WADE ST. ONGE

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Medjugorje: IV. Obedience and Disobedience


There are various ways the Church has of discerning whether or not a seer is authentic. One such way is to get experts in psychology and medicine to run tests and examinations. Although this can be very helpful, psychology is still a young and inexact science, and the possibility of an accurate judgment does exist. It is entirely possible that the psychologists are wrong, or that there is some other natural explanation that science and psychology just has not yet discovered. Furthermore, although the psychologists may determine that there is no natural explanation for something, it cannot distinguish between the supernatural and the preternatural. In other words, it is possible for there to be a preternatural manifestation or work that, although it cannot be explained naturally, can be well within the power of Satan.

So although the Church does make use of these, She has always relied more on other evidence. The main lithmus test the Church has always used is this: Is the seer obedient?

This is the main lithmus test because the essential difference between Satan and Christ is that of obedience. Certainly, one could argue that “love” is the essential difference between the two, but if we recall that love is “to will or to do good to the other”, and that love is thus rooted in a decision to act, then we must admit that love is obedience to the will and commands of God, who calls us to do only that which is for our own good. As St. John says, “And this is love: that we follow His commandments”. (2John 1:6), or as some translations say, “we obey” or “are obedient to his commandments”.

We must also remember that “love” is something Satan has been able to counterfeit (in ways we do not have time to get into). But obedience and disobedience to direct orders from superiors cannot be counterfeited.

Satan fell because he refused to obey. His words, when shown a vision of the Incarnation, were “I will not serve!” In other words, “Lord, I will not obey your will”. Man likewise fell because he did not obey God’s command that he abstain from the fruit of the tree of life. (Genesis 2:17-18; 3:11b, 17) Jesus, on the other hand, saved us through His obedience, when opposite to the words of Satan, said three times, “Not my will, but thine, be done”. (Luke 22:42) Jesus learned this from His mother, who during her time of trial, in being told she would be called away from the contemplative life she loved and yearned for and to the active life instead, exclaimed “Fiat!”: “Let it be done according to your word” (Luke 1:38), or in other words, “Lord, may your will be done according to the command you have given”.

According to Scripture, it was the disobedience of Satan that led to death and sin, while it was the obedience of Christ which led to salvation: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant . . . he humbled himself and became obedient unto death. Therefore God has highly exalted him”. (Phillippians 2:7-8) He “learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”. (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Through obedience, one is “made perfect”, or “holy” – which is another term for the state of being “perfect”. Our obedience is ultimately to God, but He has ordained it in such a way that certain human superiors participate in and mediate his authority, and to these we must be obedient as to God. This is true especially in the Church. So Jesus tells the Apostles, in the context of exercising Church discipline, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. (Matthew 18:18) In other words, if you make a disciplinary decision or a ruling, God will ratify that decision or ruling. Thus, disobedience to that command would mean being disobedient to God. Likewise, Jesus says, in the context of the Disciples who were returning after exercising authority over demons, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) The Church has been given a tremendous power (with an enormous responsibility and huge consequences, it might be added) to give orders with His very authority, which has been entrusted to certain men and women – namely, bishops, priests, and abbots (and abbesses). And since it is through obedience that we are sanctified, it is through obedience to our religious superiors that we become holy. This is true even when religious superiors are wrong. Their will is still the Lord’s will, albeit his permissive will. This is a difficult teaching to accept and to comprehend – that God would give such power to men – but we must remember that this is the God who entrusted Himself to us in the Incarnation, knowing where it would lead. Nonetheless, He knows how to turn it all to good.

God sees the big picture, and according to that big picture He sees, He devises the best possible plan. He sets out to accomplish that plan by revealing that plan to us, specifically, by letting us all know individually what He would like each of us to do. He does this in part through our superiors (and sometimes in spite of them – the misuse of authority is also a part of His plan as well which He takes into account). Thus, it follows that when we begin to work outside of that, we start to mess up His ultimate (and perfect) plan. When we make decisions that go against the commands of our superiors, we judge based on what little we can see, and this is a mistake at best and dangerous and destructive at worst. We must remember that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”. (Is 55:8-9) What might seem to us like the best choice – and sometimes the only choice – for accomplishing God’s will is certainly not the best choice, nor is it going to accomplish God’s will, nor is it God’s will, if we are disobedient, either to our superiors or to the duties of our states in life. That is why the “lay evangelist” who spends little time at home with his children because he travels the globe preaching the Word and converting unbelievers (and developing a great sense of misplaced pride in the process) is on the wide path that leads to destruction. One can do all the “works” of the Lord, but if they do not do His “will”, they will perish. Refer here to the dire warning of Our Lord: “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matt 7:21-23) Prophesying is good, as is casting out demons, as is doing many works (including the work of preaching and conversion). But if God is not calling you to do these things, then to do them would be a sin. Hence the primacy of obedience over good works.

Satan cannot get most orthodox Catholics to become Protestants. He cannot get most orthodox Catholics to choose money over God. He knows this. So what does he do? Give up? No, he would not do that. He cannot do that. Rather, he uses whatever he can. And for such a strong Catholic, the only thing he has left is false religion (which takes many forms, such as legalism, intellectualizing of faith, extreme sentimentalism, piety divorced from good works, etc.). And the chief tool he uses to get people to that point is disobedience – either to superiors or to the duties of their states in life (which is the chief means of obtaining holiness). And he is often able to get such Catholics to disobey through the pretense of religious duty or rectitude, which is often connected with a certain movement or devotion.

Therefore, if Jesus or Mary says one thing and the Bishop orders another, the Christian should, in fact must, obey the Bishop, not Jesus or Mary! Because if such a person “obeys Jesus”, that person does not obey Jesus. “He who listens to you listens to me”. That is the way Christ set up the Church.

And if an apparition of Mary contradicts the Bishop’s orders, we know for certain that it is not Mary, but a false spirit. Let us call to mind the words of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary: “Listen, My Daughter, and do not lightly believe and trust every spirit, for satan is angry and will try to deceive you. So do nothing without the approval of those who guide you. Being thus under the authority of obedience, his efforts against you will be in vain, for he has no power over the obedient.” (Autobiography, # 57). And let us call to mind that St. Faustina, “when at one time, because of the decisions of her superiors and her father confessor, she was not able to execute Our Lord’s inspirations and orders, she declared: ‘I will follow your will insofar as You will permit me to do so through your representative. O my Jesus . . . I give priority to the voice of the Church over the voice with which you speak to me’ (497). The Lord confirmed her action and praised her for it.” (Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, The Divine Mercy: Message and Devotion, Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2003, p. 51).

That being said, the main reason why I believe Medjugorje is not authentic is because of the disobedience. It is not the seers themselves necessarily, but rather some of the Friars. And I would not hold the seers guilty by association necessarily, except that the apparition supports the disobedience. This is the problematic part.

Before getting into it, we must speak about the “Herzegovina Affair”. I will use as my resource a paper called “The Truth About the Herzegovina Affair: The History of the Tragic Conflicts between the Bishops and the Franciscans” by Medjugorje believer, Fr. Viktor NuiƦ, OFM (http://www.medjugorje.org/conditions.htm) Although there was a response to his points made from the diocesan side, I am disregarding all of that (in fact, I did not even read it) and I am granting Fr. Nuiae’s position all credence for the sake of argument.

Nuiae’s paper begins by giving a brief history of Catholic ministry in the region, with a particular focus on the good work done by the Franciscans, and their clashes with the diocesan bishops, who have long tried to “strong arm” their way into taking over the parishes and ministries set up and run by the Franciscans. Medjugorje apologist, Paul Baylis, commenting on Nuiae’s article, summarizes his position thus: “During the oppression in Bosnia-Herzegovina over the past centuries, it was only the Franciscan Friars who persevered with the people and the fruits of their labours was [sic] many new parishes won for the Catholic Church. However, from [sic: should be “up to and including”] 1975, mainly due to the efforts of certain unsympathetic and, indeed, unscrupulous bishops ... the Holy See was essentially duped into calling for the handing over of hard-earned parishes to the diocesan administration via its Decree Romanis Pontificibus issued in 1975.” (http://www.marian-times.com/articles/medjugorje/unity-publishing1.cfm)

As I read this, I felt very bad for the Franciscans, and very angry towards the diocesan bishops (and people who know me know that as much as I love and respect our Bishops, nothing gets me more upset than a Shepherd who serves himself instead of his sheep and does what is best for him personally or easiest rather than what is true or right).

However, seven years before this decree, there was a previous handing over of parishes. These, however, did not go so smoothly, and this was the precursor to the events of 1975. Fr. Nuiae again: “On 12 May 1968, the Franciscans departed from their parishes (and) their faithful said their goodbyes with pain in their hearts. In three parishes, the people did not allow the secular priests to take over the presbytery or church. This was the birth of the painful “Herzegovinian Affair”. (Nuiae, II.B.7)

With this as a backdrop, we will allow Fr. Nuiae to continue with his commentary on Romanis Pontificibus: “The Decree satisfied all of the demands set by the diocesan side. The dissatisfaction felt by the Franciscans with this decree - in their opinion, founded on untruths, injustice and quite damaging.” (Nuiae, II.B.9) Once again, my sympathies lie with the Franciscans. However, what Fr. Nuiae says next is what I find problematic. Under the subtitle “The Franciscans Refuse to Actively Participate in the Implementation of the Decree,” he reprints the letter the Franciscans sent to the Holy Father. This is what it reads, in part: “The Decree, Romanis Pontificibus evidently contradicts the truth, offends natural justice and directly opposes good souls and has tarnished the reputation of the Church. ... As such we feel bound by our conscience to undertake the stand that we cannot and will not; no we cannot take responsibility for the repercussions which will surely follow if we were to approve, accept or implement the Decree for all the reasons we have briefly noted above.” [emphasis mine] (Nuiae, II.B.10)

And this is where they went wrong. Here is the thing with obedience: it does not really matter why the bishop or Pope orders one to do something. Maybe someone is paying him or bribing him to give an order, or maybe he is out for revenge, or maybe he flipped a coin one morning and made his decision that way. It does not matter why the bishop gives an order, or if he is right - obedience requires that we always, always obey, and promptly. God will take care of the rest and straighten things (or more to the point, the bishop) out – if we but trust him and obey!

Fr. Nuiae justifies this disobedience on account that the Bishop lobbied, pressured, and even threatened the Vatican to secure the ruling the Pope made, and that the Bishop himself has been disobedient (demanding parishes he was awarded, but refusing to take others he was told to take), saying “during this whole affair, the Bishops of Mostar themselves were not averse to being disobedient as it suited their cause”. Two things must be said in response to all this.

1. This is very dangerous, because it opens up a Pandora’s box. We can now disobey orders from superiors on all kinds of different grounds. Two such examples are listed here. However, as we said earlier, bishops can be wrong in their decisions and often are – but God still demands obedience. If we could disobey on a number of different grounds, obedience would lose its raison d'etre, and there would be no need for obedience at all – we would do what is right as we saw fit. However, that is not the way Christ set up His Church.

2. The Saints, although they had numerous legitimate excuses to disobey (some similar to these, and some in response to even more nefarious actions on the part of bishops), without exception remained obedient despite all of this. Three examples will be cited:

a. St. Padre Pio was forbidden to say Mass and hear confessions for years, by order of the Pope himself. This was based on calumnies, half-truths, and lies. Pope Pius XI, who would later exonerate him after years of ruling against him, said “I have not been badly disposed toward Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed”. That the Holy Father ruled against him based on inaccurate and dishonest information could have been reason enough for Padre Pio to say “No, I will not obey”. But he did – and in the long run, he was rewarded for it. (http://www.ewtn.com/padrepio/man/biography2.htm) In fact, he once said, in response to the false accusation that he had disobeyed certain orders, “if my superiors ordered me to jump out of the window, I would not argue. I would jump”. (C. Bernard Ruffin, Padre Pio: The True Story, Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1991; p. 196)

b. The Jesuits were suppressed by the Pope due to pressure exerted from secular Catholic rulers, who did not like the influence the Jesuits had on their people, and who wanted to “cash in” on their wealth by seizing their property. This was, of course, completely unjust. But the Jesuits obeyed the order from the Pope. Once again, although this lasted a long time (over 40 years), the order was rewarded, as it exploded in numbers, popularity, and outreach after the order was restored. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Jesus#Suppression_and_restoration)

c. Finally, we will take the case of St. Joseph of Cupertino. (a) “There were some among the brethren”, fellow religious and priests, who believed “he was an impostor. ... He was reported to the Vicar General; the Vicar General believed what was said, and Joseph was called to stand his trial before the inquisitors of Naples. ... Joseph never could say anything for himself; if superiors were hard on him he was tongue-tied and could only submit. But this very submission, in this case, was his saving. Father General saw his humility; he began to doubt whether all was true that was said against him. In the end he himself took him to see the Holy Father”; and in the Pope's presence as, perhaps, might have been expected, Joseph was humiliated by having another of his ‘fits of giddiness.’”. (http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/joseph.htm). Here we see how St. Joseph obeyed even unjust orders because he trusted in God and had faith that He would exonerate Him in His own way. (b) “Evil-minded and envious men even brought him before the Inquisition, and he was sent from one lonely house of the Capuchins or Franciscans to another, but Joseph retained his resigned and joyous spirit, submitting confidently to Divine Providence. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08520b.htm) For a moment, when he heard the sentence, Joseph shivered. ‘Have I to go to prison?’ he asked, as if he had been condemned. But in an instant he recovered. He knelt down and kissed the Inquisitor's feet; then got into the carriage, smiling as usual as if nothing had happened.” Here we see St. Joseph’s prompt obedience to what was again an unjust decision based on false charges and misinformation. (http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/joseph.htm) We also see his accepting it with complete peace and tranquility, and embracing the decision as being his Cross to bear patiently and lovingly in imitation of Christ and as being in accord with God’s permissive will. (c) “His life was now one long succession of visions and other heavenly favours. Everything that in any way had reference to God or holy things would bring on an ecstatic state. ... Neither dragging him about, buffeting, piercing with needles, nor even burning his flesh with candles would have any effect on him — only the voice of his superior would make him obey.” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08520b.htm) Here we see that even when he was in the midst of ecstasies, where God would communicate Himself to St. Joseph intimately, he still obeyed his superiors. Many will say that the Bishop of Mostar was wrong to command the visionaries to stop having apparitions in St. James Church. They say, “if Mary is appearing, how can a bishop tell her not to?” What the story of St. Joseph of Cupertino teaches us is that a bishop can indeed command that his children cease having apparitions in certain places and at certain times. Once again, it bears repeating that if the bishop gives a command, it is Christ giving that command, and Christ cannot contradict Christ. That is why St. Joseph would stop having his own “apparitions” (in reality, what he experienced were more profound and more intimate communions with God, a more profound “apparition”, if you will, than any Marian apparition) – because a command from his superior was the command of Christ to end his ecstatic experience, and a command from the bishop for seers to stop having apparitions is a command of Christ telling his mother Mary to no longer appear to those seers.

Fr. Nuiae reminds us of the old Latin maxim that “the highest law is sometimes the greatest injustice” (summum ius summa iniuria). He continues, “This ‘Herzegovinian Affair’ should be investigated to see if this is perhaps not the same case”. (II.C.4) I agree – not only that it should be investigated, but that it may very well be a great injustice. However, where I disagree is this: Until such time as that investigation is launched and concluded and decrees are made, be obedient. It should not have been implemented necessarily without criticism, as Fr. Nuiae said the bishop demanded, but it should have been implemented propmptly and fully out of obedience.

It has been previously stated that some of the friars have been disobedient, and that the problem as this relates to Medjugorje is that the apparition has expressed her support for the disobedience. I will begin with the account of the Bishop of Mostar, Most Reverend Pavlo Zanic concerning Fr. Ivica Vego: “[A] priest asked me ... to please tell him at least one reason ... I do not believe in the 'apparitions'. I told him about the case of the ex-franciscan priest Ivica Vego. Due to his disobedience, by an order of the Holy Father the Pope, he was thrown out of his Franciscan religious order OFM by his General, dispensed from his vows and suspended 'a divinis'. He did not obey this order and he continued to celebrate Mass, distribute the sacraments and pass the time with his mistress. ... According to the diary of Vicka and the statements of the 'seers', Our Lady mentioned 13 times that he is innocent and that the bishop is wrong. When his mistress, sister Leopolda, a nun, became pregnant, both of them left Medjugorje and the religious life and began to live together near Medjugorje where their child was born. Now they have two children. His prayerbook is still sold in Medjugorje and beyond in hundreds of thousands of copies.” (http://www.newjerusalem.com/bishop-truth.htm, no. 2)

There is much here, but at the moment, only one thing that is of concern: the disobedience of Fr. Vego. It was stated earlier that the testimony of the Bishop will not be used. In this case, it will be used – but only because believers in Medjugorje have acknowledged what the Bishop said here as being true. Paul Baylis admits that regarding the faithful who would not allow the secular clergy to take over certain parishes in accord with Romanis Pontificibus, “the two priests Vego and Prusina were expelled by the Bishop for administering sacraments to some of these faithful who didn't want anything to do with the new secular takeover”. (http://www.marian-times.com/articles/medjugorje/unity-publishing1.cfm)

In line with what has been previously stated, there is only one correct way to answer the charge that “they were disobedient”: namely, to show that they were not disobedient. However, although some apologists for Medjugorje do make this argument (which will be dealt with later), many do not respond this way. We will cite one example.

Ronald L. Conte, Jr. began his response to objections with the chief objection, which he outlines: “In these apparitions of the Virgin Mary, she spoke against the Bishop of the diocese (of Mostar), and gave permission to two priests to defy the Bishop's order, remaining in Medjugorje and continuing to say Mass, without calling too much attention to themselves”. (http://catholicplanet.com/apparitions/reply08a.htm) Conte responds by making what amounts to about nine points. We will address them one by one.

1. He begins his response with this sentence: “The Bishop of Mostar is not very devout.” This is a poor way to start. The problem with this statement is that which was mentioned before, namely, that the only way to correctly answer the charge that “they were disobedient” is to show that they were not, and that anything else is to admit disobedience and attempt to justify or excuse disobedience – which can never be justified or excused in the Church. All such excuses and justifications are thus irrelevant and act as smokescreens – which, sadly enough, can (and have) worked. This would, of course, set a dangerous precedent (and it would be a precedent) – we can now disobey bishops if they are “not devout”. And who defines whether a bishop is or is not devout? And how devout does a bishop have to be? This is not a criteria that the Saints ever used as an excuse or looked for to justify doing what they believed – and sometimes knew – to be “right”.

2. Conte continues: “He [the bishop] quarreled [sic] with the Franciscans of his diocese, when he could have talked with them and complemented them, and, as brothers before God, obtained their cooperation in seeking the salvation of souls. But instead he played the tyrant and used all of his authority to cause them grief and to seek to expel them.” Once again, the implication is that if a bishop treats his children uncharitably, or abuses his power and gives orders autocratically rather than attempting to dialogue, disobedience is justified. Of course, the bishop should treat his children like a good father treats his beloved children, and a bishop should compliment them and seek to dialogue. However, if he does not, this does not mean his orders can be disobeyed, because he has the authority and the right to give those orders.

3. We will skip ahead to this statement: “Concerning obedience in general, the Shepherd does not require the sheep to be obedient to wolves.” Actually, He does. Here, we must recall what Christ said about obedience to legitimate religious authorities: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you.” (Matthew 23:2-3). And yet, He called those same religious authorities “wolves” (Matthew 10:16) [in context, you can see He is speaking about the Pharisees; vv. 5-15 speaks about the Apostles being sent to the lost sheep of Israel, while v. 17 speaks about being “scourged in synagogues”]. He also called those same authorities “serpents” and “broods of vipers” (Matthew 23:33), and yet, when the High Priest ordered Christ under obedience to respond to the charges against Him, He obeyed. (Matthew 26:62-64).

4. “Obedience is first and foremost obedience to God.” Yes, and God gives orders through his representatives. Thus, when a bishop gives an order, Christ gives an order. “Whoever listens to you listens to me”, and “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”. Setting up this dichotomy between obedience to God versus obedience to the Church is a false one – and once again, a dangerous one. And one who calls himself “a Roman Catholic theologian” with a degree in philosophy and theology from a Catholic College, magna cum laude, should know better. (http://www.catholicplanet.org/blog/index.htm)

5. We will now shift to what Conte said about the priests themselves. “Concerning the two priests who were ordered out of the diocese, and the Franciscans who remained against the Bishop's will, it is clear that they are not perfect in their actions.” What we see here is an admission that the two priests were ordered out of the diocese and yet remained despite that order.

6. “Therefore, a devout priest who is unjustly forbidden from exercising his ministry should be able to find some just and licit way to express his ministry, even if it involves ignoring one particular local Bishop.” (a) First of all, as we said before, that “one local bishop” represents Christ to those in His diocese, and if that “one local bishop” gives a command, it is Christ giving that command, doing so through his representative. One cannot “pick and choose” which bishop he will obey and disobey. If his bishop gives a command, he cannot go to another one to get a different answer to “overrule” the other bishop. He can appeal to a higher authority, which in this case is the Holy See, but until that process is complete and a positive ruling made, one must obey the order. (b) Secondly, St. Padre Pio was a “devout priest” who likewise was “unjustly forbidden from exercising his ministry”. But he did not look for a while “to find some just and licit way to express his ministry”. He remained obedient to an unjust order – because he correctly believed it to be God’s will, albeit His permissive will, as we have said before.

7. Finally, we will conclude with Conte’s treatment of the permission given by the apparition in contradiction to the orders of the bishop. He states: “The Virgin Mary is just as entitled (more so as Mother of the Church) as any Christian to criticize a Bishop who has gone astray.” In theory, it is true that Mary is “entitled” to “criticize a bishop” who has “gone astray”. In practice, however, we do not see the Blessed Virgin doing so in any of the approved messages of any approved apparition. It is, essentially, “out of character” for her. Like St. Francis, she sees even in the most wayward priests and bishops the image of her Son. “When someone told him of a priest living openly with a woman and asked him if that meant the Mass was polluted, Francis went to the priest, knelt before him, and kissed his hands -- because those hands had held God.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=50). Once again, there is no precedent for this. Mary has her own personality, her own way of doing things. Criticizing bishops like that does not seem to be her modus operandi. It is possible that she would say this, but unlikely, based on what we know about Mary from the Catholic Tradition and from other apparitions.

8. “However, given that even priests have weaknesses, imperfections, and failings, Mary, as Mother of the Church, advised these two priests that they may remain and may continue their ministry as priests.” This is a problematic statement. Mary does not appear and “overrule” bishops. Not even Christ overrules his bishops, as we cited earlier with St. Faustina and St. Margaret Mary. Once again, we see a new “precedence” set for “apparitions” to “trump” the commands of bishops – and you can see where this would lead. Everyone who, in his private prayer, is “told” by the Lord that he does not have to obey his bishop or superior, can now do so. Not only is this a most dangerous thing (as can be seen in many heretical and schismatic movements that claimed just that), but that is not how Christ set up His Church.

9. “Perhaps the perfect response for them would have been to leave, but knowing their weaknesses, and knowing that the Bishop of Mostar was opposing God's will, she permitted them to stay.” Once again, if superiors “oppose God’s will” – and they often do – God has his own ways of dealing with it. But He does not do so by appearing and overruling the superiors. Rather, he brings it about through the humble obedience of his saints to the commands of those same superiors.

It will be sufficient at this point to remind the reader of the example of St. Joseph of Cupertino which we spoke about previously, for his experience parallels that of Medjugorje in many ways – with the difference that St. Joseph was always obedient.

The responses that Mr. Conte gives to the objections are very concerning, as are similar kinds of responses to the charge of disobedience. What we have now among believers in Medjugorje is a paradigm by which Catholics can now disobey on a number of different grounds, such as the ones mentioned above. Any one of these “conditions” can be cited as a reason to disobey. One example will be cited [which comes from personal involvement and thus knowledge]. John Paul II Bible School in Radway, a unique school arising out of the charismatic renewal, was founded in 1984 as a place where young Catholic Christians (and sometimes not-so-young Christians) could come to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ through intense and authentic personal and group prayer, community life, theological and spiritual instruction in the classroom, and most especially, spiritual and emotional healing. In its 25 years, over 1,000 people graduated, many of them experiencing profound conversions that would give their lives an entirely new direction which many remain on to this day. However, Bishop Luc Bouchard, who became the new bishop of the Diocese of St. Paul, Alberta, Canada, in 2001, never did take too warmly to the school. In 2008, he threatened to close the school, but after a strong backlash from many alumni and supporters of the school, he relented. However, he formed a “visitation committee” of three people (a bishop, a deacon, and a layperson), and although none of them, besides other things, ever attended one of the weekly Thursday night prayer meetings (which was at the heart of the school’s week outside Sunday Mass), issued a report with recommendations. The bishop was aware that many of the recommendations went against the original charism of the school, and yet accepted the report and all the recommendations. When the Board informed the bishop that they could not implement some of the recommendations as it would compromise the school’s charism and thus raison d’etre, the Bishop withdrew his support, and the school closed.

At this point, there was talk of perhaps continuing the school even without the Bishop’s approval. However, it was decided that the proper course was to be obedient, even though every one of Conte’s points above applied and could have been cited as justification for continuing the school. The Bishop of St. Paul was “not very devout” either. He also “quarrelled” with the Board “when he could have talked with them and complemented them” for the great work they and the school had done, and as “brothers before God, obtained their cooperation”, but instead “played the tyrant” and “used his authority” to close the school because he wanted to and could. Many said that since God obviously wanted the school to stay open, that their “obedience” was “first and foremost” to God rather than the “wolf” who occupied the episcopal office, and thus they should keep it open despite his disapproval. They said that when bishops shut something good down “unjustly” that they should find some “just and licit way” to keep it in operation, “even if it involves ignoring one particular local Bishop”. A few were claiming that they received “a word” in prayer criticizing the bishop and counselling that the school remain open despite what the bishop said because “he was opposing God’s will”. However, although most of the members and supporters of the school believe in the apparitions of Medjugorje, few if any of them give Medjugorje such an important place in their own spiritualities. However, if they all did, I believe they very well may have made the parallel between the Bishop of St. Paul and the Bishop of Mostar, and thus continue to run the school on the grounds mentioned above. After all, if seers and their supporters in Medjugorje can be disobedient due to these reasons, anyone can be – including the people who ran the Bible School.

Now, it was mentioned earlier that some argue they were not being disobedient. This is because “the 1982 judgment against both Franciscan fathers was lifted by the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court of the Holy See, in March 1993." (http://catholiclight.stblogs.org/archives/2010/03/hauke-responds.html) However, it was overturned on the basis of a procedural error rather than on the decision itself. The problem is that “the judgement had been passed ... without giving the accused the possibility to defend themselves. Consequently, the punitive measures had to be declared null.” (http://marcocorvaglia.typepad.com/msm/2010/04/the-gospa-and-instigation-to-insubordination.html) As a result, it was decided that the procedure had to start again – which did not happen because the disciplined priests had already left the order. As for whether the two were guilty of disobedience, however, the Vatican seemed to imply that while rendering their decree of nullity: “it is not at all questioned the validity of the bishop’s request, but only the 'modus procedendi et decernendi' [way to proceed and to deliberate]”. [Ibid.] It would be the equivalent of someone who truly committed a crime but whose original conviction was overturned because the prosecutor did not turn over to the defence all the evidence he was privy to, or that the accused was not read his Miranda rights upon being arrested. The person did commit the crime, but he will avoid punishment on account of a “technicality”. The same was true in this case – the priests were disobedient and rightly dismissed, but their right to speak in their own defence was denied them. However, had they been given that chance, the decision would have been the same (knowing the bishop), and the Vatican would have upheld the ruling (since the priests were going against a Papal order in the first place, namely, Romanis Pontificibus).

That being stated, we will reprint what it was that the apparition said about the situation. Medjugorje apologist Fr. Rene Laurentin reprinted the messages that Vicka recorded in her diary concerning this. On December 19, 1981, Vicka wrote: “[The Madonna] told him (Fra Vego) to stay in Mostar and not to leave”. On September 29, 1982, we read: “Fra Ivica asked: ‘Should we leave Mostar or stay on?’ The Madonna answered: ‘Stay where you are!’”. Finally, on April 15, 1982, we see the apparition stating the following concerning Frs. Vego and Prusina: “The Bishop is to blame for this, and there are many who support him and who say that you should be thrown out so that they don't see you anymore. Do not obey anyone! [some translations read: “Do not listen to anybody”] Do not blame yourselves, what is important is that you do not leave Mostar.” The Madonna smiled and said: “They can celebrate Mass sometimes but they should not expose themselves too much until this all calms down. They have no faults at all. If they were guilty of something I would tell them to go and not to cause any disturbances.” (http://home.earthlink.net/~agless/Messages.htm)

Now, it is sometimes argued that when The Gospa said “they are not guilty”, she was referring to the fact that there was a procedural error. Though possible, it is highly unlikely. This is because by saying what she said and no more (ie. by not expressing any displeasure at their disobedience, or by not explicitly stating they were not guilty based on the technicality), she left the impression and made the strong implication that their disobedience was right and justified, and people understandably drew that same conclusion.

So let us then summarize by recounting the history of the disobedience at Medjugorje. First, the Franciscans were disobedient to a Papal order. Second, the Franciscans were disciplined for it by the legitimate Church authorities, yet continued to minister after being forbidden to do so. Third, the apparitions began, and not only did the disobedient Franciscans believe in the seers and the apparitions, but the apparition sided with and supported the Franciscans. Fourth, the Franciscans continued in their disobedience, believing themselves to be exonerated by the Blessed Mother herself. Fifth, other members of the lay faithful and even some clerics and religious who became believers in Medjugorje came to likewise think that disobedience could be justified on a number of different grounds (including the bishop’s lack of holiness and pastoral sensitivity, the lack of rectitude or merit in his decision, that he may not have been privy to all relevant evidence, that he may not have prayerfully and honestly considered all the evidence and made his decision with sufficient discernment, that he misinformed a higher authority, that he used shady methods or abused his power in order to take control or shut something down; that he had ulterior or selfish or sinful or evil motives for making a decision, etc.). Now, all of this is contrary to the pattern we see with authentic apparitions.

1. There are three other reasons Medjugorje apologists say there has been no disobedience. First, there is the argument of the Franciscans in their reply to Romanis Pontificibus, namely, that since “the highest law in the Church is the salvation of souls”, as the last canon in Canon Law states (Canon 1752), they have been justified doing as they have been doing, because it was all for the sake of “saving souls”. There are two problems with this. (a) First, the last canon actually pertains to the last section of canon law – namely, the transfer of pastors – rather than being a general law that overarches and vetoes all of the Church’s laws. Granted, all laws are created to serve the ultimate end of saving souls, which is why Canon Law appropriately ends with this canon. However, it is through obedience that souls are saved, and it is through disobedience that souls are lost. Furthermore, only the Holy See has the authority to grant exceptions to legitimate laws and decrees made by bishops, and it is the Holy See which is the final interpreter of all the Church’s laws. (See Canons 16, 1404, and 1629) Since the Holy See did not grant such an exception, and since the Holy See upheld (and continues to uphold) Romanis Pontificibus despite the Franciscans’ assertion that their disobedience is essential to the salvation of souls, the Franciscans were and continue to be wrong to disobey. Although individual bishops and priests sometimes transgress laws in certain circumstances motivated by “the salvation of souls”, they are seldomly justified in doing so (because most such cases are already written into the law and thus they often use this as a justification rather than doing so because it is actually required), and if their decision is vetoed or if the law upheld by higher authority, they must immediately cease and repent.

2. Secondly, apologists say that the Franciscans were simply responding in their solicitude from souls to the faithful who refused to allow the secular priests take over the parishes and minister to them. Would it not be unchristian to abandon them? Is it not instead a great and even necessary act of mercy? The answer to this is no and no. First of all, it is not only priests and religious who must be obedient to superiors, but the lay faithful in the parishes as well. Though they were justifiably upset, they too were being disobedient and were wrong when they would not allow the secular clergy to take over. Secondly, the most Christ-like and merciful thing for the Franciscans to do would have been to obey and thus lead the faithful by example. They should have then directed the people that as unjust as a decision might be, they must obey and pray to and trust God to serve justice and redeem the situation.

3. Third and finally, apologists say that in 1986, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith essentially removed phenomenon Medjugorje from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Mostar, and that Medjugorje is now directly answerable to the Vatican alone. Now, as to what exactly happened in 1986, sceptics of Medjugorje interpret this and understand it differently. But what I just outlined is basically what apologists say. Certainly the seers and Franciscans have disobeyed various episcopal orders and decrees, but according to apologists, the bishop did not have the authority to give them. Dr. Miravalle seems to imply this as well when he says, “There is not a single documented account of any act of disobedience to a canonically legitimate directive” [emphasis mine]. (http://www.medjugorje.ws/en/articles/medjugorje-real/) Now, if the bishop did in fact have his authority taken from him in 1986, but if there was disobedience before 1986, then the quote from Dr. Miravalle is proven to be false. Was there any disobedience during this time? Since I said I would not re-present any equivocal evidence or information, I will have to leave it up to each individual with an interest in this apparition to determine for himself if there was any disobedience before the “dossier” was “removed” from the bishop.

More or less of what has been said here regarding obedience will strike some believers in Medjugorje as odd, as being wrong, and even as nonsensical. This fact alone shows how far removed we have become from a Catholic understanding of obedience, what it requires, how it should operate, and God’s providential role in all of it. Can an apparition veto a bishop? Our Lady, if it was really Our Lady, would not have responded to Vicka’s questions as she did – she would not have placed herself at odds with Church authorities. Even if she disagreed with the bishop, she would not have “taken the bait” and contradicted Her Son, who had already spoken through His authorized representative. “He who listens to you listens to me”.