Thursday, August 16, 2007

Criteria for Judging Private Apparitions

Vicka during one of her visions.

In response to some of my postings on Medjugorje, I thought I might be wise to post the traditionals rules for judging alleged apparitions in the Church. I want to state up front that the tradition of the Church, as seen from Lourdes, Guadalupe and others, is for the bishops and the ecclesiastical authorities to be suspicious of an apparition until such a time when convincing evidence is brought forth to prove otherwise. In American law, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In Catholic Tradition, an apparition is judged false until proven true. This is the case because in any given situation the possibility of a true apparition is relatively small. Therefore, the Church must approach all apparitions from the standpoint that they are probably false until such a time when a miraculous occurrence gives reason to believe they are true.

The Catholic Encyclopedia warns that dealing with apparitions is a serious business: “Illusions in the matter of revelations often have a serious consequence, as they usually instigate to exterior acts, such as teaching a doctrine, propagating a new devotion, prophesying, launching into an enterprise that entails expense. There would be no evil to fear if these impulses came from God, but it is entirely otherwise when they do not come from God, which is much more frequently the case and is difficult of discernment.” Notice that it says that it is difficult to discern if a message comes from God or not, but that it is “much more frequently the case” that it is false. Many supporters of Medjugorje criticize those who seek to look at the evidence in a straightforward and scientific manner. But this is a must because, as the Encyclopedia says, the truth is “difficult of discernment.”

In judging the apparitions and the messages themselves (not counting whatever is found about about the life of the seers), the Church uses a guily until proven innocent method: “To prove that a revelation is Divine (at least in its general outlines), the method of exclusion is sometimes employed. It consists in proving that neither the demon nor the ecstatic's own ideas have interfered (at least on important points) with God's action, and that no one has retouched the revelation after its occurrence.” The Church first tries to see if the apparition can be attributed to anything else: demonic activity, hallucination, etc. The Church finely combs through every detail of the supposed apparition looking for possibilities of corrupted doctrine and non-supernatural origins. Only if all of these other possibilities are ruled out is it finally admitted that the apparition may be divine. Therefore, when looking at Medjugorje, we need to finely go through every detail and scutinize it from every angle. If it is of God, then it will pass the Church’s scrutiny (and by Church, I mean the competent ecclesiastical superiors, not just the whole mass of laity. It is not the job of the laity going on pilgrimages to determine whether or not an apparition is true based on their "experiences"). A similar process is undergone in the canonizing of saints, where the burden of proof is on the supporters of the saint to prove his/her holiness, not on the Church to disprove it.

The Encyclopedia goes on to list seven questions to be examined when looking into the character of the visionary. Again, we see the process of the Church attempting to find any other explanation for the phenomenon before declaring them supernatural in origin:

(1) What are his natural qualities or defects, from a physical, intellectual, and especially moral standpoint? If the information is favourable (if the person is of sound judgment, calm imagination; if his acts are dictated by reason and not by enthusiasm, etc.), many causes of illusion are thereby excluded. However, a momentary aberration is still possible.

(2) How has the person been educated? Can the knowledge of the visionary have been derived from books or from conversations with theologians?

(3) What are the virtues exhibited before and after the revelation? Has he made progress in holiness and especially in humility? The tree can be judged by its fruits. [In looking at this criteria, check out the message from 10/20/81 where Vicka asks Mary to "Paralyze someone; strike someone on the head" in regards to Fr. Jozo's trial. She then says, "I know it is a sin to speak so, but what can we do?" Is this the words of someone making progress in grace and holiness?]

(4) What extraordinary graces of union with God have been received? The greater they are the greater the probability in favour of the revelation, at least in the main.

(5) Has the person had other revelations that have been judged Divine? Has he made any predictions that have been clearly realized?

(6) Has he been subjected to heavy trials? It is almost impossible for extraordinary favours to be conferred without heavy crosses; for both are marks of God's friendship, and each is a preparation for the other.
(7) Does he practice the following rules: fear deception; be open with your director; do not desire to have revelations?

It is interesting that the Encyclopedia goes on to list signs of false messages. Two are pertinent in our discussion of Medjugorje: the first is that “They [the apparitions] reply to idle questions, or descend to providing amusement for an assembly.” This happens repeatedly in the Medjugorje visions, where the seers ask idle questions again and again: what happened to so and so? When is so and so going to get out of jail? We haven’t seen so and so for a few weeks; where are they? (see the messages of 9/17/81, 10/30/81 and 12/2/81 for this type of idle questioning about things unrelated to spiritual things) At one point, Mary supposedly even rebukes them for their curiosity(9/30/81)! The second sign of a false message: “Finally, a revelation is suspect if it is commonplace, telling only what is to be found in every book. It is then probable that the visionary is unconsciously repeating what he has learnt by reading.” The messages of Medjugorje certainly are commonplace. Their non-stop banal drones for peace sound like they could have come from a statement by the USCCB Committee for Social Justice. I imagine the messages would tend to sound commonplace after being repeated about 35,000 times.

Finally, the Encyclopedia asks, “If any work has been begun as a result of the revelation, has it produced great spiritual fruit? Have the sovereign pontiffs and the bishops believed this to be so, and have they assisted the progress of the work?” The answer os a resounding no. The Bishop of Mostar, the one is the greatest postion to know the facts of the story and discern the truth, has frequently denied the visions any authenticity, and neither Pope John Paul II nor Benedict XVI accorded any merit of truthfulness to the visions. In fact, the Bishop of Mostar expressely forbid pilgrimage to Medjugorje: “Therefore it is not permissible to organise pilgrimages and other manifestations motivated by the supernatural character attributed to the facts of Medjugorje” (Jan 29, 1987 Communiqué of the Yugoslav Bishops Concerning the Facts of Medjugorje). Nevertheless, millions of pilgrims each year continue to disobey the Bishop and spurn his authority, something that in itself is a witness against the apparitions.

This ban was reconfirmed June 30th, 1996 by none other than Cardinal Bertone. This same document states the Vatican’s position on Medjugorje as of 1996: “The Vatican position, which also reflects that of local bishops in the former Yugoslav republic was outlined in a letter by Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Bertone cited a 1991 report by the Yugoslavian bishops which said that, after much study, it could not be confirmed that supernatural events were occurring at Medjugorje. From what was said, it followed that official pilgrimages to Medjugorje, understood as a place of authentic Marian apparitions, should not be organized, Archbishop Bertone said. Such pilgrimages would be in contradiction with what the local bishops had determined, he added.” As for Pope Benedict XVI, in 2006, Bishop Peric of Mostar discussed Medjugorje with Pope Benedict XVI during a visit to the Vatican. In a summary of the discussion published in his diocesan newspaper, Bishop Peric said he had reviewed the history of the apparitions with the pope, who already was aware of the main facts from his time as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "The Holy Father told me: We at the congregation always asked ourselves how can any believer accept as authentic apparitions that occur every day and for so many years?" Bishop Peric said. Bishop Peric noted that Yugoslavian bishops in 1991 issued a statement that "it cannot be confirmed that supernatural apparitions or revelations are occurring" at Medjugorje.

These are the types of criteria the Church must follow when examining alleged apparitions. Not so-called fruits (which are always subjective), but hard evidence. Furthermore, no matter what the outcome of the Church’s decision is, one must always submit to the authority of the Bishop; in the case of Medjugorje, the Bishop (who by the way has led pilgrimages to Lourdes and loves the Blessed Mother dearly) has had his authority flounted at every turn. This in itself is enough to make the visions suspect. So let’s not get bent out of shape just because somebody is trying to examine these things rationally. We have to make absolutely certain that a vision is true before we proclaim it so; otherwise, false apparitions and false prophets, like in Old Testament Israel, are able to cause much mayhem.
This my last post on Medjugorje for awhile; I think people are getting sick of it. Read the Medjugorje messages for yourself and see how silly they are. You can find a pretty exhaustive list of them on this website run by long-time Medjugorje supporter Fr. Laurentin, including the ones I quoted above.


bg said...

Boniface, for one who professes to be so correct, there are a couple of glaring errors on your post, which tells me how far you go to check your facts:

The photo is not of Ivanka. It’s Vicka.

Yos say In Catholic Tradition, an apparition is judged false until proven true. This is simply something you have made up and is not correct.

Check with the last Medjugorje Commission report and see what judgement it arrived at, and then try to justify the ridiculous claim you have made.

And I am presuming that you are aware that the Vatican has recently announced another Commission to study Medjugorje. So that tells me that if Medjugorje is still under consideration then no final decision has been made whether the apparitions are true or false. A ‘false’ judgement hs not been made and to claim so is simply not fact.

Trying to point the flaws out in others you make the mistake of revealing your own.

Thankfully, you redeemed yourself later in your post – may I say, even contradicted – when you stated “If it is of God, then it will pass the Church’s scrutiny...”

So on one hand you state the Medjugorje apparitions are false (even condemned in an earlier post because of the silence by the Vatican) and on the other hand we have a situation still under examination by the Vatican and waiting for a judgement, and “if it is of God then it will pass the Church’s scrutiny”.

Herein lies your self-contradiction.

Twenty-six years on and still the Holy Catholic Church has not moved one step to close down Medjugorje on the basis that the messages and claims of apparitions are a danger to the faith of its members. TWENTY SIX YEARS!

Twenty-six years of conversions, millions experiencing renewed faith and producing much fruit. No wonder the Catholic Church is in no rush. Why should it be when these wonderful changes are occuring within.

bg said...

Glad to see you have since made the correction to the photo caption, from Ivanka to Vicka.

Boniface, how come you can recognise the visionaries houses and cars, but not their faces?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

“To prove that a revelation is Divine (at least in its general outlines), the method of exclusion is sometimes employed. It consists in proving that neither the demon nor the ecstatic's own ideas have interfered (at least on important points) with God's action, and that no one has retouched the revelation after its occurrence.”

An excellent reason for God not to give me revelations (by apparition and normally at least) even apart from fact I would want money from my writing and God knows that, is that I very much could not be trusted to clearly discern God's voice without my own ideas interfering or even retouching afterwards.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"(2) How has the person been educated? Can the knowledge of the visionary have been derived from books or from conversations with theologians?"

Any knowledge I have can be explained this way, no reason to call me a visionary. Nor to prolong any kind of investigation on whether I am so or not.

Back to St Bridget.

One Anders Piltz OP Tert and priest, ordained Novus Ordo and now celebrating EOForm, who was also my Dozent of Latin considered that St Bridget's revelations included "Lesefrüchte", considering that her supposed view on "the Orthodox of Novgorod" (his view) as "heathens of Novgorod" (Our Lord to St Bridget, in the text) must have been derived from reading of RC theologians too biassed against the Orthodox. He forgot that the Orthodox (or supposed such) Princes of Novgorod were annually kissing the feet of a Heathen emissary of the Prince of the Golden Horde since about 100 years back.

brenda90 said...

Good man Boniface, you're right.