Earlier this month, I wrote:
In his pontificate, B16 has been quietly (or not so quietly) dealing with issues that appeared to drift during the pontificate of John Paul II. He reined in the Franciscans in Assisi; he reined in the Neocatechumenal Way; he dealt with the Fr. Maciel matter. I'm wondering if the discussion he had with Bishop Peric included an initiative to clarify where the Church is regarding the subject of Medjugorje.
New evidence has surfaced that my suspicions were correct. Over the weekend I got word from Diane of Te Deum of a story in the European press reporting the formation of a new episcopal commission to investigate Medjugorje. Before I could blog about it, though, word came today that Catholic News Service had confirmed it with the Cardinal who will be overseeing the commission (CHT: Amy).
Now for some analysis:
The European story notes that the announcement of the new commission came after the recent meeting of the Bosnia-Hercegovina bishops' conference in Banja Luka (I just love the sound of that name: Banja Luka. Cool!).
According to the story,
This announcement surprised many, because Medjugorje was not even one of the topics discussed at the meeting.
It also stated:
From our information, the request for the establishment of a new commission comes from the Vatican,
That certainly coheres with the idea of the commission not being discussed at the meeting. If it was the initiative of the local bishops then one would expect it to be discussed. If it were a Vatican initiative, it might not be.
It even more strongly coheres with a few points of evidence from the CNS story. First,
"The commission members have not been named yet," Cardinal Puljic told Catholic News Service in a July 24 telephone interview. "I am awaiting suggestions from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" on theologians to appoint.
So that establishes involvement of the CDF on some level, but most tellingly,
When asked if the new commission was the idea of the doctrinal congregation or of the bishops' conference, Cardinal Puljic said, "I would rather not answer that question."
Okay. That's it. Slam dunk. Case closed. The Holy See requested the new commission.
Also (though is is a lesser point):
Officials from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were not available July 24 for comment.
Here's exactly what happened:
<Knowledgable Guess Mode> Pre-16 felt for a long time that the community of the faithful would benefit from a clarification of where the Church is with respect to Medjugorje, and so after he became pope, he resolved to provide one. But this matter is delicate and could not best be dealt with in the manner of a motu proprio as the Franciscans of Assisi were. It needed a more indirect approach. He therefore approached his successor as head of the CDF, Cardinal Levada, and asked him to begin preparations for a new commission conducted under the auspieces of the local bishops' conference. He also informed Bishop Peric earlier this year and Cardinal Puljic as well. Bishop Peric took the opportunity to signal the likely direction--or at least his desired direction--for the commission's conclusions by stating B16 privately expressed skepticism about the apparitions and by publicly calling on the seers to stop making their claims. After the remainder of the bishops had been informed of the commission, Cardinal Puljic then made it public.</Knowledgable Guess Mode>
In case anyone needs a reminder of why B16 might feel that a clarification of the Church's position is needed, I quote a passage from Bishop Peric's confirmation homily that I quoted in my previous post regarding how serious the situation in the diocese is:
[I]n this local Church of Mostar-Duvno, there exists something similar to a schism. A number of priests that have been expelled from the Franciscan OFM Order by the Generalate of the Order, due to their disobedience to the Holy Father, for years now have been forcefully keeping a few parish churches and rectories along with church inventory. They have not only been illegally active in these parishes, but they have also administered the sacraments profanely, while others invalidly, such as Confession and Confirmation, or they have assisted at invalid marriages. This type of anti-ecclesial behaviour is shocking to all of us. At the same time, this scandal of sacrilegiously administering the sacraments, especially of the Most Holy Body of Christ, must shock all the faithful as well who invalidly confess their sins to these priests and participate in sacrilegious liturgies. We pray to the Lord that this scandal and schism be uprooted as soon as possible from our midst.
According to the CNS story:
The cardinal said he did not expect the commission to be established until sometime in September because of the summer holidays.
He said the primary task of the commission would be to review a 1991 report from the region's bishops that concluded, "It cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations." [i.e., a non constat de supernaturalite result]
In addition, he said, the commission would be asked to review pastoral provisions that forbid official diocesan and parish pilgrimages to Medjugorje, while at the same time allowing priests to accompany groups of Catholics in order to provide the sacraments and spiritual guidance.
Now, I can't make any concrete predictions regarding what the commission will end up announcing, but the direction of these events would not be encouraging for those who would like to see official approval of the apparitions or a loosening of pilgrimage rules--unless B16 is a closet supporter of Medjugorje, which would seem not to be the case if Bishop Peric was honest in what he said in his confirmation homily. Specifically, he said:
[A]ccording to the words of our current Pope, who I encountered during an audience on 24 February this year, [he] commented that at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith they always questioned how all these “apparitions” could be considered authentic for the Catholic faithful.
If that is accurate then it would seem that the holy father's intention for the new commission would be directed toward one of three ends:
1) Reaffirming the status quo on the apparitions (non constat de supernaturalite) and pilgrimages (unofficial ones permitted with clerical support) in a more forceful manner
2) Reaffirming the status quo on the apparitions (non constat de supernaturalite) but placing new restrictions on pilgrimages (e.g., disallowing priests to accompany pilgrimages to the site)
3) Downgrading the status on the apparitions (i.e., to constat de non supernaturalite) and placing new restrictions on pilgrimages.
The irregular situation of the local ex-Franciscans may also be dealt with anew in an attempt to bring them into line.
Of course, the future is not yet written (from man's perspective), and none of those things might happen, but if B16 really did take the tone with Bishop Peric that Bishop Peric reported then it sounds as if the best that devotees of the apparitions would be likely to see happen would be a reiteration of the status quo in hopes of ending some current abuses.
Whatever happens, it's likely to be painful and disappointing to some people on some side of the issue.
So let's keep the matter in prayer and ask God that healing will be brought to the situation through the commission's work and that it will reach accurate and wise conclusions that reflect the truth of the matter, whatever the truth may be.