Sunday, March 21, 2010

Medjugorje: What mushrooms teach about objectivity

On February 2nd, 2010 - the Feast of the Presentation, Mariologist, Prof. Dr. Manfred Hauke, a priest who is the chairman for the German Society for Mariology (since 2005), and a professor of dogmatic theology and patristics at Lugano was interviewed by Die Tagespost (The Daily Post) in:
It was an indepth look at apparitions in general, and in particular, the phenomena of Medjugorje.  Since the interview was published by Fr. Hauke, two very rich followup articles were penned by the mariologist, just before the official announcement of the new international commission to be headed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini on March 17, 2010 (one of which was published the day after).  Links to both are at the very bottom of this commentary.  If you have not yet read that original interview, you will want to do so before continuing here.

While he acknowledges there are good fruits, he offers a reasonable, alternative explanation for these things, supported by Church teaching, even if the alleged apparitions are eventually judged to be not supernatural.  He also raises some legitimate concerns around specific events and claims.  We know that the very miracles performed by Moses, which were from God, were duplicated by the sorcerers whose "works" were not of God.  Hence, seemingly miraculous "signs and wonders" are not always from God. 

Fr. Hauke's contribution to the discussion of Medjugorje has been well received by many who hunger  for serious objectivity with regards to the events themselves. More often than not, like myself, they are Marian and Eucharistic, and care a great deal about the dignity of Our Lady.  This hunger for objectivity is not the pursuit of purely intellectual interest, but a quest for truth. Since unity subsists in truth, this should be of interest to people on both sides of the issue.

If a mushroom tastes good, is it safe to eat?

The discussions which dominate the web are of a more experiential nature:  "I went to Medjugorje, had a conversion of heart and a great experience, therefore, it is authentic". Imagine if people judged the safety of eating wild mushrooms based on subjective taste alone, rather than on the wisdom of the learned who can tell the difference between good tasting poisonous mushrooms, and good tasting mushrooms that are safe to eat.  The taste has no bearing on whether the mushroom is safe to eat.  Further, one cannot make the poisonous mushroom non-poisonous, simply by an act of the will because it tastes good. It must be given over to experts to properly test.

I suspect Cardinal Ruini and the members of his international commission will not be judging the mushrooms based on taste, but based mainly on objective facts to protect those who desire to continue feeding on them.  We have to trust the good, wise, and learned cardinal to put them to the test. Some mushrooms are downright deadly, while others can produce odd behaviors and undesireable side effects. Hold that thought for a moment....

Treating Medjugorje like a "cold-case"

If we set aside "fruits" and look at "events" (who, what, where, when, how), the evidence at the "flashpoint" of an event, or soon after, is always of greater interest to investigators than what comes later. Think about a crime scene.  Early in the investigation, the evidence has greater purity because it is relatively undisturbed by other external elements and influences.  With each hour or day that passes, there is a greater chance that things which are foreign to the crime itself will get introduced and lead investigators on a wild goose chase.

When unsolved, or "cold-cases" are reopened many years later, investigators go back to the original data before looking at anything more recent.  Cold-cases are often solved when the passage of time sheds new light on old information.  That is why, in his original interview, Fr. Hauke concerned himself mainly with a few key things from the early days of the phenomena.  For him to speak to Vicka today (30 years after the flashpoint), is not as pure as listening to tape-recordings (or reading transcripts of those recordings), that took place near the beginning. Sadly, some of the early material put out by Medjugorje-promoting authors, sanitized their books of damaging parts of those transcripts, or worse - manipulated the data.  With books like, The Hidden Side of Medjugorje, readers of english and french have access to unfiltered transcripts in the very large set of appendices.

Poisonous mushrooms and odd behaviors
Now lets return to the discussion of mushrooms and the odd behaviors which can be produced by those that are poisonous, but good tasting. 

Sadly, there has been some backlash to Fr. Hauke's objective interview. It illustrates well one of the other fruits of Medjugorje: It's impossible to take a a look at objective information in a critical manner without being impugned or defamed, all the while the game of bait-and-switch is played to distract readers from validly raised points.  I've experienced this myself in online discussions.  In his followup articles, Fr. Hauke did not let the bait-and-switch pass, and once again, made note that the central part of his argument was completely ignored. 

A Marian bishop, Msgr. Henri Brincard discussed the odd behaviors back in 2000 in a statement on behalf of the French Bishops, which remains one of the most well written pieces of analysis out there, describes the odd behavior.  He writes:
It is first of all undeniable that at Medjugorje there are returns to God and 'spiritual' healings. It is no less evident that the sacramental life is regular there and the prayer fervent. One could not deny these good fruits in situ. We should even rejoice in them. But can we say that they continue in our parishes? Difficult question, for we must note unfortunately that the susceptibility, even aggressiveness, of some partisans of Medjugorje towards those who do not share their enthusiasm is such that it provokes, here and there, serious tensions which attack the unity of the People of God.

A closer look at Prof. Dr. Manfred Hauke

First, let's look even closer at Rev. Dr. Manfred Hauke before getting to the topic at hand for those who are unfamiliar with him. He is multilingual, so he has access to materials in many languages making his contributions that much more informative. He is a member of "Pontificia Academia Mariana Internationalis" (PAMI) since 1992.  He has done post-doctoral work in what is called in some countries, a habilitation.  This was on the doctrine of original sin in the Greek Fathers (see also his list of current projects for doctorates and habilitations).  Two of his works are published in English.  These are well regarded by theologians and apologists who defend the Church's teaching with regards to "feminist theology" and women's "ordination".  These topics were a big deal in the 80's and early 90's:  God or Goddess?: Feminist Theology : What Is It? Where Does It Lead? and:  Women in the Priesthood: A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption).  Summed up:  Father has his collar on straight.  Here's more, from his curriculum vitae:

He is the editor of the scientific book series "Collana di Mariologia" (since 2002). His responsibility as coeditor regards the series "Quaestiones thomisticae" (since 2007), but also the reviews "Sedes Sapientiae. Mariologisches Jahrbuch" (since 2004) and "Forum Katholische Theologie" (since 2007). Since 1996, he is member of the editorial committee of the "Rivista teologica di Lugano" (since 2009 also vice-director) and since 2007 of the "Ephemerides Liturgicae".

Grave accusations: Effects of mushrooms?
Now that we know more about about who this priest-professor is, I want to shift over to what happened in the wake of his interview.

While it is very common to see these kinds of behaviors I'm describing  in combox threads and forums, we now have an example of it happening at a professional level to a highly-credentialed theologian in a public news source (a Medjugorje promoting Austrian site: by what can best be described as a "junior" theologian and Medjugorje devotee.

It involves a transitional deacon  (a man soon to be ordained to the priesthood) in the Archdiocese of Cologne by the name of Thomas Müller, who made some "very grave accusations" against Fr. Hauke (translation by Richard Chonak).  He says, in part:

It is frightening how lightly Prof. Hauke calls for the "love of truth", but spreads complete lies and half-truths himself in this interview, and silences known facts. Through it all, he sets about to mix with Medjugorje negative incidents which have nothing to do with it.
The high point, then, is the indirect conclusion that the fruitfulness of Medjugorje, which has been unique in the world in relation to conversions, vocations, the revival of the sacrament of penance, the rosary, and love for the Eucharist, comes from the work of the Devil and that the messages represent a spiritualistic phenomenon. This is an insult to God, since Hauke is thereby saying that the Devil, in order to deceive the Church, is more fruitful than the Holy Spirit.
What is interesting, is that Prof. Hauke said no such thing and the conclusion Müller reaches is one that has left me very puzzled.  Is it the effects of feeding on "poisonous mushrooms" because they taste good and appear harmless? This goes back to what I said about not being able to speak on things that are objectively critical without being impugned or defamed.  He starts out his public response in the same source which published the denunciation in this way [emphases mine in bold; comments bracketed in red]:

For years there has been a contentious debate about the so-called "Marian apparitions" of the seers who originated from Medjugorje. The current official position of the Church is still the 1991 declaration of the Yugoslav Bishops Conference, which emphasizes: "non constat de supernaturalitate", i.e. it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelation. The local Bishop Ratko Perić goes beyond this affirmation and has emphasized his conviction [Prot.: 1267/97, October 2, 1997], according to which it has been established that the pertinent phenomena are not of supernatural origin [in paragraph 5 of the same letter, Bishop Peric himself acknowledged that this was his personal position, stating: "I am open to a study that the Holy See would undertake, as the supreme court of the Catholic Church, to speak the supreme and definitive judgment on the case"]. Among Catholic Christians, it should be possible to discuss the questions connected with this matter objectively [Yes!]. My interview in the Tagespost, which has been propagated in various languages since then, was a contribution to this very necessary discussion. If it should happen that I have, in the process, repeated any false information, I am ready and willing to correct these errors. Thus far I do not see any reason for corrections.

Does it not seem strange that in the minds of some who believe in the authenticity of the phenomena, it is perfectly fine to speak favorably, but considered inappropriate, even for well-credentialed scholars to question  the authenticity with objective information?

In my experience discussing Medjugorje with supporters, it has become very clear that anything coming from the diocesan bishop or diocese is not considered a credible source.  Such information is dismissed out-of-hand, or there is deflection which completely by-passes the more important points raised by the diocese. Mary would encourage docility, not hostility to local authority (even if the bishop were later proven wrong).  Dismissiveness and indifference to that authority are also out of alignment with the kind of graces we should expect to see.  Again, I ask: Is it simply the effects of feeding on "poisonous mushrooms" that taste good? The "good fruits" argument is held up like a shield, but in the end good fruits alone are not sufficient for discernment.  In every objection I've read to Father Hauke's interview, I have not seen one person address the most important points raised by the diocese, and amplified by Hauke (quote taken from original interview - my comments bracketed in red]:
Particularly in the early period of the phenomenon there were several very unusual messages. According to a tape-recording transcript from June 30, 1981, the seers reported, according to the assertion of the "Gospa", the end of the appearances would be in three days (on July 3), but they then went on. [...and on, and on, and on ....... over 40,000 more appearances.  Is it possible that the Blessed Virgin Mary would state an untruth?  Reasonable people can conclude, at the very least, that authenticity is questionable based on this alone!]
Prof. Hauke continues his initial reaction to the accusations.  This is where a solid theologian first offers some very basic catechesis (and I see not just the professor, but the priest speaking here).  We should all use what he says here to examine our consciences with regards to our online discussions of any topic.  He writes (emphasis mine in bold):
In any case, I am shocked over the unobjective reactions of certain followers of the Medjugorje movement, who ascribe bad intentions and "lies" to me. To "lie" means to consciously state a falsehood. In my scholarly career of nearly thirty years now I have fought out many battles and have had to bear many criticisms, for example the polemics of a "woman priest" ordained somewhere on the Danube between Linz and Passau, in the magazine Publik-Forum. But even in these circles no one has ascribed a "lie" to me so far, or a presumption "that the end justifies the means". Such reactions are character assassination.
It is really interesting that as contentious as the issue of women's "ordination" was, that this priest would be treated worse by some who believe they are defending an entity whom the Church has not in any way authenticated as being the Blessed Virgin Mary?  In fact, the behavior (not the people) is anti-Marian in nature.  The holy Mother of God is not only the Queen of peace, but the Mother of divine grace, the Mother most amiable, the Virgin most prudent, and the mirror of justice.  Mary was, in the first place, the model of obedience and humlity

Fr. Hauke continues...

Among these, sadly, is the contribution of Deacon Thomas Müller, which appeared in (18 Feb.). Deacon Müller, who has published a master's thesis ("Diplom" in German) on Medjugorje, asserts that I have spread "complete lies and half-truths" in my interview and that I "set about" "to mix with Medjugorje negative incidents that have nothing to do with it." He speaks of "untruths and distortions". Because I, on the basis of the facts presented to me, consider the possibility that the visions come from the workings of the evil one, I am even accused of an "insult to God". These accusations are very grave.

Now that I have gotten you this far, go read Fr. Hauke's entire response, in which he addresses each of the criticisms leveled by Müller (along with a link his article). It  includes, at the end, an apology by the transitional deacon written a few days later, partially translated by Richard Chonak. 

There is one more article that just came out late last week by Fr. Hauke in response to two more pro-Medjugorje critics of his interview:  Dr. Christian Stelzer (Oasis of Peace - Vienna) and Rev. Dr. Ivan Dugandzic, OFM. Richard Chonak offers links to those articles which challenged Fr. Hauke.  This time, Fr. Hauke did not respond immediately, but did some homework.  The results of that homework was very intersesting.

- March 22, 2010: Edited grammar and punctuation; eliminated a redundant comment.

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