The following article was written in the first part of November, 2013 shortly after the event occurred that is described in the beginning. In light of recent events with Ivan Dragičević, this article is being reproduced with some edits for the sake of clarity and to keep the discussion going.
In November, 2013, the news broke that the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, under orders from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) banned one of the alleged Medjugorje visionaries, Ivan Dragičević, from speaking in the United States. This news sent shockwaves throughout the Catholic news. I would like to discuss this news and offer a perspective that I hope will be helpful and well-reasoned.
Like many others, the news was shocking to me. My shock, however, was not rooted in the fact of the decision (and subsequent notice) itself but in the unexpected announcement.
Archbishop Viganò’s letter cites the 1991 Zadar declaration concerning the character of the Medjugorje phenomenon. To be clear, the statement—in its entirety—is as follows:
The bishops, from the very beginning, have been following the events of Medjugorje through the Bishop of the diocese [Mostar], the Bishop’s Commission and the Commission of the Bishops Conference of Yugoslavia on Medjugorje.
On the basis of the investigations so far it can not be affirmed that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations.
However, the numerous gatherings of the faithful from different parts of the world, who come to Medjugorje, prompted both by motives of belief and various other motives, require the attention and pastoral care in the first place of the diocesan bishop and with him of the other bishops also, so that in Medjugorje and in everything connected with it a healthy devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary may be promoted in accordance with the teaching of the Church.
For this purpose the bishops will issue specially suitable liturgical-pastoral directives. Likewise, through their Commission they will continue to keep up with and investigate the entire event in Medjugorje.
Viganò cites the second paragraph (“On the basis…and revelations”) in his letter. Then, speaking in his own words, Viganò continues, “It follows, therefore, that clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.’”
While seemingly big news, Viganò’s above directive is not all that surprising. What follows is an explanation as to why this is the case.
Historically, the second paragraph of the 1991 Zadar declaration has been a little confusing. The confusion is over making logical conclusions, which will then affect one’s response to the Medjugorje phenomenon. Simply put, if the Church is unable to give a definitive judgment on Medjugorje, how are the faithful to respond to the claims of Medjugorje? Can they make a pilgrimage there, promote it, give money to support it, etc.?
These questions are seemingly answered by the next paragraph in the Zadar declaration. This paragraph appears to allow people to go to Medjugorje and most of the documentation discussing this paragraph focuses on this angle. It is true the document does not forbid trips to Medjugorje, but this is where a careful reading is necessary. The question being addressed is not about pilgrimages to Medjugorje. The question is over the necessary pastoral care to be given to those who go to Medjugorje.
The above observation is an important one because of the way it reframes the focus of the document as well as calls into question subsequent historical developments.
In the Church’s wisdom, no definitive judgment was made in 1991 on the character of Medjugorje, but word had spread far and wide about the phenomenon. In these days where ease of travel and social media are readily accessible, to stop people from going (especially given Medjugorje’s popularity) would have been nearly impossible. However, what happens when one is in Medjugorje is an entirely different story.
In the same paragraph in question, it is stated that a “healthy devotion” in accordance with “the teaching of the Church” was to be promoted by Church officials to those who go to Medjugorje. Now, I will leave it to able historians to describe how successful this proposed enterprise was, but it is necessary to point out one indisputable fact: it is entirely questionable whether or not pilgrims have been duly informed of the full and unadulterated truth of Medjugorje.
Think of it this way, were one to go to Medjugorje, is he met with a barrage of “supportive” materials to the phenomenon, materials that question it, or a healthy mix of both? However one answers this, we must now return to the main focus of this article—why Viganò’s letter is not all that surprising.
As stated earlier, a proper understanding of the 1991 Zadar declaration is necessary in order to understand Viganò’s recent letter. The question at hand is, if the Church has not ruled positively on Medjugorje, can one support it either financially or personally? This has been a bone of contention between those who believe in Medjugorje and those who do not. The former see no problem supporting it while the latter do. From 1991 to 1998 this remained an open question.
In 1998, then Archbishop (now Cardinal) Bertone wrote a letter to a French Bishop on Medjugorje. In this letter, Bertone states, “Finally, as regards pilgrimages to Medjugorje, which are conducted privately, this Congregation points out that they are permitted on condition that they are not regarded as an [authentication] of events still taking place and which still call for an examination by the Church.”
It was seemingly a victory for those who question Medjugorje. Bertone upheld pilgrimages to Medjugorje, but then introduced a logical conclusion based upon the Zadar declaration. If the Church cannot at that time rule positively on the subject, neither should anyone else. Bertone was speaking about how one cannot take for granted that Medjugorje was from God when the Church herself had not done so. To do otherwise is to be out of step with the Church.
Bertone’s logic would obviously cut into the Medjugorje business that sprang up around the place. While he permitted pilgrimages, there was a logical question one had to ask him or herself. That question was, “If the Church has said not to go to Medjugorje believing it to be true, what purpose is there in going?” By design, this question (had people asked it of themselves) arguably would have cut out at least most of the pilgrimages. If statistics from 1998 to the present are any indication, the question of one’s motive in going to Medjugorje appears not to have been considered.
In light of the above, it is not surprising that the CDF and Archbishop Viganò have forbidden Ivan Dragičević from public appearances in these United States. It is entirely consistent with previous statements on the Medjugorje phenomenon. To be fair, the only real difference is that in Vigano’s letter, a clear and direct order is given. The 1991 Zadar declaration and Bertone’s 1998 letter have not been as explicit and left it largely to logic and the conscience of the faithful.
In conclusion, the Papal Nuncio’s letter issued a significant test of obedience for Medjugorje. It is going to be interesting to watch how the phenomenon develops further.