Understanding Medjugorje review - ISBN 0955074606
Review by Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins, which appeared in the January-June 2009 issue of Miles Immaculatae
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For many years, when asked my private opinion about the alleged apparitions of Our Lady (the Gospa) in Medjugorje, I have responded with the Latin word nescio I don’t know. It has long seemed to me that a balanced and authoritative response would require a team of experts fluent in Croatian in order to untangle the complex phenomenon of Medjugorje: the enormous mass of seemingly contradictory statements by the visionaries, the propaganda generated by its devotees, the favorable writings of well-known mariologists and commentators, the personal testimonies of those who claim to have had “conversion experiences” there and those of priests who claim to have heard there the best and most sincere confessions of their lives, the statements of the former Yugloslav Episcopal Conference as well as those of the past and present Bishops of Mostar-Duvno, the Diocese in which Medjugorje is located. I am now fairly convinced that Donal Foley has done a great deal of that necessary work in assembling, untangling and sorting out the studies already carried out by experts and then weighing and evaluating them.
Twice in these pages I have already reviewed works by Donal Foley: Apparitions of Mary: Their Meaning in History (cf. Miles Immaculatae 36  720-721) and his much expanded version of that original work, Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World (cf. Miles Immaculatae 39  806-810). In my review of that second work, subsequently translated into Italian as Il libro delle Apparizioni Mariane (Milan: Gribaudi, 2004), I indicated what I believed to be the notable strengths of that work as well as a few of its questionable assumptions. Clearly Foley’s familiarity with many of the modern apparitions of Our Lady which have been recognized as credible by the respective diocesan bishops gives him a valuable perspective for examining the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje.
One of the features of the work under discussion is that it gives particular prominence to transcripts of the taped interviews with the visionaries during the initial six days of the alleged apparitions, from 24 to 29 June 1981, and raises serious questions about them (38-56). He writes that “It appeared that something was happening up there on Podbrdo, but the exact nature of that ‘something’ still had to be determined. However, the initial signs were hardly encouraging” (51). If it is conceded that something did transpire that attracted the attention of the six seers during that first crucial week when no message was transmitted, one needs to ask whether it was the Virgin Mary or a diabolical impersonation.
If one reads the report about these first apparitions on pp. 24-31 of the best-selling book by René Laurentin and Ljudevit Rupčić, Is the Virgin Mary Appearing at Medjugorje? (Washington, D.C.: The word Among Us Press, 1984), one gets a quite different impression from what Foley reports based on the transcriptions of the taped interviews which Father Jozo Zovko, O.F.M. made during that first week and carefully translated from the Croatian (38-56). The reports upon which Laurentin and Rupčić based themselves were made about a year and a half later. What emerges from the early tapes is quite interesting:
Fr. Zovko’s general impressions of the first days of the visions, and of the visionaries, as reported by Mary Craig, are worth noting: He complained that their answers were “terribly vague,” and that he found them “ignorant and shallow,” to the extent that he was “terribly afraid” that the whole thing was “just a joke with them.” His concluding thoughts were particularly disturbing: “How can these children possibly have seen the blessed Virgin? It was unthinkable that anyone could have seen her and not be radically changed by the experience. There was tension among them too. They argued a lot and disagreed among themselves about what had happened. Vicka and Mirjana seemed to be jostling for position as leader” (79).
In fact a careful analysis of this early material reveals rather strange and arbitrary behavior on the part of the Gospa, behavior quite unlike anything found in any of the apparitions of the Virgin recognized by the Church. What is fascinating to note is that just a few days later on 1 July 1981 Fr. Zovko became a great protagonist of the veracity of the Medujugorje apparitions, “becoming one of the prime movers behind the visions” (79-80). In the meantime various questionable announcements were made about how the visions would soon conclude (67-75) and that a sign would be given by the Gospa on 17 August 1981 which never materialized (96-97).
Subsequent to the first week when Fr. Zovko admitted “that there was no substantial public message given to the visionaries” (56), there have been a plethora of messages down to the present day of either very bland or questionable content. Here are two from the latter category published by Fr. Laurentin. On 24 July 1982 the Gospa is alleged to have said: “The body, drawn from the earth, decomposes after death. It never comes back to life again. Man receives a transfigured body”. On 31 August 1982 she is reported as saying: “I do not dispose all graces. I receive from God what I obtain through prayer. God has placed his complete trust in me” (101).
This latter declaration also happens to support a primary assumption of Laurentin with regard to Our Lady’s position in the distribution of the graces of redemption, even though it contradicts classic Catholic teaching on this matter. It was no doubt because of such messages that Laurentin could boast that “the apparitions of Medjugorje are without any of the historical particularities of Catholicism and thus have a better quality ecumenical dimension” (137; also cited in Laurentin and Rupčić, Is the Virgin Mary Appearing at Medjugorje? 136).
The numerous messages coming from all of the seers seem to abound with strange statements and unfulfilled prophecies. Perhaps it was for this reason that Marija, one of the six seers, who began giving monthly messages from the Gospa in January 1987, adopted the practice of submitting them first to Fr. Slavko Barbaric, Franciscan advisor to the seers subsequent to Frs. Jozo Zovko and Tomislav Vlasic (96-97). “It would then be checked thoroughly for adherence to Scripture and church doctrine, and in less than 24 hours, it would be transmitted to prayer groups and to others throughout the world” (181-182).
After the Holy See refused permission for the formation of a mixed community of men and women promoted by Fr. Vlasic, the same Marija was constrained to issue a written declaration on 11 July 1988 indicating that her earlier statement of April 1988 that the Gospa was supportive of the formation of such a community “does not correspond to the truth. Brother Tomislav Vlasic advised me, stressing the point again and again, that I, as a seer, ought to write a deposition which the world expected” (182).
While in a brief review, one cannot do full justice to all of the material which Foley carefully sifts through, the reader should not be surprised at his basic evaluation:
"There is clear evidence to suggest that the initial stages of the visions at Medjugorje were diabolically inspired, but as time went on there does seem to have been far less activity of that sort there. Thus, the later ecstasies at Medjugorje seem to have had more of a human element in them, and the conclusion that they are largely self-induced trances seems very likely. Of course, if individuals claim to see visions, then, as in the case of those who desire signs and wonders, this in itself opens up the possibility, if not the certainty, of diabolical intervention. Thus, the later activities of the Medjugorje visionaries during their trances may well have also unwittingly been subject to diabolical influence" (155).
This conclusion goes beyond the official declarations of the Yugolsav Episcopal Conference of 10 April 1991 which states that “On the basis of investigation up till now it cannot be established that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations” [non constat de supernaturalitate] (188). It also says more than what Ratko Peric, the present Bishop of Mostar-Duvno, stated in 1997 (204-205) and what he said on 1 July 2000 in his confirmation homily at the Church of St. James in Medjugorje:
The official statements of the Church, starting from the local Bishop up to the Bishops’ Conference, has (sic) not in this case recognized a single “apparition” as authentic. The Church has clearly declared that it is impossible to affirm that these events involve supernatural apparitions (237).
Nonetheless I am strongly inclined to agree with Foley’s conclusion. The primary reason that keeps me from giving full assent to it is that he never cites primary documents. It is understandable that he does not know Croatian, but, if he wants to be truly credible, he needs to cite the requisite documentation in Croatian and indicate that he is using a legitimate translation. That is why I wrote at the beginning of the need for “a team of experts fluent in Croatian”. To render the judgement that he proffers, I do not believe that it is simply sufficient to cite the work of other authors translated into English. Let him cite them, but let him cite first the primary references in Croatian. Anything less will necessarily raise questions. This could conceivably be done in a subsequent edition.
Secondly, as in his last book, Mr. Foley’s publisher has resorted to endnotes which are truly a nuisance to follow. In this age of modern computer technology it is hard to understand why they are not rendered as footnotes.
Finally, Foley’s bibliography, though extensive, is less than satisfactory. It does not contain references to all of the sources which he cites in the notes and with the accumulation of 450 endnotes it is by no means easy to find a first complete reference to those sources if, in fact, such complete references always exist.
As I stated above, I believe that Donal Foley has done a great deal of the necessary work of assembling, untangling and sorting out the studies on the Medjugorje phenomenon already carried out by experts and then weighing and evaluating them. While I have not dealt with all of the facets of question which he has explored, I do believe that he has offered a valuable work with significant pastoral implications and that his work is credible, even though that remains to be further verified.
Arthur Burton Calkins
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Understanding Medjugorje is Demy Octavo size (8.5 in. x 5.5 in.). It has 23 chapters, 310 pages, and a comprehensive index.
It costs £12.95 / $19.95 / €19.95
Extracts from the proposed book in PDF format, including the table of contents, introduction, sample chapters and the bibliography, can be seen here ...
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