Catholic Church response to the Medjugorje apparitions

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View of Medjugorje

Medjugorje (Croatian: Međugorje), a village in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been the site of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary since 24 June 1981. Various officials of the Catholic Church have attempted to discern the validity of these Marian apparitions in order to provide guidance to potential devotees and pilgrims. On Dec. 7th, the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Archbishop Hoser, Pope Francis' envoy to Medjugorje, announced that official pilgrimages are allowed, stating, "The devotion of Medjugorje is allowed. It’s not prohibited, and need not be done in secret.” [1] He clarified this statement by saying that "dioceses and other institutions can organize official pilgrimages. It’s no longer a problem.” [2]


When Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of Austria-Hungary, Pope Leo XIII took steps to establish dioceses (1881) and appoint local bishops. This included transferring parishes administered until then by the Franciscans to diocesan clergy. The friars resisted, and in the 1940s Franciscan provinces still controlled 63 of 79 parishes in the dioceses of Vrhbosna and Mostar. In the 1970s, friars in Herzegovina formed an association of priests to encourage popular opposition to diocesan parish takeovers. A 1975 decree by Pope Paul VI, Romanis Pontificibus, ordered that Franciscans to withdraw from most of the parishes in the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, retaining 30 and leaving 52 to the diocesan clergy. In the 1980s the Franciscans still held 40 parishes under the direction of 80 friars.[3]

On 24 June 1981, six children in the town of Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina (then part of Yugoslavia), said they had seen an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that these apparitions were continuing. The village began to attract pilgrims.

Local Ordinary[edit]

On 11 January 1982, Pavao Žanić, Bishop of Mostar, within whose jurisdiction Medjugorje lay, established a commission to look into the matter.[4] When three days later, on 14 January 1982, three of the seers advised him that the "Madonna" supported the Franciscans, Bishop Zanic began to be concerned that they were being guided more by their Franciscan advisors than by the Blessed Virgin.[5]

In 1984 Bishop Žanić decided to extend a first Commission to study the apparitions and expanded its membership to fifteen: 12 priests and 3 medical experts. They held seven meetings in all. This second commission completed its work in May 1986. Eleven members determined that the events at Medjugorje were Non constat de supernaturalitate (i.e., It is not confirmed to be of supernatural origin), 1 abstained, 1 accepted ‘in nucleo’ and 2 voted against the finding.) The Commission also stated that further investigations were not necessary for the delaying of the official judgement of the Church. The bishop duly informed the Bishops’ Conference and the Holy See.[5]

While the current ordinary, Bishop Ratko Perić, has spoken negatively about the apparitions, it is also known that he doesn't believe in any Marian apparitions.[6][better source needed]

Yugoslav Bishops Conference[edit]

With the possible breakup of Yugoslavia, many Croat church leaders saw the new Marian cult in Herzegovina as both an aid to anti-communist efforts and a potential focus for Croat nationalism in both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.[3] As the Medjugorje events had exceeded the scope of a local event, in January 1987, upon the suggestion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Kuharić and Bishop Žanić made a joint communiqué in which they announced the formation of a third Commission under the direction of the Bishops Conference. The bishops would both review the work of the previous commissions and conduct its own inquiry. The Conference instructed that pilgrimages should not be organized to Medjugorje on the supposition of its being supernatural.[4] In July Bishop Žanić forbade any priests who organized pilgrimages or came there ascribing a supernatural character to the events, to celebrate Mass in his diocese, and this until the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference completed its inquiry.

On 10 April 1991, the Yugoslav Episcopal Conference issued at Zadar its own Non constat de supernaturalitate declaration stating that: "On the basis of the investigations so far it can not be affirmed that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations."[4] However, on Dec. 7th, 2017, Archbishop Hoser, the papal envoy to Medjugorje, announced that the declaration made in Zadar was no longer binding and was now void. In an interview with Aleteia, he stated, “The decree of the former episcopal conference of what used to be Yugoslavia, which, before the Balkan war, advised against pilgrimages in Medjugorje organized by bishops, is no longer relevant." [7]

Holy See[edit]

John Paul II, the Pope at the time the apparitions began, has made a number of comments about Međugorje. The Slovak-born bishop Pavol Hnilica claimed that in March 1984, John Paul told him, "Međugorje is the fulfillment and continuation of Fatima."[dubious ][8] Later, on 1 August 1989, the Pope stated to Bishop Hnilica: "Today the world has lost the supernatural. Many people sought it and found it in Međugorje through prayer, fasting and through confession."[8] Then the following year the Korean Catholic (11 November 1990) reported the following conversation between Archbishop Angelo Kim and John Paul: "Thanks to you, Poland has now been freed from Communism", the archbishop said. "No, not me", replied the Pope, "but by the works of the Blessed Virgin according to her affirmations at Fatima and Međugorje." In 1994, during an address by Bishop Hnilica at a National Conference at Notre Dame, the bishop stated that the Pope had said to a group of Americans on their way to Međugorje, "Our Lady of Međugorje will save America."[8] The bishop did not elaborate further. Pope John Paul II also sent a "Thank You" note in August 2002 to Fr. Jozo Zovko, the former parish priest of Međugorje, for his charitable activities. The headline from the 24 August 2002 Zagreb daily newspaper[which?] declared, "A surprising gesture from the Vatican. The Pope thanks Father Jozo for Međugorje!"[citation needed]

In response to an inquiry from a French bishop, in March 1996 then Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger, stated that official pilgrimages to Medjugorje, if presumed as a place of authentic Marian apparitions, are not permitted to be organized either on the parish or on the diocesan level. The following June, in response to reporters' questions, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, spokesman for Holy See Press Office, clarified that Archbishop Bertone was referring specifically to official pilgrimages. Catholic parishes and dioceses may not organize pilgrimages to Medjugorje, as that might give the impression of a canonical endorsement.[4]

In 1993 Bishop Žanić retired at the age of 75 and was succeeded by his coadjutor, Bishop Ratko Perić. On 2 October 1997, Perić wrote: that he was convinced that the events alleged at Medjugorje were no longer non constat de supernaturalitate (that their supernatural nature is not established) but constat de non supernaturalitate (it is not of a supernatural nature).[9] In May 1998, in response to an inquiry from Bishop Gilbert Aubry, Bishop of Saint-Denis on Reunion Island, Archbishop Bertone cited the previous 1991 finding of non constat de supernaturalitate by the Yugoslav Bishops Conference, and noted that since the division of Yugoslavia, jurisdiction now lay with the Episcopal Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bishop Perić's statement must be considered the expression of the personal view of the Bishop of Mostar, who, as Ordinary of the place, always has the right to express what is, and remains, his personal opinion.[10]

In 2009 Father Tomislav Vlasic, the former "spiritual director" to the six visionaries was laicised at his own request by Pope Benedict XVI a year after he was placed under investigation over allegations that he exaggerated the apparitions and had engaged in sexual relations with a nun. Vlasic was under formal investigation for alleged "dubious doctrine, the manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders".[11]

On 17 March 2010, the Holy See announced that, at the request of the bishops of Bosnia Herzegovina, it had established a commission, headed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, to examine the Medjugorje phenomenon.[12]

On 21 October 2013, the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States communicated, on behalf of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that, in the light of the 1991 Zadar declaration about the Medjugorje events, Catholics, whether clergy or laypeople, "are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such 'apparitions' would be taken for granted".[13] The letter was sent to every diocese in the U.S. as Archbishop Müller of the CDF wanted the U.S. bishops to be aware that Ivan Dragicevic, one of the "so-called visionaries" of Medjugorje, was scheduled to give presentations at parishes across the country and was anticipated to have more apparitions during these talks. Because the commission established in 2010 was still in the process of its investigation, the CDF determined that the judgment of the Yugoslavian bishops which precluded such gatherings remain in force.[13]

On 18 January 2014, the Vatican commission set up in 2010 to study the Medjugorje question was reported to have completed its work, the results of which it would communicate to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.[14]

On 6 June 2015, Pope Francis, referring to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told reporters "we’ve reached the point of making a decision and then they will say."[15]

On 11 February 2017, Pope Francis named Bishop Henryk Hoser of Warszawa-Praga in Poland as his special envoy to Medjugorje, charged with investigating the pastoral situation in Medjugorje and the needs of pilgrims.[16] Archbishop Hoser said “If Marian devotion has flourished in Medjugorje, if such multitudes arrive there, it is therefore a place where veneration will continue, since Our Lady can be venerated everywhere,...” [17]

Official position of the Church[edit]

Until such time as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith releases its findings, the 1991 determination of the Yugoslav Bishops Conference of non constat de supernaturalitate ("It is undetermined at this time if it is of supernatural origin") still stands, and the Holy See considers this judgement still operative.[18] Traditionally, there have been one of three determinations with regard to apparitions:

  • 1. Constat de supernaturalitate (Determined to be supernatural) (approved)
  • 2. Non constat de supernaturalitate (Not determined to be supernatural) (Neither approved or condemned - not determined - neutral)
  • 3. Constat de non supernaturalitate (Determined not to be supernatural) (condemned)

Until such time as the Vatican commission's findings are revealed and approved by the pope, the "not determined" ruling remains in effect.

The current ordinary, Bishop Ratko Perić issued a statement on 27 February 2017 saying: "Considering everything that this diocesan chancery has so far researched and studied, including the first seven days of alleged apparitions, we can say: there have been no apparitions of Our Lady in Medjugorje"[19]

On 13 May 2017, a Papal response came when Pope Francis was asked by journalists about the alleged apparitions. The Pope stated "The first apparitions, which were to children, the report more or less says that these need to continue being studied." He then went on to say "[as for] presumed current apparitions, the report has its doubts. I personally am more suspicious, I prefer the Madonna as Mother, our Mother, and not a woman who’s the head of an office, who every day sends a message at a certain hour. This is not the Mother of Jesus. And these presumed apparitions don’t have a lot of value."[20][21]

Shortly thereafter, the commission on Medjugorje established in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI and chaired by Cardinal Camillo Ruini voted thirteen to one to confirm the supernatural origin of the first seven occurrences of the apparition only.[22]

The Commission voted 13-1 in favor of recognizing the supernatural aspect of the apparitions during the first seven days.[23] In addition, Commission members also voted to recommend lifting the Vatican ban on official diocesan and parish pilgrimages to Medjugorje and for turning the town’s parish Church of St. James into a pontifical shrine under Vatican oversight.[22]

However, the Pope Francis also mentioned that The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which reviewed the Ruini report and other material to which it was privy, expressed doubts about both the phenomenon and the Ruini report.[22] The final decision will be made by the Pope after Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser has completed his examination of the pastoral situation in Medjugorje. Archbishop Henryk is expected to give the Pope his report sometime in the summer of 2017, and the Pope may possibly make a final decision on Medjugorje by the end of 2017.[23]


On the basis of the letter of 21 October 2013, which refers to the letter of February 2013, Colin B. Donovan of EWTN remarked: "These 2013 letters clearly represent a change of pastoral attitude on the part of the Holy See, one which began before the end of the pontificate of Pope Benedict and which has now been affirmed by Pope Francis. An attitude of seeming tolerance has been replaced with a firm call for acceptance of the ecclesiastical judgments made to date, or at least publicly acting in accordance with them." He added: "Catholics on both sides of the issue should exercise prudence and charity in speaking of it. Medjugorje is not a litmus test of orthodoxy, though every Catholic will have a moral obligation to accept the judgment of Rome, in the manner Pope Benedict XVI explained, when it is rendered."[4]

Also regarding the October 2013 letter, Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers, when asked "what does this tell us about how the Church is likely to rule on Medjugorje?" replied, "Not a great deal. It certainly is not an encouraging sign for those who would want to see Medjugorje approved. On the other hand, sticking with the existing policy and applying its logic more rigorously is not a change of substance and does not tell us anything in particular about what the ultimate ruling is likely to be. The current Medjugorje commission is expected to deliver its findings to the CDF for evaluation, and, after the CDF has had a chance to study them, the results will be presented to the pope. It will be the pope who makes the final decision. Sticking with the current policy at the present time does not tell us anything, one way or another, about what that decision will be." [24]

Author Donal Anthony Foley, in speaking to OSV Weekly, expressed some concerns in the Ruini Commission's distinguishing between the initial and subsequent claimed apparitions, finding the latter uncertain. "This is a problem because it implies that the real Blessed Virgin appeared to the visionaries knowing that once she stopped doing so, they would then go [on] to fabricate further visions. This seems like an extremely unlikely scenario to me and strongly points against authenticity for the phenomenon as a whole."[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Vjekoslav Perica (2004). "The Apparitions in Herzegovina and the Yugoslav Crisis of the 1980s", Balkan Idols: Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslav States. Oxford University Press. pp. 117–118
  4. ^ a b c d e Donovan, Colin. "Medjugorje", 6 November 2013
  5. ^ a b Peric, Ratko. "Međugorje: Secrets, messages, vocations, prayers, confessions, commissions", Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, 1 September 2007
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c Sr. Emmanuel; Nolan, Denis, Međugorje: What Does the Church Say?, Queenship Publishing (2000)
  9. ^ Perić, Ratko. "Letter to Thierry Boutet", 2 October 1997
  10. ^ Bertone, Tarcisio "Letter to Bishop Gilbert Aubry", 26 May 1998, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  11. ^ Caldwell, Simon. "Pope Benedict XVI unfrocks Medjugorje priest", The Telegraph, 27 July 2009
  12. ^ "Holy See confirms creation of Medjugorje Commission". Catholic News Agency (ACI Prensa). 17 March 2010. 
  13. ^ a b "Vatican Advises U.S. Bishops About Medjugorje Apparitions", National Catholic Register/ Catholic News Agency, 6 November 2013
  14. ^ "Commission to submit study on Medjugorje", News.Va, 18 January 2014
  15. ^ Glatz, Carol. "Vatican Ready to Announce Decision Guidelines on Medjugorje Pope Says", Catholic News Service, 6 June 2015
  16. ^ Pentin, Edward (11 February 2017). "Pope Francis Appoints Polish Archbishop to Be Special Envoy to Medjugorje". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 11 February 2017. 
  17. ^ Sawicki, Konrad. "Archbishop Henryk Hoser to Aleteia: We should not be worried about Medjugorje!", Aleteia, 15 March 2017
  18. ^ Viganò, Carlo Maria. "Letter from the Apostolic Nuncio to the USCCB", 21 October 2013
  19. ^ Pavlic, Vedran (27 February 2017). "Local Bishop: There Were No Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medugorje". Total Croatia News. Retrieved 2 March 2017. 
  20. ^ "Pope Francis casts doubt on Virgin Mary apparitions at Bosnian pilgrimage site", The Guardian, 14 May 2017
  21. ^ Harris, Elise. "Pope Francis: I am suspicious of ongoing Medjugorje apparitions", Catholic News Agency, 13 May 2017
  22. ^ a b c "Medjugorje, the findings of the Ruini report". Catholic New Agency. 18 May 2017. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  23. ^ a b Tornielli, Andrea. "Medjugorje; the findings of the Ruini report", La Stampa, 17 May 2017
  24. ^ Akin, Jimmy. "14 things to know and share about the new letter on Medjugorje", National Catholic Register, 6 November 2013
  25. ^ Fraga, Brian. "Apparitions at Medjugorje continue to divide", OSV Weeekly, 5 July 2017

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