Medjugorje and "The Maciel Effect"
Many adherents of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje to whom I have spoken personally have invoked the (also alleged) fondness and support of Blessed Pope John Paul II for it. “The Pope was in favor of Medjugorje,” they reason, “and given what a good and holy pontiff he was, it’s highly unlikely that Medjugorje could be anything other than an authentic Marian apparition. And, conversely, it’s an even stronger reason for believing in Medjugorje.”
This is a form of what’s known as an a fortiori argument. For example, one might say, “If I think that Medjugorje is true, that’s all well and good. But if even the pope thinks it’s true, then the possibility that it is true is much stronger, much more likely.”
Variations of this type of argument can be seen on sundry pro-Medjugorje websites, in which such-and-such a bishop or cardinal is touted as believing that the alleged apparitions are authentic, or such-and-such a theologian is extolled because he has declared that Medjugorje “has the ring of truth,” etc., etc.
Strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong at all with arguing for something along these lines. We make use of valid arguments like this all the time (“Grandma always said that eating apples would keep you healthy, but if even expert scientists confirm that belief, how much more so should we take Grandma’s advice seriously,” etc.). The problem, though, at least for those who follow Medjugorje, is that their commonly employed argument, based on the widely held belief that Pope John Paul II strongly favored Medjugorje, skates dangerously close to the edge of the logical fallacy of weak induction. I’ll explain what I mean.
As those who follow this blog know, I am an open-minded skeptic when it comes to Medjugorje. I see too many problematic aspects of the alleged apparitions — some, seriously problematic, such as the incitements to disobedience from whoever or whatever is dispensing the messages (for more on that, readmy comments beneath this post) — to be convinced that it is an authentic Marian apparition. I realize, of course, and freely admit, that I may in fact be wrong in my skepticism. I simply may not have properly understood or interpreted the data.
As I have said before, if I am wrong about this, and if the Medjugorje phenomena are truly the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then I will rejoice to have my error corrected. I mean that sincerely. But that’s beside the point for the purpose of this post.
What I am driving at, as the title of this article suggests, is that those who attempt to bolster their own faith in Medjugorje, and that of others, by using the argument about Pope John Paul II accepting its authenticity (take note that many now seek to press Pope Benedict XVI into service using this same tactic, as well) are setting themselves up for a serious difficulty.
It is a well known fact that Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, was a stalwart supporter of Fr. Marcial Maciel, the disgraced, recently deceased founder of the Legionaries of Christ religious order and its lay arm, Regnum Christi. I can only assume that John Paul was truly ignorant of the many frauds Fr. Maciel had perpetrated for decades. How it is that the pope did not know the truth about that dastardly man is beyond me, but I’m not focusing on that question here. It’s sufficient to remind ourselves that the charism of papal infallibility does not extend to the pope’s private, personal opinions about people and things.
As we now know, Pope John Paul II was utterly wrong about Fr. Maciel. He had completely misjudged him. Like a whole lot of other people, including a few popes who came before him, John Paul was conned by a consummate con-man. His approval of the vaunted Mexican priest was in complete error. The gestures of honor and confidence with which he generously betokened Fr. Maciel over many years were completely undeserved. His famous comment that Maciel was “an efficacious guide to youth” could not have been more hideously incorrect.
We know that now. We know now the sordid details of many bad things which Fr. Maciel perpetrated over his lifetime. Since his demise, they have continued to belch forth from the grave like a sulfurous semi-dormant volcano that will emit its noxious fumes for a long time to come.
Please note: I am not equating Medjugorje with Fr. Maciel. I am not suggesting any kind of similarity whatsoever between the two. Nor am I in any way impugning or disrespecting or trying to besmirch the memory of Blessed Pope John Paul II. I believe he was a good and holy man who was deceived by a duplicitous, wicked man.
And that’s what I hope all Medjugorje supporters who tout the alleged approval of Pope John Paul II will see and understand.
All the stories I have heard from Medjugorje supporters about how Pope John Paul II favored or even personally believed in its authenticity have all been apocryphal. I am not aware of the Holy Father ever publicly commenting, one way or the other, whether verbally or in writing, on Medjugorje.
Sure, there are numerous instances of private comments alleged to have been made by JPII about Medjugorje, but none that I am aware of which have been verified with documentation, such as video or audio recordings. Peruse these comments, and you’ll see they are all third-hand. He said he said he said, etc.
But even that is not the main point here. Let’s say for the sake of discussion that every single last one of those alleged remarks made by John Paul II really did come from his lips. Let’s assume that not only did he say those things, but that he was also convinced that Medjugorje is authentic. And, a fortiori, if even Pope John Paul II himself was a fervent believer in Medjugorje, how much more should we regard it to be true. Right?
Wrong. That’s a bad argument to be using in this case. Why? Because even saintly popes can be seriously wrong in their personal opinions.
We might think of this as the “Maciel Effect,” which applies to Medjugorje and can be expressed in the form of the following argument:
“If even a good and holy pope can be deceived and be utterly wrong in his sincere personal opinion about the character of Fr. Maciel, then how much more so is it possible that you could be sincerely wrong in your personal opinions about Medjugorje?”
Remember: Pope John Paul II was convinced that Fr. Maciel was a holy priest, an exemplary and faithful Catholic, and “an efficacious guide to youth.”
He could not have been more wrong about that.