Saturday, April 10, 2010

John Paul II and Medjugorje

As many of you may or may not know, on this blog I have frequently challenged the claims of the proponents of the Medjugorje apparitions and have maintained the position that the so-called Medjugorje phenomenon is nothing but a sham. I believe that the alleged-Seers have not on any occasion been privy to a single apparition or vision of the Blessed Mother and that the whole Medjugorje mania is hostile to the true spirit of Catholicism. People often claim that there are so many good fruits that come out of Medjugorje that I am being a fuddy-duddy for questioning it, and I have taken up and thoroughly dealt with this lame "fruits" argument elsewhere.

But one other assertion of the Medjugorje crowd that I have been wanting to debunk for a long time is the oft-repeated claim that John Paul II privately approved of the apparitions and encouraged the faithful in their devotion at Medjugorje. This is manifestly false, and whatever else one may think of John Paul II, one thing we can definitely clear him of is promoting Medjugorje. Therefore, I want to clear up with this post once and for all the confusion and untruths promoted by those who assert that the Pope, either JPII of BXVI, has ever approved Medjugorje, even implicitly.

First, if you browse around on Medjugorje websites, you will quickly come across several sayings attributed to John Paul II apparently approving of the phenomenon at Medjugorje. Here's a few examples of what the Medjugorje proponents are attributing to John Paul II:

In 1992 John Paul II told Fr. Jozo Zovko (curate in Medjugorje when the apparitions started and long-time Medjugorje proponent), "Busy yourself with Medjugorje. Look after Medjugorje. Don't tire. Persevere, be strong, I am with you. Watch over, follow, Medjugorje."

An Italian priest, Father Gianna Sgreva, reports that at an undisclosed time, in a private audience, John Paul II drew him close and whispered in his ear, "Don't you be concerned about Medjugorje, because I am thinking about Medjugorje and I pray for its success every day.You be concerned with the vocations and pray for me everyday."

In 1988, JPII allegedly told Mons. Maurillo Kreiger, "Medjugorje, Medjugorje, it's the spiritual heart of the world."

Perhaps most absurd of all the alleged statements of JPII comes from a 1987 "private conversation" with Seer Mirjana Soldo, the Pope said, "If I were not Pope I would already be in Medjugorje confessing.

These comments are absurd and outlandish - the Pope calling Medjugorje the spiritual heart of the world and all that nonsense. But is there any corroboration to these statements? First, we must simply point out that even had the Pope said these remarks and others attributed to him, they all seem to have been done in the context of private conversations, which would have no bearing whatsoever on the official status of Medjugorje as an approved pilgrimage destination. But that is a moot point, because it is highly improbable that these conversations ever took place, and even the supporters of Medjugorje admit that they cannot document these conversations. They are always spoken "privately," or as in the one case illustrated above, the Pope leaned in and spoke his alleged support of Medjugorje privately into the priest's ear. Are we supposed to base JPII's alleged support for Medjugorje on such scanty evidence? One Medjugorje website which purports to list all John Paul's comments in favor of the apparitions has this disclaimed across the top of the page:

While these statements are not verified by the Pope's seal and signature, they are brought to us by persons in whom we may trust (source).

Gee, that doesn't sound suspicious! If you tell a Medjugorje pilgrim that pilgrimages to the site are forbidden, they will insist that you provide some document from the Vatican or the Pope himself condemning the apparitions (nevermind the fact that the Vatican has supported the local bishop's jurisdiction and he has condemned them) - but ask for sources from the Medjugorje crowd and you just get anecdotal stories anonymously promulgated that are "not verified" by the Pope. Give me a break.

But setting aside the Pope's alleged and unsubstantiated statements whispered in ears privately, what did John Paul II actually do with regards to Medjugorje? First of all, if he really liked Medjugorje as much as he claimed, why did he replace Bishop Zanic, a hostile critic of Medjugorje, with another bishop, Msgr. Radko Peric, who is equally as hostile to the events taking place there? Wouldn't the 1994 appointment be the Pope's chance to put in a bishop supportive of the apparitions? The fact that he appointed a man who disbelieves them and who has forbidden pilgrimages there suggests that the Pope must share his opinion.

Furthermore, we must look at the Pope's visits to Croatia and recognize that he did not make one statement concerning the apparitions or even mention the name 'Medjugorje.' On a September 10-11th trip to Croatia on 1994 (right after the war), he failed to make any mentioned of Medjugorje. If the Pope did support Medjugorje, where Mary is venerated as "Queen of Peace," is it not odd that he did not mention this, especially since he was on a mission of peace to a war-torn country? He similarly made no reference to Medjugorje in his 1997 visit either.

Those who claim that the late Pope supported Medjugorje resort to truly pathetic efforts to create any illusion of papal support for their claims. Take this example from Michael Davies' book on Medjugorje:

A truly pathetic attempt was made to indicate that the Holy Father does indeed accept the authenticity of the apparitions. The Christmas 1994 edition of The Children of Medjugorje, published in Scotland, informs us that a group of Medjugorje adepts was present at one of the Pope's Masses in Croatia with a Medjugorje banner, and that: "This earned them a big blessing from the Pope to whom they were quite close." This is not simply a gratuitous but a ludicrous claim. I was able to watch the Holy Father's principal Mass in Croatia on TV, and when it was over he turned to bless each portion of the vast congregation as he always does. It was thus inevitable that he would give a blessing in the direction of the Medjugorje banner, but there can be no possible basis for claiming that it was directed at that banner or that this particular papal blessing was a "big" one. As far as I know, but I am open to correction, papal blessings are not classed in such categories as enormous, very big, big, standard, small, and very small (Medjugorje After Twenty-One Years by Michael Davies).

Anyone who has seen a papal Mass knows that there are dozens if not hundreds of flags and banners in the crowd. I could easily go to a papal Mass, wait until the blessing and then hold up a flag that said "Ku Klux Klan: Klavern No. 14, Pulsaki, TN" and technically receive a blessing in my direction - but it would be highly deceitful to say that the Pope had given my banner specifically a "big" blessing, and even worse to say that this evidenced support for my positions. Yet the incident with the banner related above was widely promoted by Medjugorje enthusiasts.

It had been alleged that John Paul II sent autographed portraits of himself to each of the Medjugorje Seers, with a message that said, "If I could have my own way I would be a parish priest, and that in the church of St. James [ the Medjugorje parish]." An inquiry to the Vatican brought a categorical denial of any such action by the late Pontiff. In fact, many alleged-statements made by John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger were being circulated in the early and mid-1990's, so much so that they were even being reported in mainstream Catholic publications (the July 29th issue of the National Catholic Register quoted the Pope as saying, "Let the people go to Medjugorje if they convert, pray, confess, do penance," a statement still repeated on Medjugorje sites to this day). This quote had been circulating for quite a while (since 1988) and had prompted an inquiry to the Vatican, to which Archbishop Pio Laghi, Apostolic Pro Nuncio, responded:

The statement you cite as a quotation from the Holy Father has never been published or officially verified. Although there have been made observations about Medjugorje attributed to the Holy Father or other officials of the Holy See, none of these have been acknowledged as authentic.

Cardinal Ratzinger further confirmed the falsity of these alleged statements by the Holy Father and by himself in a statement of July, 1998. In response to an inquiry from a reporter about some of JPII and Ratzinger's alleged sayings, he writes:

First of all, I have to apologize for answering your kind letter from 27th May only today. The burden (i.e. work load) of the last few weeks has been so heavy that I had to postpone my private correspondence again and again so that only now, as my vacation is about to begin, I can at last try to answer the more important letters.

I thank you very much for sending me the memorandum by Claus Peter Clausen, whom in fact I know as the author of the Schwarze Briefe (Black Letters). I
can only say that the statements attributed to the Holy Father and me are freely invented.

With my best wishes for your manifold activities.
Josef Ratzinger

However, I think it is possible that the Pope was alluding to Medjugorje when he made the following comments in the September 18th, 1996 edition of L'Osservatore Romano:

Some members of the People of God are not rooted firmly enough in the faith so that the sects, with their deceptive proselytism, mislead them to separate themselves from true communion in Christ. Within the Church community, the multiplication of supposed "apparitions" or "visions" is sowing confusion and reveals a certain lack of a solid basis to the faith and Christian life among her members.

In some instances, the alleged support of JPII for Medjugorje comes down to nothing but absurd stories that he said the word "Medjugorje" while smiling, or this characteristic example from the Medjugorje- A Millenium Update:

At the Sarajevo airport 12 April, the very first to await the Pope's arrival were the bishops and provincials of Bosnia-Herzegovina. When the provincial of the Sarajevo Province, Father Peter Andjelovic, as the first of the provincials approached the Pope to greet him, the Pope asked him the question, "Medjugorje?" He pointed to Dr. Father Tomislav Pervan, the provincial of Herzegovina who said, "I am from Mostar and Medjugorje." The Pope nodded his head with satisfaction and twice repeated, "Medjugorje, Medjugorje." All TV viewers who watched the presentation of the Pope's arrival also saw it (pg. 53).

First, does the fact that JPII acknowledged Medjugorje by saying the name of the city twice prove anything? If anything, more important is the fact that this event occurred during the 1997 trip to Sarajevo in which John Paul made no mention whatsoever of Medjugorje and did not visit it. The Pope's silence regarding the site is much more important than this absurd piece of "evidence" cited above. Another absurd incident, cited in Davies' book, from the Pope's 1997 visit:

After supper in the Sarajevo Catholic School of Theology Father Tomislav took advantage of the occasion to personally present the Pope with the newest photo-monograph on Medjugorje which the Franciscans who work in the parish of Medjugorje had sent to him. On that occasion he spoke to him briefly about Medjugorje. The Pope did not say anything, but by the expression on his face, he accepted both the former and the latter with satisfaction and interest.

So now we are determining papal approval for something by mere facial expressions? Whatever expression may have been on the Pope's face, the fact remains that he has never mentioned Medjugorje in any official capacity whatsoever.

Just for a refresher, let's take a look at a devotion that was approved recently by the Vatican and see what such an approval would look like.

In April of 2000, John Paul II canonized St. Faustina Kowalska, another visionary who was the recipient of special messages from the Lord. Look at the language JPII used publicly at her canonization (section 8):

And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment (source).

Here is no ambiguity, no saying Faustina's name with a smile: here is a solid declaration of the highest authority in the message of a visionary.

Here is another example from the official decree concerning Fatima, from 1930:

In virtue of considerations made known, and others which for reason of brevity we omit; humbly invoking the Divine Spirit and placing ourselves under the protection of the most Holy Virgin, and after hearing the opinions of our Rev. Advisors in this diocese, we hereby: 1) Declare worthy of belief, the visions of the shepherd children in the Cova da Iria, parish of Fátima, in this diocese, from 13 May to 13 October, 1917. 2) Permit officially the cult of Our Lady of Fátima (Bishop of Leiria-Fátima, October 13 1930).

So there you have it. This is what it is supposed to look like when the Pope or the hierarchy approves of a vision. Do we have anything like that with Medjugorje? Not at all - only the Pope whispering in peoples' ears and supposedly communicating his approval through expressions. Let's stop all this nonsense regarding John Paul II approving of Medjugorje because it is manifestly false. Even if he did support it, it doesn't matter because he is gone now, never approved it officially during his pontificate and currently the papacy is in the hands of a man who unambiguously has stated that he thinks Medjugorje is hogwash and is shocked that anybody believes in it:

We at the Congregation always asked ourselves, how can any believer accept as authentic apparitions that occur every day and for so many years? Are they still occurring every day? (source)

But I guess even that doesn't matter, apparently, because the Medjugorje fanatics are already saying that Benedict supports the apparitions, too!


Much of the information in this post was drawn from the exhaustive work of Michael Davies on Medjugorje, which you can view in its entirety here.

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