Part 8: Medjugorje, the Church, and the Strategy the Commission Suggested
by Marco Corvaglia
Go to Part 1: An Inadequate Commission
Go to the full index of the study: Who Will Judge the Judges? The Unresolvable Contradictions of the Commission of Inquiry on Medjugorje
In the Final Report, the Suggestions for the practical management of the phenomenon begin with words revealing a precise strategy that the commission proposed [emphasis added]:
The conclusions reached by the International Commission regarding the supernatural origin of the Medjugorje phenomenon require or at least suggest modifications of the line followed up to now, which, based on the judgment non constat de supernaturalitate, which was also reaffirmed by the Zara Declaration of the Yugoslav Bishops' Conference, forbade the organization of "official" pilgrimages to Medjugorje with the participation of priests, and in general any gesture or position that implies recognition of supernaturality.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 97; Murgia, p. 62]
It is something singular: the commission, after having supported the supernatural nature of the "first seven apparitions", which were presented as completely independent of the subsequent ones ("What they [the "seers"] attest to take place today must be distinguished from what happened at the beginning" [Final report, Gaeta, p. 71; Murgia, p. 50]), did not suggest proceeding to an official recognition of those seven.
In reality, the commission, is asking for a form of recognition: implicit recognition. According to the Commission, gestures and positions that imply a recognition of supernaturality should be permitted.
Stated more clearly, the commission asks the Church to say one thing (that the official position remains that of the Zara declaration) and to do another (namely, to push the faithful toward Medjugorje).
That’s not all. If more or less implicit forms of recognition are being suggested, one cannot even safeguard the distinction in which the commission says it believes, between the first seven (considered "supernatural") and the subsequent tens of thousands whose dubious character the commission admits.
So the contradiction is truly remarkable.
Why does the commission not suggest doing things in the light of the sun, with transparency, assuming responsibility for them? Why not?
Still, there’s more. There is a method.
Read against the light, what is suggested in the Report is an approval that is not only implicit, but also "creeping", that is, made one step at a time, with circumspection.
The first step suggested is that “the prohibitions of pilgrimages to Medjugorje should be removed with the participation of priests”, in order to encourage "pastoral care of the phenomenon" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 100; Murgia, pp. 63- 64].
In reality, the participation of priests in pilgrimages, in a private capacity, has never been forbidden: simply (and sometimes theoretically) priests could not organize pilgrimages (even numerous bishops have been to Medjugorje, when official pilgrimages were not permitted, as the official site of the parish has always highlighted).
In implementation of the commission's suggestions, on May 12, 2019, the interim director of the Vatican Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, publicly communicated that official pilgrimages (organized by dioceses and parishes) are also permitted, under one condition:
The Holy Father has established that it is possible to organize pilgrimages to Medjugorje, while always taking care to avoid that these pilgrimages be interpreted as an authentication of known events which still require an examination by the Church.
It is an obviously equivocal position, so much so that the communiqué goes on to say that "such pilgrimages should avoid creating confusion or ambiguity from a doctrinal point of view", but it does not indicate in the least how this ambiguity could be avoided.
It should be noted that the pontiff granted this permission only orally: there is no official document on the matter.
Another crucial suggestion of the commission is, in turn, divided into two phases.
It has been suggested that the parish of Medjugorje should be erected as a papal shrine. However, the Report showed awareness of the fact that this would have been “too abrupt and radical a passage, compared to the current prohibitions of official pilgrimages" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 107; Murgia, P. 67]:
Such an erection therefore requires great prudence and could, if anything, take place at a later time, while for now it could be limited to the establishment at Medjugorje of an ecclesiastical authority depending directly on the Holy See.
[Final Report: Gaeta, pp. 107-108; Murgia, p. 67-68]
In fact, in 2017 the figure of "Apostolic Visitor with a special character for the parish of Medjugorje" was established (since 2018 the appointment has been conferred for an indefinite period and the office is currently held by Msgr Aldo Cavalli).
In the Report it is written that an immediate transformation of the parish into a pontifical shrine could "induce believers to think that the Church approves the Medjugorje phenomenon in its entirety." [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 107; Murgia, P. 67].
This awareness is interesting. We can take it as a admission of the goal that the majority of the commissioners set for themselves. In fact, regardless of the suggestions later written in the Report, the immediate transformation into a papal shrine is exactly what nine out of fourteen members wanted.
Here is the outcome in detail (meeting of 17 January 2014):
• 6 members and 3 experts: " a pontifical shrine should be erected in Medjugorje";
• 4 members: " a pontifical shrine should not be erected for now, but only later "
• 1 member: " a pontifical shrine should not be erected in Medjugorje at all".
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 109; Murgia, p. 69]
The Report also asserts that it "would be rather desirable to enlarge the size of the parish church" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 123; Murgia, p. 73].
Therefore, in essence, there is a need to work to increase pilgrimages to this place where the "seers" "effectively have a relation that is ambiguous in certain aspects with money" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 81; Murgia, p.57].
The messages that, from 2019 on, Pope Francis has sent each year (albeit without making any reference to the "apparitions") to the participants in the Mladifest (the "Youth Festival" that since 1990 has attracted tens of thousands of participants from all over the world to Medjugorje and covers the first week of August, in which the presumed birthday of the Madonna falls: specifically on August 5, according to the "seers" of Medjugorje) become a natural consequence of what has been said up to now.
In short, the strategy implicitly suggested to the Church in the Final Report aims to support Medjugorje without assuming responsibility for it, by an oblique path between saying and not saying. Not a "full speed ahead", but a "zig-zag forward".
And yet, there was someone who seems to have said: "Let your speech instead be: 'yes, yes', 'no, no'"...
English linguistic revision by Richard Chonak
Copyright © Marco Corvaglia. All rights reserved