The Church's TRUE Position
It's time to set the record straight, once and for all
by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck
from GARABANDAL International Magazine, January-March 2003
One of the most misunderstood matters regarding Garabandal is the Church's true position on it. Opinion as to what it has been, is, or will be, has see-sawed relentlessly in the more than four decades since the apparitions began in the tiny hamlet of San Sebastian de Garabandal in northern Spain. There are those who are convinced the Church is disposed to look favourably upon it, as well as those who believe the opposite. And there is a large camp in the middle, uncertain as to which side to join. It is time to set the record straight, once and for all. Plainly put, these are the facts.
The Church has not yet made any definitive pronouncement regarding Garabandal.
Equally important, the Church has not, in any way, condemned it.
We can start by asking what constitutes an "official" position, who declares it so, and to what extent it is binding upon the faithful. To answer these questions, we must first sound the Church's feelings as to the status of Garabandal within the larger context of apparitions in general. In other words, we ask whether Garabandal meets the Church's criteria for consideration as a valid apparition, before assuming a definitive position on the matter.
The Church's Criteria
An excellent introduction to the Church's criteria for reviewing Marian apparitions was provided not long ago by Fr. Jesus Castellano Cervera, a Discalced Carmelite priest and specialist in Mariology, who is also a consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church's agency that investigates reports of Marian apparitions.
In response to being asked what are the key criteria for
discerning alleged apparitions, Fr. Castellano replied, "The first criterion
is cordial communion with the Church and her
[Guenois, Jean-Marie, "How the Vatican Sees Marian
Apparitions", in Our Sunday Visitor (September 8,
Garabandal certainly meets this criterion. Its messages time and again have been pronounced in complete accordance with Church teachings by all levels of the clergy, including canon lawyers, theologians, and some of the highest-ranking members of the Roman Curia.
The Church's Process
From here, the formal process of ruling on an apparition is both painstaking and time-consuming. Given the enormity of the consequences, the Church is justifiably extremely prudent on this matter.
PICTURE: Garabandal visionaries Jacinta and Mari Loli while in ecstasy. Former Santander Bishop Juan Antonio del Val Gallo is behind the doctor who is checking Loli's pulse.
How prudent? After the famous Marian apparitions at Lourdes, there
Just as it is important to note that the criteria are extremely challenging, it is equally important to remember that the Church teaches that no one is obligated to believe in private revelations, regardless of whether they are approved of or not.
This point cannot be emphasised enough: Acceptance of apparitions on a personal level is a matter of private faith, not a mandatory command of the Church. Unfortunately, there are many who believe that unless the Church pronounces a verdict within a certain time span, the apparition in question cannot be real. Nothing could be further from the truth! By the same token, if people automatically assume a negative attitude towards an apparition simply because it has not been approved, this in no way implies that the message should not be heeded, assuming it is in conformity with the Church's teachings.
Establishing Procedural Authority
There are three levels of authority with regard to investigating alleged apparitions: first, the local bishop (in this case, that of Santander): second, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome; and finally, if deemed appropriate, the Pope himself. Determinations at the local level are not final, but are always subject to the higher authority, which can either ratify the findings made at the diocesan level or reserve judgment.
Who has the final say? The pope himself. As the authors of Star On The Mountain note, "According to the doctrine of the Fifth Lateran Council and Pope Leo X (1512), the Holy Father is the only judge of revelations of this kind (prophecies)." [Laffiineur, M. and le Pelletier, Star On The Mountain, Lindenhurst, NY: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel de Garabandal, 1992 ed., p. 59.
Many readers may not know that there have been three investigations into Garabandal at the local or diocesan level. The first one (1961-2), was held under the auspices of the apostolic administrator, Bishop Doroteo Fernandez, yet can hardly be called an "investigation" at all, due to the obvious prejudicial attitude by the investigators.
The findings of the first of these two commissions were neither finalized nor sent to the Vatican.
What do we know for certain of this initial query? The commission visited the village briefly and only three times, and never questioned the visionaries, their parents, the parish priest, and carefully avoided anyone who might have given favorable testimony. No questions regarding the apparitions themselves were put forth; those that were asked were of a general nature, e.g., the way of life in Garabandal, the social activities of its inhabitants, and so on. Not only did the priest on the commission resign, two decades later, its chief medical examiner, Dr. Luis Morales, with
the permission of the bishop at the time, publicly reversed his original negative position, after having received an asked-for miraculous sign.
A second and a third study (1986-91) were commissioned by Bishop Juan Antonio del Val Gallo (who was the priest on the original commission). The findings of the first of these two commissions were neither finalised nor sent to the Vatican. The results of the third investigation - started by Bishop del Val and transferred, upon his retirement in 1991, to the current bishop - Jose Vilaplana, eventually were sent to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican but have not yet been made public. Thus, no official pronouncement has been made.
For the actual process itself, we turn to an article written by Bryan J. Walsh, a member of the Eternal Word Television Network and author on apparitions.
The Four Categories of Apparitions
According to Walsh, private revelations, such as Garabandal, fall into one of four categories.
1. Questionable: Every purported event starts in this category. The Church assumes that nothing unusual is occurring until a thorough evaluation takes place.
2. False: After careful evaluation, almost all questionable apparitions are determined to be "false alarms" even though the individuals involved may be mentally healthy and sincere in their statements.
3. Fraudulent: A few alleged apparitions are fakes. On rare occasions, an element of satanic involvement was uncovered.
4. Authentic: A very few private revelations have been determined to be authentic in that they appear to involve supernatural intervention and act to strengthen the faith of those who follow them. [Walsh, Bryan J.. "Marian Apparitions and the Chastisement". See also http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/apparit.htm
The Four Stages of Authentic Apparitions
Those few apparitions considered au- port for the event by stating that it authentic then are subjected to another level of the Church's scrutiny, as follows.
1. After thorough evaluation by the local bishop, he issues a statement of support for the event by stating that it contains nothing contrary to faith or morals, that it appears to be supernaturally inspired and that it is worthy of devotion by the faithful.
2. Once approved, a lengthy period of devotion by the faithful that results in a deepening of their faith and a return to a life of self-denial and prayer is then permitted to develop. If it develops, then the next stage becomes possible.
3. Papal acknowledgement. The Pope states publicly that he is favorably disposed to the events and contents of the apparition.
4. Liturgical recognition by recognizing the apparition officially on the Church liturgical calendar.[Walsh, Bryan J.. "Marian Apparitions and the Chastisement". See also http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/apparit.htm
Most Catholics know that only four Twentieth Century apparitions have progressed to the fourth stage: Fatima (Portugal, 1917); Beauraing (Belgium, 1932-3); Banneux (Belgium, 1933); and Amsterdam (1945-59), although there are others (e.g., Akita, Japan; Betania, Venezuela) that have passed the first two stages.
Towards An Official Position
From the above, we see that not only is the process a lengthy, multi-part one, but also that almost no apparition - including authentic ones - has made it to the ultimate stages of papal acknowledgement and inclusion in the liturgical calendar. It is essential to remember that not reaching these final two steps does not signify that the apparition is not authentic.
Indeed, far more important in determining the apparition's authenticity are the first two stages: episcopal support after a thorough investigation; and a lengthy period of devotion. The italics in the previous sentence are deliberate: One of the areas regarding Garabandal about which all serious researchers agree is that the initial investigation of 1961 was anything but thorough, let alone canonically valid.
Consider the comments of the long-serving parish priest at Garabandal, Fr. Valentin Marichalar, who witnessed literally hundreds of apparitions. It is inconceivable that the one person who could speak most authoritatively to the matter would not be questioned by either the local bishop at the time (Doroteo Fernandez) or the commission he established to investigate the matter!
Yet, this is exactly what happened. In a 1976 interview with Needles magazine, Fr. Marichalar remarked that the commission wanted only to get the job over with quickly, and that virtually nothing was done in accordance with proper custom.["Father Marichalar Speaks", in Needles (Autumn 1976), pp. 18-21. See also Laffineur and le Pelletier, op. cit, pp. 63-4.]
Garabandal's file is in no way closed -- it has been re-opened -- and no pronouncement been made from Rome.
Every single major work published on the history of Garabandal
has underscored this unavoidable point.[E.g., She Went In
Haste To The Mountain, chapters 9, 12ff. ]
]The glaring lack of thorough enquiry on the part of the original commission was so noticeable that the enquiry was re-opened by the local bishop, an almost-unheard of event in Vatican circles. As such, Garabandal's file is in no way closed - it has been re-opened - and no pronouncement been made from Rome.
The only official pronouncements to date have been those from the succession of local bishops occupying the bishopric of Santander, under whose jurisdiction lies San Sebastian de Garabandal. None of these have ever condemned Garabandal outright.
In the past, they prudently urged caution, and one went so far as to prohibit saying Mass there without diocesan approval (although this restriction has since been lifted). Bishop del Val removed all restrictions on Garabandal, and any priest is free to say Mass there now, as long as it is held in the village church.
These notas oficiales, as they are termed, may have been circumspect, but they never explicitly condemned Garabandal. To the contrary, since 1965, these notas have very clearly affirmed that there are no grounds whatsoever for ecclesiastical condemnation. Equally important, the nota of the current bishop, Jose Vilaplana, explicitly states that he is in agreement with the position taken by his predecessors, including del Val, who did so much to keep Garabandal front and centre in the eyes of the Vatican.
From Initial Skepticism...
PICTURE: Many priests came from the villages of the area to attend the ecstasies of the Garabandal visionaries.
Much has been made of the first nota's statement, published in August 1961, that "Nothing up to the present obliges us to affirm that the events occurring...are supernatural." This should not be misinterpreted as meaning the events of Garabandal were considered by the bishop not to be of supernatural origin. A careful reading of the text indicates quite clearly that he reserved the right to withhold judgment until later, nothing more, nothing less.
...To Increasing Acceptance
In the intervening years, the tenor of these notas shifted dramatically, starting with the one of 1965 from then-bishop Eugenic Beitia Aldazabal, which again explicitly stated that Garabandal was not condemned at all. Further, in 1972, Bishop Juan Antonio del Val reiterated that Garabandal was not to be considered condemned, a position he stated again in 1992.
His exact words in the
underline the importance of not misinterpreting the Church's prudence by using
it as an excuse to jump to false conclusions: "The previous bishops did
not admit that the apparitions were supernatural, but to condemn them, no, that
has never been used."
[Saraco, Maria C.,
"Interview With Bishop del Val Gallo" in The Vigil (Special Issue, 1992). See
also http:// www.garabandal.org/vigil/ interview.html ]
Along the way, the evidence in favour of Garabandal has mounted steadily. As noted above, a second (and subsequently, a third) official investigation was opened in 1987, at the request of Bishop del Val. The bishop nominated four groups of experts to look into the sociological, psychological, theological, and scriptural/spiritual aspects of Garabandal.
The Occasional Negative Voice
There have been dissenting voices, of course, who have published
wildly inaccurate pieces that have circulated on the Internet. These are
traced to a badly flawed translation of a spurious letter purported to be from
the present local bishop, but its views have long since been discredited.
http://www.garabandal.com/church/church.htm and http://
This version of Bishop Vilaplana's letter is flawed in that it fails to accurately translate key text that designate the status of Garabandal. This is a very important point. Whenever bishops address private revelation or mystical phenomena in which they are required to render a judgment, they use very specific terminology, signifying the classification in which they place the event. There are three classifications, similar to those used by Walsh earlier.
1. Constat de supernaturalitate — It is certain that the events are of supernatural origin.
2. Non-constat de supernaturalitate — It is not certain that the events are of supernatural origin, i.e., the supernatural origin has not been established. Here the events in question are still open to eventual recognition as being authentic.
3. Constat de non supernaturalitate — It is certain that the events are not of supernatural origin.
The key word is
which has the meaning "to be certain,
sure, or evident". So long as a manifestation is in the second category,
it is in the safe zone. Garabandal is in this second category. In fact, the purported
letter used to discredit it confirms its status as such. The Spanish verb
derived from the Latin constat and has the same meaning. In Bishop
Vilaplana's letter, he uses the expression no consta
("not certain"), thus clearly assigning Garabandal to
the second category.
[Barry Hanratty ]
There remain those who will insist upon interpreting the Church's silence as a condemnation. This is all the more the pity, as such self-proclaimed views do little besides obscure the matter and usurp the Church's position as the final arbiter on such matters.
There remains a very interesting conjecture that Garabandal may already have received a tacit acknowledgement from the Vatican itself. It should be stressed that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has yet to issue a statement on Garabandal, and has not taken away jurisdiction from the local hierarchy. At the same time, Conchita was summoned to Rome, first in 1966 by Cardinal Ottaviani, and then again in 1968. It is difficult to imagine there would be such interest at the highest levels of the Vatican in a teenager from rural Spain were there not some compelling reason! Popes Paul VI and John Paul II met with Conchita and Loli respectively, and issued their blessings to them.
Pope John Paul's Message on Garabandal
There is a book on Garabandal, written by Albrecht Weber in 1993, entitled Garabandal Der Zeigefmger Gottes (Garabandal: The Finger of God), of which a first edition copy was presented to Pope John Paul II. He later asked his secretary, Fr. (now Archbishop) Stanislaus Dziwisz, to write to the author. In the subsequent printing (2000) of the book, on page 19, a portion of the Pope's message is reprinted, as follows:
"May God reward you for everything. Especially for the deep love with which you are making the events connected with Garabandal more widely known. May the Message of the Mother of God find an entrance into hearts before it is too late. As an expression of joy and gratitude, the Holy Father gives you his apostolic blessing."
Weber writes, "From the attached greeting in the Pope's own handwriting, with his signature, it is clear how deep an interest he has in the events of Garabandal, and how anxious he is that they should be made known in a credible way."
Where Now Then?
The road to open acknowledgement of Garabandal as an apparition is far from finished. In truth, it is still premature to expect a definite pronouncement, by either the local ordinary bishop or the Church hierarchy. We must remember that even the positive judgment of a thorough and fully canonical investigation cannot alter its current status as long as certain prophesied events are still pending.
The Blessed Virgin Herself may have anticipated this, and made the necessary provisions. Indeed, She predicted that one day Garabandal would be promoted, with the permission of the Church. "She will give time for the Message to be spread with the permission of the Church." [Garcia de Pesquera, Eusebio (trans. by Barry Miller), She Went In Haste To The Mountain, Lindenhurst, NY: The Workers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel de Garabandal, 2000 ed., p. 531.]
This already has come to pass in large degree, with the abrogation in 1967 of Canons 1399 and 2318. These permit, without fear of ecclesiastical censorship, the publication of information on alleged manifestations, and further permit visits to the sites of alleged Marian apparitions, as long as there is nothing in the events contrary to the Church's teaching on faith and morals. As noted earlier, Garabandal clearly passes this test.
Thus, the status of Garabandal is the same as it always has been and will remain, pending the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Warning, the Miracle, and the Permanent Sign. During this waiting period, all Catholics are free to learn of Garabandal and visit it without fear of ecclesiastical censure.
Full recognition can come only with the fulfillment of the prophesied events. Given their awesome nature, undoubtedly they will be recognized by the Church and the world at large as an act of God. At which point Garabandal will have proved its own authenticity.
(The author wishes to express his gratitude to Mrs. Maria Carmela Saraco and Mr. John Leriou for their kindness in sharing their insight on certain points contained in this article.)
By Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck,
Reprinted from GARABANDAL International Magazine, January-March 2003