Wednesday, July 15, 2009

BIshop Sartain on Unapproved Seers

Among those involved in the Medjugorje debate there is a distinct difference of opinion with regards the importance of having the Church (meaning the Magisterium in this case) approve any alleged apparitions. For those who accept Medjugorje and are proponents of the alleged apparitions, the reasoning tends to be that visions are approved unless explicitly condemned. Those who oppose the Medjugorje fanatacism tend to take the opposite (and in my opinion, correct) approach that unless they are explicitly approved, they are questionable.

In Medjugorje, we have a situation where the local ordinaries have condemned the apparitions as false and dangerous to the faith and have asked pilgrims to stop coming there. The Vatican has not officially condemned or approved the alleged apparitions, and so we have the Medjugorje enthusiasts saying that the visions are presumed authentic until the Vatican explicitly condemns the visionaries. For them, silence is consent, and the opinion of the local ordinary seems to not matter.

Back in April, Bishop J. Peter Sartain of Joliet, Illinois clarified what I believe to be the proper way of dealing with these alleged apparitions, that of refusing to give them any endorsement unless the Vatican does so explicitly. In April of this year he sent a letter to all of the priests in his diocese asking them not to allow their parishes to be used as venues for seers claiming visions that have not been approved. Any guess who the seers referred to in the letter were?

You guessed it! Mirjana Soldo and Ivan Dragicevic, who were speaking on a "tour" of the Midwest that spring. Here is an excerpt from Sartain's letter:

From time to time we are approached by parishioners who would like to invite speakers representing various alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, private revelations, or locutions, or others claiming to possess extraordinary spiritual gifts. My purpose in bringing this to your attention is to ask that you not issue such invitations. Whether the speakers would make presentations on well-known alleged apparitions, such as Medjugorje, or lesser-known private revelations, we must be extremely cautious about inviting or promoting them.

As you know the Church takes great time and care before declaring that an apparition is worthy of belief, and even then it never says that a Catholic must accept the apparition as a matter of faith. We must avoid giving the impression that alleged apparitions about which the Church has not made a judgment are somehow already approved. Ity is our responsibility to see that our parishioners are not led down the wrong path. That is not to say that those who ask us to promote these matters are doing so out of bad faith, but we must be extremely careful not to confuse our parishioners.

This is a great synopsis of how priests and bishops locally should deal with such alleged visionaries: unless the Church has explicitly sanctioned themk as worthy of belief, then they should get no official support or promotion. Caution and skepticism is the de facto attitude towards such claims, unless the Magisterium says otherwise. This goes against everything the Medjugorje crowd has been saying for years, that unless the Vatican condemns the visions explicitly it means they are presumed approved. Bishop Sartain sets this straight: the procedure is guilty until proven innocent, at least when it regards apparitions.

One final excerpt from the letter:

Needless to say, these comments do not refer to apparitions such as Fatima, Lourdes, or Guadalupe, which enjoy the approval of the Church.

This is an important distinction to add in, because too often Medjugorje is lumped in with these other apparitions as if it is of the same caliber of authenticity and enjoys equal authority with them. Even Ignatius Press has recently published a book on Our Lady of Guadalupe in which the author devotes a whole chapter to Medjugorje and treats it as if it a modern Guadalupe, on par with the other famous Marian pilgrimage sites that have been approved. Bishop Sartain reminds us that there is a vast chasm of differentiation between the approved apparitions of Lourdes, Fatima et al. and the spurious and unapproved hoax going on at Medjugorje.

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