Thursday, September 23, 2010

Medjugorje: A rupture in tradition as Vienna Cathedral hosts "seers"?

St. James in Medjugorje

EDIT: See my latest post with snapshots from the streaming event.

When the Church does not permit official pilgrimages at the parish or diocesan level to Medjugorje (an unapproved apparition) some may think the next best thing is to organize an official pilgrimage with some of the "seers" to the diocesan cathedral.  This is precisely what is happening in Vienna, Austria at St. Stephen's Cathedral tonight, Thursday, September 23, 2010 in the evening when Ivan Dragicevic and Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti will be hosted (see google translate version at the Archdiocese of Vienna here, or toggle it to "original" in upper right hand corner if you know German). 

It seems that Cardinal Schonborn will be there, lending yet another level of credibility to these alleged apparitions for supporters, above and beyond that which is being created  simply by the "visionaries" having such a platform to promote the phenomena. 

If it happens as it has with other instances around the world, the "gospa" will appear on demand at 6:40 p.m. local time. We might consider making an act of reparation for the disobedience of the "seers" at 6:40 p.m. SAT (Standard Apparition Time).  In a 2006 homily, the local bishop asked that these public manifestations cease.  In 2007, CDF Secretary, Archbishop Angelo Amato, now on the commission, fielded a question on Medjugorje by the Bishops of Tuscany, inviting them to read that same 2006 homily and convey it's contents to the priests of the diocese.  In 2009, Bishop Peric again called for obedience, amidst a growing list of prohibitions (see "Part 3" here)

If "visionaries" of an unapproved apparition are not permitted to have manifestations of such visions on local parish property by the diocesan bishop, should bishops in other dioceses give them a platform in churches within their dioceses, or in their cathedrals?  Let's examine this closer...

Where in the history of alleged apparitions do we see archbishops giving a platform to "visionaries" ahead of some form of approval within the Church, other than with Medjugorje?   What does this teach the faithful?  To the latter question I will answer simply that I believe it teaches people that they ought to discern things for themselves.  It also brings about contempt, even if only interiorly, for the local bishop.  If he is wrong in any way, the Church will sort it out in time. In the meanwhile, his admonitions should be followed humbly, and he should be given due filial reverence.

The "seers" of Medjugorje are not permitted to have "visions" on parish property in the parish of St. James in Medjugorje.  The 1991 Zadar Declaration, which upholds the local bishop's right to give liturgical and pastoral care, "in Medjugorje and all connected with it", remains in effect until the Church offers further guidance or decisions.  On March 17th, 2010, a new commission, headed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini was initiated.   The Papal Nuncio to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Archbishop Alessandro D'Errico stated to the people of that country when the news was announced (emphases mine in bold):

From personal experience, every time I met the Holy Father he had great interest in the question of Medjugorje, a question to which he was directed from the very beginning that he became prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It deals with a question for which he feels responsible as the supreme head of the Church to pronounce a clear message.
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.

Hence, Medjugorje remains "a question" to the Church - one which has indeed yielded "good fruits",  but which has also given rise to an increase in skepticism  among  notable  people.  The Holy Father notices these things and wants to "pronounce a clear message". 

Indeed, pilgrimages to St. James in Medjugorje are permitted, as long as they do not presuppose the supernaturality of the alleged apparitions.  [What does "presuppose" mean? Click here!] People may bring along a priest to handle their pastoral needs, but the Holy See has made clear, that pilgrimages may not be organized at the parish or diocesan level. Why? This would lend credibility to something which does not have approval at any level in the Church.

How does this square with the matter of collegiality, when the bishop in the diocese of origin does not permit public "speaking engagements" of "visionaries", public manifestations of visions and the like on local Church property, while bishops in other dioceses around the world give the "seers" a platform?  It should be noted that the "seers" of Medjugorje do not enjoy such publicity on Church property anwhere  in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, nor in Croatia.  It's not just a matter of collegiality with a brother bishop, but with entire bishop's conferences.

In April of 2009, Bishop Peter Sartain, of Joliet, Illinois, who was just recently appointed to Seattle, Washington, issued a memo to priests of the diocese which states, in part (emphases mine in bold; added emphasis in italics)

From time to time we are approached by parishioners who would like to invite speakers representing various alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, private revelations or locutions, or others claiming to possess extraordinary spiritual gifts. My purpose in bringing this to your attention is to ask that you not issue such invitations. Whether the speakers would make presentations on we1l-known a1leged apparitions, such as Medjugorje, or lesser known private revelations, we must be extremely cautious about inviting or promoting them.

As you know the Church takes great time and care before declaring that an apparition is worthy of belief, and even then it never says that a Catholic must accept the apparition as a matter of faith. We must avoid giving the impression that alleged apparitions about which the Church has not made a judgment are somehow already approved. It is our responsibility to see that our parishioners are not led down the wrong path. That is not to say that those who ask us to promote these matters are doing so out of bad faith, but we must be extremely careful not to confuse our parishioners. Our greatest spiritual treasures are the Word of God, the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and the teaching of the Church, and our focus should always be there. Needless to say, these comments do not refer to apparitions such as Fatima, Lourdes or Guadalupe which enjoy the approval of the Church.
Bishop Sartain exemplifies the very behavior exhibited by bishops throughout the history of the Church by discouraging activity in his diocese which could lend credibility to the alleged apparitions, including those of Medugorje.  His actions are also very collegial in that his statement is also in harmony with the pastoral directives of his brother bishop. 

It's hard for me to fathom why a bishop or archbishop would knowingly permit (or invite) "visionaries" of unapproved apparitions to speak and have "visions" on Church property.  People develop attachments to such phenomena, which they believe to be real (we are not talking about approved apparitions like Lourdes and Fatima).  It is hard enough for some to give up this attachment if the Church condemns it as not supernatural.  This may be even more true, if a bishop's actions (or permissiveness), gave the thing even more credibility than it should have had.  I'm sure there are cases where a bishop is unaware that such activity is happening in his diocese.  But, when high profile diocesan staffers are involved - such as a vocations director - or the archbishop himself shows up to greet the "seers", it seems unlikely that he would not know what is going on.  I think the more likley scenario is that he is not well informed about the phenomena as he thinks he is.  In any event, a simple phone call to the responsible diocesan bishop, or even the CDF, rather than to favorite mariologist would seem prudent, and collegial.  If he is disinclined to speak to his brother bishop about the events, then this too is a fruit which calls for deeper examination.

Here are just a few examples of recent parish/diocesan organized, publicly advertised, "speaking engagements", "healing Masses" and "prayer with the Blessed Mother" (scheduled for 6:40 pm, SAT - Standard Apparition Time for Medjugorje visions)

These links take you to "FreezePage" snapshots of webpages I had taken at a point in time in the past year:

Ivan has had many "speaking engagements" (complete with "visions) around the world on Church property.  Here is a snapshot in time of his published schedule on February 17, 2010.

It is well known that Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, Austria, made a trip to Medjugorje in January 2010, resulting in considerable confusion among the faithful, and seemingly prompting the intervention of the Holy Father after the trip and continued interviews by His Eminence were exploited very well by promoters of Medjugorje.  Just a few months prior, in September of 2009, Cardinal Schonborn permitted Medjugorje "visionary" Maria Pavlović-Lunetti to speak about her experiences.  Undoubtedly, tonights "visions on demand" at St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, will also be exploited to the "nth" degree. 

Taking care to not to interfere with the Holy Spirit means more than just letting things flow in the face of what we see on the surface, such as conversions, devotions, confessions, vocations, etc.  We have learned from the Maciel/Legionaries scandal, that looking at good fruits alone can mask deeper, underlying problems. Unity subsists in truth. Disunity is seen when truth takes a back seat to a popular wave of enthusiasm.

Likewise, filial reverence for a bishop with reasonable objections to alleged apparitions in his diocese cannot be sacrificed for a popular wave of enthusiasm.  Unity in the Church is also a function of the respect one bishop shows for the legitimate authority of a brother bishop.  When the bishop in the diocese of origin of alleged apparitions calls "seers" into silence, orders "messages" and promotion of the phenomena to cease, other bishops ought to follow his lead, whether they agree with him or not.  To do otherwise is to trample on the charism of that other bishop and sow disunity among the faithful, who then feel they must choose sides. If the new commission needs much more time to study the case of Medjugorje, I pray that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will consider ending this rupture of continuity in tradition concerning alleged apparitions among bishops and get back to basics. 

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