Monday, September 01, 2008

Beware the false blogger!

I couldn't resist a placing the following article on my blog. It comes from a site which asks us to mail it a friend. So I am reprinting it, assuming that my friends will receive it.

It illustrates how careful we have to be over what we read in blogs, on the internet, and even in the newspapers. The author does, however, also illustrate the good that sensible, balanced, and objective journalism can provide!

London Mail and other news reports that Medjugorje had been condemned by Vatican shown to be tabloid hoax
8/31/2008 10:49:00 AM
By Max Farrugia

"The news that Medjugorje had been condemned - proclaimed as evil - by the Vatican opened the door to a flood of e-mails, discussion groups, blogs and made the headlines in various newspapers around the world. The headline in the London tabloid Daily Mail, for example, read: "Vatican denounces group's claim of seeing the Virgin Mary more than 40,00 times as work of the devil."

It was a dream come true for the many enemies of the alleged apparitions. Finally, the famed apparition site in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has been drawing more pilgrims than any other apparition since Fatima - and perhaps before that, had been denounced, ending the debate. Vanquished.

It seemed so cut and dry, but there was one problem with the report - that it was made by a Vatican official was erroneous, disseminated in a London tabloid as a sketchy article that was then picked up by those bloggers, sites and newspapers which were dying to give Medjugorje its comeuppance. The Daily Mail took it from a short interview the bishop gave to an Italian magazine and hyped it into a Vatican ruling.

Most major religious Internet news sites and newspapers did not carry the story. They knew that Rome had made no such pronouncement. In fact, a recent decision by the Vatican to remove Medjugorje from the jurisdiction of a negative-leaning national bishops' commission was seen as the most important positive development since 1986 (when the Bishop of Mostar tried to reject it his authority to rule on it was similarly removed).

Still, there were articles, and e-mails based on purported, and still unconfirmed, statements by the 77-year-old Bishop Andrea Gemma of Italy, a retired bishop and exorcist who, it was claimed told an Italian magazine that Medjugorje is a sham that will soon be ruled against by Rome.

It is a scandal, he was quoted as saying, and the Vatican will soon crack down on the group (the visionaries).

But the bishop is not a Vatican spokesman - and never was, despite the headline and the flurry of e-mails quoting the British tabloid, which in the tradition of British journalism, often prints headlines without first finding the facts to support them. It is not the first time that our island suffered bad publicity in articles published by the second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun.

Where the idea originated that this local bishop represented the Vatican is not readily apparent. According to a church biography, Bishop Gemma served as the prelate of the Isernia-Venafro diocese from 7 December to 5 August 2006 but never held a position of rank in the Vatican. To say that one of Italy's bishops speaks for the Vatican (there are 225 dioceses, not to mention all the retired prelates) is like saying a local council member speaks for the Office of the Prime Minister.

In fact, there are no official "Vatican" exorcists. The idea that he was one apparently came from a popular secular book, The Vatican's Exorcists, written by a certain Tracy Wilkinson about exorcists in Italy in a way that alluded to the Church as a whole, not the Holy See.

With regard to Bishop Gemma, this book says : "Gemma, seventy-four, speaks at times with a slow dramatic flair, repeating his words for emphasis." It added that he was a featured speaker at a meeting of exorcists "where he regaled the priests with his stories, his eagerness to knock down the mystique around diabolical possession, and his penchant for the closest thing to irreverence that a bishop can muster when talking about Church hierarchy".

Despite the fact that Rome has never said anything negative about Medjugorje - remaining neutral, at least until now - that freewheeling style fits in very neatly with the Daily Mail's own penchant for articles that cast a negative light on the Catholic Church.

The Daily Mail was not, however, the original source. "You'll see that soon the Vatican will intervene with something explosive to unmask once and for all who is behind this deceit," the now 77-year-old Bishop told Petrus, an online Italian Catholic journal.

If that is ever the case, we will accept the verdict. Bishop Gemma went on to say that the Church already has spoken through the Bishop of Mostar - whose authority, in fact had been stripped. The idea that he speaks for the Church is another inaccuracy in the Petrus interview by Bishop Gemma himself, who also erroneously stated that pilgrimages are not allowed there (despite official Vatican statements to the contrary; it has been twice stated through its press office that while official pilgrimages are not allowed until there is Church approval, unofficial ones are allowed, including those with priests. The Cardinal of Sarajevo, who is the country's highest ecclesiastic authority, has repeated this).

I ask one question; might Medjugorje be rejected one day?

While John Paul II was highly favourable toward the apparitions, even encouraging pilgrimages, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger rescued the place from local condemnation; it is not clear how Benedict will act now that he is pontiff. We will accept whatever the Vatican decides. Thus far, it has decided nothing. When such an announcement comes, it will be through the Vatican Press Office from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

I do not want your readers to discard what one exorcist stated and believe what another one said, but it is good to remind your readers what is written in the book The Vatican Exorcist about another exorcist. "The famed Father Gabriele Amorth of Rome (who performed exorcisms with John Paul II) - has visited Medjugorje and described it both as an authentic and (ironically) a fortress against Satan."

I visited Medjugorje after an article and other correspondence were published in your newspaper very recently. I personally consider Medjugorje a programme, a way and a new practical life in faith.

It is a new experience of faith and prayer. It is for this reason that Our Lady wanted our prayer partnership and the Visitation to be a way for us to gather together and live the messages of Medjugorje.

It cannot persevere, and in particular it cannot bring in the necessary fruits without the priests and spiritual guide"