By what authority is Archbishop Hoser proclaiming Medjugorje a shrine?
In the light of the Advent and Christmas season of joy, peace and love, when it might seem inappropriate to make any unnecessary criticisms, one important topic that truly merits critical analysis, has passed by quite unnoticeably and smoothly. More specifically, it passed by in such a way that those in approval rejoiced, while others mostly abstained from public comment. This regards a series of contradictory and strange statements by the Bishop of Warszawa-Praga and Archbishop ad personam, Henryk Hoser, who Pope Francis appointed on 11 February 2017 as his special envoy for Medjugorje. Through his on-site visitation, he was to assess the pastoral situation in this parish of Herzegovina and suggest what kind of ministerial follow-up steps should be taken.
Archbishop Hoser carried out this visit in April of this year and according to our assessment, it was very superficial and biased one, which we analyzed in the text Medjugorje Fanaticism and the Papal Envoy Archbishop Hoser. Following such a poorly executed visit, there remained a series of inaccuracies and questions, yet this did not prevent the papal envoy from prejudging the decision of the Holy See with his controversial statements, while completely ignoring the local bishop of Mostar-Duvno, Msgr. Ratko Perić, in order to force the title of shrine as soon as possible upon Medjugorje. In the recent interviews he gave for the religious website Aleteia.org (7 December) and the Italian daily Il Giornale (10 December), especially with his claims that Medjugorje has now become a shrine and that official pilgrimages are allowed, he has demonstrated an even deeper level of disrespect towards the authority of the Holy See and Bishop Perić, which we wish to now examine.
In order to understand more clearly what Hoser has done, it is good to outline firstly, some references from the Code of Canon Law, which explain what a shrine is and who can approve one. Thus, in Book IV, titled The Office of Sanctifying in the Church, in chapter III, which refers to sacred places and times, we find five canons (1230-1234) dedicated to shrines. We will briefly analyze the first three canons here and try to assess how much Archbishop Hoser respects or ignores them.
Can. 1230 determines that: “The term shrine signifies a church or other sacred place to which the faithful make pilgrimages for a particular pious reason with the approval of the local ordinary”. What is particularly important to note here is the fact that pilgrimages to Medjugorje have never been approved by the local ordinary, but on the contrary, believers and priests have been regularly warned of the mistakenness of such distorted devotions as well as of the fact that Medjugorje is not an authentic place of apparitions.
Cann. 1231 and 1232 distinguish three types of shrines and determine who approves them. There exist therefore, diocesan shrines, whose approval is provided by the competent local ordinary; then national shrines, whose status is regulated by the bishops’ conference, and then international shrines, that are governed solely by the Holy See. It is clear then, from what has already been stated, that Medjugorje is not, nor can it ever be expected to become a diocesan shrine, because there exists no approval from the local ordinary.
Medjugorje is not a national shrine either, since it has never been approved by a Bishops’ Conference; neither by the Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia which was competent up until 1991, nor by the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina which is competent now. Furthermore, the bishops of the Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia, during their meeting in Zadar on 10 April 1991, issued a Declarationin which they explicitly stated that on the basis of investigations made thus far, it cannot be affirmed that these events involve supernatural apparitions or revelations. In 1984 and 1985, through their two interventions, they invited believers to wait for the decision of the Holy See and not to organize pilgrimages. No other official provisions have been made by the previous nor by the current competent Bishops’ conference, which means that Medjugorje can by no means be understood as a current and probably neither as a future national shrine.
Taking into consideration the possible status of an international shrine, it should also be noted that the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has repeatedly intervened and made it clear that organizing official pilgrimages to Medjugorje are not allowed (e.g. 23 March 1996, 19 June 1996, 26 May 1998). Nonetheless, Cardinal Camillo Ruini’s Commission, under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, investigated the phenomenon of Medjugorje from 2010 to 2014, and made a significant shift from all previous official declarations, by suggesting a proposal to recognize as authentic only the first seven (or ten) days of the apparitions. Despite this commission’s work, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith carried out its own research from 2014 to 2016. The Prefect at that time, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, contrary to the proposal of Cardinal Ruini’s commission, made it clear that pastoral ministry cannot be based upon false grounds, thus making it clear that Medjugorje is not recognized as an authentic place of Our Lady’s apparitions. Since then, the Holy See has had no clear position, for it seems at times to be tilting to one side and at other times to another.
In any case, given the authority of the Holy See for approving the status of an international shrine, it seems reasonable to conclude that the articles of the two above-mentioned canons stipulate that only through a positive decision, that is, through a written document, can a certain place be declared an international shrine. This therefore, cannot be done by an envoy, especially not by one who only had the task of assessing the situation. We ask ourselves therefore, by which authority and with what right does Archbishop Hoser, without having any positive decision from the Holy See, claim that Medjugorje suddenly became a shrine and that official pilgrimages have been allowed? Such decisions indeed, have never, and hopefully will never ever be made by word of mouth, especially not by someone who almost certainly, has no authority to do so. Moreover, it is to be noted that a representative of the Holy See Press Office issued a statement for the Vatican Insider website, after Hoser’s first interview (9 December), claiming that Pope Francis has not made any new decisions regarding Medjugorje. This indirectly indicates that Hoser’s statements should be treated as a personal opinion.
As far as we have noticed, the impropriety of this circumventing of the authority of the Holy See as well as the total rejection of Bishop Ratko Perić’s jurisdiction were only critically mentioned on the web site of Crkva na kamenu (The Church on the Rock) with the text entitled: Instructions for “Medjugorje pilgrims?” (English and Italian), signed by M.G., and other texts by the editor of the Exsultet blog – Marilena Babić, with: No, pilgrimages to Medjugorje are not allowed! and Are pilgrimages to Medjugorje allowed? These texts raise very important questions, which should be touched upon here as well.
First of all, the author M.G., referring to the Holy See’s statement of 11 February 2017, which clearly indicates that the completion of the pastoral report of Archbishop Hoser is expected by the end of the summer of 2017, the author questions by what authority is Hoser giving his statements to the above-mentioned website and daily newspaper after his mandate as papal envoy expired? Moreover, the day after the publication of the interview on the Aleteia.org website, on 8 December 2017, Pope Francis officially accepted his resignation, since he reached 75 years of age, which raises even further questions regarding Hosers’ strange public claims, and all of this just before and after his retirement.
The author M.G. further emphasizes the level of confusion of Archbishop Hoser’s statements by the fact that the two interviews, even though given only three days apart, are essentially conflicting. They can be seen in such a way that the first one – given to the Aleteia.org website – is a hurried and imprudent statement, while the second – to Il Giornale – is a mitigation of the first statement. Thus, Hoser, in his first interview for instance, claims that the cult in Medjugorje is allowed, but in the second, he claims that pilgrimages are permitted but that the apparitions have not been approved. In the first he declares that dioceses and other institutions can now organize official pilgrimages to Medjugorje and that there is no problem, yet in the second, he once again differentiates between the cult and apparitions, emphasizing that one can freely go to Medjugorje to worship, because no permission is required to pray to the Madonna, but not due to the apparitions. In the first he praises the family life of the visionaries as a special example and gives the impression that everything around them is acceptable, while in the second, he admits that the problem of the visionaries has not yet been resolved. In the first he claims that the Declaration of the Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia of 10 April 1991 no longer applies, however, in the second, he mentions that the Vatican is still working on drafting a new document, which is in the Secretariat of State and that Pope Francis’s decision is pending.
In other words, M.G. splendidly sums up Hoser’s statements by saying: official pilgrimages to Medjugorje are allowed, but they in fact are not; the worship of Mary in Medjugorje is allowed, but such a cult should be separated from the apparitions; Medjugorje as a place of apparitions is authentic, but this is not all that important since praying to Our Lady does not require permission; there are no further problems, but the problem of the “visionaries” has not yet been resolved; the Declaration of the Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia is no longer valid, but no one knows who invalidated it and when.
All of the above confirms our previous claim that Archbishop Hoser has fallen into the net of Medjugorje fanaticism, that is, that he has been blinded by the so-called fruits of Medjugorje and the desire to declare Medjugorje a shrine. He has become such a great supporter, that it seems he no longer cares about the dignity or credibility of his words. Instead he voices one inconsistency after another and one contradiction after another.
Hence, once again we ask, by what authority and with what intentions has Archbishop Hoser proclaimed Medjugorje a shrine, without an authoritative decision of the Holy See, thereby deliberately ignoring all the previous decisions on Medjugorje (more can be read on this in the texts of Exsultet’seditor) and misleading thousands and thousands of pilgrims, who will now, led by many bishops and priests, come in good-faith on “official pilgrimages” and spread the Medjugorje heresies. It is however, not good to be too harsh, for only God knows the motives that are moving Archbishop Hoser. This is to say, one might think he may be doing this with a clear conscience. Yet given the many possible negative consequences that Medjugorje fanaticism produces, which he has widely opened the door to, it is indeed necessary to pray with fraternal love for him and for all those who in their own way promote the Medjugorje falsehoods.
Translation: Crkva na kamenu (The Church on the Rock)