On March 17th, 2010, the Holy See Press Office has announced the creation of a Fourth Commission of inquiry on Medjugorje by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
There seems to be something very peculiar with this case of alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six Croatian visionaries since 1981.
A verdict that was so evident to the diocesan Church authority, 24 years ago in Mostar, is re-examined by the highest authorities of the universal Church, today in Rome.
What has made the situation apparently so complex, and the critical observers so perplexed?
In the weeks and months ahead, this new website will try to unloosen the Medjugorjean knot by throwing some light on the complex Medjugorje problem and first by taking my own itinerary into account.
My name is Louis Bélanger. I was born in Quebec City in 1941. After my studies in humanities and political science (International relations) at Laval University in Quebec City, I pursued my research in psychology and parapsychology at Freiburg University in West Germany (1968-1974). In 1975, I began conducting the study of paranormal phenomena while teaching at the Faculty of Theology of the Université de Montréal and at the Department of religious studies of the Université du Québec à Montréal. I retired in 2005.
My visit to Medjugorje
In 1984, I watched a French TV documentary suggesting that the Virgin Mary was appearing daily to youngsters in Yugoslavia.
These encounters claiming a transcendent source caught my attention some 40 months after they began. My mother had just died. Profound grief left me unable to pray. Would Our Heavenly Mother deign to aid me in my agonizing grief?
In January, 1985, I went to Medjugorje with a “declaration of intent” that I presented to the Franciscan parish personnel and to the Bishop of Mostar, Mgr Pavao Zanic.
I come to Medjugorje, not motivated by faith but rather in the spirit of scientific research. The Bishop’s firm position on alleged collective hallucinations doesn’t prevent me of having a favourable bias toward the possibility of authentic phenomena at the beginning of the events (luminous phenomena, ecstatic behaviour).
I do not side with the Franciscans nor the Bishop and I wish to meet them in a spirit of research.
I am interested in the physics, the physiology, the psychology and the parapsychology of the apparitions. In that perspective, I am highly interested in the field reports that have been written by scientists who have observed and tested the visionaries and I would like to have access to their research material.
If those scientific disciplines can not explain the observed phenomena, one will have to consider a possible “transcendent” dimension that has to be respected, even if the scientific rules can not allow the researcher to pronounce a judgement on that dimension.
The village was enveloped in a Siberian winter, as was all of the Bosnia-Herzegovina region in which Medjugorje lies.
In that desert of ice, I mixed with a few stalwart pilgrims and other scattered faithful. While filming the visionaries, I searched closely for signs of their ecstasy, but seemed only to see that they were adept at keeping up the appearances demanded by their newfound roles.
Back in Canada, I felt the need to articulate my disenchantment. Some among the pious reproached me, one even surmising that my disaffection was the work of Satan, whose head the Virgin would crush soon. Eventually, a fractured vertebral column cancelled my enthusiasm for developing a critique of Medjugorje. At least until a Franciscan priest, born and raised there, encouraged me to pursue my quest for transparence.
Encounter with Father Ivo Sivric, O.F.M.
Father Ivo Sivric reached me at the Université de Montréal. From his adopted country, the United States, he sent me a manuscript he had just completed on the events in Medjugorje. “If I had written favorably and without critical examination, I would have no difficulty finding a publisher. What, then, do you suggest?”
I proposed that we unite our efforts in order to perfect our respective theological and psychological points of view. We were animated by the same spirit: to plumb the depths of Medjugorje’s events and to attract readers who would support our approach in order to clarify the questions involved. Father Sivric immediately accepted my proposal. At this point in time, our general agreement became a confirmed collaboration.
It was important to me that the taped documents he had be carefully translated, tapes that were apparently identical to those given to me by the Bishop of Mostar. At my request, Father Sivric began to make a Croatian transcript and then dictated an English translation of these interviews with the visionaries conducted by the parish priest and his assistants in Medjugorje beginning with the fourth day of the “apparitions”.
During my first weeklong stay with Father Sivric in St. Louis, Missouri, in July, 1986, we exchanged tapes and verified that our sources were complementary. It was also necessary to translate rapidly “newfound” documents before Father Sivric’s next departure for Yugoslavia. His vacations, or rather, his three months of “field research,” were very carefully planned.
Once in Medjugorje, he sent me answers to several hundred questions with which I had entrusted him. He then dedicated himself tirelessly to the interviewing of witnesses of the first days, as well as to consulting the Archives of the Mostar Diocese.
During my second extended visit to St. Louis in January, 1987, Father Sivric took stock of his third trip to Medjugorje since 1981 while I collected the documents that could not be sent by post. The resulting cache proved impressive: his manuscript, including the transcripts intended for publication, had tripled in fourteen months. Thus, the rest of that year had to be devoted to a reorganization of the material, to an attentive and repeated listening to the tapes, to the arduous and very perilous translation, back and forth, from Croatian to English, and from English to French.
The publication of The Hidden Side of Medjugorje
Taking into account the then available resources, we wanted to publish it in French. However, through the ensuing weeks and months…even years, the first manuscript was enriched by a sizeable number of additional texts, interviews, notes, bibliographical references and updates. All of these inevitably led to the editorial necessity of considerably revising the existing manuscript. That is how the final text resulted in Volume I of La face cachée de Medjugorje (1988), which became The Hidden Side of Medjugorje (1989) in its English translation.
We have remained faithful to the original edition in French to the point of alerting our readers to any error or update in the chapters by a specific bottom note. The English edition has been augmented by an important addendum from Father Sivric on private revelations and apparitions (see Appendix 17), and thus benefits from a worthy complement to the original edition’s Chapter 2.
This first volume deals entirely with Father Sivric’s attempt to highlight the incongruities, contradictions, half truths and falsities in what has occurred in Medjugorje, all of which have been simply omitted or consciously lied about all this time.
In the first two chapters, the author presents his native village, his sources of documentation, the visionaries and the position of Church teachings on Marian apparitions.
The three following chapters mainly treat the first ten days of the “apparitions”, heavenly signs which are not such, and certain attitudes and conduct of the visionaries which pose a problem.
In Chapters Six through Nine, Father Sivric presents the result of his research on the role of the Franciscans of Medjugorje, as well as the position and interventions of the Bishop, and of the Commission mounted to evaluate the entire question.
Finally, in the last two chapters, the author sets forth an account of the latest events occurring in Medjugorje and a possible explanation of the alleged apparitions.
He invites readers to judge for themselves whether from now on one may still see in these events the presence and action of the Madonna.
* * *
In the next two segments of our first editorial, we will lift the veil of some artifices executed by promoters of the Lady of Medjugorje. According to our analysis, those fallacious activities constitute the core of crucial objections examined by three Commissions that led up to the non constat de supernaturalitate or, in other words, to the absence of clear proof that the Lady of Medjugorje is the Virgin Mary.
Unfortunately, the scope and significance of the non constat do not seem to be well understood. Ten days ago, the Vice President for theology at EWTN, Colin Donovan, had to explain to a fervent of Medjugorje, who ignored it, that a judgement had been made — no evidence of supernaturality — with the help of two Commissions [in Mostar in 1986 and in Zadar in 1991]. That verdict had been reached by the majority of 34 experts and by 19 of the 20 Yugoslavian bishops.
If the 20 members of the new Commission do not still see the “imminent Great Sign“ announced by the Lady of Medjugorje in 1981, or something miraculously new since the Zadar Declaration, will it not be delicate for them to reverse the first diocesan judgement made 24 years ago — and later confirmed by the Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia — without discrediting the discernment of their predecessors?
However that may be, since most of the documents and reliable sources are available, is it not more pertinent for the proactive faithful to understand the significance of the preceding judgement than to wait for or speculate about the next one?
Before leaving the readers who may enrich this new blog with their own reactions, I would like to state my own limitations in our next mutual communication.
I am a newcomer in the blogosphere and do not yet master its technical aspects. The language difficulty is another disadvantage that will slow down the writing process. The French part of the site will have more contributions, at least during the first months. Many documents will have to be translated from French to English and that will take some time as will the moderation of the comments. Please note that the anonymous comments will be discarded.
Please take those limitations into account when posting your questions. I welcome your constructive critical analysis, comments and insights.