Thursday, February 6, 2014

Is Andrea Tornielli objective on the subject of Medjugorje?

This posted is aimed at those with an interest in the case of Medjugorje.  I thought about breaking this up into two posts, but have been chipping away at this in draft over the past few days from the comfort of a recliner as I nurse an abdominal problem.  I've decided it's best to keep it all in one post since it pertains to one article by Andrea Tornielli.

How objective is Mr. Tornielli on Medjugorje?

Episcopal Coat of Arms of Bishop Ratko Perić
Motto: Through tribulations
into the kingdom of God
(ref. Acts 14:22)
Andrea Tornielli is an esteemed Italian journalist who reports on Vatican affairs.  In recent years, he has reported on the case of Medjugorje.  However, has his reporting been objective?

For whatever reason, there are omissions in his reports on the phenomena, especially when it comes to anything from the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno.  One doesn't have to agree with the position of a local bishop when the Holy See has the case with the intention of the Pope giving a definitive judgment; but, reporters ought to give diocesan information to readers. The Diocese of Mostar-Duvno has published many things over the years, especially leading up to the announcement of the Commission.  That such information would be in the hands of the Commission, but not Mr. Tornielli's general readership, is most unfortunate, especially given that it is in Italian on the diocesan website.  (See the English reading list here, though not everything has been translated, and some items are on the website, but not in the list).

What further erodes my ability to see Andrea Tornielli as an objective reporter on the matter, is that he participated in spreading calumnious suggestions a few years ago, that Bishop Pavao Žanić, who died in 2000, collaborated with the communists to take down Medjugorje. Any objective reporter would have gone to the diocese for information, and looked for holes in such serious, outrageous, and scandalous, sensationalism.  It is the stuff of tabloids, not respectable Catholic journalism.  Did Mr. Tornielli talk to the diocese?  Apparently not. Bishop Perić, the current Ordinary took the Italian journalist to the proverbial woodshed over his reporting of this in a December 31, 2011 response (see English hereItalian here and Croatian here).  If he is interested in truth, then we would expect an objective journalist to speak with Bishop Perić who speaks Italian quite well.

No journalist, no matter how well esteemed or connected to inside sources; and, no matter how well intentioned, is beyond reproach.  I'll consider him an objective reporter when I see signs he has thoroughly read and understands the diocesan case on Medjugorje.

Nuncio in BiH 2010: "how come there is information in such opposition…"

Gifted journalists search for truth regardless of where it leads.  They share information - both supportive and unsupportive - regardless of their own personal view.

Let's look back on the words of Archbishop Alessandro D'Errico, the former Nuncio to Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) from March of 2010 when the Commission was first formed. After explaining that the Holy Father saw Medjugorje as "a question" for which he felt, "responsible, as Supreme Head of the Church, to pronounce a clear message," the Nuncio explained:

The Holy Father personally knows it very well and he has told me that several times - he is well acquainted with the whole phenomenon. He knows about the great good that is being done in this region by the priests, the Franciscan friars, and the laity. And on the other hand he asks himself how come there is information in such opposition to this phenomenon.

[Sidenote /Edit: See how errant and misleading translations were made on those words by the Nuncio.  The word "pitanje" (question), which was used three times in the preceding paragraph was omitted from one of the Croatian versions found at That distortion was used in translations to other languages.  Also, in the paragraph quoted above, the last two sentences were combined into one in such a way as to make it sound like the Holy Father could not understand how anyone could be against Medjugorje. These distortions can be found all over pro-Medjugorje websites.  In fact, two versions were found on the website originating out of Medjugorje. This underscores the danger of using information only from pro-Medjugorje sites.  We also have to question why proponents would engage in such manipulation of the Apostolic Nuncio's words.]

Note here, Archbishop D'Errico didn't mention simply fruits, but information, "in such opposition." This is what disappoints me about Andrea Tornielli's reporting: The Diocese of Mostar-Duvno website is filled with information in opposition to the phenomena (in links above). Yet, if he is truly unbiased, why has he not shared any of this with his readers?  If he has, someone please inform me, with links to his articles, so that I may  update my post.

Likewise, Italian Medjugorje researcher, Marco Corvaglia, has put together one of the most detailed websites out there that presents the critical diocesan point of view, with hard documentation that looks in depth at information "in such opposition to this phenomenon."  Here is Marco's homepage with multiple language options at the top.   In a similar way, retired University of Montreal researcher of paranormal psychology, Louis Belanger has also helped shed light on the diocesan point of view in a very detailed set of posts in English and French.  Mr. Tornielli entered the com-box of at least one post there which bears his name in the title (there are several).  See the homepage here and scroll.

Clicking through sites like those, along with the diocesan links I provided, gives readers the chance to understand what kind of information was in the hands of the Commission, that is, "in such opposition to this phenomenon."

The Holy See is the final arbiter of the information in it's possession - the supportive, and the critical. Objective journalists are suppose to report both sides, and since when is it ever prudent to avoid sharing what a diocese publishes?

A prayer for truth, not approval or disapproval

I hold nothing against anyone who wants for the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje to someday be proved authentic. Many innocently do so.  I do have problems with those devotees who use an alleged apparition to attack a bishop, or lower his good name in the eyes of others. That too is a fruit.  It is often what prompts my postings.

Devotees see my defense of the current and past bishop of Mostar as an attack on the Blessed Virgin Mary herself - a ridiculous charge leveled at me many times.  For me, it is a defense of Our Lady's dignity, a defense of the office of bishop, and a defense of the good name of her loyal sons who have acted on their informed consciences in the case of Medjugorje. These are not "liberal" bishops as Americans understand that term. They get this impression from the attacks on the bishops which range from overt to passive-aggresive.  The most disappointing manifestation of this passive-aggression on the part of Catholics is when they refuse to acknowledge the bishops or diocese as credible sources of information. That professional journalists would stoop this low, is all the more unfortunate.

This has been one of the greatest signs against authenticity for me: I have witnessed calumny, lies, deceit, and the pedaling of half-truths, all in the name of the lady of Medjugorje, who has not been deemed worthy of belief at any level of the Church thus far.

Truth cannot co-exist with untruth, not even for the most noble of pastoral reasons.  I have consistently stated that I do not "hope" for approval or disapproval, but for truth to prevail. My prayer has always been, and always will be, that the Holy See is enlightened with the truth on Medjugorje, and conveys that truth to the whole Church in a clear and unambiguous way.  Anything less will yield the fruit of quarreling and discord, and the kind of disharmony that occurs when the truth is known and is set aside to spare people's feelings and sensitivities. The ends do not justify the means (Veritatis Splendor 75).

A look at the beginning of Andrea Tornielli's report

Tornielli opens his report in Vatican Insider telling us that the findings of the International Theological Commission on Medjugorje have been delivered to Pope Francis by Cardinal Ruini, who headed up the effort.  He says, "the top secret dossier is currently being in the hands of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which also holds other material on a phenomenon."  All of this is probably true since we saw the private audience His Eminence had with Pope Francis in the daily bulletin after it was announced that the commission had ended it's work.

The Italian journalist, then makes brief mention of the letter by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal-designate Gerhard Müller, sent through U.S. Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Vigano. Taking words from the original it said that, "…clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such 'apparitions' would be taken for granted."  

I could pick apart some of what he says next, but I'm going to move on to more important critiques.

A deeper look at "no proof of any tricks or scams"

After the Italian journalist says the commission was sending reports to the CDF.  He then repeats this red-herring:

No proof was found of any tricks or scams but some of the commission’s members are still not fully convinced.

I'm still trying to figure out how a journalist can know what is in a "top secret" dossier if people who are sworn to secrecy aren't betraying that which was entrusted to them. Does it come from a commission member who wanted anonymity?  He doesn't say.  Or, is it speculation of a trusted theologian who is merely doing his best to read the tea-leaves?  He doesn't say.  In any event, I'm wondering why anyone, "in the know," would be feeding a journalist bits of information that could be taken completely out of context, and in a way that causes needless confusion. Is it not better to simply wait for the Holy See?  I digress.

There is a bigger problem with Andrea Tornielli's repeating of this rumor. It is what he does not say that is telling. Perhaps he is unaware or has not thought it out more fully.

Question:  Is the Holy See required to have proof, or evidence, of tricks or scams; or, of medical, natural, diabolical (preternatural) explanations in order to say that an alleged apparition or other private revelation is not supernatural?

Answer:  No.  Why? Because it may not be possible to prove that something is a scam, or diabolical, or the result of medical or natural explanations; yet, it can still be found undoubtedly not supernatural.

Example:  If an alleged apparition says there are four persons in the Trinity, can we say that it is a scam?  No. Can we say that it has diabolical origins? No.  Can we say that it is the result of natural or medical explanation?  No.  Can we say that it is doctrinally false? Yes. And, because truth and untruth cannot co-exist, that alleged apparition could be declared not supernatural without attributing it to any particular cause.

Unfortunately, Mr. Tornielli's repeated emphasis on the "no tricks or scams found" really is a red-herring.  Even if this is true, it does not mean Medjugorje is cleared from the potential for a fully negative judgment. I am NOT saying that we will see a negative judgment, because I do not presume to know what the Holy See will say.  What I am saying is that it builds the illusion in people's minds that if there are no tricks or scams, then the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje could not possibly be declared, "not supernatural."

There are other reasons besides doctrinal conflicts that can result in a wholly negative decision, especially when combined with other signs of inauthenticity.  Some believe the sheer volume of messages, likely into six digits after more than 30 years is enough to debunk the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje.  Add to that just some of the doctrinal challenges given to us by the local bishop (see Italian here); or, the diocesan discussion of the Great Sign (Italian here), among other things.

Not by good fruits alone

Notice that I have not included discussion of fruits here, yet.  Are there good fruits among the devotees of Medjugorje?  Sure. However, we might disagree on whether those come from an alleged apparition, or from the graces which accompany an increase in sacramental and prayer life.  I was inspired to go to Confession at Assumption Grotto on the mere sight of seeing so many people in line at three confessionals before Mass when I first went there.  The Holy Spirit can work through such visuals. My life changed even more as I included the daily Rosary, frequent Adoration, the Divine Office, and daily Mass attendance.  I know people at Assumption Grotto who once worked in abortion mills, were involved with the occult, and others who were away for 30 years or more.  The Prefect-emeritus of the Congregation for Saints, Cardinal Saraiva said, in response to a question about whether conversions prove authenticity of Medjugorje:

“Absolutely not; whether about conversions, or also about healings, it is not a sufficient argument to evaluate the thesis of the authenticity of the apparitions. Just because people convert in this place, it is not given that the Madonna is appearing. Conversion is also possible in a little country parish.”

The Holy See will look at fruits, but the first fruits looked at are those in the alleged visionaries themselves, and in their closest advisors.  Here too, the Holy See is the final arbiter of whether concerns people have raised over conflicts of interest with the visionaries are worthy of consideration in their discernment.

More importantly, before the fruits are considered in anyone, including the devotees, the facts surrounding events themselves are studied and whether they are in harmony with what Holy Church knows about authentic apparitions, and the teachings of the Church.

Let's look at the sequence found in the 1978 Norms for the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions and Revelations which was made public in recent years. Emphasis is mine in bold and we will refer back to points (a), (b), and (c) later.

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);

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).

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.

So, all the nearly exclusive emphasis on fruits in reports, such as this one by Andrea Tornielli, to the exclusion of any discussion of facts (especially those of a critical nature from the diocese), is an injustice to discerning readers looking to understand what is really happening at the Holy See.  And, is there a complete absence of bad fruits? The utter contempt shown for the apostolic successors of Mostar-Duvno over Medjugorje is among those bad fruits.  I know people whose marriages and families have been broken up over the phenomena.

So, are Mr. Tornielli's readers not being set up for a potential shock, should a fully negative decision come down? How will they cope as attachment is increased with reports filled with half-truths?  While I believe most will humbly submit, the Father of Lies wins with even a few souls rejecting the judgment of the Church, which is his ultimate goal.

On the other hand, if the judgment from Zadar is maintained (the only other possibility, given that the alleged visions are ongoing), nothing is lost if the critical information is true, and not refuted by the Vatican inquiry.  If two successive bishops are proven wrong in their presentation and/or understanding of the facts, then truth should be made known; but, if they were right, people should be informed accordingly. Charity is not served by any untruth.  I am not without hope that Pope Francis, and the CDF understand this.

Another omission by Andrea Tornielli 

Tornielli then states:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will hold a plenary meeting in the coming months to examine and discuss the commission’s conclusions. The decision will then be presented to Pope Francis who will give a final judgement.

No disagreement there.  If I may speculate on this, I believe we may hear something by May - the Month of Mary.  I'm glad to see the Vaticanist saying there will be a final judgment since that is how I have always understood it.

The question thus remains open. The fact that the phenomenon is ongoing means it is unlikely a statement will be issued confirming it as supernatural. But those who are hoping for a negative assessment may also be disappointed.

Tornielli omits, once again from his reporting, that while approval cannot come while ongoinga negative judgment can come at any time.  A recent example is the decree by Bishop Lennon on Holy Love Ministries. He was invited by the Holy See to make that judgment, so it is clear that it is the final judgment of the Church (anyone who believes it is still open, is free to ask the CDF if that is true).

Two alleged apparition examples in Argentina

After telling readers that those hoping for a negative assessment may be disappointed, Andrea Tornielli discusses two cases in Argentina.

Alleged Apparitions in San Nicolas

Tornielli explains

The apparitions of San Nicolas started in 1983 and have not stopped since (250 thousand faithful gather to pray on each anniversary); the seer, Gladys Quiroga de Motta, mother, grandmother and a very simple woman, gave herself up completely to the Church authorities and spends most of her day in silent prayer. The current bishop, Héctor Sabatino Cardelli, has celebrated mass and led processions in the place where the apparition was seen, on the banks of the Paraná river. A large shrine marks the spot, where a spring was also discovered. The Church has also approved the white scapular created especially for those who experience physical and spiritual suffering. The seer’s spiritual guide, Fr. Carlos Pérez, says he is convinced the apparition really did take place. More than 1800 messages relating to the apparition have been published in a volume approved by the former Bishop of San Nicolas, Domingo Salvador Castagna, who once stated: “I firmly believe this is an event of the Virgin Mary.”

Okay, what we see here appears to be at stage "b" which I quoted above and said we would refer back to.  It is still under investigation, but enjoys approval of the cultus.

b) then, if this examination results in a favorable conclusionto 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).

Notice that a definitive judgment does not come until the next stage, at "c" when time has passed with ongoing study. Perhaps the case of San Nicolas has proceeded to "c" but I don't have any proof of this, yet it is clear that it has at least surpassed "a."

Thus far, Medjugorje has not made it to "b."  There has never been a favorable conclusion by any bishop, or any commission (and the fourth is underway), to permit a public manifestation of cult or of devotion.  People have illicitly written hymns, prayers, designated the name "Our Lady of Medjugorje,"  to the alleged apparition, stamped medals, erected a "shrine;" and, established buildings without canonical approval, among other things.  The cart was put before the horse when the local bishops could not get past conflicts with facts surrounding events.  This too, is a fruit, or a sign, which contradicts authenticity as it shows a lack of docility on the part of alleged visionaries and devotees. People are certainly free to visit Medjugorje,"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" (last word on pilgrimages from Card. Bertone.)  But, how many visit there without presupposing authenticity?  In fact, statistics are readily exploited online to make a statement in favor of authenticity.

Alleged Apparitions in Salta

I'm copying in everything Mr. Tornielli said about Salta and we will contrast it with what is reported from the diocese.

Another case Jorge Mario Bergoglio dealt with, albeit from a distance, as an Argentine bishop, is that involving the apparitions in Salta, a province located 1,500 km away from Buenos Aires. In this case, the local archbishop, Mario Carniello, was far more sceptical. On his seventh visit there in December 2011, René Laurentin, a French expert on Marian apparitions, said “it’s all looking very positive.” Salta’s seer is Maria Livia de Obeid. The apparitions and prayer sessions take place in the shrine of La Virgen del Cerro, (The Virgin of the Hill). Over a million people a year come here to pray with Maria Livia. Every Saturday, between March and December, 30-40,000 people descend on the shrine that she had built in the year 2000 on the 300 meter high hill (Cerro). In this case too, pilgrims are drawn back to the faith and spiritual life.

In July 2006, after three years of research, the archbishop announced there was “no proof or objective witnesses to support a supernatural explanation of the alleged Marian apparitions.” This basically equated to a non constat de supernaturalitate, the same term Yugoslavian bishops gave to Medjugorje in the famous Zara Declaration of 1991.

Cardinal Bergoglio had invited his priests to handle the case of Salta with caution, to consult with the local clergy and to follow the instructions of the local archbishop. But here too, although ecclesiastical leaders were reluctant to acknowledge the supernatural nature of these apparitions, they did not prohibit pilgrimages to the site and efforts have always been made to ensure pastoral care is given to the pilgrims that visit.

Through the Miracle Hunter page for unapproved apparitions, we have two news items concerning diocesan documents on the case in Salta - one from 2003, and the other pointing to a 2006 Catholic News Agency (CNA) article.

It is true that the decision appears to follow that of the 1991 Zadar Declaration which was a "non constat de supernaturalitate" (it cannot be affirmed as supernatural). While the diocese did not go wholly negative with a judgment of "constat de non supernaturalitate" (it can be affirmed as not supernatural), there is some important language not in Mr. Tornielli's report.  Here is what we learn from CNA (emphasis mine in bold and comments bracketed in red; added emphasis underlined):

The archdiocese issued a statement about the alleged revelations of the Virgin Mary to Maria Livia de Obeid, who has the practice of laying her hands on each person that comes to visit her, invoking the protection of God [we see this often with Vicka of Medjugorje]. She has promoted the construction of a chapel on top of the hill in Salta where the apparitions supposedly took place [in Medjugorje such things have been constructed without any canonical approval].

In a statement entitled, “Declaration regarding the question of the Hill,” [see English translation here of the 2003 document] Archbishop Mario Cargnello said Obeid’s activities represented “a personal initiative in the context of a civil organization, without the recognition of, or the insertion into, the organic and official activity of the Church.”

Archbishop Cargnello said the archdiocese, “cannot endorse the extraordinary events as objectively true,” and he invited the faithful to seek their spiritual growth through the ministries offered by the Church in Salta. [!!!] Obeid’s invitation to come to the hill, and the messages that are given there, are, “outside the [Church’s] pastoral direction,” [!!!] he went on, “and consequently, the Church cannot endorse nor promote participation in them.” [!!!]

Okay, now that is hardly edifying and when we read this, I think reasonable people will walk away with a different understanding of the situation in Salta than what Mr. Tornielli is offering.  He's a professional journalist, so even if he has less information in Italian than we have in English, he has easy access to the archdiocese.

To say that something is outside the pastoral direction of the Church, especially when they are encouraged to, "seek spiritual growth through the ministries offered by the Church in Salta,"  is basically a way of discouraging involvement in the phenomena.  If the archdiocese has put out something else after 2006, I would be interested in seeing it.

In any event, it doe not matter one iota what a theologian may think, including René Laurentin, no matter how esteemed the mariologist may be.  Perhaps Mr. Tornielli, if he is an objective journalist, would like to ask the archdiocese for a comment on what Fr. Laurnetin had to say in 2011 and enlighten us all.

The pursuit of truth means putting blinders on our own feelings, and following information wherever it leads whether supportive or unsupportive.  I hope and pray Mr. Tornielli will begin to take that approach with his reporting on Medjugorje.

A final reflection from St. John of the Cross

This comes from the Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 21.

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