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VATICAN (CWN) -- The Holy See today confirmed that the Church remains her official position of skepticism regarding the "presumed appearances" by the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, in what is now Bosnia.

A note released on June 19 by Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the head of the Vatican press office, indicated that "no new facts" have emerged to alter the Church position in this case, and thus that the Holy See "must respect the competence of the local bishops." The statement was released in response to a series of reports and rumors, circulating among Catholic journalists during the week, that the Church might make a new statement on Medjuguorje.

The validity of the phenomena at Medjugorje has been a live question for Catholic authorities since June 25, 1981, when a group of eight youngsters said that they had seen the Virgin Mary, who called them to fast and pray for peace. Although that group has been dispersed, most of the young people say that the apparitions have continued, with daily messages from Our Lady, to this day. Over the past 15 years, some 20 million pilgrims are reported to have made the trip to Medjugorje to visit the site.

However, in April 1991 the bishops of what was then Yugoslavia issued a statement indicating that their investigation had revealed no conclusive evidence that would allow them to determine whether or not the phenomena at Medjugorje truly derived from supernatural causes. The bishops did observe that the pilgrims who were flocking to Medjugorje appeared to be motivated by real piety, and their experiences should increase their Marian devotion.

Today's Vatican statement concluded: "We repeat the absolute need to continue deepening the reflection, as well as prayer, in the face of whatever alleged supernatural phenomenon, until there is a definitive pronouncement."

The latest flurry of press interest in Medjugorje can be traced to an article which appeared in the French and Italian press in recent weeks. Bishop Taverdet of Langres, France, had asked for a clarification from the Vatican regarding the proper answer to Catholics who planned pilgrimages to Mejugorje. He received a response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, indicating that in the absence of some clear indication that the apparitions are authentic, such pilgrimages should not be organized or sponsored by pastors or diocesan authorities.