Vatican Releases Latest Statement on Medjugorje

August 21, 1996
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the Vatican has never said that Catholics may not go to Medjugorje, it has told bishops that their parishes and dioceses may not organize official pilgrimages to the site of the alleged Marian apparitions, the Vatican spokesman said.

"You cannot say people cannot go there until it has been proven false. This has not been said, so anyone can go if they want," the spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told Catholic News Service Aug. 21.

In addition, he said, when Catholic faithful go anywhere, they are entitled to spiritual care, so the church does not forbid priests to accompany lay-organized trips to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, just as it would not forbid them from accompanying a group of Catholics visiting South Africa.

Navarro-Valls insisted "nothing has changed" regarding the Vatican's position on Medjugorje.

In early June, a French newspaper published excerpts from a letter about Medjugorje pilgrimages written by the secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in response to a question from a French bishop.

The letter from Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone of the doctrinal congregation quoted from a 1991 statement by the bishops of the former Yugoslavia, which said that after much study, "it cannot be confirmed that supernatural apparitions or revelations are occurring here."

However, the bishops said -- and Archbishop Bertone repeated -- the number of faithful traveling to Medjugorje requires the church to arrange for their pastoral care.

After quoting the 1991 statement, Archbishop Bertone wrote, "From what was said, it follows that official pilgrimages to Medjugorje, understood as a place of authentic Marian apparitions, should not be organized either on a parish or diocesan level because it would be in contradiction with what the bishops of the ex-Yugoslavia said in their declaration cited above."

Navarro-Valls said, "When one reads what Archbishop Bertone wrote, one could get the impression that from now on everything is forbidden, no possibility" for Catholics to travel to Medjugorje.

But, in fact, "nothing has changed, nothing new has been said," the spokesman told CNS.

"The problem is if you systematically organize pilgrimages, organize them with the bishop and the church, you are giving a canonical sanction to the facts of Medjugorje," which the church is still in the process of studying.

"This is different from people going in a group who bring a priest with them in order to go to confession," the spokesman said.

Navarro-Valls said he commented because "I was worried that what Archbishop Bertone said could be interpreted in too restricted a way. Has the church or the Vatican said no (to Catholics visiting Medjugorje)? NO."

The restriction on official pilgrimages, however, makes it clear to people that the Vatican is still studying the apparitions.

"The difference, in the terms of canon law, is that an official pilgrimage, organized by the diocese with the bishop, is a way of giving a juridical sanction to the facts; you are saying this is true," Navarro-Valls said.

Last Modified 11/22/2001