ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis has effectively dismissed reports of continuing apparitions of the Virgin Mary at the Medjugorje shrine in southern Bosnia, saying the visions “don’t have much value” even if the shrine itself has helped Catholics find God.

Francis provided the first-ever details about the contentious process that has been under way for years to determine whether the Catholic Church should describe the Medjugorje visions as authentic. He was asked to comment en route home from the Catholic shrine at Fatima, Portugal, where he commemorated the anniversary of the visions of the Madonna reported by three shepherd children 100 years ago Saturday.

Unlike Fatima or Lourdes, France, the Medjugorge phenomenon has never been declared authentic, in part because the local bishops have long cast doubt on the reliability and interests of the “seers.”

Francis said he knew he was being “naughty” in doubting the Medjugorje phenomenon, in which six youngsters reported seeing visions of the Madonna starting in 1981. Some have reported continuous visions ever since, with precise messages being delivered at pre-designated times, drawing skepticism that their claims were aimed more at bringing religious tourists to the otherwise unremarkable rural spot in southern Bosnia.

Francis said the key of the Vatican investigation is to distinguish between the original visions in 1981 and the current claims. But he said it is undeniable that people go to Medjugorje and are converted from sin. He said: “People find God and change their life. This isn’t a magic wand. You can’t deny this spiritual and pastoral fact.”

Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 appointed an international commission of theologians and bishops to formally investigate the reported apparitions, tapping his vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini to head it.

Francis received Ruini’s report in 2013 or early 2014 and praised it Saturday as being “very very good.”

He said it called for further study of the original apparitions, expressed doubt about the continuing visions, and noted there were nevertheless spiritual goods coming from the shrine itself.

But, Francis said, internal Vatican politics intervened: Cardinal Gerhard Mueller of the Vatican’s doctrine office raised doubts about some elements of the Ruini report and sought input from his own cardinal and bishop advisers.

Francis said he only learned about Mueller’s intervention after the fact, late on a Saturday night. “And it didn’t seem right. It was like, excuse the phrase, putting Ruini’s report up for auction when it was very well done.”

Francis intervened the following day insisting that any further reflections be sent directly to him, not Mueller.

Recently, he appointed an envoy to look into the pastoral needs of pilgrims at Medjugorge and report back.

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NICOLE WINFIELD
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