Sunday, August 1, 2010

Medjugorje: I. Introduction and Outline

Part I: Introduction and Outline

1. Personal Background: Believer in Medjugorje. Here is my background as it regards the apparitions at Medjugorje.

A. In 1997, five years after lapsing from the practice of my Catholic faith shortly following my confirmation, I was converted and brought back in a sudden and powerful way by Our Lady of Lourdes (I will save the story for another time – the details are not relevant here). As many converts (or “reverts”) do, I began to read everything I could get my hands on that were of a religious nature, which included, as might be expected, a heavy emphasis on the apparitions of Our Lady. It did not take long before my attraction to the story and message of Medjugorje took a central place, since it was the most recent and thus, at least to me, the most relevant to our day. I read almost all of the books written by the renouned mariologist and Medjugorje supporter, Fr. Rene Laurentin, on the apparitions, as well as most of the books written by Steubenville professor Dr. Mark Miravalle, the other main supporter and populariser of Medjugorje besides Laurentin.

B. However, within a short time, I began to “distance” myself from placing such a heavy focus on Medjugorje. Before explaining why, I must preface this with the admission that my reasons for doing so were clearly something you would expect from a “new believer”, someone immature in his faith, and that now, after thirteen years of growth and learning, these reasons would probably not be so much of an issue. That being said, I stopped focusing on Medjugorje because talk of the “secrets” disturbed my peace of mind. It left the impression that there would soon be some catastrophic events, and that somewhat frightened me. The talk of “secrets” also affected my Christian journey. It seemed as through these events or acts of God many would be led to conversion and many things set straight, and therefore it was almost useless for me to evangelize or reach out in charity because the Lord was going to soon come and do all of this Himself. It was almost as though I was “paralyzed” by both fear and expectation, and I did not feel this was healthy. So I “shifted” my focus to the apologetics books that were increasingly captivating my interest and providing me with the catechesis that was somewhat wanting in my childhood and adolescence. Church dogma became the main focus of my study rather than Marian apparitions.

2. Personal Background: Skeptic of Medjugorje. Despite this, I continued to be a believer in Medjugorje.

However, that started to change in about 2001, when I began to post questions on the history forum on EWTN, which was moderated and answered by the Catholic historian, Dr. Warren Carroll. His “history” forum was unique in that he answered questions on all issues – at least to the best of his ability. A few of the questions were about Medjugorje, and he would always respond that he did not believe in its authenticity. I was quite taken aback when I first read this, because I could not imagine how any orthodox Catholic could possibly think it was anything but authentic (with the exception of the bishop, whose opposition I believed was fuelled by his alterior reasons as outlined by Laurentin). I challenged him with a couple questions about it, but he gave sensible responses and stuck to his guns.

At this point, I began to realize there was a legitimate case to be made from those on the other side of the issue, and decided to read some sources from those who were critical of Medjugorje. After reading The Medjugorje Deception by E. Michael Jones (which I am now somewhat leery about due to his failure to provide references), I was convinced that the apparitions were at least quite dubious, and the reasons which seemed to point to its authenticity and which initially convinced me were trumped by the reasons which now seemed to go against it.

Over time, as I continued to study and live my faith (which included speaking to many different people on the subject), I became convinced, when reflecting upon everything else I was learning about my faith and applying it to what I knew about Medjogorje, that the apparitions were not authentic.

3. Reasons for Writing. Why do I write this article now, considering that the Vatican has decided to investigate, and will probably in the near future issue a definitive ruling on it? That is a good question, and I had to answer it myself before I began to write this piece. (a) For one, I have been planning for some time to write this article, and when I make up my mind to write something, it is difficult for me to later decide otherwise and abandon the project. (b) However, there are other (and better) reasons. (i) First of all, because I believe that there are some unique perspectives I can bring to the discussion, considering I have had some ideas floating around in my head that I have not seen written or expressed elsewhere. (ii) Secondly, because I see certain defects in the arguments that are being made by sceptics such as myself, and I want to correct those. (iii) Thirdly, because I believe we are getting ever closer to a possible condemnation of Medjugorje, and I would like to do what I can to “brace” believers in the apparitions – at least those who are at most risk from such a condemnation – before that actually happens. I will speak more on this later. (iv) Fourth, I believe that even after a Vatican ruling, there are many valid points which will still be relevant and important, and that we would be wise to bear in mind and take to heart going henceforth.

4. Ground Rules. Before I lay out my outline, I would like to make some preliminary remarks about certain difficulties – ones which will dictate certain ground rules in the formulation of my argument, just as they have in my own discernment of “phenomenon Medjugorje” (a term that the Vatican now uses and that I will adopt here for the sake of convenience).

A. Interpretation and Understanding of Fuzzy and Equivocal Evidence.

(a) Too Broad and Complex: First, since this issue is so complex, and since there are so many things that could be mentioned, I cannot possibly go through every point. Bishop Zanic said that it would take 200 pages for “even a short description” of all that makes him sceptical of the apparitions! No doubt, the believers of Medjugorje would need much more than that to speak to all the issues as well, including their own case for belief as well as their replies to the charges of the sceptics.

(b) Fuzzy and Equivocal Evidence. However, I do not believe such an exercise is necessary in this case. The problem with most of the “evidence” or “testimony” used by both sides is fuzzy and equivocal. It is often a case of “he said, she said”, and can be capable of “spin”. [ie] For instance, there was the 1987 decision by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] (or even a decision by JP2 himself but through the CDF?) to “remove” the dossier from the Bishop of Mostar. The problem is that first of all, neither side can agree on exactly what happened and what it means, and secondly, both sides have a different explanation as to why that was done. And both cite “proof” for their respective decisions. How is a layperson open to discovering the truth supposed to know which side is correct? It is very difficult. It often only becomes “clear” to those who have already made up their minds, and for these, whatever side he finds himself on will almost always dictate which side he takes on each particular point.

(c) Interpretation in Favour of Authenticity Granted. Therefore, there will be no talk here of Vicka’s bloody handkerchief or Marija’s mixed community or Mirjana’s lying about smoking by the hill. “Medjugorje believers” call such charges by “Medjugorje sceptics” everything from “tired old half-truths and falsehoods” to “the same old malicious gossip” – and some of it no doubt is. In fact, I will personally grant the benefit of the doubt to Medjugorje believers on all of these issues in which there is fuzzy or equivocal evidence. I will instead build my case by granting truth to the words and admissions and professions of the believers and respond to these. Thus, for instance, any unsubstantiated allegations from Bishop Zanic will be dismissed as coming from one who is unfair and heavily biased and thus not trustworthy.

B. Argument rather than Dialogue, Emotion over Reason.

(a) Emotion over Reason. The problem with most of the discussions that I have either taken part in or witnessed (especially on websites, forums, and blogs) is that they become highly polemical. People on both sides get so emotionally fired-up about the issue and their respective positions that their arguments lose rationality. And between that fact and the confrontational language and rhetoric they use, they understandably provoke knee-jerk reactions from those on the other side.

(b) Argument rather than Dialogue. The result is obvious: people from the one side do not listen to people from the other side, and vice versa. They end up talking past each other. Valid arguments are tuned out, and responded to often fallaciously because one reads the point of view of the other with the following paradigm, “this person must be wrong; but how can I prove it?”, rather than the paradigm, “this person might be correct and have some valid points, and he may have some that are not valid, so I will look for both and respond accordingly”. Thus, there is no longer a dialogue, but an argument – one that goes nowhere. We are to the point on the Catholic blogosphere, especially concerning this issue, where the same people make the same points, no one convinces anyone else, and we continue like this until having gone around in circles, we are even more convinced in our respective positions and every reason we hold those positions than we were before.

(c) Fallacies. One of the main things that sticks out to me when discussing this issue or following such discussions is the fallacies I see being committed by people from both sides. Speaking as a Medjugorje sceptic, the most common fallacies I see from Medjugorje believers include ad hominem attacks (especially on the Bishop of Mostar), red herrings or smokescreens, appeals to emotion, straw men, and personal anecdotes as an argument in itself rather than in support of an argument (ie. “I know a friend who was converted at Medjugorje, and therefore I know it is true and you should acknowledge it too”). You will see many such examples in this paper. [ie] The proper way to respond to the Bishop of Mostar’s charges as found in his work, The Truth About Medjugorje, is not to say he is biased, impious, or operates from nefarious motives. The proper way to respond to his charges is to respond blow by blow to his objections. Is he lying? If so, in what ways? Is he properly interpreting the evidence? If not, in what ways is he distorting it? Are his conclusions regarding the evidence valid? If not, why? And what are more believable and more reasonable conclusions? His bias should be mentioned – but briefly and no more than once. When one continually refers to it rather than the issues raised, it becomes a tacit admission that there are no rational or substantial responses to his charges, and thus they must be valid – despite whether or not he might be biased or have alterior motives.

(d) “Truth-Seekers”. Speaking again of both sides, as long as I continue to see such replies rather than direct responses to and addressing of the points made and an offering of an argument directly against that point, I will continue to be sceptical of such a person’s claim to be honestly seeking the truth. The fact is, there are some good arguments for authenticity and some good arguments against authenticity. However, it has come to the point that most discussing this issue have become very entrenched in their respective positions, and thus virtually every argument made for their position, no matter how good or bad, becomes a good argument, while virtually every argument which goes against their position, no matter how good or bad, becomes a bad argument. That is why it is time for a fresh and balanced look – everything is just getting re-hashed by the same people who have long been deeply convicted in their respective positions. As a Medjugorje sceptic, I have noticed some questionable explanations from Medjugorje apologists in an attempt to reconcile difficult or apparent contradictory statements from the seers, including Fr. Laurentin’s explanation of Vicka’s questioning of Our Lady regarding the Herzegovina Affair, Denis Nolan`s response to Marija’s claiming both Mary`s approval but later disapproval of Fr. Vlasic’s mixed community, and the different explanations given by Fr. Laurentin and Fr. Zovko about when the apparitions were supposed to end as told the seers by Our Lady. (http://www.unitypublishing.com/Apparitions/MedjugorjiLies.html) Though plausible, I do not believe the level of credence given some of these is justified. The problem is that in general, when someone we respect and hold out as a knowledgeable authority on an issue gives an answer in favour of that which we believe, we assume it must be correct. It is like we assure ourselves, “if it is good enough for him then it is good enough for me!” Our predisposition is to believe there has to be a good and valid answer, and thus the responses given must be those good and valid answers. It can unfortunately happen that any answer from an authority will do – just because it is an answer from an authority who is himself convinced of the validity of his answer. And if we find the explanation problematic or feel the explanation did not properly account for the discrepancy or respond to the charge, we just figure that we just do not as yet ``get it``, but since he does, we someday will too, and thus, it is sufficient. (ie) To cite an example, when it came to the anti-Catholic charge of Catholic cannibalism due to our belief in the Real Presence, I just accepted Karl Keating’s answer as given in his Catholicism and Fundamentalism and believed he sufficiently responded to it, even though it did not really convince me on a rational level. He quoted the anti-Catholic as saying, “Rome attempts to deny this, but without much logic” [Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1988; pg. 251]. It was only years later, when I was still trying to fully understand for myself why we were not committing the sin of cannibalism when consuming Holy Communion, that I was finally able to explain to myself the clear and convincing reason(s) why this was so. And looking back on it, I think the anti-Catholic critic was correct – Mr. Keating did not explain this point very logically or convincingly, even though his explanation was generally on the right track and was in line with how Church apologists had always explained it. But at the time, Mr. Keating was right – he had to be right – in my mind.

(e) A Calm, Rational, Fair, and Charitable Dialogue. Besides the great deal of misinformation and the many fallacies used in this debate, there are also many uncharitable things said by people from both sides, contrary to St. Augustine’s admonition that “in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity”. I have no interest in such arguments – I have become upset and lost my peace far too often in such things. Medjugorje believer, Fr. Svetozar Kraljevic, OFM, in his letter of April 26, 1998 to E. Michael Jones, wrote: “Personally I do believe that there is a need in Medugorje for your kind of writing and your approach of investigation. Medugorje must be able to meet criticism. However, my advice to you is that your writing needs to be fair and true. It should not be prejudiced.” (http://www.aracnet.com/~cfpw/frsvet.php) That is precisely what I am attempting to do here, and what I believe I will succeed in doing.

(f) Invitation to Further Discussion. For those who are not able or willing to do likewise, I would refer to you other forums and blogs where this continues to be discussed. (i) I would certainly welcome a calm, rational, fair, and charitable response to this article in the form of another article, and would be happy to read it. I find it essential to have such a critique as it helps me to either confirm me in my opinion or convince me to renounce it and move to the other side, and if the former, it helps me to clarify some things I did not make clear or strengthen my argument by responding to objections I did not anticipate or see before.

(g) Blog Commenting and Responding. Regarding reader comments, I may disable commenting for this series of articles, and for various reasons. (i) First, because internet discussions of Medjugorje usually brings out the worst in all of us, and in my opinion, actually become occasions of sin. (ii) Second, we are most likely going to rehash the same arguments that have been made elsewhere, which will waste the time of both the poster and the reader. (iii) Third, the discussion will, I am convinced, probably become irrational and degenerate into an emotionally-laden exchange with much talking and little to no real listening, just as it does almost every time this is discussed on the web. This will be unproductive at best and at worst disturb our peace and cause us to sin. (iv) Fourth, there will no doubt be fallacious responses and remarks such as red herrings, ad hominem attacks, and straw men, and this only muddies and confuses the issue and can easily mislead us into making false conclusions. (v) Fifth, I will be forced to monitor the comments, and I do not feel I can handle many more of the uncharitable comments (sarcasm, mocking, rhetoric, etc.) I have had to read in preparation for this article (and which are, sadly, far too common on the Catholic blogosphere). (vi) Sixth, I will probably be tempted to respond to some of the comments, and I just do not have the time to do so (well, that is not exactly true – I should say “I have higher priorities”). (vii) Seventh, since there are so many other places (forums, blogs, etc.) that one can discuss this issue, there is no real need to begin another one here.

5. A Candid Admission: Hoping for Negative Judgment?! It is often said by sceptics of Medjugorje that if the Vatican rules in favour of the apparitions, they will not only accept the ruling, but gladly do so and embrace the apparitions. Some sceptics will even say they hope they are wrong about Medjugorje. I believe that for many people, this is indeed true. However, considering how forcefully some argue against the apparitions, considering how certain some people are in their opposition, and considering our fallen human nature, I cannot believe that there will not be some whose hearts will drop and who will be crestfallen upon hearing news at such a decision. It reminds me of the statement by St. Francis de Sales in his Philothea, who spoke about how when an argument breaks out, the ones shouting “Peace, Peace!” are often the ones who are the most worked up! Similarly, many Medjugorje sceptics will say they hope it is authentic, but then argue against it with great passion. Indeed, some of these have come to very much dislike phenomenon Medjugorje, and thus many do not want it to be authentic! And if some will not admit that this is the case (either because they think this is so or are in denial about their capacity to react thus – since no one wants to believe he is capable of being upset with the fact that Mary is appearing in her love and benevolence), I will at least do so. I will step out on a limb and be quite frank and honest: I am hoping that it is not authentic! Why
? How can I say such a thing? Because there are many things about phenomenon Medjugorje that I do not like and that I am not comfortable with. These things that make me uncomfortable or that I do not like are many of the reasons that I have come to believe that phenomenon Medjugorje is not authentic, which is precisely why I am hoping for a negative judgment. However, when I look at it logically, we should all be hoping that it is authentic, and if it does turn out to be authentic after all, I will embrace it enthusiastically – just as I did at the time shortly after my conversion experience. However, it will take some time for me to process it and adjust and thus fully and joyfully embrace it, and I will still not like some of its aspects or be comfortable with them, such as the lifestyles of some of the seers, the fact that none of them embraced a religious vocation, some of the extremes that its devotees tend towards, etc. I would conclude that it is authentic in spite of such anomalies.

General Outline and Flow of the Article. Now, for my argument. I will basically lay it out in six stages. (I) First, I will speak about objections against the authenticity of the apparitions that I think are weak or even non-arguments. These include (1) the number of messages, (2) alleged disobedience among and sins committed by some of the priests associated with the seers, (3) various “problematic” or “suspicious” statements from the “seers”, (4) the alleged “false teachings” and heresies in some of the messages, (5) the presence of unstable and troubled devotees, and (6) the argument that Medjugorje distracts us from Fatima. (II) Second, I will reply to the arguments typically made in favour of the apparitions. These include (1) the “good fruits” (including miraculous healings and conversions), (2) the orthodoxy of the message and messages of Medjugorje, (3) the mystical phenomena associated with the seers, especially during the apparitions, (4) the favourable view of John Paul II toward the apparitions, (5) the fact that the Church has made provisions for pastoral support to be given the pilgrims, (6) the well-known statement from Pope Urban regarding the credibility to be given to unapproved apparitions, (7) the argument that those who have not gone to Medjugorje themselves are in a deficient position with regards to a critical or negative judgment of the authenticity of the apparitions, and (8) the comparisons made to Padre Pio and other saints and movements that were condemned by the Church in error but later exhonerated. I find that many of these are either (a) equivocal issues that really come down to “he said, she said”, the events being interpreted differently according to the position of the particular individual on the authenticity of the apparitions, or (b) arguments that cut both ways. (III) Third, I will explore the issue of obedience and disobedience, show how disobedience is the strongest argument against authenticity, and demonstrate (a) how the logical implications behind the justifications given for disobedience are dangerous and potentially destructive, and (b) how Medjugorje stands in contrast to the obedience of the Saints. I will go on to respond to such justifications and explanations given by Medjugorje apologists. (IV) Fourth, I will go through other arguments I have against authenticity, namely, (1) the nature and content of the messages, (2) the promised sign, and (3) the lives of the seers (including an absence of religious vocations among them, the opulent lifestyles, and questions about the size of their families). I will also identify clues that point to the fact it may not be authentic, including (1) certain uncanny similarities to and connections with approved apparitions, (2) the history and demographic of the area, (3) the fact that the “Herzegovina Affair” began in the same year Humanae Vitae was issued, and (4) the similarities between Medjugorje and Fr. Marcial Maciel – founder of the Legionaries of Christ. I will finally cite two other problems I have with the apparitions, namely, (1) religious fanaticism, and (2) its failure to integrate into the mainstream. (V) Fifth, I will explore Satan’s possible motives, including (1) false devotion, (2) unbalanced spirituality, (3) schism, (4) perpetuation of problems found in the Charismatic Renewal (including an over-involvement in married laymen in Church ministry, an over-attachment to consolations and signs and phenomena, and the tendency to create “Catholic ghettos), and (5) various bad fruits. (VI) Sixth and finally, I will explore God’s possible motives, with a discussion of “the spirit of antichrist”.

This article will be my last word on this subject, except for replying to anyone who chooses to respond according to the stipulations and word I gave. The Vatican will soon come to a definitive decision, as the Visitation Team is currently conducting its investigation. For further discernment on how we should proceed, we should pay attention to the report issued and recommendations given by the Vatican and by the Visitation Team, and take things from there.