By Daniel Klimek March 18, 2010 – http://www.ministryvalues.com
The recent announcement by the Vatican to investigate the nearly 30-year long phenomena of Medjugorje is striking. The international commission to be led by Cardinal Camillo Ruini is in many ways groundbreaking. This constitutes the first time in Church history wherein the highest office of the Holy See will investigate an ongoing apparition site. Normally, it is custom for Church authorities to wait until the reported supernatural phenomenon concludes before passing judgment on the matter. With the Church’s aggressive exception (and decision) of placing Medjugorje under an investigative commission within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it becomes clear that Vatican officials are recognizing what a significant and serious event Medjugorje is for the faithful on a global scale, no longer able to ignore its impact and influence on world Catholicism.
Professor Sandra L. Zimdars-Swartz, who has been one of the few scholars to write an academic book on modern Marian apparitions, once explained: “Of the hundreds of apparitions that have come to the attention of Roman Catholic authorities in the past two centuries, seven were investigated by diocesan commissions, were approved by the local bishop and went on to gain international attention: Rue du Bac (Paris, France, 1830), La Salette (France, 1846), Lourdes (France, 1858), Pontmain (France, 1870), Fatima (Portugal, 1917), Beauraing (Belgium, 1931-1933), and Banneux (Belgium, 1933).”
Already, by comparison, we can see what a historic recognition Medjugorje has achieved. Due to its unique status of becoming a global phenomenon, Medjugorje may become the first apparition to be approved by an international Church commission, instead of a diocesan commission, being elevated to a higher authority for judgment and solidifying its special status in Catholic affairs. What is especially significant is that a commission under the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith was assigned to the task of investigating the apparitions. This speaks highly to Medjugorje’s importance within Vatican circles and the international community.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith is the most influential office within the Roman Curia, constituting the Pope’s right hand, so to speak. The fact that a commission was assigned under the CDF to investigate Medjugorje’s significance hints at the possibility that the decision may have come from the highest level of power, from Pope Benedict XVI himself. Interestingly, this would not be the first time that the German pontiff and the CDF provided intervention for the apparitions in Medjugorje and their investigations.
The CDF has had a history of intervening with poorly conducted investigations on the diocesan level in Medjugorje. For years, influential Church officials in Rome have not been proud of how ineptly the events in Medjugorje have been scrutinized by certain local bishops. Therefore, even Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself, before becoming the current Pope, once played a crucial role in saving Medjugorje from incompetent and distorted investigations on the diocesan level, guiding the proceedings toward the more reliable hands of the Holy See.
In April 1986, then Bishop of Mostar, Pavao Zanic, who had an infamous reputation for hostility toward the apparitions and the visionaries, frequently making slanderous and unsubstantiated remarks against them, traveled to Rome to submit the findings of an episcopal commission he led investigating the events in Medjugorje. Bishop Zanic was more than surprised when he was summoned to a meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome, then the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger ordered Zanic to suspend his judgment on the matter, dissolve his commission, and place the inquiry into the hands of the Vatican. The CDF made sure to free Zanic and his commission from further investigative duties, recognizing that he was not the man to objectively investigate the matter. So, what inspired these influential measures?
To begin with, while Zanic’s commission was ready to pass a negative judgment, the esteemed Archbishop of Split Frane Franic, as well as the French theologian Fr. Rene Laurentin, both noted that Zanic’s commission completely ignored the findings of separate teams of French, Italian, and Yugoslav doctors. These major teams closely examined the apparitions and found no evidence of fraud or hysteria but only signs of authenticity and moral integrity on the part of the visionaries. Neuroscience was used abundantly by these teams in studying the phenomena, tests ranging from neurological examinations to polygraphs, psychiatric tests, electrocardiogram, blood pressure and heart rhythm examinations, and electroencephalograms measuring the brain waves of the visionaries during their daily ecstasies. All of these tests supported the authenticity of the apparitions. Admittedly, Bishop Zanic’s experiments were a little less sophisticated.
One of the priests on Zanic’s commission was Fr. Nicholas Bulat. Bulat decided to personally observe an apparition and, therefore, was given a seat directly behind the visionaries in the rectory at St. James Church while the seers fell into their ecstasies and experienced their apparitions. While Bulat appeared to be praying with the visionaries, as the apparitions began he lunged himself at one of the seers, Vicka Ivankovic, and plunged a long leatherworking needle into the girl’s shoulder blade. Vicka showed absolutely no reaction to the pain, although the force of the blow pushed the seer forward. As the bleeding girl continued praying, impervious to her attacker, Bulat stabbed her a second time. Again, there was no reaction to pain while Vicka remained in her ecstasy. Moments later Bulat departed the rectory, silent and trembling at what he had experienced with his unsuccessful, barbaric tests.
Further embarrassment surrounded Zanic’s commission after more facts were revealed about its members. Randall Sullivan, author and investigative journalist, noted that when Zanic announced the members of his commission the bishop appeared on television “to boast that the fourteen appointees were ‘all doctors of doctrine, morals, pastoral theology, and psychology.’ The Franciscans [of Medjugore] responded by observing that one of these ‘doctors of doctrine’ was a man who specializes in cataloging dogs. The main qualification for appointment to the bishop’s new commission, the friars charged, seemed to be an open hostility toward the apparitions in Medjugorje.”
It really becomes clear as to why then-Cardinal Ratzinger and the CDF had to intervene to halt these farcical investigations. Unfortunately, the open hostility that Bishop Zanic exuded toward the events and central figures of Medjugorje blurred any sense of objectivity he had in examining the phenomenon. This lack of objectivity has, regrettably, also transferred over to Zanic’s successor, Bishop Ratko Peric. Yet, as Croatian news sources and MinistryValues.com have just reported, it appears that the Holy See once again is taking action into its own hands instead of allowing any personal prejudices to disrupt a proper investigation from transpiring.
In addition to the newly formed Commission, colleague Steve Ryan reports: “Fr Lombardi [of the Vatican] stressed that the opinion of bishop Peric, who oversees the local diocese which includes Medjugorje, was no longer the authority in the final outcome of Medjugore. Cardinal Bertone in a book has insisted for some time now that the Vatican believes Bishop Peric’s views on Medjugorje are personal and are not the official word of Rome.”
What is especially noteworthy is that while the official word of Rome may finally be granted on Medjugorje, after nearly thirty years of relative silence, this would not constitute the first time that the Vatican investigates the phenomenon. Yes, as mentioned, this is the first time that an official commission led by the Church’s most esteemed office will pursue a formal investigation and, likely, offer a public ruling of its findings. But, notwithstanding, what is less known is that behind the scenes the Holy See has been curious about Medjugorje for years and, in the process, has been quietly investigating the phenomenon in Medjugorje throughout the years.
Sullivan once reported, “In late 1989, however, all six visionaries chose to cooperate with a team of physicians, psychologists, and sociologists assembled by the Vatican, and spent several weeks interrogated and tested at a monastery near Split. Though no details were released, the French-Canadian priest who headed the Vatican team offered the final paragraph of his report for publication: ‘The conclusion we draw is that the visionaries’ behavior patterns, both socio-cultural and socio-religious, do not give the least indication of any tendency to fraud, hysteria or self-deception.'”
Similarly, and perhaps even more remarkably, at the request of the Vatican the most recent examination of the apparitions was performed only a few years ago on June 25, 2005, commemorating the 24th anniversary of the apparitions. Agreeing to the Holy See’s request to be examined were the visionaries Marija Pavlovic and Ivan Dragicevic, two of the three Medjugorje visionaries who still receive daily apparitions. The investigation was led by Professor Henri Joyeaux, the internationally renowned physician and Professor of Cancerology in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Montpellier, and included his French team of medical experts. The final results, similarly to those conducted by the Holy See over a decade earlier, concluded that there is no element of deception or fraud whatsoever. But the visionaries were indeed experiencing something unexplainable, beyond scientific understanding, while in ecstasy.