Editor’s Note: Regarding a question about the suffering of animals, D.O. of West Virginia sent along the following comments:
“Years ago I read a book by Lewis Thomas, MD, in which he commented about injured animals who commonly go into seclusion and calmly die. He suggested that studies be done to determine whether they are naturally able to produce sufficient endorphins to eliminate pain. I asked a local veterinarian about his experience with suffering animals, and he said it was a very strange thing because felines brought to him with the most severe injuries often do not indicate evidence of pain, but frequently are purring, which they normally do only when happy and contented. He said the only exception seems to involve spinal injuries, but then he added that in those cases the animals may be reacting to paralysis or to the sounds being made by major broken bones. It may be that humans suffer only because we deserve to suffer.”
Q. My wife of over 40 years refuses to go to Confession because she practiced birth control in our early married years after four children. She reasons that she has not a sense of contrition and could not affirm that she would not repeat it if necessary. My argument is that she cannot be sure of what she would do and, in any case, is beyond childbearing age. Does she have a valid reason to fail to go to Confession? Incidentally, although she does not attend Mass every week, she receives Communion when she does go. — Name and State Withheld.
A. In our opinion, your wife, even though she is beyond childbearing age, should go to Confession to receive forgiveness for having practiced contraception years ago. This practice has always been considered a grave sin by the Catholic Church because it prevents the transmission of life and contradicts the life-giving aspect of marriage.
In fact, Pope John Paul II told a group of priests on September 17, 1983, that “contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think the contrary is equal to maintaining that, in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God.”
Perhaps if your wife can come to an understanding of how serious an evil contraception is, she might acquire a sense of contrition and then seek God’s forgiveness. We would suggest that she read Pope Paul VI’s landmark encyclical on human life (Humanae Vitae), which was issued in 1968 but which remains just as pertinent today. The Holy Father’s beautiful portrayal of married life and love might give your wife a different perspective on this matter.
We would be remiss, however, if we did not point out that she should also go to Confession for not attending Mass every week, presuming she does not have a valid reason, such as illness. Catholics who deliberately miss Mass on Sunday “commit a grave sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2181), and those who receive the Holy Eucharist while in a state of sin commit the additional sin of sacrilege (CCC, n. 2120).
Encourage your wife to talk to a holy and compassionate priest to sort all this out.
Q. A friend of mine said that the recent Vatican statement on Medjugorje did not really discourage belief in the reported Marian apparitions there, but just told Catholics to wait for the official Vatican pronouncement by a commission set up in 2010. Wasn’t the statement stronger than that? — M.H.D., New York.
A. Yes, it was, although some accounts watered down the contents of the letter sent on October 21st by Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Viganò to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In his letter, Archbishop Viganò said that the Church’s official position on Medjugorje remains the 1991 declaration of 19 bishops of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, who said that “on the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations” in Medjugorje.
The nuncio said that “it follows, therefore, that clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences, or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.” Some accounts of the Vatican statement left out this rather important sentence.
The purpose of his letter, said Viganò, was to inform the American bishops that “one of the so-called visionaries of Medjugorje, Mr. Ivan Dragicevic, is scheduled to appear at certain parishes around the country, during which time he will make presentations regarding the phenomenon of Medjugorje. It is anticipated, moreover, that Mr. Dragicevic will be receiving ‘apparitions’ during these scheduled appearances. . . . In order, therefore, to avoid scandal and confusion, Archbishop [Gerhard] Müller [of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] asks that the Bishops be informed of this matter as soon as possible.”
Following release of the letter, it was reported that Ivan Dragicevic had canceled some public appearances in the United States.
Q. In your column a few months ago, you mentioned the 1973 Akita apparitions in Japan. I would like to clarify once and for all that the apparitions of Akita have full approval of the Catholic Church. In April 1984, the Most Rev. John Shojiro Ito, bishop of Niigata, Japan, and the local ordinary of the diocese, after years of extensive investigation, declared the events of Akita to be of supernatural origin and authorized throughout the entire diocese the veneration of the Holy Mother of Akita. Then, in June of 1988, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave definitive judgment on the Akita events and messages as reliable and worthy of belief. — F.S., State Unknown.
A. The history of the reported Akita apparitions is ambiguous. First of all, Bishop Ito said in 1984 that “I recognize the supernatural character of a series of mysterious events concerning the statue of the Holy Mother Mary, which is found in the convent” at Akita. He said that “I do not find in these events any elements which are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. Consequently, I authorize, throughout the entire diocese, the veneration of the Holy Mother of Akita, while awaiting that the Holy See publishes definitive judgment on this matter.”
He went on to say that “even if the Holy See later publishes a favorable judgment with regard to the events of Akita, it is a question only of a private divine revelation. Christians are bound to believe only the content of public divine revelation (closed after the death of the last Apostle), which contains all that is necessary for salvation. Nevertheless, the Church, until now, has equally made much of private divine revelations as they fortify the faith.”
But in 1993, his successor, Bishop Franciscus Sato, quoted Bishop Ito as having said that “it is not possible to make a negative statement that there is no supernaturality” in Akita. This is not as strong as the judgment attributed to Bishop Ito. Bishop Sato also said that he believed “time will clarify whether this is a work of God or of human beings. In [the] future, it is my intention to neither especially encourage veneration and pilgrimages to the aforesaid statue of Our Lady, nor to forbid them.”
Three years earlier, there was an article in the July-August 1990 issue of 30 Days magazine in which the president of the Japanese Bishops Conference, Most Rev. Peter Selichi Shirayanagi, was quoted as saying that “the events of Akita are no longer to be taken seriously. We think they do not now have a great significance for the Church and Japanese society.”
Second, there is no evidence that Cardinal Ratzinger in 1988 declared the Akita events to be reliable and worthy of belief. Apparently, he did meet in 1988 with Bishop Ito, who gave the cardinal a dossier on Akita, but Ratzinger did not issue any judgment on the reliability of the Akita messages.
The situation was further clarified in 1999, according to Donal Foley, an authority on Marian apparitions, in a statement from Bishop Ambrose de Paoli, the apostolic nuncio in Tokyo. Responding to a question from the editor of a British Catholic magazine, the nuncio said: “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [headed by Cardinal Ratzinger] has asked me to respond to your query re Akita. . . . The Holy See has never given any kind of approval to either the events or messages of Akita.”
In light of these conflicting statements, we do not think one can say that the reported Akita apparitions have the full approval of the Catholic Church.