THE CHURCH’S POSITION ON GARABANDAL
There is an overall confusion regarding the Church’s position on Garabandal. The girls themselves predicted that the message of Garabandal would find difficulty in being accepted.
In the case of the apparitions of Garabandal, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could have intervened and taken over the investigation of the apparitions, removing it from the hands of the Bishop of Santander. However, the Congregation has persistently refused to disrupt the process, arguing that no event of significance has occurred of recent and therefore, the Congregation has no reason to intervene. They ended up leaving the situation in the hands of the bishop, including that which concerned the issuing of directives, and commending him for the zeal he had shown in this matter. It can be inferred that in the event that the Warning or the Miracle announced should come to pass, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could change their position. Thus, at least for the time being, the Congregation maintains the position that it has so often chosen in the past: accept the status quo and await results.
STATEMENTS FROM THE BISHOPS OF SANTANDER
Although two committees convened by the bishops of Santander declared that there were no phenomena capable of authenticating the facts as undoubtedly supernatural, they did not condemn the message. In this regard, the first commission stated, "We find nothing in need of ecclesiastical censure or condemnation, neither in the doctrine nor in the spiritual recommendations supposedly addressed to the faithful." Bishop Juan Antonio del Val, who called the second commission, upon retiring from office stated that, "the message of Garabandal was important and theologically correct."
Four consecutive bishops of Santander have spoken out against the supernatural character of the apparitions of Garabandal, which has weighed heavily among the faithful. Here is a brief summary of the statements made by the various bishops who have served the diocese since the beginning of the apparitions until today.
Bishop Doroteo Fernandez (Apostolic Administrator from May 1961 to January 1962) published two notes. The first was published just a little over two months following the start of the apparitions and just a month after the first denials of Conchita, in which he affirmed that there was no evidence confirming the supernatural character in the apparitions. The commission only made two or three visits to the site of the apparitions.
Bishop Eugenio Beitia Aldazabal (January 1962 to January 1965) also published two notes. The first says that “such phenomena lack any supernatural origin and have an explanation of a natural order.” This judgment was undoubtedly premature, as the episcopal commission appointed to investigate what was happening in Garabandal made no serious scientific examination. He also imposed restrictions on priests who went up to the town without permission from the diocese; however, he did not condemn what was taking place and affirmed, “we have not found anything deserving ecclesiastical censure or condemnation either in the doctrine or in the spiritual recommendations that have been published as having been addressed to the faithful, as they contain an exhortation to prayer and sacrifice, Eucharistic devotion, devotion to Our Lady in traditional and commendable ways, and a holy fear of God who is offended by our sins."
Bishop Vicente Puchol Montis (July 1965 to May 1967) tried to put an end to Garabandal. He published a note no longer based on the report of the technical committee, like those of his predecessors, but on the statement of the visionaries, which, according to Bishop Puchol, demonstrates that there have not been apparitions or messages and that “all the events that have taken place in this town have a natural explanation.”
Bishop José Cirarda Lachiondo (July 1968 to December 1971) was strongly opposed to Garabandal and managed, through Cardinal Jean Villot (Vatican Secretary), to present the national and foreign press with a new note on the events of Garbandal on October 9th, 1968.
Bishop Juan Antonio del Val Gallo (December 1971 to August 1991) was the only Bishop of Santander who had seen the visionaries in ecstasy. With him there was a change in the official position on Garabandal. In 1987, he opened a new investigation of the apparitions and lifted the ban on priests visiting the site, allowing them to celebrate Mass in the village church with the pastor's permission.
Although in these notes, for the time being, the bishops do not find anything supernatural about the alleged apparitions (a question that remains open to revision in light of new information or in light of a better scientific study of existing information), they have said nothing against the content thereof (“we have not found anything deserving ecclesiastical censure or condemnation either in the doctrine or in the spiritual recommendations that have been published”), and this was and is precisely their role as the Church that instructs.
EVALUATION OF THE NOTES FROM THE BISHOPS OF SANTANDER
To properly evaluate the unfavorable judgment of the four bishops of Santander, one must consider the grounds on which they base their claims, i.e. in the case of the first two, on the report of the technical committee and in the case of other two, on not only the judgment of the previous bishops but also on the denials of the visionaries.
This committee apparently consisted of three canons and professors from Santander. The fact is there is more than enough information to suspect on reasonable grounds that these members of the commission adopted an a priori or preconceived negative attitude regarding the apparitions of Garabandal, an attitude we can summarize in the fact that for them it was unacceptable that the Blessed Virgin Mary could appear so often, in such an uncommon and rare fashion to four girls from a small village in the mountains of Santander and, therefore, everything had to be attributed to the imagination of four girls, encouraged by the pilgrims who continually flocked to Garabandal.
Within 40 days of the first apparitions, Conchita, who was considered their main protagonist, was transferred to Santander at the request of certain members of the committee in an effort to bring an end to the alleged apparitions, recommending a good environment of distractions in Santander as treatment to rid her of her fantasies or hallucinations.
In addition, the committee members rarely visited the site of the events, as numerous eyewitnesses affirm, and, consequently, they witnessed very few ecstasies and extraordinary phenomena. According to reports from reliable witnesses, the member who witnessed most was only present on six occasions, always demonstrating an evidently negative preconceived bias. There are several phrases and incidents involving committee members which demonstrate this preconceived position. Given all of the above mentioned, it follows that the notes that were published by the bishops of Santander, based on the reports of the technical committee, suffer a lack of serious and impartial information on the part of the commission.
On May 30th, 1983, Dr. Luis Morales Noriega, indicated by the Apostolic Administrator Bishop Doroteo Fernandez as chief medical examiner of the investigatory Commission on the Apparitions, retracted his previous negative opinion and acknowledged the authenticity of the Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Garabandal during a lecture at the University of Santander with a large number of people in the audience and with permission of the Bishop of Santander. He even said that there was no commission or formal investigation; it was a sham.
STATEMENTS OF THE HOLY SEE
With respect to the Holy See, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not issue or publish any statement in its name, addressed to the entire Catholic world, on the events of Garabandal. It has never publicly or officially expressed its opinion on these contemporary apparitions in Spain. However, the Secretary of the Congregation has sent two letters to Bishops of Santander and another more recently to Archbishop Hannan of New Orleans. But they are not formal statements directed to the Catholic world in the name of the Congregation, nor do they possess the authority assigned to such official statements.
In these letters sent to the persons mentioned, the Congregation never included a positive statement expressing agreement with the judgment of the bishops of Santander. These letters have praised the various bishops of Santander for the prudence and pastoral zeal they displayed in overseeing the apparitions of Garabandal, but they gave no explicit agreement to the verdict of the bishops of Santander, which refused to admit the divine origin of Garabandal.
Therefore, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has jealously guarded silence about its views on the events of Garabandal. Even the strong support it has given to the bishops of Santander is far from being an opinion on the character of those facts. As long as it does not assume responsibility for the investigation, the Congregation can only support the work of the diocese – which, however, does not imply concordance with the diocese on doctrinal matter.
Interestingly enough, the constant pressure placed on the Congregation by the diocese of Santander in those years to obtain a declaration that would close the case of Garabandal – pressure documented in correspondence published between the two entities – never obtained the desired statement, neither from the Cardinal nor from the Pope.
Thus, officially speaking on both a diocesan level and in terms of the Vatican, “the case remains open,” gathering new information.
Visiting clergy can celebrate Mass in the local church.
Technically speaking, the case of the apparitions of Garabandal cannot be closed until two great prophecies are fulfilled: (1) The Warning and (2) The Miracle.