Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Medjugorje: Cardinal Puljic affirms authority of local bishop

Note: There are some foreign language links here for which you can get a rough translation with the use of Google translation tools.

I have been tracking this story in it's various forms since it emerged in the paper of the BiH Bishop's Conference (Bosnia and Herzegovina).  However, the piece was not available in English and it was chased with, fairly quickly, an interview by Zenit on the same subject this past Friday, but only in Italian.  I figured it would be out on Monday in English and it was.  I'll be excerpting this and commenting in between. Emphases mine in bold.

By Chiara Santomiero

ROME, NOV. 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The president of the Bosnian episcopal conference has been in Rome, but not to discuss the controversy surrounding Medjugorje, as some reports have contended.

Instead, Cardinal Vinko Puljic participated last week in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which focused on St. Paul and the "new areopagi."

The cardinal did talk to ZENIT about Medjugorje, affirming that the reports of apparitions there and the consequent popularity of the site for pilgrimages is a matter dealt with by the bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric, and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"As an episcopal conference, we await suggestions and proposals on how to proceed, and I believe the Holy See wants to carry on in this way," he added.

I want to stop here for a minute because this is an important point.  The Cardinal affirms the authority of the local bishop.  Why is this important? The bishop of Mostar is treated like an enemy by the Medjugorje movement because of the very solid doctrinal position he takes against authenticity (see part 1 and part 2 of his September 26, 2009 statement). 

The bishops of Mostar have been calumniated, and jabbed at with great disrespect by those promoting the apparitions.  These subjective inuendos are then treated as fact by followers and repeated to others.  The end result, sadly, is "seers" vs. bishop, or more accurately, "seers" vs. Church, for whom the bishop speaks. What we are left with is a complete lack of filial reverence for Bishop Peric, and his predecessor, Bishop Zanic.   It serves only to discredit this apostolic successor. 

It has also manifested itself in broad disregard for the bishop's orders to not propogate "messages" (see 1996 homily), among other orders that are not followed ("messages" still appear regular on the website His Excellency identified in his most recent list of prohibitions).  Consider that each message received is obtained through a deliberate act of disobedience on the part "seers" and close associates releasing it.  There can be no justification for this. 
Back to the Zenit piece (links are added by me; bold is mine):
The 64-year-old cardinal referred back to a 1991 statement from what was then the Yugoslavian bishops' conference. That declaration notes that "nothing supernatural could be confirmed in what was happening, [and] affirmed the responsibility of parish priests and local bishops to pastorally assist all those who go there to pray," he recalled.
There are three possible positions the Church can take.  It is noteworthy, that after 28 years, nothing can be found to suggest that anything supernatural is occuring.  However, the decision does leave the matter open for further study.  While pilgrimages were permitted privately, the cultus was not.  Had a cultus been approved, we would not have seen a prohibition against anything related to "Our Lady of Medjugorje".   The title Queen of Peace - already in the patrimony of the Church, has been in use.
"I hope that the Holy See will give indications on confessions and Eucharistic celebrations," Cardinal Puljic added. "And perhaps also on the establishment of a commission that will follow the phenomenon, recording the contents of the apparitions and of the messages, keeping in mind that up to today there are more than 30,000."

With regards to that last statement, there is no other Church approved apparition that even came close to this.  Any study would indeed compare what is happening in Medjugorje to what we know about authentic apparitions already approved. 

With regards to the Cardinal's statement about a commission, there has been considerable waffling over this issue.  What he says now is almost a reiteration of what he said in 2006.  In June of 2008, in response to talk of a commission in a local paper, Don Ante Luburic, chancellor of the diocese published a statement (if you think he sounds testy at times in this, you have to understand the severe challenges the region is dealing with in the aftermath of war in the fledgling nation, where the Christian minority is enduring certain forms of persecution - something the Italian version discussed, but omitted in the English version):

After reading this, even a more than average reader of “Večernji list” will not know: has the formation of a Commission only been pre-announced or is it really being established? Will it finally become a reality and when? Will it be established at all and when? Will it be under the jurisdiction of the Holy See and in which form? Will it override the competency of the Bishops’ Conference of B-H but not the jurisdiction of the local bishop? The only thing that is certain in all of these media announcements, journalistic fabrications and Radio-Medjugorje guesses is that the local bishop of Mostar knows nothing about it at all!

In December of 2008, a Brazlilian piece in Portugese made the following claim, which is pretty detailed (this is a crude translation from Google):

Three years ago, formed a study group, whose core is composed of thirty people, lay and religious, to examine the veracity of the phenomenon. Driven by the Pontifical International Marian Academy (Pami), an institution linked to the Vatican, are at work in secret and are expected to end until the end of 2009. It's extremely remote the probability that the verdict be in favor of the apparitions in Medjugorje," says one of several consultants Pami. The conclusion of the study group is a key to a final position of the Holy See in relation to the visions of Medjugorje
Is it possible that this is why we are getting news of a commission at work, followed by a denial - because it is not a true commission, but a study group?  There have also been reports of CDF involvement, then denials.  If PAMI is handling the study, then this may explain the confusion.

The timing stated above, goes along with the blogpost by Adam Tanner of Reuters in which he claims to quote Cardinal Puljic as saying:

“We are now awaiting a new directive on this issue....I don’t think we must wait for a long time, I think it will be this year, but that is not clear… I am going to Rome in November and we must discuss this.”

The BiH Conference news site (my first link in this post) specifically denies this claim by Reuters.  Perhaps it was the result of a language barrier, or perhaps it was a denial of certain aspects of the post. Cardinal Puljic pointed out that he is not expecting any document from the CDF. 

Back again to the Zenit article:
When Benedict XVI's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he wrote a letter backing the 1991 Yugoslavian episcopal conference letter. That was more than a decade ago.

Then, in his book on the apparitions in Fatima, published in 2007, Cardinal Bertone reiterated that the Church has not made an official decision on the site, and that while official pilgrimages are not to be organized, private pilgrimages to Medjugorje are acceptable. Certainly Medjugorje continues to attract thousands of pilgrims, acknowledged Cardinal Puljic.
And, in his 2007 address, Cardinal Bertone also said:
Even if at times the behaviour of diocesan Bishops and their collaborators may be wanting, it is essential to steer clear of the risk of a "Church of apparitions", diffident of the Hierarchy of the Church, as a variant of the well-known opposition of "charismatic Church - institutional Church". In this case, of course, we find that rather than facing a definite ideological position we are up against an attitude lived out and influenced by a somewhat superficial religiosity, a weakened ecclesial communion and a rather shallow faith in need of miraculous signs.
There you have it -  "diffident" [or distrustful] of the Hierarchy - which includes the local bishop and a "weakened ecclesial communion".  There are many erroneous claims out there that the "bishop was removed by the Holy See from the case" or that he was silenced.  This is ludicrous and without foundation.  Cardinal Puljic clearly reaffirms the authority of Bishop Peric.

Further, Monsignor Henri Brincard, speaking on behalf of the French Bishops in 2000, wrote:
Let us recognise that it is not easy to apply faithfully this recommendation. How, in fact, to organise a private pilgrimage without it being motivated by the conviction that the events of Medjugorje are of a supernatural origin? Since this conviction is at the origin of the pilgrimage, does not this latter not become de facto "an authentication of events in course which still necessitate an examination by the Church"?

It is just this difficulty which Cardinal Kuharic and Bishop Zanic foresaw in their joint declaration of 9th January 1987
Msgr. Brincard then cites the case of the Mariavites of Poland as worthy of study.

"It's not a sin to pray," said the cardinal with a smile. "There are many beautiful presences that have generated conversions and priestly or religious vocations. They are the fruits of prayer: Wherever man prays with faith, God gives the fruits of his grace."
This is all true. What is interesting is that all of these converions and vocations are attributed by the movement to the alleged apparition, as opposed to the sacramental grace coming from the Holy Eucharist and confession.  The Cardinal himself attributes them not to the alleged apparition, but to prayer.

"To pray in Marian shrines is part of the identity of our Catholic faithful," the Bosnian cardinal affirmed. "In the course of the problematic events of our history, our people have met repeatedly in the different shrines of the region to ask for consolation, light and hope, and the Virgin is a sign for our faith."

Some are also now spinning that last paragraph in such a way as to suggest that the Church is getting ready to give "shrine status" to Medjugorje.  It is unlikely that this would happen given that such status at the site of a purported apparition does not come until after it is fully approved.  In fact, it is a level of approval.  To give "shrine status", is only second to the visit of a sitting pope, which is considered the highest level of approval the Church can give. 

Medjugorje has not gotten past the stage in which "events" are judged.  Events are always judged before fruits for a very simple reason.  If an appartion claimed that there were eight persons in the Trinity, would we attribute vocations and conversions to such an apparition? If we were to study some of the major condemned apparitions we wil see that there too, were good fruits.  But, God makes good things come from bad (fraud or diabolical influence).  One of the best case studies is that of Magdalen of the Cross.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!