Establishment Of New Commission Sets Record Straight At Famous Apparitions
The announcement from Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo in Hercegovina that a new committee is being formed to review the apparitions at Medjugorje caused an international stir two weeks ago for a number of reasons, with no one sure what it portends but with little doubt that it will be significant in the history of the apparitions -- perhaps further removing some of the authority from local bishops, with unknown results.
For now, it is a welcome development for those who believe in the apparitions if for no other reason than it sets the current record straight: that there has not yet been an official Church judgment on the apparitions.
For years, many have been under the misconception that the claims at Medjugorje are under the authority of a bishop in Mostar -- who has been strongly negative, and even has sought to condemn it -- but the highly public and official announcement made clear that the matter had been taken out of his hands and handed to a national commission headed by Cardinal Puljic, which has indicated that -- in the words of a prominent Croatian newspaper, Vecernji List, which broke the story -- the panel "will not make a final pronouncement as long as the phenomenon continues."
The current national commission has just three members, including the Cardinal, who has also indicated negatively on the issue, and the Bishop of Mostar.
When asked if the additional commission (in parlance, really a "committee") was the idea of the national bishops or the Vatican itself, Cardinal Puljic declined comment ("I would rather not answer that question," he told the U.S. bishops' information agency, Catholic News Service). The new commission will add to the three members of the current body of three bishops but remain under its jurisdiction.
It is not yet known who the theologians will be nor even how many will be named. A key issue will be whether they will be solely from that region or will be representative of the many nations from which pilgrims visit. Not since Guadalupe in Mexico during the 16th century has an apparition attracted so many adherents before official Church affirmation.
Cardinal Puljic said he is currently "awaiting suggestions from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" on what theologians to appoint to the commission. The names are expected to be announced in September.
"According to our information sources, the request for the establishment of the new commission originates from the Vatican, which clearly no longer can keep shutting its eyes from the events taking place in Medjugorje," opined Vecernji List.
Contrary to widespread misconceptions, the matter was removed from the Bishop of Mostar's office in the 1980s after it became obvious that he was staunchly opposed to approving them.
In 1991 an interim report by the national bishops who replaced the bishop found no clear evidence of the supernatural at Medjugorje (where apparitions of the Blessed Mother have been reported since 1981) and restricted official parish pilgrimages while allowing private ones while it continued its investigation.
In June, Mostar Bishop Ratko Pavic again voiced his opposition to the apparitions in an appearance at Medjugorje itself and called for an end to dissemination of the messages, despite removal of his authority. Several Catholic news agencies presented that as disapproval of the apparitions, a misperception that establishment of the new commission, by its very formation, sets straight.
How the new committee will rule is another matter. In the end, the issue may end up in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI himself -- whose views are unknown but may be more skeptical than his predecessor.
While as prefect at the Congregation Benedict had been the one who took away the Mostar bishop's authority in discernment, the pontiff is generally perceived as from the "reductionist rationalist" school of theology and less prone to mysticism than John Paul II, who encouraged bishops to visit the apparitions and on a number of occasions indicated a positive view of the alleged events.
Indeed, John Paul mentioned his wanting to visit the apparitions to the president of Croatia during the 1990s and on a visit to former Yugoslavia once mentioned Medjugorje directly to the Mostar bishop in what seemed like a jibe -- while at the same time respecting the fact that the bishops had not ruled and that he thus should not visit.
Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, is said to have paid at least two visits to Medjugorje -- a claim the Mostar bishop says is false -- but at the same time has indicated that he is more wary of apparitions.
Writing about the great Fatima miracle in 1917, in the book called God and the World, Cardinal Ratzinger said, "Whatever happened or did not happen on that October 13th, from a purely scientific point of view, we have no way of knowing" -- indicating uncertainty.
How the current prefect for the Congregation. William Levada of San Francisco, feels about apparitions is not known, although as a bishop in California he personally allowed speakers to talk of Medjugorje at Catholic conferences in that archdiocese.
Meanwhile, there have unconfirmed reports that the Bishop Pavic is restricting Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the diocese -- including Medjugorje, where there is also reported to be a shake-up of priests among the Franciscans who have long sought compromise with the secular bishop. We have no reason to believe these rumors. Nor is it true that a fourth seer there has received the tenth "secret" -- at which time daily apparitions halt.
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