The Marian Movement of Priests: Is It Safe for Faithful Catholics?
I remember the day my friend—like me, a "revert" to the Catholic Church—told me she was going to begin a cenacle of the Marian Movement of Priests in her home. She explained that such cenacles were prayer meetings in which the participants made a consecration to Mary, prayed the rosary, and read one of founder Fr. Stephano Gobbi’s locutions, which were messages from Mary. The Church, she assured me, approved the movement.
Church sanction was of particular importance. Having struggled through the changing theological terrain of Protestantism, neither of us wanted to stray from the sure footing of truth—i.e., the teaching and leadership of the Catholic Church. While I didn’t feel called to join the cenacle, I encouraged my friend and prayed for her in what seemed to be a wonderful endeavor.
Then I came across a statement in a magazine that cast doubt on the authenticity of Fr. Gobbi’s locutions. How accurate was the information in the magazine? I didn’t know. Were we mistaken in thinking Fr. Gobbi’s locutions had already been investigated and approved by the Church?
When I went to my friend with what I’d read, she was somewhat shaken, since Fr. Gobbi’s locutions were always presented within the movement as coming without question from Mary. But now we both had questions. What does the Church have to say about these messages? What should we think about them?
Mother, Is That You?
After much searching, the best information regarding what the Church had to say about Fr. Gobbi’s locutions finally came in a letter put out by the Marian Movement of Priests itself. It was designed to counter doubts about the validity of the messages, but, in order to do so, it was necessary to include those statements that gave rise to the concerns in the first place.
Dated October 7, 1998 and addressed to "All members of the Marian Movement of Priests," the letter from Rev. Albert G. Roux, national director of the MMP, says, "If the Marian Movement of Priests and its book of messages . . . are to be officially approved by the church . . . a thorough investigation must be undertaken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). . . . It would be the role of the CDF, after serious examination, to make an official declaration concerning the messages and the Marian Movement of Priests." So neither the movement nor the messages had been approved.
Fr.. Roux’s letter continues: "Prior to the publishing of the new Italian edition of the book To the Priests, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons, the secretary from the CDF [presumably Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone], in a personal letter to Fr. Gobbi, requested and advised that he should not claim in the book’s introduction that these messages are from the Blessed Mother, but rather that they are the product of his own personal meditation."
Fr. Gobbi complied with the request as regards the introduction of his book, but, at the same time, says Fr. Roux, " he [Fr. Gobbi] still unequivocally affirms and continues to maintain . . . that he receives these messages from the Mother of God."
In his letter, Fr. Roux also quotes the [former] apostolic pro-nuncio to the United States [Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan], who wrote these words to the corresponding secretary of the World Apostolate of Fatima: "Concerning your inquiry, I can inform you that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has advised that the writings of Fr. Gobbi are not the words of our Blessed Mother, but his private meditations for which he assumes all the theological, spiritual, and pastoral responsibility." Fr. Roux counters by pointing out that this "personal advice . . . does not constitute an official pronouncement."
But when a highly placed authority in the CDF asks that the locutions not be presented as messages from Mary but as Fr. Gobbi’s own meditations, it is not unreasonable to put some stock in his "advice."
I found the movement’s insistence on proclaiming the authenticity of the locutions—in the face of this specific request to do otherwise—unsettling. Along with the Church’s caution about accepting Fr. Gobbi’s locutions as Mary‘s messages, I began to have other reasons to wonder about the MMP.
For starters, there was message 287 (one of Fr. Gobbi‘s alleged messages from our Lady). In it, our Lady contradicts Pope John Paul II and Sr. Lucia, one of the seers of Fatima—both of whom have confirmed that Pope’s consecration of Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, made on March 25, 1984, fulfilled our Lady‘s request. According to Fr. Gobbi’s locutions, the Blessed Mother disagrees and continues to ask for another consecration.
Is Jesus going to return in glory by the year 2000? According to Fr. Gobbi’s locutions, the Blessed Mother says he is.
Message 532 says in part: "I [Mary] confirm to you that, by the great jubilee of the year two thousand, there will take place the triumph of my Immaculate Heart, of which I foretold you at Fatima, and this will come to pass with the return of Jesus in glory, to establish his Reign in the world. Thus you will at last be able to see with your own eyes the new heavens and the new earth" (To The Priests, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons, U.S. National Headquarters of the MMP , 893).
It was somewhat startling to have the Blessed Mother giving an "estimated time of arrival" for Jesus’ return—and so soon!
More disconcerting than the message itself were some of the explanations given by MMP members of just what this expected return would entail. Their explanations were not in keeping with the usual description of the Second Coming. Knowing my concern, my friend brought me a copy of Fr. Gobbi’s own explanation of the message of the Second Coming, given at an international meeting of Marian Movement Priests held June 24, 1996.
How did Fr. Gobbi’s explanation of the Second Coming line up with Church teaching? I’ve laid out some major points of comparison so you can see for yourself.
All quotations of Fr. Gobbi are taken from his 1996 twelve-page explanation of the Second Coming. Page numbers are noted.
1. On the Final Judgment
Fr. Gobbi: "The return (Second Coming) of Jesus in glory [will take place] before His final coming for the Last Judgment"(2). "Therefore, we can surely be certain that the Lord will appear and return to this earth for a period of time before the final end of the world" (6).
Catechism: "The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory" (CCC 1040).
The Nicene Creed: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."
Scripture also verifies that the Last Judgment will take place at Jesus’ Second Coming—not, as Fr. Gobbi says, at some other "final coming" (cf. Rev. 20, Matt. 25:31–45, 2 Pet. 3:7).
2. On the Establishment of Christ’s Kingdom in the World
Fr. Gobbi: "Christ will return in glory back to this earth in order to build His Kingdom and . . . only at the end will He return as Judge" (4). Without the final judgment, "Christ will establish His kingdom in the world after having defeated and annihilated His enemies" (3).
Catechism: "The kingdom will be fulfilled . . . not by a historic triumph of the Church. . . but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause the Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of the passing world" (677).
Fr. Gobbi is saying Christ will have his victory without the Last Judgment, while the Church teaches that Jesus’ victory will actually "take the form of the Last Judgment."
3. On the Thousand-Year Reign
Fr. Gobbi: At the coming of Jesus in glory, there will be the "first resurrection" of "only those particular believers who had died as martyrs. Their unique role will be to partake in the sovereign earthly reign of Christ for this thousand-year period" (5). Although Fr. Gobbi concedes this reign may not consist of a literal thousand years, he says the resurrected martyrs will reign with Christ on earth for a period of time—a temporal earthly reign—before the Last Judgment.
Catechism: "The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological [final] judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism" (676).
The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Note for paragraph 676 quotes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decree of 19 July, 1944 (DS 3839), which says: "In recent times on several occasions this Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office has been asked what must be thought of a system of mitigated millenarianism, which teaches, for example, that Christ the Lord before the final judgment, whether or not preceded by the resurrection of the many just, will come visibly to rule over this world. The answer is: The system of mitigated millenarianism cannot be taught safely."
And in the fine catechism The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults (Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, R. Lawler, OFM Cap., and Thomas Lawler, eds., Our Sunday Visitor ), we read, "Some people have mistakenly come to expect a Messianic kingdom in which Christ together with the saints would rule a temporal kingdom on earth for a thousand years (hence the term ‘millenarianism’) before the final entrance into heaven. But such millenarianism is alien to the message of faith. The Church’s teaching associates Christ’s second coming proximately with the resurrection of the dead, with final judgment, and with the glory of His eternal kingdom" (469).
Fr. Gobbi’s explanation of the thousand-year reign clearly falls into the category of "mitigated millenarianism," which "cannot be taught safely."
4. On Our Human Nature
Fr. Gobbi: "It is clear that we will retain our weakened nature even after the Second Coming of Christ in glory" (9).
Catechism: "At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. . . . the righteous will reign with Christ, glorified in body and soul." (1042).
Scripture: "At the last trumpet. . . . the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:51–53).
Fr. Gobbi claims, in spite of retaining our old natures, we will always "only say ‘YES’ to the Divine Will of the Heavenly Father" (9). He goes on to praise Louisa Piccarreta’s book on the Divine Will, saying it very much relates to "our book" (9).
5. On The New Heavens and the New EarthFr. Gobbi: Message 532 says we will see "the new heavens and the new earth" in the year 2000. According to Fr. Gobbi, this will occur prior to, and without need of, the final judgment.
Catechism: "After the universal judgment. . . .The universe itself will be renewed: . . . Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, ‘new heavens and a new earth’ . . ."(1042–1043).
In Scripture we also see the new heavens and the new earth come into being only after the final judgment, not before (cf. Rev. 20:11–15; 21:1–5).
Also, Fr. Gobbi claims that the fire that prepares the way for the new heavens and the new earth is merely a spiritual fire, i.e., a second Pentecost. Both Scripture and the Catechism differ with this view. They describe it as a "final cosmic upheaval of the passing world" (CCC 677) in which "the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up" (1 Pet. 3:10).
Truth DevotionThe facts are undeniable. Fr. Gobbi’s teaching on the Second Coming is contrary to the teaching of the Church. No one armed with the Catechism could fail to notice the discrepancies.
But what about the imprimatur given to Fr. Gobbi’s book? We must realize what this signifies and what it does not. "Imprimatur" means literally "let it be printed"—signifying whoever reviewed it found worthy of printing, meaning it contains no teachings contrary to the faith. But an imprimatur does not verify that the predictions in it are true or that they are from our Lady. And remember, the errors we’ve discussed are contained in Fr. Gobbi’s explanation, which is not covered by the imprimatur.
Every error is a red flag warning us we are in danger of being led astray. It is never wise to ignore such red flags. Yet, it seems, many are doing just that. Why?
To be sure, the answer has several levels. Many have had enjoyable experiences in the MMP cenacles. With this attachment to the movement and the people in it, it is difficult for them to see—or more precisely, to be willing to see—its defects. Others are unaware that the locutions haven’t yet been approved or that there is any cause for concern.
Then too there’s the misleading example of clergy who have lent their support to the MMP without investigating it or explaining to the people the need to make a distinction between what can be accepted without question—e.g., the rosary—and what needs cautious discernment, i.e., the locutions.
Finally, there’s the loyalty issue. In his letter, Fr. Roux says the actions of those who express doubts about the locutions are "ferocious attacks" that our Lady predicted would be made on "her" movement. He says that those who remain in the movement are the ones who "will go to battle" with our Lady; while those who opt out are "deceived by the spirit of the world."
This attitude is not consistent with what the Church says about Marian devotion. The Church tells us there is not one particular means or movement that signifies true devotion but that there are many authentic ways to express our dedication to the Blessed Mother. If I left the MMP but remained a member of St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Militia Immaculata, would I be a deserting our Lady’s army?
In addition, unbelief in this person’s locutions or that person’s visions doesn’t equate to joining Satan’s attacks on our Lady. We aren’t even required to believe in approved apparitions like Lourdes to be considered good Catholics. Our love for Mary can be augmented by such supernatural events, but it is never to be founded upon them. True devotion to Mary must be built upon devotion to the truth. Do we imagine she would have it any other way?
On more than one point the MMP has strayed from Church guidance and teaching. For anyone who loves the truth and the Church, what else needs to be said? Without judging individuals, we must measure all teaching against the doctrine of the Church, our faithful Mother. And, we can be sure, Mother Mary’s voice will always be in harmony with Holy Mother Church.
Mary Beth Kremski is a third-order Carmelite. She writes from Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband, Stan .
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