Pope Francis Speaks on Medjugorje

During the return journey to Rome from Portugal, Pope Francis was asked about Medjugorje by the journalist Mimmo Muolo from Avvenire.

The Vatican’s web site has a transcription of the press conference. At this time, there is no official English translation (which will appear here when it is available), though Catholic News Agency has issued an unofficial one. Between these two texts, I would like to offer my thoughts in order to help people understand what has happened.

Here is a video of the press conference:


First, the Italian text:

Mimmo Muolo

Buona sera, Santità. Le faccio una domanda a nome del gruppo italiano. Ieri e oggi a Fatima abbiamo visto una grande testimonianza di fede popolare, insieme a Lei; la stessa che si riscontra, per esempio, anche in altri Santuari mariani come Medjugorje. Che cosa pensa di quelle apparizioni – se sono state apparizioni – e del fervore religioso che hanno suscitato, visto che ha deciso di nominare un Vescovo delegato per gli aspetti pastorali? E se mi posso permettere una seconda questione, che so che sta molto a cuore anche a Lei, oltre che a noi italiani: vorrei sapere, le ONG sono state accusate di collusioni con gli scafisti trafficanti di uomini. Che cosa ne pensa? Grazie.

Papa Francesco

Incomincio con la seconda. Io ho letto sul giornale che sfoglio al mattino che c’era questo problema, ma ancora non conosco i dettagli come sono. E per questo non posso opinare. So che c’è un problema e che le indagini vanno avanti. Auguro che proseguano e che tutta la verità venga fuori. La prima? Medjugorje. Tutte le apparizioni o le presunte apparizioni appartengono alla sfera privata, non sono parte del Magistero pubblico ordinario della Chiesa. Medjugorje: è stata fatta una commissione presieduta dal Cardinale Ruini. L’ha fatta Benedetto XVI. Io, alla fine del ’13 o all’inizio del ’14, ho ricevuto dal Cardinale Ruini il risultato. Una commissione di bravi teologi, vescovi, cardinali. Bravi, bravi, bravi. Il rapporto-Ruini è molto, molto buono. Poi, c’erano alcuni dubbi nella Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede e la Congregazione ha giudicato opportuno inviare a ognuno dei membri del congresso, di questa “feria quarta”, tutta la documentazione, anche le cose che sembravano contro il rapporto-Ruini. Io ho ricevuto la notificazione: ricordo che era un sabato sera, in tarda serata. Non mi è sembrato giusto: era come mettere all’asta – scusatemi la parola – il rapporto-Ruini, che era molto ben fatto. E domenica mattina il Prefetto della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede ha ricevuto una lettera da me, in cui gli chiedevo di dire che invece di inviare alla “feria quarta” inviassero a me, personalmente, le opinioni. Queste opinioni sono state studiate, e tutte sottolineano la densità del rapporto-Ruini. Sì, principalmente si devono distinguere tre cose. Sulle prime apparizioni, quando [i “veggenti”] erano ragazzi, il rapporto più o meno dice che si deve continuare a investigare. Circa le presunte apparizioni attuali, il rapporto ha i suoi dubbi. Io personalmente sono più “cattivo”: io preferisco la Madonna madre, nostra madre, e non la Madonna capo-ufficio telegrafico che tutti i giorni invia un messaggio a tale ora… questa non è la mamma di Gesù. E queste presunte apparizioni non hanno tanto valore. E questo lo dico come opinione personale. Ma chi pensa che la Madonna dica: “Venite che domani alla tale ora dirò un messaggio a quel veggente”; no. [Nel rapporto-Ruini si] distinguono le due apparizioni. E terzo, il nocciolo vero e proprio del rapporto-Ruini: il fatto spirituale, il fatto pastorale, gente che va lì e si converte, gente che incontra Dio, che cambia vita… Per questo non c’è una bacchetta magica, e questo fatto spirituale-pastorale non si può negare. Adesso, per vedere le cose con tutti questi dati, con le risposte che mi hanno inviato i teologi, si è nominato questo Vescovo – bravo, bravo perché ha esperienza – per vedere la parte pastorale come va. E alla fine, si dirà qualche parola.

Mimmo Muolo

Santità, grazie anche per la benedizione ai miei concittadini che La ringraziano: l’hanno vista e sono molto contenti.

Papa Francesco

Grazie.

The (unofficial) English translation:

Mimmo Muolo (Avvenire): Good evening Holiness. I’m asking you a question in the name of the Italian group. Yesterday and today at Fatima, we saw a great witness of popular faith together with you. The same that is found, for example, also in other Marian shrines like Medjugorje. What do you think of those apparitions, if they were apparition, and of the religious fervor they have aroused seeing that you have decided to appoint a bishop delegate for the pastoral aspects? And if I can permit myself a second question I know is very close to your heart besides that of us italians… I would like to know, the NGOs were accused of collusion with the boat traffickers of men. What do you think of this? Thanks.

Pope Francis: I’ll start with the first. I read in the papers that I peruse in the morning that there was this problem, but I still don’t know how the details are and because of this I can’t give an opinion. I know there is an issue and the investigations are moving ahead. I hope that they continue ahead and that the whole truth comes out. Medjugorje, all the apparitions, or the presumed apparitions, belong to the private sphere, they aren’t part of the public, ordinary magisterium of the Church. Medjugorje. Medjugorje. A commission was formed, headed by Cardinal Ruini. Benedict XVI made it. I, at the end of 2013 the beginning of 2014, I received the result from Cardinal Ruini. It was commission good theologians, bishops, cardinals, but good. Very good. And the commission. The Ruini report was very, very good. Then there were some doubts in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Congregation judged it opportune to send each one of the members of this Feria quarta (Editor’s note: “Feria Quarta” is a once-a-month meeting in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during which current cases are examined) all the documentation, even those that seemed to be against the Ruini report. I received a notification – I remember it was a Saturday evening, late evening… and it didn’t seem right. It was like putting up for auction – excuse me the word – the Ruini report which was very well done. And Sunday morning the prefect received a letter from me that said that instead of sending them to the Feria Quarta, they they would send the opinions to me personally.

These opinions were studied and all of them underscore the density of the Ruini report. Principally, three things must be distinguished: the first apparitions, that they were kids. The report more or less says that it must continue being studied. The apparitions, the presumed current apparitions: the report has its doubts. I personally am more nasty, I prefer the Madonna as Mother, our Mother, and not a woman who’s the head of a telegraphic office, who everyday sends a message at such hour. This is not the Mother of Jesus. And these presumed apparitions don’t have a lot of value. This I say as a personal opinion. But, it’s clear. Who thinks that the Madonna says, ‘come tomorrow at this time, and at such time I will say a message to that seer?’ No. The two apparitions are distinguished. The third, the core of the Ruini report, the spiritual fact, the pastoral fact. People go there and convert. People who encounter God, change their lives…but this…there is no magic wand there. And this spiritual and pastoral fact can’t be ignored. Now, to see things with all this information, with the answers that the theologians sent me, this good, good bishop was appointed because he has experience, to see the pastoral part, how it’s going. And at the end he’ll say some words.

Muolo: Holiness, thank you, also for the blessing of my fellow citizens who thank you, they saw it and are very happy…

My Commentary:

Muolo begins with remarks by stating that he was speaking in the name of an Italian group. He poses two questions to the Holy Father:

  1. A question about the demonstrations of faith found in Fátima. He will then point out such similar displays in other “Marian sanctuaries” and cites Medjugorje in this regard. The Pope is directly asked his opinion on Medjugorje (Che cosa pensa di quelle apparizioni…).
  2. A question about human trafficking in relation to some NGOs (we will not discuss this question).

Concerning the Holy Father’s response to the first* question, he begins his remarks by contextualizing them within the Church’s theology of private revelation. Namely, that private revelations do not pertain to the ordinary and public Magisterium of the Church. In other words, they are not part of the Deposit of Faith (cf. CCC 67). This context allows for a proper focus on the topic at hand.

The Pope then followed up with a quick recounting of recent history with respect to Medjugorje and the establishment of the Ruini Commission under Pope Benedict XVI (2010). The Holy Father upheld the integrity of the members of the Commission, and further stated that he received the Commission’s report sometime in late 2013 or early 2014 and that he thought it was “very, very good” (Il rapporto-Ruini è molto, molto buono).

From here, the Holy Father then delves into more of what I shall here call the “internal course” of the Commission’s report within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He also gives us a glimpse into the “guts” of the report as well.

According to the Holy Father, the Commission’s report raised some “doubts” (dubbi). It is not specified from whom these doubts originated, why, and what were these doubts. These doubts were enough to consider sending the report to all the members of the CDF in its Feria Quarta (Wednesday) meetings. What was to be sent, according to the Pope, was both “all the documentation” and “also the things that seem contrary to the Ruini report” (…tutta la documentazione, anche le cose che sembravano contro il rapporto-Ruini). One cannot be too sure, but these “contrary things” may be, presumably, the unspecified “doubts” referenced earlier by the Pope.

Here, Pope Francis then says that he “received the notification” on a Saturday. Presumably, he means that he was notified of the idea that the Ruini report and doubts were to be considered by an upcoming Feria Quarta.** The Holy Father states that when he received the notification, he felt as if the report was being “sent to the auction” (…era come mettere all’asta…). Pope Francis states that he then sent a letter to the CDF Prefect (Muller) on Sunday–with what I can only call an intervention–directing him to send the opinions to him (the Pope) personally, and not to the Feria Quarta. The Pope then says that these opinions “were studied” (Queste opinioni sono state studiate….).

Here there is a slight ambiguity as the Holy Father does not specify if it was he who did this studying or if it was someone else. He could have, as well, been simply making a statement as to how measured were these opinions. However one interprets the Pope here, it is clear that these opinions show that Ruini’s report has some “density” (to use the Holy Father’s word) which invites debate.

Seeing that these differing opinions have some weight and gravity to them, the Pope then proposes three things about Medjugorje for people to keep in mind:

  1. Concerning the first apparitions, when the “seers” were children, the report more or less says that one must continue to investigate.
  2. Concerning the present (attuali) apparitions, the report has its doubts.
  3. The spiritual and pastoral fact of the people who go to Medjugorje, experience conversion and change their lives.

It is apparent that the Holy Father has revealed a key-component of the Ruini report. Namely, that there is a distinction being considered between “earlier” Medjugorje and “later” Medjugorje. The Commission, according to the Pope, does not specify that these “earlier” claims are, in fact, supernatural, only that they invite further study. It is, however, clear that the “later” claims are not being considered as supernatural.

After stating that the Ruini report expresses doubt on later apparitions, Pope Francis goes on to give his own opinion of the apparitions. He expressly states that, “I, personally, am worse” (cattivo). This Italian word cattivo suggests the Pope is indicating that the Ruini report puts its conclusions one way, but that the Pope is more direct as to having or expressing a negative opinion on the matter. He continues on to state that he prefers the Madonna as “mother” and not as the “head of a post office that sends a message every day.” He then expressly states that such a post-mistress “is not the mother of Jesus” (…questa non è la mamma di Gesù).

The Pope is emphatic here in that the multiplication of visions and continuous message-giving are indicative of a non-supernatural origin. One must, he reiterates, make the distinction between earlier and later “apparitions.” Here, the Holy Father seems to indicate that he encourages that previously-mentioned further study on the earlier apparitions.

As to the third point, Pope Francis upholds that one cannot deny the fact that there is a spiritual and pastoral situation created by Medjugorje. People go there and experience conversion, that is why he appointed a Special Envoy. Nothing is said as to exactly what will come of the Envoy’s mission (and/or his own report to the Holy See). It is, however, clear that the Holy See takes seriously the volume of people who go to Medjugorje.

My takeaway from the Holy Father’s remarks is simple. First, if the Holy See makes the distinction between earlier and later apparitions of Medjugorje, then there are going to be some questions which must be answered:

  1. When did Medjugorje “go off the rails?”
  2. Who masterminded the derailing?
  3. Why did this person/these people mastermind the derailing?

Considering what happened several years ago to Tomislav Vlasic, will he be a focus for such questions? In the meantime, for those of us familiar with the case, some questions arise as to the specifics of “earlier Medjugorje.” A few are as follows:

  1. What is the place of Vicka’s Diary in the “further study” indicated by Pope Francis?
  2. Will the remarks of the “Gospa” in favor of two priests against the local Ordinary be considered in the further study?
  3. Will the “Gospa’s” remarks against Bishop Zanic be a part of the further study?
  4. What is the status of the famous “three days more” remark in the context of the “further study?”

I also encourage people to read Donal Foley’s book Medjugorje Revisited as such questions are examined in this book [Update of 5-19-17: See also Bishop Peric’s article on the first seven days].

It seems to me that what is compelling the Holy See to take such a long and considered time on the “Medjugorje phenomenon” is because of the third point specified by Pope Francis–the spiritual/pastoral situation. How can it be that if Medjugorje is not supernatural in origin that so many people who go there have such powerful conversion experiences (among other things)? It is a weighty question indeed, and I am sure that the theologians who are looking at the case have been mulling over the matter for some time.

While we wait for such conclusions, perhaps we should consider a writing from Bishop Peric which touches upon this matter. I think of this quote in particular:

2. The fruits.  Despite the numerous people who come to Medjugorje “with religious and other motives”, and even though there are religious, priests and bishops, the curious and those seeking physical healings and spiritual conversions; despite the tens of books and brochures written in favor of the so-called apparitions at Medjugorje, all from the pens of famous writers in the world; despite the hundreds of thousands of confessions and holy communions made, which the supporters of Medjugorje consistently stress, the Declaration of the Bishops Conference clearly states:  “it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations”, of the Madonna.  The fruits which are so often mentioned, are not proof that they result from “supernatural apparitions or revelations” of the Madonna, but insomuch as they are authentically Christian, they can be understood as a product of the regular workings of the grace of God, through faith in God and the intercession of Mary the Mother of Christ, and through the Holy Sacraments present in the Catholic Church.  Not to mention anything at all about the negative fruits!

In the end, Medjugorje promises to continue being a hot-topic for discussion among Catholics. Let us pray that Almighty God may grant wisdom to the Pastors of the Church.

-Kevin Symonds

Update: 5-16-17 A.D.:
I have included the video of the press conference and amended the note about the Italian word cattivo in accordance with some observations from the video. I also added the second (**) footnote below.


*There is a discrepancy in the English translation from the Vatican’s Italian text. The English says that the Pope will begin with the first question, not the second. The Italian has it the other way around.

**There appears to be some question as to the order of events here. Andrea Tornielli is reporting that the Ruini report went to the Feria Quarta. Pope Francis’ literal words seems to indicate that he intervened before the Feria Quarta meeting. I am open to correction, but I suspect that Tornielli is mistaken.

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