Catholic sites are lighting up with Pope Francis' comment to a journalist that decisions are forthcoming concerning Medjugorje. But what if the decision turns out neither negative nor positive? In other words, inconclusive.
In an earlier post I mentioned the apparitions in Northern Spain at Ezkioga. They were never approved, in fact they were condemned. I believe they are significant in so far as they occurred in the same region as Garabandal, and conveyed a similar message to Medjugore and Garabandal. They also mirrored several other alleged apparitions in the region, as well as in Germany, from the 1870's apparitions at Marpingen, through the 1940's apparitions at Heede in the Nazi era. Heede was apparently approved, yet never became a center of pilgrimage. While up into the 1950's some of the devotees of Marpingen hoped the town would become a German Lourdes. It didn't.
The plethora of claimed apparitions throughout the last century is astonishing - not to overlook the incredible number of locutionists - the messages are very similar as regards chastisements and so on. What is different today - especially at Medjugorje, the seers have had great freedom, they haven't been censored, despite attempts by the local hierarchy, likewise, they take their message abroad - outside the confines of the region. Nevertheless, the messages remains similar to that of more spurious apparitions in the last century.
[T]he sheer profusion of visions was rather unusual, and so was their variety; the visionaries ...
... began to claim apparitions in other parts of the village – in their homes, in barns and stables, in the school, in the graveyard and the church. The visions they described became more luxuriant. The Virgin appeared with and without the Christ-child, sometimes accompanied by angels. She was dressed now in white, now in gold and azure. the apparitions also took on darker tones. On one occasion the girls reported seeing the Virgin clad in black, on another they described a celestial procession passing over the graveyard. The devil also appeared. - Marpingen
Interestingly, in the Marpingen case, the Virgin identified herself as the "Immaculately Conceived" after on adult prompted the seers to ask if she was the "Immaculate Conception". One of the seers said the whole thing was one big lie which the maintained because of the enthusiasm of the pious villagers. Another experience related by the seer is that the Blessed Virgin played with children and even rolled with them down the hill. Just as in our own day, others reported seeing the face of the Virgin in nature - most notably in a mushroom. The stories almost sound like fairy tale accounts from German mythology.
In the neighbouring parish of Dirmingen, moreover, yet another purportedly miraculous event took place in May 1876, just five weeks before the vision in the Härtelwald. As Blackbourn explains, this latter incident was apparently "talked up" into something much more significant than it at first appeared to be, yet it opens up a tantalising window on a world in which miraculous events apparently occurred quite frequently. More importantly, there can be little doubt that the story, in its more advanced form, soon reached Marpingen, and strongly suggested that the BVM was capable of appearing in the vicinity.
The incident arose out of a seemingly unspectacular event: Father Schwaab of Urexweiler was walking his dog in Dirmingen woods with a schoolteacher friend when the dog was alarmed by a falling spruce tree. The spot in the woods was already associated in folk memory with magical events; a forester had supposedly been beaten by an unknown hand, and someone else claimed to have seen thousands of cats there. Popular sentiment proceeded to turn the incident into a form of apparition. Rumour had it that Father Schwaab had seen a woman whose sudden disappearance was followed by a whirlwind that toppled the spruce. The priest denied any supernatural occurrence, but according to the forester Louis Bruch the affair caused 'great excitement' throughout the district. The tree became known as 'the spruce and the spirits': some avoided it, others carved crosses into the wood and stripped the tree and its neighbours of their bark, which they cooked and ate or fed to their cattle. The mysterious woman was believed to be the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven. - Marpingen
The events at Heede are reportedly 'approved' though nothing seems to have been made official by the Holy See. In 1959: After examination of the facts, the Vicariate of Osnabrueck, a circular letter to the clergy of the diocese, confirmed the validity of the apparitions and their supernatural origin. However, there is still no formal recognition.
The reported apparitions of Heede, Germany took place between November 1, 1937 and November 3, 1940. There were four children seers involved whose names and known but little else. Here are their names: Margaret Gansferth, Greta Gansferth, Anna Schulte, Susanna Bruns. Mary appeared to the children near their homes, in a meadow, and at other places. She didn't use a special title, but was holding the Divine Child in her arms when she first appeared. Mary appeared to the children an undetermined number of times of which only three were recorded. After the children were forbidden by the Gestapo (and briefly arrested) to go to the place of the original apparition, Mary appeared to them in secret. Prayer, conversion, and the rosary (which "has immeasurable power") are to be considered as primary messages. It is reported that Our Lady herself became the teacher of the children.
The Heede apparition appears to be a follow up on the Fatima event and promotes its message (it is deplored that mankind had ignored the Fatima messages). Apparitions of other holy persons are reported (Jesus himself and the "angel of justice"). There is talk about secrets given to the seers separately but never revealed. The seers were reportedly told of a coming "minor judgment." It was only after wonderful cures occurred that the parish priests and other clergy supported the seers (e.g. forbidding a public dance announced for October 21, 1945). The details of the various healings are not reported. The bishop of Osnabrück at the time the apparitions commenced, appointed a new parish priest who declared that there are "undeniable proofs of the seriousness and authenticity of these manifestations." No other Church action has been reported. - SourceThe conflict between hierarchy and the faithful.
Secular, academic authors suggest the conflict between hierarchy and seers is linked to maintaining control by a patriarchal Church, while those devoted to the apparitions and the surrounding cult, earnestly seek Church approval verifying the messages. The upshot being that if the events receive a negative judgement, the faithful continue to believe and sometimes go 'underground' or claim the authorities are in error or even heretics.
The idea that the Church authorities are out to maintain power and control is a distortion of their role as teachers and protectors of the Faith, the Church. The pastoral concern is for the faithful not to be led astray or deluded by false teaching and religious practice, and to protect them from the evil spirit.
The history of the last century demonstrates that the false apparitions and locutions more or less fade into obscurity, while approved visions and messages from heaven remain stable and relevant to the times.
It always goes back to the Church. Not this cardinal or that bishop, (except of course, the local ordinary of the place in question) or this priest or that spiritual director of a lone locutionist. It is the Church: The Pope and the bishops in communion with him, the Holy See or Magisterium of the Church, or the local Ordinary, has the authority to determine whether or not an apparition or private revelation is worthy of belief.