Since the mass media have announced and tracked the public appearance of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna in Medjugorje, which has especially given some believers the erroneous impression that the Cardinal’s presence acknowledged the authenticity of the Medjugorje “apparitions” I believe that it is my duty as the diocesan bishop, to provide some information to the faithful on the matter, with the observation that I have already sent to the Cardinal a personal letter with similar content.
1) First, some media have spread the news that on September 15, 2009, in the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna, in the presence of His Eminence, Cardinal Schönborn, an encounter was held at which he participated along with Marija Pavlović-Lunetti, who was presented as a daily “visionary”. Along with the usual “apparition”, she testified how the daily “apparitions” from June 1981 onwards have influenced changes in her life. On this occasion, the Cardinal said in his speech: It’s a great gift that the Mother of God wishes to be so close to her children! This she has shown in many places in the world. For years and years now she has shown this in a very close way in Medjugorje!
2) Then, Kath.net – Vienna, on November 13th, 2009 reported, “The Archbishop of Vienna at the end of the year will visit the famous shrine - visit the parish and the Cenacolo community and that there should also be an encounter with the local bishop of Medjugorje and critics”. This Diocesan Chancery was not notified of this by the Archbishop’s office, nor by the parish rectory of Medjugorje.
3) Catholic News Agency published on November 16th: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to visit Medjugorje, a small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where six children were witnesses of the alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary. But, according to the Archdiocese of Vienna, the trip is “completely private" and does not imply a statement from the Cardinal on the veracity of the apparitions. It was supposed to be a completely private visit and was not supposed “to be published on the Internet,” according to Fr. Johannes Fürnkranz, the archbishop’s personal secretary.
4) On December 29th, the Cardinal arrived in Medjugorje. He was followed by the media over the next few days. Reports say that he gave a speech in the church of St. James the Apostle, and while emphasizing the mercy of the Father, said: Who could make these things up? Who could invent this thing? Man? No, this is not a human act. On December 31st a journalist wrote: “While some had expected the cardinal’s visit to Medjugorje to be private, he has instead surprised the town by being very visible. He has spent his time concelebrating Mass at St. James Church, climbing Apparition Hill with visionary Marija Lunetti, praying in silence at Adoration, and, perhaps most notably, giving his talk today in the parish church with the Franciscan friars at his side”.
5) In all this I have to admit that I personally, as diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, remain surprised. I understand that the Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church enjoys the right to hear confessions and preach the Gospel throughout the Catholic Church. But with regard to public appearances outside their own diocese there also exists a certain etiquette in the Church: when a bishop or cardinal who intends to come to another diocese to appear publicly, he firstly informs the local bishop, which is prudent and encouraged by the Church. I hold that this ecclesiastical prudence and traditional norm of the Church should especially be applied in this case.
6) I am surprised because up to the time of the publication of this statement no one has reported from Cardinal Schönborn’s office and yet I assume that the Cardinal is aware of the position of the Church that based on the results of the research and conclusions of the various commissions, one cannot say that these are “supernatural apparitions or revelations”. His visit to the Cenacolo community and with Sr. Elvira, who by the way, as a religious sister has no authorization to reside and operate in the territory of this diocese, could be interpreted as supportive. And not only to her, but to a growing number of new communities and disobedient associations of the faithful in Medjugorje, which can be read as encouragement for their ecclesiastical disobedience.
7) As the diocesan bishop I wish to cite and repeat some painful facts:
- First of all I refer to the regrettable “Herzegovina Affair” regarding the allocation of parishes which has been associated with the “phenomenon of Medjugorje” from the very beginning when the alleged apparition in Medjugorje sided decisively with some disobedient Franciscans. One of them subsequently left the Order and then the priesthood, yet the diocesan bishop was accused for the disorder.
- We now have in the Diocese nine former Franciscans, expelled from the Order of Friars Minor by the Superior General, and the Holy See has confirmed the expulsions. Although suspended a divinis, they act as lawful priests in the usurped parishes. While the supposed apparition of Medjugorje gives answers to the most trivial questions of curious people, not a word has been heard from the same on the serious abuses that strike at the unity of this local Church.
- We had a tragic occurrence in 2001 in which some Franciscans - some already suspended from the Order and others not yet suspended, invited a deacon from the Old Catholic Church who identified himself as an ”Archbishop”. More than 700 young people were “confirmed” in seized parishes. All of these were invalid and sacrilegious. This same deacon celebrated invalid Masses as well in some parishes. Yet the phenomenon of Medjugorje utters not a word about the abuse of the Eucharist and of the Holy Spirit!
- We have another sad fact: Two of those priests went to a bishop of the Old Catholic Church in Switzerland with a request to be ordained bishops, in an effort to create a formal schism from Mostar and Rome. The bishop of the Old Catholic Church declined their request.
8) The Cardinal is enthused by the many confessions in Medjugorje, where the Father’s mercy is manifested. We believe that the mercy of the heavenly Father is perceptible in Medjugorje just as in each and every parish of this diocese, both before and after the phenomenon of Medjugorje. One just has to observe the long lines of faithful before the confessional in all the parishes, especially for Christmas, Easter, before feast days, or for Confirmation. Many say that these confessions in Medjugorje are strong evidence that the Madonna is “appearing”. According to this conclusion on the number of confessions, Our Lady would then be appearing in all our parishes and not just to those three chosen people once a year in Medjugorje and the other three every day, mostly outside of Medjugorje and even apparently in the cathedral of Vienna! All together up till now: about 40,000 “apparitions”! Indeed, one gets the impression that some “visionaries” determine where and when the Madonna “appears” since the appearance happens when and where they want. Is this not an inadmissible manipulation of Our Lady and the Sacred in general?
As the diocesan bishop, with this statement I want to inform the faithful that the visit of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn does not imply any recognition of the authenticity of the “apparitions” related to Medjugorje. I regret that the Cardinal, with his visit, appearance, and statements, has added new sufferings to those already present of this local Church which do not contribute to its much needed peace and unity.
+Ratko Perić, Bishop