Medjugorje Complete: the Definitive Account of the Visions and Visionaries
by Donal Anthony Foley
Published 2021 by Angelico Press
Brooklyn, New York
Donal Foley has been studying Marian apparitions for decades and has two published books on the Medjugorje phenomena. His current work, Medjugorje Complete: the Definitive Account of the Visons and Visionaries, is an expanded version of his earlier works. Extensively documented with hundreds of end notes, a bibliography, and an index, Foley offers a detailed analysis of Medjugorje, comparing and contrasting it to approved apparitions. Foley is fair in his approach letting both critics and supporters defend their positions. In the process, he builds a persuasive argument against the authenticity of the apparitions by contrasting them to Lourdes, Fatima, LaSalette, and other Marian events fully approved by the Church.
Foley discusses many issues with a depth of analysis that supports his conclusion: the historical background of the village and modern life that impacted the credibility and vulnerability of the visionaries, the messages and behavior of “the Gospa” which conflict with previous apparitions, contradictions including an early message that the visions would end in three days while they’ve continued for four decades, the disobedience and controversy between the Franciscans and the local bishop, etc. He discusses in detail the tapes made with the seers in the early months after the visions began which conflict with later claims.
The alleged apparitions began on June 25, 1981 and continue to this day counting in the tens of thousand, many with little substance. Mary who pondered in her heart and speaks few words in the Scripture is a Medjugorje chatterbox. Every commission established to examine the apparitions has come to the conclusion that they are not supernatural in origin except the most recent Ruini Commission (2010 - 2014) established by Pope Benedict. The report was leaked in 2020 and Foley devotes several chapters to its findings. The majority of the commission believed the first seven apparitions were authentic (out of the tens of thousands claimed), but pointed out a number of problems. They raised questions about the subsequent lives of the visionaries, their psychological state, their lack of spiritual maturity, and their focus on their own well-being and money. One seer, whose name was redacted in the report, was discredited completely for lying “multiple times” and being morally compromised.
Foley, who documents the first seven apparitions extensively, points out the problems with the Ruini Commission’s positive findings and some of its conclusions. He also goes into the complicated relations with the Vatican over the four decades of ongoing visions and messages.
There is so much in this book, it’s hard for a short review to do it justice. Foley examines the role of the Charismatic Movement in promoting Medjugorje particularly the uncritical acceptance by Fr. Rene Laurentin whose early writing publicized and promoted the events and spurred interest. Without the organization and extensive contacts the charismatic renewal provided, it’s unlikely the explosive growth of Medjugorje with all the pilgrimages and meetings throughout the United States would ever have occurred.
An interesting factor about the charismatic connection is the focus on feelings. He lets some of the adherents speak for themselves, like Dennis Nolan, an early and enthusiastic supporter who wrote Medjugorje: A Time for Truth and a Time for Action, published in 1993. Nolan in his book describes his “feeling” that the apparitions must be true. Seeing TV documentation of the events, Nolan wrote, “We knew in the pit of our stomachs that something extraordinary was taking place there.” Rather than objective examination, many of those supporting Medjugorje depended on their feelings that it was true. Like the Debbie Boone song, they appeared to believe that, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” That’s no way to research any event, particularly a claim of heavenly visitation and Foley emphasizes the flaw and lack of serious research on the part of a number of adherents.
One of Foley’s major concerns is how “False and or unapproved visions have been driving out the true.” He devotes chapter 10 and chapter 24 to Fatima and its importance for the Church. Some Catholics will no doubt disagree with Foley’s affirmation that the consecration of Russia by the pope and the bishops of the world by Pope John Paul’s 1984 without naming Russia fulfilled Our Lady’s request. As Mary’s promise of world peace seems farther away than ever, that controversy is likely to continue.
A particular danger Foley discusses is the risk of Medjugorje enthusiasts being more committed to those particular events than to Mary herself. I have seen that myself with friends who experienced a conversion at Medjugorje and thus are religiously committed to its authenticity despite much about it that can only be called unbelievable, contradictory, and even silly. Foley quotes Bishop Zanic who wrote in 1987:
It was said that Our Lady started to appear at Podbrdo on Mount Crnica. When the police stopped people going there, she appeared in people’s homes, on fences, in fields, in vineyards and tobacco fields. She appeared in the church, on the altar, in the sacristy, in the choir loft, on the roof, in the bell tower, on the roads, on the road to Cerno, in a car, on a bus, in schools, at several places in Mostar and Sarajevo, in monasteries in Zagreb, in Varangian, in Switzerland, in Italy, then again at Podbrdo, in Kizevac, in the parish, on the presbytery and so on. This does not list even half the number of locations where apparitions were alleged to have taken place, so that sober man who venerates Our Lady must ask: “My Lady, what are they making you?”
I travelled to Medjugorje myself in the early 1990s with a friend. We spent two weeks in Ireland and my friend wanted to extend the visit to Medjugorje. I agreed and we linked up with a group of Irish pilgrims and spent a week in the village. There was much piety, many confessions, rosaries and Masses, and treks up the mountain. It was a lovely week-long retreat. Many pilgrims, however, seemed more concerned about signs and wonders, describing how their rosaries had changed to gold and hoping to see the miracle of the dancing sun.
Skeptical by nature, I described how some of my own rosaries had changed color back home more likely from chemical reaction with skin oils or the atmosphere. I saw no miracles in Medjugorje, but I had told Our Lady I didn’t need any to bolster my faith. I came home with mixed reactions, impressed by the many priests in the fields with their language signs offering confessions, but unconvinced that Mary was appearing there.
I attended several meetings in the D.C. area that reminded me of Protestant Rescue rallies organized by Randall Terry for Operation Rescue in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, I met a young woman in an arm cast who was injured by police during a Pittsburgh rescue. The enthusiasm was contagious, but enthusiasm is no proof that the visions were really of Our Lady.
As time went on I felt the sheer number of banal messages and the worldly lives of the seers made the apparitions unlikely. Mary seemed to be a broken slot machine spewing out an endless jackpot of messages always ending with, “Thank you for having responded to my call.”
Nevertheless, I recognized the good fruits in the lives of several friends. How could false apparitions give rise to such good fruits? Foley explores that very question in Chapter 19 describing the enthusiasm of the villagers during the early days (and years) which wore off as the apparitions went on and on. He quotes Medjugorje supporter Wayne Weible, expressing his disappointment in the aftermath saying that Medjugorje had “become a place of material opportunity” for many including “new entrepreneurs” with a “demeanor …of rapacious wolves disguised as converted sheep, as they attempted to cash in quickly on the desires of those in search of miracles.” The numerous organized pilgrimages also became a cash cow for many in the tourism industry.
Foley includes several examples of individuals, immersed in serious sin, whose conversions were influenced by Medjugorje, particularly by participation in the sacrament of Confession. He emphasizes that “God does not deny his graces to those who go to a place of alleged visions in good faith to pray, attend Mass, join in the rosary and go to confession.” He also points out, however, the danger of “transitory spiritual conversions” based on “emotional feelings” that don’t last, among those seeking a sign. A desire for signs and personal messages from heaven endangers souls as Jesus warned in Matthew 16 saying “an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.”
Medjugorje Complete is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in Marian apparitions. Foley is fair and objective as he examines the events and contrasts them to approved apparitions, particularly Fatima. His investigative and objective approach offer a strong example to any miracle hunter examining claimed apparitions not yet approved by the Church. Holy Mother Church is always cautious about such claims as she should be. It is a certain thing that Jesus is in the tabernacle of our churches waiting for us. To pass Him by in order to chase alleged apparitions is ill-advised.
I found Foley’s book fascinating, thorough, and well worth the time invested in reading it.