by Marco Corvaglia
§ 1. Preface
The events of Medjugorje had their beginning in long-ago 1981.
The official position of the Church on this phenomenon 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.
§ 2. The pontifical commission (2010-2014) expresses a positive opinion on the first week of the decades-long phenomenon... but admits that "the events subsequent to the first seven apparitions constitute a real problem"
- Illogical conclusions
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 communique from the Vatican Press Office April 13, 2010.
In January 2014 the commission closed, after having consigned its own report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which later expressed a strongly negative opinion about it, considering it partial and accommodating in regard to Medjugorje. That reportage is an insider story from Saverio Gaeta, well-known vaticanist and essayist, and supporter of Medjugorje, who writes of a “harsh attack conducted by the Congregation in the face of the International Commission’s report” [S. Gaeta, Dossier Medjugorje, San Paolo Edizioni, 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, arguably, come to a decree to silence the apparitions of Medjugorje. A genuine “counter-report”! [ibid., p. 12].
After that – again, Gaeta writes – Pope Francis had the commission report examined by “theologians he himself truisted, who confirmed that the International Commission was correct in its method of inquiry; and the “counter-report” had therefore no reason to exist.” [ibid.]
But, naturally, not knowing the specifics of the arguments of the two sides, one can only say that the theologians consulted by the Pope had the same likelihood to say correct things (or mistaken things) as the members of the Congregation.
On May 13, 2017, Pope Francis, in a casual press conference, revealed, in a very brief manner, the conclusions which the pontifical commission reached.
In February 2020, Saverio Gaeta, having come into possession of the final report of the commission, published its full text with a commentary, in the book cited above, Dossier Medjugorje, (hereinafter indicated in the notes simply as “Gaeta”)
About the same time, David Murgia, journalist for TV 2000 (a television station owned by the Italian Bishops Conference), also a supporter of Medjugorje, published the same report in the little volume Rapporto su Medjugorje (hereinafter “Murgia”).
An English translation of the full text is available on Kevin J. Symonds' website.
The commission (which consistently defined itself in the text as an “International Commission”) produced a report that contains various errors, both logical and in the reconstruction of the events, as we are about to see.
The dossier published by Murgia begins with a Critical chronology of the first eleven days relative to the events of Medjugorje, written by the pontifical commission.
In this document, the alleged apparitions that are said to have taken place on Podbrdo in the six days from June 24 to 29, 1981, are presented in summary form.
Then the apparition that happened at Cerno on June 30 is briefly recounted and there is a quick reference to another that allegedly took place in the rectory on July 1. In reality, to put it very briefly, there is no sure evidence of the fact that there was an apparition on that date in the rectory, but this is not the place to get involved in that discussion.
Finally, the “apparitions” of July 2 to 4 are cited.
A little marginal note: in the Report the commission chooses to count an “apparition” for each day even if in reality there were multiple “apparitions” on various occasions in the same day.
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].
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 very difficult an evaluation in conformity to that which can be recognized in the original sign.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 83; Murgia, p. 58]
In summary, therefore, the apparitions of the very first days would be credible and the tens of thousands of the following decades doubtful. So, with apparent mental gymnastics, the alleged visionaries’ lack of reliability is admitted but, at the same time, the original nucleus of Medjugorje and the religious fervor that has arisen there are somehow “saved”.
And one question immediately arises: how come this alleged evidence of initial supernaturality had escaped the Yugoslavian Bishops' Conference in 1991?
The answer is obvious: because this evidence does not exist, and now it is being put forth as the result of an eminently "political" decision.
But let's start analyzing the text of the Report, seeing how the commission justified the choice of the first seven apparitions.
To begin with, based on questionable psychological interpretations, they listed the apparitions that would potentially be "freer from unconscious influences" [italics in the original]:
[...] the events that the witnesses declare to have occurred on Mt. Podbrdo have been identified as those that respond better to a situation free from improper elements of influence. These are the first five alleged apparitions/Mariophanies.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 47; Murgia, pp. 37-38]
"The first five allaged apparitions/Mariophanies" would mean: from 24 to 28 June. Let us remember that we must arrive at a total of seven "credible" apparitions.
Immediately after, they made reference to the two "apparitions", respectively, of June 30th and July 1st [italics in the original]:
Always taking into account the given testimonies, the International Commission has decided to consider, together with the events said to have happened on Mt. Podbrdo, also two other alleged apparitions:
- that of Cerno, a few kilometers from Medjugorje, where the then adolescents had been brought by car by officials of police;
- the one that took place in the parish house of Medjugorje, where the witnesses were in some way “sought refuge” after their previous “taking over,” certainly not benevolent, by state officials.
[Final Report: Gaeta, pp. 48-49; Murgia, pp. 38-39]
As is evident, something doesn’t add up, because July 1 is the eighth day, not the seventh.
To solve the problem, Saverio Gaeta believes that the Commission, for "the first seven apparitions", intended those that go from June 25 to July 1, considering the first one (June 24) only as a "premise":
[...] the confirmation that that initial event was considered by the International Commission to be outside the apparitions deemed credible [...] comes from the fact that the two seers of the first day, Milka Pavlović and Ivan Ivanković, were not even summoned to the Vatican to offer their testimony (which, in reality, would not have been useless for ascertaining the reality of the facts).
[Gaeta, pp. 66-67]
However, the Commission operates in a simply non-logical way if it asserts that the "apparition" of the second day is true, but suspends judgment on the first day.
And logic is one of the main weaknesses of the text.
In the aforementioned Critical Chronology of the First Eleven Days Relating to the Events of Medjugorje, regarding the apparition in Cerno on June 30, the Commission reports a well-known fact (in this regard, see the page Medjugorje: The Grand Concealment – The Facts. “Three More Days”, by Louis Bélanger, where a thesis that would deny the fact in question is rebutted):
Our Lady showed her willingness to appear in the church, also announcing that she would appear during the following three days.
[Critical Chronology of the First Eleven Days Relating to the Events of Medjugorje, Murgia, p. 23]
For the commission, the apparition of June 30 is credible, but in that same "credible" circumstance the Gospa said that "she would appear during the following three days". So how could they stop on July 1st?
For logical consistency, it should be July 3rd.
Someone in the commission probably noticed it, but only managed to make the mess even bigger.
In fact, the Report reads [underlines are mine]:
Having identified the formal object and specific material capable of offering and outlining the physiognomy of a religious event of specific interest, from the point of view of its possible supernatural origin, this can then be recognized, in a sufficient and reasonable way, in the first seven alleged apparitions, which are attested to have taken place from June 24 to July 3, 1981 [the list of the names of the visionaries follows].
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 52; Murgia, p. 41]
But from June 24 to July 3 the "apparitions" would be ten (and we should note that June 24 is also explicitly mentioned).
The meaningless statement, was repeated in the Summary of the Report, where we read about "the first seven apparitions, which took place from 24 June to 3 July 1981" [Gaeta, p. 134; Murgia, p. 77].
Saverio Gaeta attributes this evident inconsistency above all to "a defect in the composition of the Commission, with the absence of an expert in the history of the Marian event in Medjugorje, able to keep straight the reconstruction proposed in the testimonies of the protagonists, thirty years after the initial events" [Gaeta, p. 65].
But it does not seem a trivial matter, for a commission charged with expressing a judgment on Medjugorje.
Let's now ask ourselves: what did the commission find particularly convincing in the apparitions of 30 June and 1 July?
Let's read [italics in the original]:
The International Commission justified this choice, bearing in mind:
- the martyrdom dimension connected with the events of Cerno, not attributable to the choices of the then adolescents and nevertheless accepted by them (the reactions of parents and friends, police interrogations); [...]
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 49; Murgia, p. 39]
So, the episode of Cerno allegedly was a martyrdom for the youngsters.
Well, let's begin by saying that it is not true that in Cerno "the then adolescents had been brought by car by officials of police" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 48; Murgia, p. 38]. And, on the other hand, the commission contradicted itself, given that in the Chronology it wrote correctly (albeit wrongly spelling the name of the place):
The children, accompanied by two girls (Mica and Ljubica), made an excursion by car and had the vision at Cerna.
[Chronology: Murgia, p. 22]
They were two social workers: Mica Ivanković, a cousin of Vicka and Ivanka, and Ljubica Vasilj-Gluvić.
This further contradiction in the commission's documents is a clear sign of the fragmentary knowledge of the facts in those who then determined the outcome of the final votes.
In this case, it is clear that someone in the commission made reference to this account by Vicka, dating back to 1983 (but Vicka never said that they were "police officers"):
Vicka: Two girls came for us about two in the afternoon . And they offered to take us about a bit in their car. [...]
We already realized while on the road that we made a mistake in going for the outing, for, in the end, it seemed to us that they just took us so that we might not be present for the Virgin. [...]
However, on the way through Cerno, we asked that they stop so that we might pray to the Virgin.
Janko: At what time of the day was it?
Vicka: Somewhere about six in the afternoon. When we usually meet with the Virgin. [...]
They were somewhat reluctant to stop. They pretended not to hear us. But, when we said we would jump out of the car if they didn't stop, they stopped.
[Fr. Janko Bubalo, A Thousand Encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjugorje. The Seer Vicka Speaks of Her Experiences, Friends of Medjugorje, Chicago (IL) 1987, pp. 37-38]
But Vicka was contradicting herself and the other "visionaries".
There is a series of tapes that report the interviews that the priests of the parish of St. James at Medjugorje made of the children in the period from 27 to 30 June 1981. They were transcribed and translated by three authors, two of whom were open supporters of Medjugorje (Daria Klanac and Father James Mulligan).
The tape recorded on June 30 by the parish priest Jozo Zovko (a tape evidently known to those who, in the commission, drew up the Chronology) makes it clear that for the youngsters, in reality, it was a pleasant excursion: the boys freely chose Cerno as their destination.
They all said together: “We did, we decided ourselves”. Vicka herself, with her proud attitude, was even more explicit: "We decided ourselves and that was all. We don't need anybody to tell us" [J. Mulligan, Medjugorje. The First Days, Boanerges Press, 2013, p.242; D. Klanac, Aux sources de Medjugorje, Sciences et Culture, 1998, p. 171].
Also interesting is the part in which Father Jozo asked the boys if they had been annoyed by the presence of the two women. Their reply was: "Not at all, they were very nice" [Mulligan, Medjugorje cit., p. 247; Klanac, Aux sources cit., p. 176].
Further on, the Report also reads that when, in the early days, they were interrogated by the police, “the alleged visionaries were exposed to grave threats. They resisted, however, and do not deny at all what they have experienced" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 44; Murgia, p. 35].
In the early days, the youngsters were actually interrogated several times, but strict measures were never taken against them, nor against their parents, brothers and sisters.
Besides, the six youngsters were far from terrified.
On the fourth day (June 27, 1981) they refused to be brought by the police to Mostar to be visited by a psychiatrist. And nobody forced them to go.
Here is how Mirjana, in her autobiography, recounts what happened on that day when, in Čitluk, a general practitioner, Dr. Ante Vujević, had just finished visiting them:
He came to us and said, "Now you'll be examined by a psychiatrist in Mostar."
"No", I said.
"No?", he said.
"Maybe you think we're all crazy, but what more do you want from us?" I opened the door. "Goodbye. We have to leave."
And we left.
[Mirjana Soldo, My Heart Will Triumph, Catholic Shop Publishing, Cocoa (FL) 2016, p. 45]
On the eighth day (July 1) the youngsters refused to respond to a police call to Čitluk. The story was recounted by Vicka:
Vicka: [...] they summoned us and our parents to school, and...
Janko: Who summoned you?
Vicka: Why, you know who! The ones from the Internal [Secret Police, Tr.] [...] Our parents went, but we did not. Why, didn't we dance around with them half the night prior to this! But, our parents didn't always go when they were summoned.
[Fr. Bubalo, op. cit., p. 45]
Moreover, many years later, Vicka herself will say:
Neither I nor the other visionaries had problems with the authorities; the authorities had their problems with us.
[Krešimir Šego, A Conversation with the Visionaries, Medjugorje, 2012, p. 112]
The first Medjugorjan historian, the Franciscan Father Marijan Ljubić wrote:
Nobody can say for sure how many pilgrims have already gone to Medjugorje. It is however certain that by the end of October 1981 the number had already exceeded half a million.
[Marijan Ljubić, Medjugorje. Dernière inviatation à la priere et à la conversion, Parvis, 1986, p. 37]
Which is obviously incompatible with the idea of severe repression.
The authorities waited a month and a half before showing a certain resolve: in mid-August, coinciding with the issue of a real decree of access to Mt. Podbrdo (also mentioned by the commission in the Chronology), there was actually a tightening of the repressive measures, which, however, did not directly affect the youngsters (and did not even stop the influx of pilgrims, as we have seen), but was aimed at punishing with "exemplary" (from the government point of view) retaliation some Franciscans of the region that the regime had long considered as its opponents (including the parish priest of Medjugorje, Jozo Zovko).
Furthermore, according to the commission, the first seven "apparitions" are distinguished from the tens of thousands following in that, in particular, "[...] the phenomenon occurs “suddenly” and by surprise; the phenomenon causes fear and disturbance in the souls of the visionaries" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 48; Murgia, p. 38].
Then, the Report reads [underline is mine]:
On the basis of these data, the International Commission considers that it can affirm with reasonable certainty that the first seven apparitions prove to be intrinsically credible, as they were capable of fostering in those who saw them an awakening of faith, a conversion in their way of life, and a renewed sense of belonging to the Church.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 61; Murgia, p. 47]
From a rational point of view, the argument provided by the commission in support of the conclusion just outlined is devoid of any sense or probative value. If many people are convinced that a phenomenon is true, this obviously does not constitute proof of truthfulness (all the more so if that phenomenon leverages people's psychological weaknesses).
Equally unfounded, from a logical point of view, is this other statement contained in the document:
[...] the succeeding thirty-year history since the original events has spread so far, and in such depth, as to exclude an individual or mass manipulation.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 71; Murgia, p. 50]
To make a comparison, the 8 million Jehovah's Witnesses in the world have also experienced "an awakening of faith" by joining their movement. Would the international commission agree, therefore, that they followed the right path?
Islamism and Hinduism have "spread" very far and in-depth. Does the international commission believe Islamism and Hinduism to be true?
Let us now move on to a testimony to which the commission seems to have given decisive importance.
The article continues on the page Medjugorje: The Contradictory Pontifical Commission and the Equivocal Position of the Church [Part 2]