Friday, April 3, 2009

Sadly flawed arguments against the Bishop of Medjugorje (Mostar-Duvno Diocese) on the letter to Sr. Elvira of Cenacolo

This is a lengthy post related to Medjugorje - a complex topic which I rarely discuss. I might get a little repetitive in a few spots, but that is done on purpose.

EDIT: Considerable discussion has been added to the combox for those interested.

In the wake of two letters released in English today by Bishop Ratko Perić, the local Bishop in whose diocese Medjugorje falls - one addressed to Sister Elvira of the Cenacolo Community, and the other to the Oasis of Peace Community, there is a report found on the site of Medjugorje USA I would like to analyze.

Medjugorje USA is a site which promotes the alleged apparitions of that village. I say alleged because any apparition which has not gained full Church approval ought not be confused with those that are approved (i.e., Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, etc.). The analysis I would like to do focuses on an "Important Notice" at Medjugorje USA concerning the letter sent to Sister Elvira.

I have to say a word about Cenacolo. Cenacolo Community is well regarded for it's success in turning around troubled young people -including people who have, for the most part given up on themselves. They come into the community from the hustle-and-bustle of the world, some of them addicted to drugs and alcohol, and drop into an environment without all of the gadgets most of us find as natural to have as a salt shaker. They are immersed into a regimented prayer schedule including Mass, adoration, Marian devotions, and confession. This is coupled with development of a strong work ethic and some hard labor. It is an ascetic way of life full of sacrifices - one where people learn to take control of their will - a will which once controlled them. These are tried and true practices which have been handed down to us through the Church and her saints. I find it hopeful to see old practices become new, and yield very good fruits.

This is what impressed me so much about the work of Sister Elvira and her community as they were profiled on EWTN. Much credit ought to be given to those who are willing to work with people who, for the most part, have been written off by society.

It is useful to first read the letter sent by Bishop Ratko Perić to Sister Elvira, then come back to this post. Sister came across as a humble soul from what little I have seen of her on television. Consistent with the behaviors she fosters in those she helps, she submitted to the will of His Excellency with regards to the visiting "visionary" and told him the community there in Medjugorje will bring the practice to an end. This is the right thing to do. I'm not quite clear on whether he has accepted her explanation of her status and will permit the community to remain, with his approval, or not.

I would like to see the Cenacolo Community go one step further as a matter of growth: To stand firmly on those things which have withstood the test of time and are already part of the traditions of the Church - much of which they are already doing. Permitting devotions to alleged apparitions, and a systematic following of them brings risks. Should the Church find cause to condemn a particular apparition down the road, it could harm the faith of participants.

I heard much talk about Medjugorje by members of the community when they were on EWTN's Life on the Rock recently. My hope is that they can move forward with formation and spiritual life devoid of devotion to apparitions undergoing investigation. In the case of Medjugorje, many good and faithful Catholics at all levels - from the laity up through the episcopacy - are seriously divided on the matter. The deep contentions between the two poles is itself a fruit. It's all the more reason to let go of it and stick to all that has been tested and approved.

The letter sent to Sister Elvira was in December of 2008, so other sources were aware that something took place, but did not have the official documentation provided to us today. Upon searching for information earlier, I stumbled across a web page at Medjugorje USA which contained a disturbing account of the letter, in which the local Bishop, Ratko Perić is sadly attacked.

I am sharing this "Important Notice", which was taken on April 2, 2009 at 9:05pm from this web page at Medjugorje USA (I give the date, because I don't know if this page is updated or not). I am breaking up the "Important Notice" for the sake of commentary. I will also be adding brief comments in red within some of these snippets.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Medjugorje is part of the Dioceses of Mostar. In February 09 the Bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric sent a letter to Sister Elvira the founder of Community Cenacolo, where Mirjana's has her apparitions on the second of each month.

While Bishop Peric writes that the community did not have permission to hold Mass there, I don't think he would have clamped down if they hadn't had an alleged visionary, having alleged visions on a regular basis in public on the community's property. Essentially, it enabled the "seers" to engage in open disobedience to the bishop's orders.

Which orders?

Well, in 1985, the "seers" were not only ordered to have their "visions" in the privacy of their own homes, they were ordered to cease dissemination of messages and to end devotions based on the alleged apparition. Basically, he did not give permission for a cult-following which is one of the earliest hurdles such a thing must pass. It comes only after a preliminary investigation with certain criteria used as measures. If the bishop finds nothing objectionable based on that criteria, he would then cautiously allow a cult following to develop as it is studied further. Something gave Bishop Pavao Žanić - the Ordinary at the time - pause. You can review what he wrote in 1990: The Truth about Medjugorje . See notes he makes from 1985 and prior, and how his concerns grew after that 1985 letter, which were reasonable by any standard.

More recently, in a 2006 homily at Confirmations in Medjugorje, Bishop Ratko Peric re-iterated the same order in his own words when he said:

Therefore I responsibly call upon those who claim themselves to be “seers”, as well as those persons behind the “messages”, to demonstrate ecclesiastical obedience and to cease with these public manifestations and messages in this parish. In this fashion they shall show their necessary adherence to the Church, by neither placing private “apparitions” nor private sayings before the official position of the Church. Our faith is a serious and responsible matter. The Church is also a serious and responsible institution!

Note that the official position of the Church is that of the Zadar Declaration of 1991. Specifically, "on the basis of studies made so far, it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations." [non constat de supernaturalitate].

Continuing on with the "Important Notice" found at Medjugorje USA:

The Bishop requested the apparitions at Cenacolo stop immediately. In obedience to the authority of the Bishop, Sister Elvira has no choice but to accept the Bishops orders.

It is not forced as this statement makes it sound. Rather, we are given a free will and Sister Elvira is choosing to accept the decision of Bishop with regards to alleged apparitions.

Here's where it gets dicey....

It is no secret Bishop Peric is a long time outspoken critic against the Medjugorje apparitions.

Ok - right there the bells should go off. The bishop - an apostolic successor with canonical jurisdiction over matters pastoral in his diocese is an "outspoken critic". This is where faithful Catholics need to pause and ponder whether it isn't a better investment of time to read St. Bernadette Soubirous: 1844-1879.

But wait, the "reporting" gets more interesting (my comments bracketed in red). This is where readers will get a quick education in the difference between subjective inuendos and objective facts (which are seriously lacking).

During an investigation of a claimed apparitions, church officials are suppose to remain silent [please cite the Church document which states that bishops are suppose to be silent during investigations of apparitions - the statement on pilgrimages (often used in this argument) does not strip the bishop of his canonical duties on pastoral matters], offering no public negative or positive opinion [huh? - it's his job to offer an opinion and the faithful ought to be interested in it!] until a decision is handed down [by whom?] by due process [what due process? - citation please] Despite Church procedure [which Church procedure? - citation please], Bishop Peric continues to violate [!?!?!] Church rule [which rule? - citation please] in his ongoing efforts to bring negative publicity against the Medjugorje apparitions [you mean warn the faithful that through discernment, a charism with which he has been graced by virtue of his office, that he has seen enough to cause alarm?] , even though the apparitions are under investigation by a Vatican appointed Commission [a commission which has been inferred as taking place, which has not been confirmed by the Holy See].

Ok - so you see that conjecture has permeated this part of the "Important Note". It goes beyond that. It attacks an apostolic succesor with the use of that conjecture. It is subjective and lacking objective facts which is common in the writings of those promoting the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje. Now you know how to recognize it. Think twice before you allow yourself to be taken down a path of disdain for the Bishop of Mostar-Duvno over any words or actions he takes there.

Further, a careful look at the Zadar Declaration will reveal that the bishop has not been stripped of his canonical rights to deal with matters pastoral. In fact, it says:

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 [note that t says nothing about permitting the promotion of new devotions based on the alleged appartions, but refers instead to devotions in accord with Church teachings (Rosary, Total Consecration and others that are approved)]. The Bishops will also provide special liturgical and pastoral directives corresponding to this aim [so it is the bishop's job to keep a watchful eye!]. At the same time, they will continue to study all the events of Medjugorje through the commissions.

I suspect that what people are misunderstanding, is the string of statements made about pilgrimages. What is stated about pilgrimages does not carry over and universally strip the bishop of his canonical rights and powers in governing his diocese. Hence, arguments you will find on the web suggesting His Excellency is being "disobedient"by speaking about the apparitions are utterly riduculous and have no foundation.

If anything, it is the bishop who would silence alleged seers until he is confident that there is nothing harmful to the faithful in what they are advancing. Then, he would permit a cult following based on the alleged apparitions or private revelations to develop as I explained earlier and continue to monitor the situation. Medjugorje never got that far, as we see in the 1985 letter I cited earlier when the bishop had found enough cause to warrant silencing the alleged seers, rather than permit it all to enter the next stage. As the 1978 Criteria for Discernment of Apparitions states.

So that the ecclesiastical authority is able to acquire more certainty on such or such an apparition or revelation, it will proceed in the following way:

a) Initially, to judge the facts according to positive and negative criteria (cf. below, n.1). [because people are converting, returning to the sacraments, entering the priesthood and consecrated life and fasting, etc., it doesn't mean that these should be considered to the exclusion of "bad fruits". Rather, good and bad fruits must be weighed together. In some cases, a single or particular "bad fruit" (i.e., something contradicting Church dogma) can be enough to end the discernment process on the spot in such a way that the bishop does not want to permit it to go to "b" below. When a bishop points out "bad fruits", he will inevitably be labeled as "bad" himself by some supporters. Not good.]

b) Then, if this examination appears favorable, to allow certain public demonstrations of cult and devotion, while continuing to investigate the facts with extreme prudence (which is equivalent to the formula: “for the moment, nothing is opposed to it”). [But Bishop Zanic did find things opposed to it and acting on his own conscience, worked to halt development of a cult following based on the alleged apparitions. However, some local Franciscans advanced a pattern of disobedience when the bishop tried to bring things to an end, enabling this whole thing to get away from the Church very rapidly. Looking back again at that 1985 letter, you will see how, in the early days, certain Franciscan's used loop-hole reasoning to justify disobedience]

c) Finally, after a certain time, and in the light of experience, (starting from a particular study of the spiritual fruits generated by the new devotion), to give a judgement on the authenticity of the supernatural character, if the case requires this. [Notice the word "new" coupled with devotion. New devotion can only be measured if it has been granted and there is no document - not from the diocese of Mostar, the Bishop's Conference, or the Holy See, indicating that devotion to "Our Lady of Medjugorje" may begin (as in bullet "b")].

Now comes some real venom aimed at the local Ordinary:

The Bishop's hatred [this is totally inappropriate] for the Medjugorje apparitions will certainly now cause harm to Community Cenacolo, a successful drug rehab for teens.

Setting aside the words, "The Bishop's hatred" and replacing it with "The Bishop's actions" let's ponder this for a moment. Does Cenacolo ultimately need Medjugorje-specific spirituality to be successful? I don't think so. If it does, then the harm which would come to the Cenacolo Community is the result of their putting stock in an apparition not approved, and one with a seriously questionable history. While some of the more positive spiritual things associated with Medjugorje are core to their work(frequent Mass and confession, adoration, fasting and penance), these things were with the Church ages before Medjugorje and, they will continue to be a key to spiritual advancement until the end of time. They are authentically Catholic and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Moving along the paragraph at Medjugorje USA reads:

Hundreds of people come to Medjugorje every month to be present during Mirjana's apparition with the Virgin Mary at Community Cenacolo [once again, a statement affirming the presence of a "seer" prohibited from having "visions" in public, and in the very diocese where the bishop prohibited such public manifestations]. There is no question the open exposure to Mirjana at Community Cenacolo has been instrumental in raising awareness and funding for the continued success of Cenacolo [I think that Cenacolo is capable of getting financial support from many sources without linking itself to Medjugorje - they do great work!]. Medjugorje USA is asking every one to pray as we believe if anyone is hurt by the Bishop's decision, it is the teens who are already struggling.

The entire statement on Medjugorje USA makes the bishop look like the bad guy. I would think that the leaders of Cenacolo were aware of the bishop's explicit order in 2006 as it was publicized internationally. Perhaps not. However, I think where the problem lies is that people truly believe the bishop was somehow stripped of his canonical powers on pastoral matters, especially regarding whether "visionaries" can have "visions" in his diocese or elsewhere. This is a serious error.

Furthermore, it is a matter of collegiality, that when the bishop of one diocese has silenced alleged visionaries in their home diocese, then his brother bishops ought to support him by not permitting them to exit that silence in their dioceses and parishes. It's incomprehensible to me how the "seers" of Medjugorje are permitted to speak in parishes and dioceses in the United States when they have no such permission from the originating diocese.

If in doubt, it is better to err on the side of obeying the local bishop. Even if he is potentially in error in his judgment about Medjugorje, it is better to submit to the bishop. When before the Just Judge, we will be held accountable not for whether we believed or disbelieved in Medjugorje, but for our behaviors. It is far better to stand before God having obeyed the bishop even if he were wrong than to stand before God having disobeyed the bishop whether he were right or wrong in his judgment on the matter. Rash judgment of the bishop's motives and words, calumny, and detraction, only make it worse. What is most pleasing to God, and to Mary, is filial reverence and obedience whether we agree with the bishop or not in these kinds of situations.

I will leave the combox open for some dialogue, provided it is civil and does not become a pseudo-website for Medjugorje apologetics. There are a few websites out there that provide cookie-cutter reponses to objections to Medjugorje, and I'm aware of most of them. Those will be rejected. Because I work and have other responsibilities, it may take up to one full day for comments to get moderated and posted.

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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!