On his return flight from Fatima to Rome on May 13, 2017, Pope Francis offered some personal comments about the Medjugorje apparitions in response to a question from an Italian journalist. These comments have led to false and misleading secular headlines such as “Pope Declares Medjugorje A Hoax,” and “Pope Nixes Medjugorje Apparitions.”

For a proper understanding of the comments of the Holy Father on Medjugorje (see full comments here), the following points should be kept in mind:

  1. The comments of Pope Francis do not in in any way constitute an official or final Church declaration on the status of the Medjugorje apparitions. Rather, they were impromptu comments made by the Holy Father, who further qualified his remarks by stating, “This I say as a personal opinion.”

 

  1. The papal evaluation of Medjugorje continues, and Pope Francis specifically mentioned the further report which he will be receiving from his papal envoy to Medjugorje, Polish Archbishop Henrik Hoser. Archbishop Hoser, in his public homilies and press conferences, has strongly supported Medjugorje as a place of profound prayer and global spiritual fruits.

 

  1. On May 16, 2017, the conclusions of the Vatican Commission established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 to investigate Medjugorje (referred to as the “Ruini Commission,” after commission leader, Cardinal Ruini), were released by the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, in its Vatican Insider column. The Ruini Commission was highly praised by Pope Francis during his May 13 comments: “It was a commission of good theologians, bishops, cardinals, but good. Very good… The Ruini report was very, very good.” In this report, the Commission voted 13 to 1 in favor of the authenticity of the first 7 apparitions of the visionaries, and moreover, recommended that Medjugorje be granted the status of a “pontifical sanctuary.” The ecclesiastical designation of a location as a pontifical sanctuary is, in itself, a form of Church approval, as the Church does not grant pontifical status to places of only false apparitions.

 

  1. The Holy Father indicated a distinction between the earlier apparitions and later apparitions, which implies that he may perceive the former to be more worthy of a conclusion of authenticity. This is also a conclusion of the Ruini Commission.  In either case, authentic apparitions would constitute a substantive aspect of the Medjugorje event.

 

  1. Pope Francis seems to be personally uncomfortable with the aspect of Medjugorje that Our Lady announces a specified day and time when she is to appear. However, the specifying of time and date of appearance is an established precedent of numerous other Church approved Marian apparitions, including Fatima, Lourdes, Kibeho, Itapiranga, Laux, San Nicolas, and others.

 

  1. There is Church precedence for legitimate development, and even change, in the personal opinion of a Roman pontiff in regards to a particular private revelation or mystical event. For example, the saintly Pope Pius XI entertained serious personal doubts about St. Pio of Pietreclina for the majority of his papacy.  When Padre Pio was eventually exonerated of the many false claims about him and accepted as authentic by the Holy Father, Pius XI told the stigmatist saint that it was not he whom he had condemned, but only the person of whom he had heard so many negative and false reports.

 

  1. Since Pope Francis has yet to make a definitive judgment and consequent declaration, it would be prudent to remain patient and open for the official and final judgment of Pope Francis regarding the Medjugorje apparitions.

 

Let us all “pray from the heart” for our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, and for his docility to  the Holy Spirit and Our Lady herself regarding the best possible discernment and eventual final judgment of the events of Medjugorje.   At the same time, let us prepare our own hearts to receive his eventual official and final decision regarding Medjugorje with the proper “religious submission of mind and will” which should obediently be given  to the “authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra ” (cf. Lumen Gentium, 25, Second Vatican Council).

Dr. Mark Miravalle

Professor of Theology and Mariology, Franciscan University of Steubenville

May 18, 2017 (Anniversary of the Birth of Pope St. John Paul II)