Wayne Weible & the Papal Nuncio: A Response

Originally appeared at Catholic Stand on May 10, 2015.

On March 23 last, Wayne Weible criticized a letter written in 2013 on Medjugorje by the Papal Nuncio to these United States, Archbishop Carlo Viganò. Weible, himself the author of several books supportive of Medjugorje, has since expanded his criticism in the form of an open letter dated April 27 to Cardinal Müller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome (CDF). The following is a response to Weible’s letter.

Before beginning this response, it is necessary to note that I have provided some background in a couple of articles here on Catholic Stand (first and second). The reader is encouraged to read them in the order herein indicated. Next, it is important to read the letter from the Nuncio, dated October 21, 2013. Lastly, the reader is especially encouraged to read over the Church’s Norms for discerning alleged private revelations.

To begin, let me clarify that I am responding to Weible’s letter as it appeared on his Facebook page on April 27. I printed it on April 28 for my records and I am using this document to make my response.

Weible prefaces his letter with a preliminary note. In this note he makes two specific claims that are questionable. The first is that the letter is “poorly written” and the second is that it “contradicts the law of the Church” on alleged apparitions.

Concerning the first claim, it must be clarified that “poorly written” is not in reference to the entire document. It is only two areas that fall into serious question (as Weible himself relates in his April letter). Additionally, there is an important observation on the letter itself: it does not appear to have been intended for public consumption.[i] If it was not intended for public consumption, then it is reasonable to state that it was not going to be the most finely-tuned document.

As to the second claim, Weible alleges that it is the law of the Church that Catholics can believe any apparition unless the Church has said otherwise. This is an overly simplistic view as it neglects to take into consideration the duty of the faithful to inform themselves of the facts of a case before devoting themselves to an alleged apparition.

The faithful have the duty and responsibility to exercise prudence in these matters. To use an obvious example, if someone is running after every private revelation that happens to come to his or her attention, such may be an indication of a lack of true faith. We are all called under the Natural Law to adhere to faith and good morals, and not to expose ourselves to matter that is or could possibly be harmful to these.[ii]

Speaking of people who hear about an alleged private revelation, the true and authentic Catholic response to such claims ought to be one of indifference. This is not an indifference of hatred or desire to be unfaithful to God’s Will because fidelity to the Church and the moral law is more pleasing to God. Rather, what I am speaking of is the indifference of prudence which allows for cool heads to prevail and the soul to be safeguarded against sensationalism. It is at this point where people can exercise their duty and responsibility to inform themselves well of the facts (if necessary) in order to form an opinion on the matter.[iii]

If the faithful are to follow the kind of pattern outlined above, then they could find evidence for themselves of a non-supernatural character of the claims to private revelation. One’s duty to form his or her opinion based upon an objective examination oftentimes precedes an official judgment by the Church in these matters.

It is for this reason that Weible’s point is overly simplistic as he is not careful to explain the duty and responsibility the faithful have in these matters. His remark, as stated, makes it sound like the faithful are free to abdicate their moral duty and responsibility and indulge themselves in such matters as these only so long as the Church has said nothing to the contrary. As error could be present in the initial stages of development, it does not conclude that anyone is free to believe the claim prior to an official judgment by the Church.

I suspect that confusion exists on this point because of a simple truth with cases of private revelation. This truth is that for various reasons it is not always so obvious at first whether or not an alleged private revelation is from God. In false cases, sometimes the public is dealing with one or more very crafty individual(s) who lie, cheat or conceal information. Beyond the artifice of humans, there is also the preternatural order and it is here where hell can easily bedazzle the human mind and eyes.

For her part, Holy Mother Church is careful to make a crucial distinction in such cases. She does not want to harm any good that may come from a devotion.[iv] While investigating the facts of a case (and before rendering a formal judgment), the Church oftentimes promotes a good and holy devotion. The faithful, sadly, do not always understand the distinction between the alleged revelation and devotion. As a result, a case can quickly become complicated, especially if the competent Ecclesiastical Authority does not intervene in a timely fashion.

The above having been said, I will now dive into Weible’s letter.

Weible opens his letter by characterizing the Nuncio’s 2013 letter as having had a “disturbing effect.” There is much subjectivity to this remark as the Nuncio’s letter is mostly “disturbing” the supporters of Medjugorje. As the purpose of the Nuncio’s letter was to curtail supportive Medjugorje activity out of respect for the Holy See’s examination, it ought to come as no surprise that the intended effect is coming to pass. Weible makes a statement of the obvious, but with the expectation that somehow the effect is wrong when it is not.

Following this note, Weible then mentions two errors of misquotation in the Nuncio’s letter. The Nuncio cites the 1991 Zadar declaration on Medjugorje and Weible says the document is misquoted in that the Nuncio omitted some key words and changed a verb tense. In order to verify this claim, I had to do two things: 1) Verify the original language of the 1991 Zadar Declaration, and 2) check the language with someone who is competent in the native language of the document.[v]

The Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, wherein Medjugorje is located, has an entire section of its web site devoted to the “Medjugorje Phenomenon” (Međugorski fenomen). In an article entitled “Medjugorje – Secrets, Messages, Vocations, Prayer, Confession, Commission” dated 2007 and written by the Bishop himself, there is a citation (endnote 25) with at least a partial text of the 1991 Zadar Declaration in Croatian. The Croatian text reads as follows:

I z j a v a

      Na temelju dosadašnjeg istraživanja ne može se ustvrditi da se radi o nadnaravnim ukazanjima i objavama.

Međutim, brojna okupljanja vjernika s raznih strana koji u Međugorje dolaze potaknuti i vjerskim i nekim drugim motivima zahtijevaju pažnju i pastoralnu skrb prvenstveno dijecezanskog biskupa, a s njime i drugih biskupa, kako bi se u Međugorju, i povezano s njime, promicala zdrava pobožnost prema Blaženoj Djevici Mariji, u skladu s učenjem Crkve.

U tu svrhu biskupi će izdati i posebne prikladne liturgijsko-pastoralne smjernice. Isto tako preko svojih će Komisija i dalje pratiti i istraživati cjelokupno događanje u Međugorju. Zadar, 10. travnja 1991 (emphasis mine).

Before diving into the grammar, the reader should know that I am not an expert in Croatian. I had recourse to someone who has a working knowledge of various Romance and Slavic languages. I am making use of some of his observations in the following remarks.[vi] For the rest, it is my own work.

Weible’s first contention with the Nuncio concerns the words “so far” (dosadašnjeg in the above Croatian). The Nuncio omits this word in his citation of the Declaration. Thus, Weible’s observation is correct. However, Weible appears desirous to make more of this than what the word is intended to convey.

In reading his letter, Weible gives the impression that this “all important” word dosadašnjeg indicates some uncertainty on the part of the Bishops of former Yugoslavia. He says that “the matter of whether or not [the alleged apparitions] are supernatural is not determined to this point.” This understanding is questionable.

First, the word dosadašnjeg is placed before the noun istraživanja (“investigations” or “researches”). Thus, it does not mean that dosadašnjeg is associated with the verbs (može and ustvrditi), but rather with a verb in ellipsis as we will see below. Moreover, Weible believes that this statement from the Yugoslavian Bishops is not a “negative” judgment when in fact, it is.

The way that the Church’s theology of private revelation works, the Church looks to answer the question of whether or not the purported revelations are supernatural in origin. There are only two possibilities: affirmative and negative. Within the Church’s tradition on these matters, she has given three Latin expressions that render her judgment on a claim: Constat de supernaturalitate (affirmative) and Non constat de supernaturalitate and Constat de non supernaturalitate (both are negative).

The latter two expressions (non constat and constat de non) are both negative judgments. The second (constat de non) is a straightforward “no” to answering the above question. The first (non constat) indicates that evidence submitted to support a claim as supernatural in origin has not established a supernatural character. This is a less-definitive negative judgment but a negative judgment nonetheless because the evidence does not support a definitive affirmation of a supernatural character. The less-definitive nature of this judgment leaves the possibility of a definitive one later, but this in no way is meant to detract from the fact that it is a negative judgment.

It is to the non constat de supernaturalitate category that the Yugoslavian Bishops consigned Medjugorje. Thus, this is, in fact, a “negative” judgment—even if in a “minor” sense—and the Bishops are to be taken at their word. That word is simple: based upon the investigations that had been done by April, 1991, one cannot say that the Mother of God is appearing in Medjugorje. If it was so “cut and dry” as Medjugorje’s supporters portray the case, why were the Yugoslavian Bishops not able to encourage devotion in the form proposed by the Gospa and the alleged visionaries of Medjugorje? Moreover, why do Medjugorje’s supporters clearly violate the 1991 Zadar Declaration by affirming what the Declaration itself says cannot be declared?

Though more technical, there is yet another matter for the consideration of Weible and others in this affair of the non constat category.

In 1978, when the Vatican privately issued its Norms for discerning alleged private revelations, there was a peculiar omission in the document. The tradition of the Church is for there to be three constats (as given above). The 1978 Norms, however, only give two—constat de supernaturalitate and non constat de supernaturalitate (cf. Preliminary Note, 2). Scholars and other interested people have pondered this curious omission.[vii]

For the purposes of this response, I am compelled to ask a couple of questions. What if the Yugoslavian Bishops took the 1978 Norms literally and assigned Medjugorje to the non constat de supernaturalitate category? Did they do so with the understanding that it was the only negative judgment assigned by the Church in these matters? If the answer to these questions is yes, such would very quickly change the dynamics of the discussion on the Medjugorje phenomenon.

Up to this point, I have only addressed Weible’s observation on the words “so far.” I shall now proceed to his second grammatical observation, namely the change of a verb tense.

Weible objects to the fact that the Papal Nuncio changes a verb tense from the present to the past. What is most strange is that in his April 27 letter, Weible neglects to specify the verb to which he is referring. One is dependent upon an earlier article written in March, 2015 by Jakob Marschner in order to see which verb is in question, which appears to be the word “were.” It is at this time that some clarity is necessary and so the following are the translations of the passage (headed first by the Croatian) for comparison reasons:

The Croatian:

“Na temelju dosadašnjeg istraživanja ne može se ustvrditi da se radi o nadnaravnim ukazanjima i objavama.”

Weible’s April 27, 2015 Translation:

“On the basis of studies so far, it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations.”

The Nuncio’s October 21, 2013 Translation:

“On the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions of supernatural revelations.”

The first part of this sentence, “On the basis of studies to date,” there is, in fact, no verb. The Croatian employs an ellipsis. A word (in this case a verb) has been left out because it is implied. In this construction and when translating, simpler is better. For the sentence in question, the words “made,” “conducted” “performed,” or even “done” would suffice. Weible’s translation follows the Croatian more literally and does not include the verb, whereas the Nuncio employs a verb in the perfect passive tense.

In the second half of this statement, the debate surrounds the Croatian words “ne može se ustvrditi.” The word može is from the verb moći meaning “be able to,” “may” or “can” and is present tense (3rd person). This verb is modified by the adverb ne (not) and ustvrditi is an infinitive verb meaning to “ascertain, maintain, assert, allege.” It is the last verb, “were,” in the Nuncio’s translation that appears to give offense to Weible. A happy coincidence for Weible is that this verb isn’t in the Croatian text. There is only the preposition “o” meaning “concern” (and takes the locative case).

Based upon the above considerations, a good translation of the Croatian text would be as follows: “On the basis of studies to date, it cannot be asserted that these matters concern supernatural apparitions and revelations.”

The differences between Weible’s translation and the Nuncio’s are plain for all to see. Admittedly, Weible makes some poignant grammatical observations, indicating that there are mistranslations in the Nuncio’s letter (whether or not he or a secretary made them is not clear at this time). While Weible is correct on this point, this does not mean he is thereby correct in his conclusion.

Despite the accuracy of his grammatical argument, Weible’s overall argument faces some questions. To be clear, Weible’s overall argument is that the misquotations invalidate the “cease and desist” order of the Nuncio/CDF. Weible is here mistaken for two reasons. First, he does not consider the Nuncio’s letter to be an entirely new act on the part of Rome concerning the Medjugorje phenomenon. Secondly, the matter of pilgrimages to Medjugorje has already been addressed in subsequent statements by the Holy See. Allow me to explain this beginning with the second observation.

Weible is careful to note towards the end of his response a statement dating to 1996 from the former Vatican spokesman, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls. This statement is that people are not forbidden to go to Medjugorje. It is curious that Weible then omits that the CDF made a statement in 1998. I covered this matter in my previous article, Medjugorje: More on Ivan Dragicevic. For our purposes here, it suffices to say that (then) Archbishop Bertone clarified that people can go to Medjugorje—as long as they do not do so believing it to be a supernatural phenomenon. The ramifications of this statement, I leave to the reader to read in my above-cited article.

From the above, it is entirely consistent for the Papal Nuncio, in 2013, to request that events supporting Medjugorje’s claims “cease and desist.” In conjunction with this point, now we must address the matter of the character of the Nuncio’s 2013 letter as a new act on the part of the Holy See.

In March of 2010, the Vatican established a commission of inquiry into the Medjugorje phenomenon. This commission formally ended its work in January, 2014—roughly two months after the Nuncio’s letter was written. The commission was overseen by the CDF who ordered the Nuncio to inform the Bishops of these United States against allowing supportive events of Medjugorje. In this light, it is clear that the situation has changed and thus the Nuncio’s 2013 letter can be viewed as a new directive from the Holy See (even if it repeats previous directives).[viii]

Any further statements that Weible makes in support of his argument fall on the above point.

In conclusion, this article has sought to demonstrate the merits and drawbacks of Wayne Weible’s letter to Cardinal Müller on Medjugorje. We have seen both the merits and the shortcomings of his argument. It is hoped that people who read Weible’s letter will read this article and weigh the issues for themselves.

[i] The person who first published it ought to give an account of how the letter came into his/her possession and whether or not the Nuncio gave permission for its publication.

[ii] In response to this point, it is often remarked, “How does this claim square with Fátima?” This is truly an intriguing question, and the concept behind it is being worked out. For the moment, it is to be noted that neither Lúcia nor Our Lady asked the faithful to travel to Fátima prior to it being approved. In fact, during a number of early investigations, Lúcia was always adamant in saying, “I did not ask them to come.”

[iii] It is at this stage that specific positive and negative criteria given in section I of the 1978 Norms are applied. These criteria can be used by laity and cleric alike in their forming an opinion on an alleged private revelation. Because of this, and the process indicated in the Norms, it is possible for people to form an opinion—for or against—a claim. This opinion should only come after a diligent search and examination of the facts. It is not that the Church allows people “willy-nilly” to believe until she decides otherwise.

[iv] See my article The Greatest of Pastoral Care for more on this point.

[v] Pertaining to the first point, I was surprised to learn in my research that it was not readily apparent which language the 1991 Zadar Declaration was written in. My thought was that the document was in Croatian, but my research did not turn up definitive evidence for this. There is a vast multiplication of this document on the Internet (in English), but I did not find an authoritative source that states with certitude what the original language was. Despite this drawback, it is most likely that the original language was Croatian and it is upon this that I will base my observations.

[vi] My gratitude is with R.C. for his assistance in this matter.

[vii] I myself have partaken in some of the discussions. In my opinion, I believe there needs to be a clarification from the Holy See on this matter in order to dispel the doubt.

[viii] It is thus understood that the order to “cease and desist” was not rooted in the misquotations. It was, rather, in the nature of this new act on the part of the Holy See. Because this is an entirely new act, it might be possible to argue that the legal adage “nothing to the contrary withstanding” (contrariis quibuscumque non obstantibus) is now in effect. In other words, whatever was said previously would now be superseded.