Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Medjugorje and Situational Collegiality Among Bishops

In light of the scheduled, televised, and highly advertised "apparition" with Medjugorje visionaries taking place in the Vienna Cathedral Cathedral tomorrow (Nov 17), I thought I would just raise a few questions and offer some thoughts.  It's all happening with the explicit approval of Cardinal Schonborn, who will be participating to some extent.  So, I ask, is this yet another slap from Vienna for the Bishop of Mostar, and his brother bishops in Bosnia & Herzegovina, as well as Croatia, who do not permit the Medjugorje visionaries to have "apparitions" on church property?

Just to clarify: I commonly put the word, apparition, in quotes when discussing Medjugorje because at this point, they are merely alleged apparitions.

Setting aside any question of authenticity of Medjugorje, which is currently in the care of Cardinal Ruini and his commission, I would like to focus on a peripheral issue: Church hierarchy hosting, in their parishes and cathedrals, visionaries of apparitions not yet deemed worthy of belief at any level of the Church.

Repeating a point I made in my opener: There is not a diocese you can go to in the whole of Bosnia & Herzegovina, or anywhere in the former Yugoslavia, and observe the visionaries of Medjugorje having "apparitions" on Church property. Yet, you can go to Vienna, Chicago, Boston, and a number of other cities throughout the world where cardinals and bishops are bringing, or permitting, public manifestations of unapproved "apparitions" to take place in parishes and the diocesan cathedrals. While sometimes noting that the phenomena of Medjugorje are still be examined, websites for parishes and cathedrals hosting these events feature advertisements referring to the lady of Medjugorje as the Blessed Virgin Mary.   Diocesan staff, including vocations directors are actively participating, offering their own testimonies on church property, lending further credibility to the unapproved apparition. 

The event being publicized for November 17th at the cathedral in Vienna features the following (emphasis mine in bold):

4:00 PM Vienna (10:00 AM USA-EST): Testimonies, including Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of MARY's MEALS
5:00 PM Vienna (11:00 AM USA-EST): Ivan's Testimony6:00 PM Vienna (12:00 PM USA-EST): Rosary
6:40 PM Vienna (12:40 PM USA-EST): Apparition
7:00 PM Vienna (1:00 PM USA-EST): Holy Mass - Presider and Homilist, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn
8:00 PM Vienna (2:00 PM USA-EST): Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
9:00 PM Vienna (3:00 PM USA-EST): Adoration ends

The Archdiocese of Vienna website has the above on it's official website, but omits 6:40 pm SAT (Standard Apparition Time).  The testimony of Ivan is publicized.

There are some other oddities with this event. For example, from Medjugorje Today in an article entitled: "Mary will bless apparition viewers online"

“Ivan told us that those connected through the internet are prayed over by Our Lady the same as those kneeling right next to him during the apparition. And the religious items they have with them that they would like Our Lady to bless are blessed the same as the religious items placed right in front of her during the apparition” MaryTV President Denis Nolan recalls

I'm so dumb-founded that such things are taking place in a diocesan cathedral, especially ahead of the question of authenticity being answered, I got off track.....

What does this say about collegiality when a bishops permit visionaries from another diocese to do things they are not permitted to do in their home diocese, and what are it's fruits?   What message does it convey to the faithful, if not to create confusion and pit one bishop against another, if only in their hearts?  What feelings does it cause towards the local ordinary, if not contempt and disdain because he does not permit these things?  He, and the other bishops of the region are following the 1991 Zadar Declaration, which remains in effect until a new pronouncement is made.  In part, it states (emphasis mine in bold; added emphasis underlined):

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. The Bishops will also provide special liturgical and pastoral directives corresponding to this aim. At the same time, they will continue to study all the events of Medjugorje through the commissions.

Let me re-quote: ".... and then of the other bishops with him,"

Are the other bishops with him when they let these visionaries have apparitions in their cathedrals and give their testimonies on church property?

Even if a bishop disagrees with Bishop Peric of Mostar - and his predecessor, Bishop Zanic - there is a certain level of episcopal etiquette that has caused bishops throughout the history of the Church to not lend credibility to any phenomena from another diocese where it does not enjoy, at the least, the lowest level of approval.  Medjugorje has never been given ecclesial approval at any level.

How can I possibly reconcile the thought that the Blessed Virgin Mary would cooperate with other bishops in the world by appearing to visionaries in their cathedrals when those visionaries are not permitted to do so by their own bishops in the diocese or country of origin?   In fact, that this behavior takes place at all flies in the face of authenticity.  Pardon me for mentioning that when I said I would set it aside, but it is a very difficult thing to grasp. I regret if my words sound redundant in this post, but I'm trying to drive a point home: Disagreement between bishops doesn't belong in the public domain, in words or in deed. 

It is understandable that a bishop is overjoyed to see hundreds or thousands pack a parish or cathedral for an evening of spiritual devotion.  But, this raises another question for those permitting this:  Do the people come truly for the devotions, or do they come to see the side show - the advertised "apparitions"?  Here is a simple test:  Schedule an evening with all of the same things - the Mass, the Rosary, the Adoration - and get the head of the diocese to lead it, and offer his personal testimony about the faith.   Give it the same level of advertisement.  Would they come by the thousands, or would just a handful show up?  Would Mary TV stream it live to the world on the internet; or, is that just for pre-announced, unapproved "apparitions"?

Something is terribly wrong with the approach to bringing back devotion or increasing vocations when an unapproved apparition is used as a crutch to do so.  That is what makes it situation dependent.  A bishop believes Medjugorje is bringing vocations and devotion to his local Church, so he proceeds as if it is already approved, doing what historically was only done to signal approval!  That's right... for visionaries to be allowed on Church property to promote their private revelations and apparitions by the responsible authorities is seen as a sign of approval.  The highest sign of approval is when it involves the Holy Father, such as when Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI visited Fatima.

When the Holy Father answers the question of Medjugorje, I hope it comes with a number of guidelines, including notes for how bishops should treat phenomena originating from other dioceses before approval.  Prior to Medjugorje it seemed like reason prevailed and such things were not necessary.  Now, some bishops, carried away by the wave of enthusiasm, seem to set aside reason and generations of tradition. This is what makes collegiality situational or, or perhaps relativistic (I'm ok; you're ok).  Why wait for the Church when you can do your own thing, regardless of how bishops in the diocese and country of origin treat the matter.  They don't give visionaries of the unapproved apparitions of Medjugorje a platform, but bishops in other parts of the world do give them a platform.  Go figure.

It's just disappointing to observe all the way around: The lack of respect for brother bishops; and, the potential to lead people into deeper belief in a phenomena that has no guarantee of ever being approved, and could still be condemned as not supernatural.


Catholic Culture news service now has an article up on this: Cardinal Sch├Ânborn again hosts Medjugorje 'seers' in Vienna cathedral

Father Z discusses this news and his combox is always quite lively.

In a related matter, Kevin Symonds looks at Vicka, Public Ministry & Profane Novelty of Words

Sidenote: I have some other "Medjugorje" items on my plate to clear, but they will have to wait for another day. This post, and comments moderated will be limited in scope to what is discussed here.

For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

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