La Croix: Why are supernatural phenomena – apparitions in Medjugorje, divine revelations in Maria Valtorta (1897-1961) for the best known – so successful?
Joachim Bouflet: Those who go on pilgrimage to Medjugorje or elsewhere, or who read and believe the revelations of Maria Valtorta first seek reassurance in difficult times. They need to believe in a better future, which will see the promises of Heaven come true.
And then the doctrine of the Church is not enough for them, it is too complex, too intellectual, in short, too demanding, it requires a form of asceticism. The Gospels are too sober, they don’t touch their affectivity. I am struck by the element of sentimentality that plays into the mystical impostures.
Finally, many need the marvelous and the extraordinary to believe. Even if, in the Gospels, Jesus never speaks of miracles when he heals the sick, but of signs. These signs are given to us to strengthen our faith, they are not intended to prove the veracity of what we believe.
The Church is interested in these phenomena, since it validates – or not most often – their authenticity. For what ?
J. B. : For the Church, the private revelations that visionaries receive are not necessary to faith. But by virtue of her magisterium, she has the right and the duty to pass judgment on these revelations. It must also control popular piety in order to refocus it on the Gospel. Indeed, it is often relegated to second or even third place.
This is very clear in the case of Maria Valtorta, who claims to have received revelations from Jesus himself, intended to make the Gospels more understandable. She actually presents her writings as a fifth gospel. The Church has never recognized the authenticity of her visions and of the words that Christ would have “dictated” to her. However, his Gospel as it was revealed to me, and all his “work” of more than 13,000 pages, riddled with anachronisms, errors and doctrinal deviations, even scabrous episodes, continue to be widely distributed.
What can identify a mystical imposture?
J. B. : The lie first, or the fabrication. We can’t judge it in all cases, but I think there’s always a moment when the person knows they’re lying. Then it becomes a habit, the lie is repeated, we confabulate without necessarily realizing it. On the men’s side, many have passed themselves off as priests, even as the future pope.
We are also alerted when the visionary seeks to put themselves forward. Fraud is further confirmed when the seers or those around them derive material benefit from their “mystical experience”. Obviously, the imposture is also revealed by the “heavenly messages” they deliver, when their conformity to the doctrine and teaching of the Church is more than doubtful. Because, in wanting to add to the doctrine, we are mistaken in most cases.
Finally, the phenomena of influence and sectarian aberration which sometimes, unfortunately, develop between the so-called clairvoyants and their entourage, are another proof of imposture. As in the case of William Kamm in Australia, who was sentenced in 2005 and 2007 to several prison terms for sexual assaults on teenage girls.
But the ultimate criterion, in reality, is time. Many are the phenomena I talk about in my book, even recent ones, which end up falling into oblivion after having hit the headlines and moved crowds. Time is the greatest criterion of authenticity. Unfortunately we live in a civilization of speed and immediacy, and we easily fall for it.
According to some of these criteria, the Medjugorje apparitions show many signs of imposture, and the Church has never recognized them. Why, then, did she authorize a pilgrimage?
J. B. : So that popular piety is framed and accompanied, first of all, rather than left to itself. Then, the bad fruits of Medjugorje are generally passed over in silence. Starting with the threats and calumnies uttered by the proponents of the apparitions against those who believe them to be false.
However, it must be recognized that there have been many graces in this place, even if it is not known how many conversions or vocations found there have been lasting – no one has followed up on them. The graces, in fact, do not depend on the veracity or otherwise of the apparitions, they depend on the faith of the people, as Christ says in the Gospels. A false appearance can generate conversions, and even cures. The good fruits of a mystical phenomenon are not a criterion of their reality, but of the good use that one makes of them.