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On June 24, 1981, a clear Wednesday afternoon, some young people went up Podbrdo Hill near the small hamlet of Medjugorje in then Yugoslavia. When they came down, they told people they saw “the Gospa,” (Croatian for “Our Lady”). A few more joined them, and it happened again.
And again. And again.
Today, three decades later, the six teen-aged seers are middle-aged adults and are still getting these visitations along with alleged secrets, signs, and warnings. A global movement supporting these visions has been selling the phenomenon as real, quite in opposition to the official stance of the Catholic Church.
What is the official stance? What is the truth about Medjugorje? I spoke with British historian and researcher Donal Foley about the whole story behind the visions, about the assessment by the local bishops (and every official commission that ever investigated the seers’ claims), and about the criteria the Church uses to approve or condemn private apparitions.
There are undoubtedly good fruits associated with the phenomenon, there are many more in the bad category.
Foley’s book Medjugorje Revisited: 30 Years of Visions or Religious Fraud? is a must-read for anyone interested in the most popular unapproved apparition in history. It is the definitive account. (Full disclosure: I wrote the Preface).
There are three groups of people on the Medjugorje spectrum: 1) true believer zealots for whom not even an angel from heaven will convince them otherwise; 2) sarcastic naysayers; and 3) the much larger group in the middle—people who are either on the fence, ignorant of the details, or who don’t care one way or the other. This two-part series is for the benefit of that much larger middle group.
One American theologian told me privately, “Medjugorje is not only unapprovable; it’s a giant tar baby. Whoever touches it gets sticky tar all over himself.” So why am I doing it? Clickbait? Attention? No, I’m covering it because I’m tired of seeing ordinary Catholics (including busy priests) getting hectored and lectured by aggressive followers of Medjugorje. It’s all too much.
The Medjugorje Movement dominates the publishing and internet world, fleeces good people of millions of dollars based on half-truths and outright lies, and—the main point—people have a right to know the full story. One searches in vain among the scores of books and websites peddling the phenomenon for descriptions of its serious problems. Most pilgrims are kept largely in the dark.
This is a problem.
I have dear friends whom I love and respect who believe the Blessed Virgin Mary continues to appear to the seers. I hope they’re not too upset with me. Even before this episode aired, my Facebook page was jammed with angry devotees accusing me of “hurting people,” of “turning people from God,” of “going on some kind of crusade,” and the like. Very strange. If I did a program about why I think no Catholics don’t really need to believe in Fatima or Lourdes or our Lady of Guadalupe to be saved — no one would melt down or lash out (pick your metaphor). Raise one eyebrow of reserved concern about Medjugorje? Duck!
Apparently, there’s no soft way to say in public that the Church has never wavered in the official judgment, starting with the late Bishop Pavao Zanic, and now Bishop Ratko Peric of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno/Trebinje-Mrkan (to whom the Church gives the right and duty to judge apparitions). The Latin phrase is non constat de supernaturalitate, meaning, “it is not established that anything supernatural is happening.” It’s a negative judgment, and the Church has never wavered from it.
Medjugorje enthusiasts are quick to say that it’s not negative, per se, that it simply means something like, “Wait and see the final approval—in the meantime, go there so you, too, can discover that the Blessed Mother is appearing.” That logic won’t work, for the same reason that if a man asks a woman to marry him and she says, “Let me get back to you” — that’s a no. It’s only yes if she accepts.
Despite the harassment and weird guilt trips (“Mother is calling — what are you afraid of?”) employed by the enthusiasts, it is perfectly fine for Catholics to disbelieve the claims of Medjugorje. Even approved apparitions like Fatima and Lourdes are not binding on the faithful.
The results of the final investigative Ruini Commission (initiated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and chaired by Cardinal Camillo Ruini of Rome) have been on the desk of Pope Francis for two years now. A rumor floated around the internet last year that the Commission was set to approve “the first seven” apparitions—a rumor based on information leaked to a pro-Medjugorje Italian journalist). We simply don’t know what Pope Francis will ultimately say. His public statements, off-the-cuff and unofficial as they are, do not look favorable.
In addition to my interview this week with Donal Foley, interested readers will want to read the summary regarding that first week in late June, 1981, compiled by Bishop Ratko Peric (see bottom.) The summary is based on the taped interviews with the seers, and provide strong evidence against the claims, particularly the first seven apparitions. If only 10% of it is accurate, Medjugorje has about the same chances of approval as I do of winning gold in the giant slalom.
Please note that this is not an “anti-Medjugorje” position. It’s a pro-Catholic, pro-Marian one. As with most disputes in the Church, this one is ultimately about authority. The legitimate authority of the local bishop, His Excellency Ratko Peric, has been rejected, derided, and been the object of non-stop calumny.
I pray that this conversation with Mr. Foley will be of great value to you and I highly recommend his comprehensive book on the matter, and also his Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World.
After this episode, you will know:
Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World by Donal Foley
The Medjugorje Deception: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives by Dr. E. Michael Jones
VERY IMPORTANT: Bishop Ratko Peric, the local Ordinary, has compiled the following summary of the first week of apparitions here:
Question of the week:
With the embarrassment of riches we already have—the Blessed Trinity, the sacraments, the papacy, the magisterium, the Holy Bible, approved apparitions—why do some people still attach themselves to unapproved apparitions?
Next week’s episode, Part 2, where questions solicited from Facebook cheerfully answered! Don’t miss it. Share this episode.
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