufficient to support my conviction that it is a dangerous and un-Catholic thing.
It divides Christians-----those who accept its pseudo-spiritual humbug from those who insist on a sterner, purer spirituality-----even to the point of driving a wedge between fellow-bishops: on the one side Msgrs. Franic and Ianucci, on the other Msgr. Zanic.
It devalues and discredits the cult of Mary, and thus robs modern Catholicism of its finest spiritual flower. How do we expect Marian devotion to survive a "Lady" of interminable verbosity who submits to indiscriminate "patting", incites her hearers to disobedience; and even stages a pantomime "transformation-scene" between herself and Satan? An earlier generation of Catholics would have blown this absurdity away in a gust of Chestertonian laughter, but we seem to have lost. our sense of the ridiculous in the last 20 years.
And, with the cult of Mary, Medjugorje weakens the message of Fatima, with its cardinal insistence on the conversion of Russia and of Communists as the prerequisite for any peace and progress. Medjugorje talks airily of peace, but ignores the very precise recommendations of Our Lady of Fatima and the disastrous consequences that will follow if these are not complied with.
And, with the cult of Mary, Medjugorje weakens authority in the Church, by its resistance to the legitimate authority of its own bishop, by its partisan espousal of the cause of the dissident Franciscans in their quarrel with the diocese, It could even be argued that the long duration of the phenomenon constitutes an incipient "alternative magisterium", in the sense that we shall have much less need of hierarchies, a Teaching Church for our guidance if "Our Lady" is to appear daily to give us our instructions direct from Heaven . . . a disquieting prospect for all our bishops and for the Holy See itself.
Here I must rest my case, reminding readers that in presenting arguments against the Medjugorje apparitions I am merely availing myself of the same right as that claimed by its supporters when recommending it. Both they and I are speaking in our private capacities. As is customary and proper in these cases, I willingly give the assurance that I do not intend hereby to anticipate the Church's final verdict in any way. I merely hold the opinion, again in my private capacity, that the most probable conclusion is that the matter of that verdict exists already, in the shape of the findings of Bishop Zanic's commission, filed away in the offices of the Yugoslav Bishops' Conference and the Vatican, and will be re-worded and promulgated when the Church decides that the right moment has come.
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