The prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, has warned it could "take a long time" for the Vatican to rule on Marian apparitions at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose sanctuary is currently hosting a Papal visitation.
"A pastoral phenomenon can't be built on false foundations, and we can't separate pastoral concerns from questions around the authenticity of these visions", Mueller told Poland's Catholic Information Agency (KAI).
"But the great mass of faithful is too fascinated by Medjugorje for the future good of its church to be made, dependent on the truth of these alleged apparitions and appeals. The position is needed to be nuanced even if the Mother of God's appearances are recognised, as with Lourdes and Fatima".
The cardinal was speaking as a Polish archbishop, Henryk Hoser, continued his visitation to provide guidelines for future pastoral work at Medjugorje. He said the CDF was studying the 42,000 claimed appearances of the Virgin Mary since 1981, with a view to a Papal ruling. However, he cautioned that "private apparitions" should be viewed as "prophetic fulfilments of Gospel injunctions" rather than something new or necessary, and said Catholics could still "face a long wait" for an official Church pronouncement.
"In the call of Fatima, we saw a clear and emphatic invocation against the spread of communism - and a concrete prophetic appeal to oppose it through prayer and testimony", Cardinal Mueller told KAI. "In the case of Medjugorje, there's no specified deadline for completing research on the supernatural character of events here - and our Congregation won't submit to pressure".
Pilgrims pray at a statue of Mary in Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Six Medjugorje teenagers claim to have seen the Virgin Mary on 24 June 1981 while herding sheep near Medjugorje - about 100 miles south-west of the capital Sarajevo, and have since reported constant apparitions at the site, which attracts up to 2.5 million pilgrims annually. In an early March KAI interview, the head of Bosnia's Catholic Church, Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, defended the shrine as "Europe's largest confessional", adding that he counted on Rome to appreciate its evangelical potential in generating "many conversions and acts of grace".
However, in a separate interview, Archbishop Hoser said it was a problem that some of the visionaries were still claiming to see the Virgin Mary, when the apparitions had not been recognised by the Church. He added that his visitation would supplement rather than replace investigations carried out up to 2014 by a doctrinal commission under Cardinal Camillo Ruini of Rome, and would be confined to assessing the pastoral needs of visitors and pilgrims.