Has Rome Tipped Its Hand on Medjugorje?

Originally appeared at Catholic Stand on August 3, 2015.

Since I wrote an article back in 2013 on the alleged apparitions of Our Lady under the title of “Rosa Mistica,” it turns out that there have been some further developments on this case. Surprisingly, these developments might have a bearing upon the ongoing speculation about the upcoming judgment from the Holy See on Medjugorje. I would like to examine the facts beginning with the new information on the Rosa Mistica case and then apply it to Medjugorje.

I left off my Rosa Mistica article about the last of the official Diocesan documents having been issued in 2008 under Bishop Luciano Monari. This last document concerned regulations from a Directory that were set in place by the Diocese on Montichiari/Fontanelle from 2001. The Bishop also reiterated that the Diocese does not accept as supernatural the claims of Pierina Gilli and that nothing can be done to “induce the faithful to believe that the judgment of the Church [on this matter] has been altered….”

It was clear within the documents that the Diocese of Brescia was attempting to establish a canonical framework for the devotion of the faithful that is present in Montichiari/Fontanelle. These efforts continued into July, 2013 when said framework was issued publicly by the Diocese in a series of documents. The first of those documents is a Decree of Bishop Monari (Prot. N. 833/13) dated July 1, 2013. In this Decree the Bishop announces that a new Directory with corresponding regulations is being published, effectively abrogating the 2001 Directory.

The Decree recalls the “long journey” (lungo percorso) undertaken by the Diocese to legislate the “exercise of Marian devotion in Fontenelle-Montichiari.” He then expresses his desire to continue this work “with all interested parties and for the good of all the faithful.” To this effect, Monari also states that “firm indications” (ferme indicazioni pervenutaci) from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDWS) as well as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) have assisted him in this matter.

The Bishop then formally promulgated the new Directory and appointed 2 priests to the case, their terms lasting for six months and ending on December 31, 2013 (their terms were renewed on January 1, 2014 and went until December 31, 2014). I do not believe it necessary to go into every detail of the Directory of July, 2013, except to say that the Bishop attempts to foster devotion to Our Lady under her ancient title of “Mystical Rose” (Directory, Norms: 2). He gives a list of Norms that are to be followed “with docility, obedience and a spirit of faith” (Directory, Preface). He again mentions the assistance of the CDF, specifically citing a letter dated November 13, 2012.

The contents of the letter from the CDF are not revealed. It appears, however, that they are alluded to in an official Press Release from the Diocese of Brescia that was issued on July 19, 2013. The Press Release states the following:

According to indications [guidelines] recently received by the Holy See, the promotion of Marian devotion in Fontanelle will then have a more direct link with the responsibility of the Diocesan Bishop, because of the considerable influx of the faithful coming to Fontanelle from the Diocese of Brescia and from other Dioceses in Italy and the world. This is therefore a very important phase of transition that wants to improve and intends to keep account of the steps so far carried out with great dedication for many years, especially by the priests of the parishes of Montichiari and H.E. Mons. Olmi, to whom is expressed a great debt of gratitude.

Only a Marian and baptismal devotion, under the authority of the Diocesan Bishop, will be promoted at Fontanelle. Any reference to apparitions, messages, or other phenomena of a presumed supernatural nature will be excluded that can also indirectly induce the faithful to believe that the judgment of the Church about the so-called apparitions or other extraordinary phenomena in Fontanelle has, over time, been changed in a positive sense by the Holy See.

In order to make more effective the custody and the supervision on the devotion established in the new Directory, the Bishop has named the Diocesan Chancellor, Mons. Marco Alba, as his own Episcopal Delegate. He will be able to count on the collaboration of the Most Reverend Giancarlo Scalvini with special tasks of moderator of the devotion [cult] and administrator.

It will be their care to act in cooperation with the parishes of Montichiari for everything that concerns a harmonious pastoral action among the religious functions of the parishes and those of the Marian devotion at Fontanelle as well as to start collaboration with the members of the Rosa Mistica-Fontanelle association in order to harmonize the activities and statutory tasks of the same [association] in observance of the indications [guidelines] of the new Directory.[i]

From the above, it appears as though the contents of the letter from the CDF to Bishop Monari could very well discuss the obligation of the Diocesan Bishop to assert his authority in the matter. This manifests itself by establishing guidelines for a healthy Marian devotion in Montichiari/Fontanelle and for these to be enforced by Diocesan officials appointed by the Bishop.

The next development occurred on January 1, 2014. Bishop Monari then issued another Decree (Prot. N. 31/14) wherein he erected the canonical foundation known as “Rosa Mistica Fontanelle” according to the norms of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (canon 1303 §1). Attached to this Decree were Statutes for the foundation, comprising 15 different articles notarized by a gentleman named Diego Ferrario. Once again, we see Bishop Monari, in his January 1, 2014 Decree reference the November, 2012 letter from the CDF with this Dicastery’s “indications” for how to proceed in the Montichiari/Fontanelle case.

What we see in these above documents is a clear desire from the Diocese of Brescia as well as the CDF to regulate the devotion expressed by the faithful in the area of Montichiari/Fontanelle. This devotion was inspired by the claims and writings of the alleged visionary Pierina Gilli from 1947 onwards. Though it was clear after Diocesan authorities examined said claims that there was no evidence of the supernatural, the Diocese still had to regulate the otherwise good devotion and intention of the faithful.

The above facts and their recent promulgation raise an important question: are the above acts in the Montichiari/Fontanelle case a foretaste of what we can expect in a judgment from the Holy See on the Medjugorje phenomenon? Has Rome, in fact, quite possibly tipped its hand?

Earlier this summer, Pope Francis created quite the media frenzy when he was returning to Rome from his trip to Sarajevo. During his press conference, the Holy Father was asked about Medjugorje. Though there was some initial dispute as to the exact words as the reports were first coming out, the official text on the Vatican’s web site reads:

In regard to the issue of Medjugorje, Pope Benedict XVI at the time convened a committee presided over by Cardinal Camillo Ruini; there were other Cardinals, theologians and specialists on the committee as well. They did an investigation and Cardinal Ruini came to me and gave me the study they did, after many years of labour, I don’t know, maybe three of four years, more or less. They did a fine job, a fine job indeed. Cardinal Müller (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) told me that he would be having a feria quarta (a meeting dedicated to this specific question) at the right time; I think it was done on the last Wednesday of the month. But I am not sure… We are close to coming to a decision. And then the results will be communicated. For the moment, all that is being done is to give guidelines to the bishops, but along the lines that will be taken. Thank you!

[Father Lombardi notes that the proposed feria quarta has not yet, in fact, taken place.]

It was that last line about the Holy See giving “guidelines to the bishops” that are “along the lines that will be taken” that sent the media into a flurry of activity.

The reason for said activity is because of steps taken on Medjugorje that were publicized prior to the Pope’s remarks in June, 2015. Beginning in November, 2013, reports arose on actions from the CDF concerning how local Ordinaries were to handle events and/or functions on Medjugorje. In short, local Ordinaries were to ensure the faithful in their care were not to attend functions that presumed a supernatural character to Medjugorje.

Later, in February, 2015, one of the alleged visionaries, Ivan Dragicevic, gave the impression that he was going to disobey this order by appearing at a function in St. Charles, Missouri, which is within the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The Archbishop, H.E. Robert Carlson, received a request from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to remind the faithful of their duty as was expressed in 2013. This order was duly carried out in a letter from the Archbishop to his priests and deacons. The letter originally appeared on the Diocesan web site, but is no longer featured. It is, however, preserved on the blog Te Deum Laudamus.

Since the above actions, in July of this year it was reported that another of the alleged visionaries of Medjugorje, Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti, was also prohibited from speaking. This time it was claimed that the Diocese of Padua, Italy, specifically the Bishop, H.E. Antonio Mattiazzo, issued a letter to event organizers containing the prohibition. I say “claimed” because the Diocesan web site appears to have no record of the letter, though the supportive National Medjugorje Movement web site claims to have a (partial) English translation of the letter. The text reads:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith points out that, pending further provisions by the Holy See, the Christian communities – bishops, priests and faithful – are required to observe the already established by the bishops of the former Yugoslavia in the Zadar Declaration of April 10, 1991: “On the basis of investigation up till now it is not possible to say whether it’s supernatural apparitions or revelations”. It is therefore not allowed to the clergy and faithful of the diocese to participate in any meetings, conferences or public celebrations in which would be taken for granted as to their credibility.

The above texts and accompanying stories are seen as being indicative of the direction the Church is going with respect to Medjugorje. It must then be observed that if these are the “lines” along which the Church is taking the Medjugorje phenomenon, then it does not look as if said phenomenon will be attributed with a supernatural character. This observation, however, does not address the same question that the case of Montichiari/Fontanelle faced, namely the question of the devotion expressed in Medjugorje.

Shortly after the Pope’s remarks in June, various media outlets were quick to follow up with the other remark from the Pope on the late June meeting of the CDF. The reports conflicted. Some said the meeting took place, others denied it. All in all though, the idea spread that the Holy See might not declare the alleged apparitions to be supernatural, but it might allow the devotion expressed in Medjugorje to continue. This would happen by regulating the situation in Medjugorje by issuing guidelines. Nothing was proven however, due to the absence of an official statement from the Holy See. The end of June came and went with no official statement on the matter.

The question remains though, will the Holy See offer “indications” to the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno (wherein Medjugorje is located) on Medjugorje just like it appears to have done with the Diocese of Brescia on Montichiari/Fontanelle? Or was it that various media reports read what I will here call the “Montichiari/Fontanelle Solution” back into the Medjugorje phenomenon?

Has the mind of Rome been displayed? Time will tell, and no matter where one falls in the discussion on Medjugorje, it is going to be truly revealing to see people’s responses to the judgment of the Holy See.

Further Reading:

On the Rosa Mistica Apparitions.

Medjugorje: A Clarification and Disobedience.

Medjugorje: More on Ivan Dragicevic.

Wayne Weible and the Papal Nuncio: A Response.


[i] The above is my own amateur translation. The original Italian is:

Secondo le indicazioni pervenute di recente dalla Santa Sede, la promozione del culto mariano alle Fontanelle dovrà quindi avere un legame più diretto con la responsabilità del Vescovo diocesano, in ragione del notevole afflusso di fedeli provenienti alla Fontanelle dalla diocesi di Brescia e da altre diocesi in Italia e nel mondo. Si tratta pertanto di una fase di passaggio molto importante, che vuole valorizzare e intende tenere conto dei passi fin qui svolti con grande dedizione, per lunghi anni, soprattutto dai sacerdoti delle Parrocchie di Montichiari e da S.E. Mons Olmi, verso i quali si esprime un grande debito di riconoscenza.

Presso la località Fontanelle dovrà pertanto essere promosso un culto unicamente mariano e battesimale, sotto l’autorità del Vescovo diocesano, e dovrà essere escluso qualsiasi riferimento ad apparizioni, messaggi, o altri fenomeni di presunta natura soprannaturale, che possano anche solo indirettamente indurre i fedeli a ritenere che il giudizio della Chiesa circa le c.d. apparizioni o altri fenomeni straordinari in località Fontanelle, nel tempo, sia stato modificato in senso positivo da parte della Santa Sede.

Allo scopo di rendere più efficace la custodia e la vigilanza sul culto secondo quanto stabilito nel nuovo direttorio, il Vescovo ha nominato nella persona del Cancelliere diocesano, Mons. Marco Alba, un proprio Delegato vescovile, il quale potrà contare sulla collaborazione in loco di un presbitero con speciali compiti di moderatore del culto e di amministratore, il Rev.do Giancarlo Scalvini.

Sarà loro cura agire d’intesa con le Parrocchie di Montichiari, per tutto ciò che concerne una armonica azione pastorale tra le funzioni religiose della Parrocchie e quelle del culto mariano presso le Fontanelle, nonché  avviare percorso di collaborazione con i membri dell’associazione Rosa Mistica-Fontanelle, al fine di armonizzare le attività e compiti statutari della stessa in osservanza delle indicazioni del nuovo Direttorio.