Part 1: An Inadequate Commission
by Marco Corvaglia
Go to the full index of the study: Who Will Judge the Judges? The Unresolvable Contradictions of the Commission of Inquiry on Medjugorje
The events of Medjugorje, still underway, had their beginning in long-ago 1981.
The official position of the Church on this phenomenon, to wait and see, consists of the Zadar Declaration from 1991, signed by the Yugoslav Bishops Conference: "On the basis of the investigations conducted so far, it is not possible to affirm that this is a case of supernatural apparitions or revelations".
However, in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI instituted a new commission of inquiry on Medjugorje, over which Cardinal Camillo Ruini presided, with purely advisory functions: after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had heard from the commission, the definitive judgment was to be expected from the Pontiff. The list of members of the commission is found in a statement from the Vatican Press Office, given April 13, 2010.
The commission met 17 times over a period of four years and closed in January 2014, when its work was completed.
In December 2021, David Murgia, a journalist for TV 2000 (a television station owned by the Italian Bishops Conference) and a supporter of Medjugorje, published acts and extracts of the proceedings of the commission in the book Processo a Medjugorje. Murgia believes that the pages written by the commission represent "a true masterpiece. They should be studied in universities for their scientific method and their abundance of research" [Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, Rubbettino, 2021, p. 24].
In the previous year, the commission’s Final Report had been published by the vaticanist Saverio Gaeta, also a supporter of Medjugorje, in the book Dossier Medjugorje (hereinafter cited in the notes simply as “Gaeta”), and by David Murgia himself in the book Rapporto su Medjugorje (hereinafter "Murgia"). [An English translation of the full text of Final Report is available on Kevin J. Symonds' website].
All these documents are covered by pontifical secrecy.
Now let’s start directly from the conclusions of the final Report, which states verbatim that "the first seven apparitions prove to be intrinsically credible" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 61; Murgia, p. 47]. (Note: the commission chooses to count one “apparition” for each day, even if in reality there were multiple “apparitions” on various occasions in the same day.)
The outcome of the vote is also reported:
[...] out of 15 present and voting (11 Members and 4 Experts),
• 10 Members and 3 Experts: constat de supernaturalitate [supernaturality is established];
• 1 expert: nondum decernendum [suspension of judgment];
• 1 Member: constat de non supernaturalitate [evident non-supernaturality].
Therefore, the majority of the International Commission considers the beginnings of the Medjugorje phenomenon not reducible to human dynamics only, but having a supernatural origin.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 62; Murgia, p. 48]
However, we read further on [italics in the original]:
The International Commission notes, in any case, that the events subsequent to the first seven apparitions constitute a real problem, which makes rather difficult an evaluation consistent with what can be recognized in the original sign.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 83; Murgia, p. 58]
Strong doubts about the "subsequent phases" were also referred to in a study drawn up by two members (The origins of the "Medjugorje" phenomenon) and attached to the proceedings of the 15 December 2012 session (Murgia systematically replaces the names of the members of the commission with the word Redacted):
(Redacted) and (Redacted) realize how difficult, though not unjustified, had been the decision to limit "the beginnings of the phenomenon" of Medjugorje to the first seven alleged apparitions / mariophanies that took place on Podbrdo; while the subsequent and still "ongoing" phases of this phenomenon, which are not exempt from demonstrable contradictions and ambiguities among the alleged mariophanies themselves and in the spiritual-ecclesial-ethical habitus of the seers, phases that gradually, through "rarefaction" and through "habit", diverge from the original event, now said to be supernatural by 12 Members of the International Commission subject to the CDF, and which undoubtedly can lead one to think of an effective "decay" of the phenomenon and of the protagonists, therefore require a rigorous, careful and in-depth examination by the Commission itself.
[Appendix V - 15 December 2012 Proceedings, in David Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, Rubbettino, 2021, p. 170]
In summary, therefore, the apparitions of the very first days would be credible and the tens of thousands in the following decades doubtful. With what appears to be mental gymnastics, the alleged visionaries’ lack of reliability is admitted but, at the same time, an original nucleus of Medjugorje and the religious fervor that has arisen there are somehow “saved”.
A member of the commission also expressed his own objections to his colleagues in the face of such a singular choice. They answered as follows:
As for the not trivial but incisive proposal of (Redacted), according to whom "a positive origin must be confirmed in subsequent history; the latter should not contradict an authentic root with ambiguities and uncertainties, but rather develop it in an encouraging way", we believe that, with due and necessary exceptions, this cannot be absolutized, inasmuch as it could in itself be relativized by the very history of the Church, sprung from the pierced heart of the Lord (positive origin) and often subject to ambiguities and uncertainties in its weak and imperfect Members.
The last analogy does not hold up from a strictly logical point of view, as it places on the same level two entities of different natures (the original protagonists of a phenomenon and their successors), but then it becomes natural to ask: if these alleged elements of initial supernaturality had been present, how did they ever escape the attention of not only the diocesan commission (active until 1986) but also the commission of the Yugoslav Bishops' Conference (1987-1991)?
It must also be said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expressed a strongly negative opinion about the work of the commission, considering it partial and accommodating in regard to Medjugorje. Gaeta writes of a “harsh attack conducted by the Congregation in the face of the International Commission’s report” [S. Gaeta, Dossier Medjugorje, San Paolo, 2020, pp. 11-12].
For the Congregation, “There was no duty to take into account the results which the International Commission had reached; rather, they had to plausibly arrive at a decree to silence the apparitions of Medjugorje. A real “counter-report”! [ibid., p. 12].
After that – again, Gaeta writes – Pope Francis had the commission report examined by “theologians he himself trusted, who confirmed that the International Commission had been correct in its method of inquiry; and the “counter-report” had therefore no reason to exist.” [ibid.]
The problem is that theologians have little or nothing to do with it. The limits of the work carried out by the commission (which consistently defined itself in the Report as an “International Commission”) appear to derive mainly from a fragmentary knowledge of the history of Medjugorje. This also results in inconsistencies of a logical, not theological, nature.
Let us now begin to see how the Ruini commission worked.
The book Processo a Medjugorje contains, among other things, extracts of the testimonies given in front of the commission by the six "visionaries", in the period of June 2011-February 2012.
As emerges from the proceedings of the 16 December 2010 session, a principle had previously been made clear:
(Redacted) [undoubtedly the president, Cdl. Ruini – MC] immediately stated that "in any case, it must be clear in advance to the witnesses that the hearing will take the form of a conversation". It should therefore not be an interrogation - as had taken place previously not only for this phenomenon but also for other apparitions - nor a confession.
[Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 43]
Reading the extracts from the proceedings published by David Murgia, one can see that the questions addressed to the "seers" (chapter IV of Processo a Medjugorje) appear, for the most part, vague, generic and accommodating (except for Ivan, for reasons that we will see).
In the interviews with each of the visionaries, issues are touched on (in no particular order and with a certain repetitiveness) that can be freely summarized in these terms: What was their life like before the beginning of the phenomenon? What feelings accompanied the beginning of the apparitions? How was the event received by their family members? How did the first apparitions take place and how do the current ones take place? Do they have a spiritual director? What are the characteristics of the secrets? Would they be willing to hand them over to the pontiff or to the commission, should it be requested of them? What are their sources of livelihood?
Few of the questions go beyond these basic themes.
Well, no one who had even a shallow critical knowledge of the phenomenon and who really wanted to shed light on it would limit himself to asking these questions, useful at most for a superficial and impressionistic psychological evaluation of the witnesses.
It can be said without fear of contradiction that, with apart from the questions on their sources of livelihood, the vast majority of the answers retraced what had been repeatedly declared by the alleged seers in the previous decades, in the various devotional interviews.
All the thorny events and issues should have been touched on instead. Otherwise, it’s hard to understand what the purpose of these interviews could be.
A concrete example, among the many possibilities: as it is known, Mirjana claims to have received from the Madonna a miraculous parchment, of unknown material, containing secrets, which only she is able to read: she claims to have shown it to an engineer cousin, to another cousin and to a friend - all strictly anonymous – and they were not able to read the contents: see Mirjana and the Magic Parchment…
Well, the commission did not ask Mirjana to bring the parchment with her, let alone to examine it: it is never mentioned, either in the interview with Mirjana, or in the Report, or in any other published document.
There are only two alternatives: either the commission did not even have a clear knowledge of the question of the "parchment" (which would be very serious), or the commission preferred not to risk "nailing" the "seer" definitively and without appeal (which would be even more serious).
After the interview the commission had with her (November 30, 2011), a member commented that "Mirjana possesses a 'natural intelligence', not guided by the logic of cunning" [Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 99].
A topic analogous to that of Mirjana's parchment was however touched on with Ivanka:
Ivanka: «I received from the Gospa a fragment of material whose nature I do not know well how to define. It could be paper or cloth. However, it is on that fragment that I myself wrote - in an "encrypted language" - the ten secrets revealed by Our Lady ».
[10 June 2011 Proceedings, in Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 59]
The commission made sure, however, not to ask Ivanka to show the "encrypted fragment", something that, if necessary, they could have done even by going directly to her home in Medjugorje, given that the commission was established as an "investigating and judging body" [Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 23].
In any case, we must ask ourselves: did the commissioners have a sufficient historical knowledge of the phenomenon so as to allow them to test the visionaries?
The first "seer" to be heard was Ivanka, on June 10, 2011. The second was Vicka, the following October 6.
In the discussion behind closed doors, after Vicka's hearing, here's what emerges from the proceedings:
(Redacted) admits that he was amazed at what he learned from Vicka about the secrets, especially at the fact - new to him - that they were entrusted not only to Ivanka, but also to other visionaries. Equally surprising is the fact that Vicka is still waiting for the revelation of a tenth secret, while Ivanka has already known ten for some time.
[Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 76]
A new fact? One can imagine the astonishment of the commissioner, when he discovered what is well known to anyone with a rough idea of Medjugorje, namely that all six visionaries say they have been custodians, for decades, of nine (those who still have "apparitions" daily) or ten (those who have ceased the daily "apparitions") secrets (since 1986 none of them has been claiming to have less than nine).
Almost two years after the commission was set up, they were at this level of unawareness.
Ivan was the last of the six "seers" to be heard (on February 20, 2012) and the only one to be judged with extreme severity - it seems - by all the commissioners, being defined in no uncertain terms as a "liar": "According to (Redacted), ‘Ivan is not reliable; even during the investigations carried out by the two previous commissions, he was given the negative definition of a man who tells lies’" [Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 115].
In the Final Report Ivan is mentioned several times and, as we shall see, is strongly blamed.
It must be said that this difference in judgment with respect to the other "seers" is astonishing. In particular, other "seers" of Medjugorje are certainly no less than Ivan in regard to obviously suspect behavior: the commission also will also recognize this in part, though seeking mitigating, but not very persuasive, explanations, as we will see in the sixth part of this study. Ivan is a “supporting actor” from every point of view. Yet he is the only one to be criticized without appeal.
How to explain this behavior on the part of the commission?
The reason for the disparity in treatment must be sought, once again, in the fact that the commission evidently had a fragmentary knowledge of the complex history of Medjugorje and, through a particular circumstance, had become aware of some facts relating to Ivan.
In fact, on 10 June 2011 the testimony of a former member of both the diocesan commissions (1982-1984, 1984-1986) and of the Yugoslav Episcopal Conference (1987-1991) was heard. [Murgia, covering the name as usual with a redaction, also presents him as a member of the Ruini commission (see p. 65), but, probably, he confused two religious with the same surname, of whom I will indicate only their initials: the likely witness Z. P. and the member of the Ruini commission V. P.. The substance of the facts, however, does not change.]
The witness's account turns on a well-known deception carried out by Ivan against the diocesan commission, regarding the "secrets".
In his interview with the Ruini commission on February 20, 2012, Ivan himself admitted the fact ("I actually lied. I felt very pressured" [Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 110]). But this is not the point that interests us here. The point is the commission's insufficient knowledge of the events and therefore of the protagonists.
During the interview, Ivan said:
I remember that someone who had worked in the fields then touched Our Lady with his hands. After that contact, I saw some dirt, some stains, on the Gospa's clothes.
[20 February 2012 Proceedings, in Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 111]
In the subsequent discussion behind closed doors, in which all the commissioners were very critical of Ivan:
(Redacted) also points out in this regard the fact that the clothes of the Gospa allegedly got dirty after being touched by a man: it is difficult, in fact, to reconcile the circumstance highlighted in the story with the usual definition - tota pulchra - of the Madonna.
[Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 115]
But none of the members - as it turns out - mentions that the same story has been openly told, in various circumstances, by other "seers" of Medjugorje, such as Marija and Vicka.
From the famous interview book A Thousand Encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjugorje:
Father Janko: On the 2nd of August, 1981 [...], while you were praying, the Virgin said that all who were present could touch her. [...] They claim that all lined up and then one by one approached and touched her. Marija told them where they were to reach out to touch her. [...] It was strange. After the touch of many, some sort of spot or fleck remained on the Virgin. And, that in the end, the Virgin looked all spotted and untidy.
Vicka: I know that. When those with an impure heart touched her, a spot was made on the Virgin.
[Janko Bubalo, A Thousand Encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, Friends of Medjugorje, 1987, pp. 85-86]
In other cases, it is even worse. The commission knows, but still treats Ivan differently from the others: the commission knows that the visionaries travel to promote the Medjugorje phenomenon, but while the others - according to what is published by Murgia - were simply asked if they obtain economic benefits from it, only Ivan is also charged with violating the recommendations of the Bishops' Conference of Yugoslavia:
(Redacted) refers to the document published in 1991, after the closure of the investigations by the National Commission. In that text, which proposes some guidelines, it is recommended - and also to the visionaries - not to give any public pronouncement on the phenomenon. He would like to know why Ivan had not respected that indication.
[Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 110]
Again, the difference in treatment is truly remarkable, given that all the "seers" continued to make their public testimonies, both locally and around the world, until 2014, when they were, in fact, prevented by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At that point they naturally obeyed, since they knew they were being examined by the Vatican (Saverio Gaeta also wrote, in 2021, that "in more recent years, both Ivan and the other visionaries have accepted invitations unofficially made to them by competent ecclesiastical authorities, with the substantial elimination of their presence at Medjugorian meetings around the world" [Gaeta, Medjugorje. Scienza e Chiesa, San Paolo, 2021, p. 217, note 5].
It is well known that in the first days of Medjugorje (June 27-30, 1981) interviews between the fathers of the parish of St. James in Medjugorje and the children were made and recorded on tape (audio cassette).
Well, in April 2012, a delegation from the commission went to Medjugorje to make a study trip there.
In the meeting of the following month of October, the report drawn up by a member reads:
On the occasion of our study trip to Medjugorje (April 22-26, 2012), the delegation was concerned to know if there was any trace of the first testimonies of the young "visionaries". We thought we understood that they had been destroyed by the police. By interviewing the Franciscan archivist in Medjugorje, we learned that the first recordings existed and that he could make them available. A copy was made and delivered to the Secretary of the Commission, (Redacted) [Msgr. Achim Schütz --MC].
But shortly before we left for Bosnia, we did some research on the internet ourselves and discovered that what we thought did not exist was partly present on an internet site. [...]
The Commission was the only one to be unaware of the public existence and widespread commercial availability of certain testimonies of the youngsters during the first days, recorded by Father Jozo Zovko.
[Annex IX - 5 October 2012 Proceedings, in Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 142]
This example also suggests how the commission found its way through the documentary sources.
In any case, this stay in Medjugorje, according to the commission, made possible a decisive turning point in the investigation.
Let's see why.
English linguistic revision by Richard Chonak
Copyright © Marco Corvaglia. All rights reserved