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Medjugorje: the message is unclear, but the differences are obvious

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 04, 2010

Last week CWN reported on Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s visit to Medjugorje. Officially listed as a “private” visit, the appearance by the influential Austrian cardinal raised a host of questions: Was he intentionally calling new attention to the alleged Marian apparitions? Was he indicating his support for the “seers,” whose public activities have been strongly discouraged by the local hierarchy? Is there a split within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (on which Cardinal Schönborn serves) about the authenticity of the Medjugorje phenomenon? Was the cardinal’s visit—“private” or not—a fact-finding mission, pointing toward a definitive Vatican pronouncement?

Our story last Thursday linked to a Vatican Radio report, and we pointed out that it was possible to read different—indeed, completely contradictory—messages into that story. That Vatican Radio report is no longer available. But a new German-language report is equally equivocal. Cardinal Schönborn seems to be saying that nothing extraordinary is happening at Medjugorje—except that something extraordinary is happening.

If you believe that the Medjugorje apparitions are authentic, you can derive comfort from the cardinal’s remarks. If you aren’t sure, you can appreciate his call for caution. But if you believe the alleged apparitions are false, divisive, and dangerous, you won’t find much support in new Vatican Radio report. And since the bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina have leaned strongly toward that position—that “the Medjugorje phenomenon” is dangerous—it’s understandable that Bishop Peric would complain about the confusion generated by the cardinal’s visit.

From time to time we hear reports that the Vatican is close to issuing a formal statement on the Medjugorje phenomenon. The clear differences between Cardinal Schönborn and Bishop Peric suggest otherwise. At this point, it’s difficult to imagine a statement that would satisfy everyone. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: pro_bono - Jan. 08, 2010 10:45 AM ET USA

    wojo42567, what you say is correct. But I don't think we should stifle the Spirit. I was converted through Medjugorje in 1990. My father was converted a few years later when I brought him to a talk on Medjugorje. Let's all keep an open and tolerant attitude in regard to apparitions which the Church has not condemned. Private revelations have their purpose too.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Jan. 07, 2010 2:36 PM ET USA

    Even if Medjugorje is host to an authentic apparition it is considered a private revelation and Catholics can take it or leave it as far as belief is concerned. The churches approval of such apparitions is that it merely repeats the truths of public revelation. And as such is for Catholics edification. Every thing needed for salvation is taught in the public revelation of Christ thorugh his Church.

  • Posted by: pro_bono - Jan. 06, 2010 9:01 AM ET USA

    If the matter is settled, why is there a need for the Vatican to investigate and make a determination? tim.moore1408 is right. The current position on Medjugorje is "non constat de supernaturalitate". In the words of the Zadar Declaration: "On the basis of the investigations so far it cannot be affirmed that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations." This is a far cry from calling the phenomenon "a phony apparition".

  • Posted by: Lilacs2me - Jan. 05, 2010 8:08 PM ET USA

    Bishop Peric has made it perfectly clear that there is nothing supernatural going on Medjugorje. He is the lawful ecclesiastical authority and we need to obey. Period.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 05, 2010 7:54 PM ET USA

    I have not followed the Medjugorje story with much more than a casual interest; but some Catholics do not understand the three positions the Church can take: the Church can say there is an apparition; the Church can say there is not an apparition, or the Church cannot say there is an apparition (i.e. it is not conclusive either way). My understanding is the last (cannot say) is all we have now; and I cannot recall any apparition that was ever approved until after it had ended.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Jan. 05, 2010 4:02 PM ET USA

    The Local bishop head of the diocese is in charge of these kinds of things and so far the bishops have said that there are no supernatural events occurring.

  • Posted by: pro_bono - Jan. 05, 2010 9:43 AM ET USA

    Hi, RC. Why do you call it "a phony apparition" if the Church hasn't declared it to be so? On what basis do you anticipate the judgment of the Church, to whom we should defer?

  • Posted by: - Jan. 04, 2010 9:42 PM ET USA

    I cannot make sense of the Cardinal's suggestion that the Medjugorje phenomenon be "integrated" into "normal pastoral practice". To be sure, there is preaching and prayer and devotion at Medjugorje, but all things can be made into a program of evangelization without attaching them to a phony apparition. Apparently the Cardinal doesn't know about the defects of the case. This is no surprise. Nowadays lay people who read the 'net are probably better informed on specific issues than most bishops.

  • Posted by: Te_Deum - Jan. 04, 2010 12:35 PM ET USA

    Relativism and at it's best: "Good fruits" are more important than truth concerning actual events which should always be judged b4 fruits. Consequentalism? That too. Deception and disobedience are ok if there are good fruits!