Thursday, January 7, 2010

On Private Revelations

The topic of private revelations, especially where ecclesiastical approvals are in suspense mode, certainly proves to be a touchy and divisive topic even among orthodox Catholics. It is no wonder that Catholic Forums bans discussions on private revelations where no ecclesiastical approvals have yet been given. Recently, CMR posted something on Medjugorje, which elicited an avalanche of entries in the combox (99 and counting). Patrick probably had an inkling of what was about to transpire when he noted at the bottom of his post: Please try not to destroy the furniture here at CMR discussing this one. Lately in CatholicFriends, a similar discussion coincidentally was going on. Well, I could see some furniture flying as well. Anyway, here is my take on the topic as a response to some of those posts.
Certainly Catholics are not obliged to believe in private revelations. In this regard, there are two kinds of beliefs that must be taken into consideration: 1) the belief requiring the assent of human faith; and 2) the belief requiring the assent of divine faith. We can not be obliged to give an assent of divine faith in private revelations nor is it possible to do so, for the simple reason that it does not add to the deposit of faith. It is on the assent of human faith that we are afforded some leeway by the Church. In your post above, the Bishop of Lincoln admits "the possibility of venial sins of pride and lack of prudence in such doubt or denial". Since the good Bishop did not state outright that the venial sins of pride and lack of prudence automatically follow with non-belief (he only mentions the possibility), there must be a qualifying condition/s on the part of the disbeliever that could give cause for the instantaneous or subsequent commission of the venial sins mentioned. When Catholics of good standing do not make an assent of human faith to a matter that the Church officially declares as "worthy of belief", there must be a charitable way of doing so while avoiding the venial sins of pride and lack of prudence, and without challenging the decision of the Church. Perhaps you have more Catholic material expounding on this aspect.
I think we can all agree that the Church has not come up (yet) with an official, definitive and final declaration for or against the supernatural nature of the facts of Medjugorje. To quote from the article you posted from CUF:

"Until the Church renders her official judgment, the faithful are free to accept (or reject) any private revelation if nothing in the message or concurring phenomena is contrary to faith and morals."

In emphasis, when we claim that something is contrary to faith and morals, we look for guidance from the official statements of the Magisterium. The 1991 declaration made by the Bishops' Conference of the former Yugoslavia supposedly apparently still holds, which partly states:

"On the basis of the investigations so far it can not be affirmed that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations".

The statement does not affirm - yet we must also note that it does not condemn.

Fr Colin B. Donovan, STL, provides an answer for EWTN that is quite instructive, from which I will quote from its ending statements (emphasis mine):

"...This means that once a private revelation has achieved Papal approbation it is unreasonable, i.e. imprudent but not against the faith, to not accept it as authentic. The contrary would also be true. If Rome judged a private revelation to not be supernatural, the reasonable person would be satisfied with that conclusion. Would they sin if they did not accept it? They might sin by imprudence, rash judgement or the like, but not against the faith or the obedience they owed the Holy Father. Catholics must always, however, following the external precepts imposed by the Church in such matters, that is, what they may or may not do, as opposed to what they think.

As far as theological judgments made at the local level, therefore, the standard could not be any higher, and is certainly lower. The issue of Medjugorje, therefore, cannot be resolved solely on the basis of the local Church's finding that there is no evidence to date of supernaturality. This is even more clear in light of the statement of Archbishop Bertone that the Bishop of Mostar's 1998 statement that it is certainly "not supernatural" is his own personal opinion. Others are therefore entitled to their personal opinions, also.

What the Church permits. As the already cited statements note, Catholics may go to Medjugorje. Such pilgrimages may even include priests acting as chaplains, as opposed to officially sponsoring them. Also, the Church has not suppressed discussion of Medjugorje, therefore, it is allowed. Common sense, however, says that Catholics on both sides of the Medjugorje issue should exercise prudence and charity in speaking of others who believe differently. Medjugorje is not a litmus test of orthodoxy, though every Catholic will have a moral obligation to accept the judgment of Rome, in the manner Pope Benedict explained, should it ever be rendered...."
Not a litmus test of orthodoxy. Please pass the chair. Oops...

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