"The commission held as credible the first apparitions," he said. "Afterward, things became a little more complicated."
As a member of the papal commission, Father Perrella said he could not discuss specifics that had not already been revealed by Pope Francis to the media. But he did not object to the suggestion that one of the complicating factors was the tension existing at the parish in Medjugorje between the Franciscans assigned there and the local bishop. In some of the alleged messages, Mary sided with the Franciscans.
In addition to cardinals, bishops and theologians, the papal commission also included several experts in psychology and psychiatry, a recommended component of any official investigation of presumed apparitions. A host of human factors and outside pressure -- not just mental illness -- can play a role in leading alleged visionaries astray.
Just as Jesus chose men, not saints, to be his apostles, God does not choose saints to be visionaries, Father Perrella said. The apostles were called to grow in faith and holiness and become saints, just like visionaries are called to conversion and to follow the Gospel more closely each day, he said.
The Catholic Church's evaluation of alleged apparitions sees them as "a gift of God and a sign of God's presence at a certain time, in a certain place and to certain seers," Father Perrella said. "The mother of Jesus who appears, if it is real, as the pope says, does not and cannot add anything to the revelation of Christ, but she reminds people and calls them back to the Gospel."
Authentic messages are "simple and in line with the Gospel," he said. If they are "banal, superficial" they cannot be truly from God.
Father Perrella again said he could not discuss details about Medjugorje, but said the doubts Pope Francis expressed May 13 about a Mary presenting herself as "a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time" show his skepticism about an alleged apparition in which Mary is "verbose."
Throughout history, the Servite said, the church has reacted to reports of apparitions with extreme caution and even "painful reserve," but its first obligation is to protect the integrity of the faith and uphold the truth that no messages or revelations are needed to complete what Christ revealed.
The Medjugorje commission also recommended that Pope Francis lift the ban on official diocesan and parish pilgrimages to Medjugorje and that he designate the town's parish Church of St. James as a pontifical shrine with Vatican oversight.
Such decisions would be "an intelligent pastoral choice," Father Perrella said, and they could be made whether or not the church officially recognizes the apparitions as "worthy of belief." Allowing pilgrimages and designating the church as a shrine would be a recognition of the prayer, devotion and conversion millions of people have experienced at Medjugorje.
At the same time, he said, it would ensure that "a pastor and not a travel agency" is in charge of what happens there.
Alleged apparitions of Mary have been reported since the early days of Christianity, he said, and long before the church became "preoccupied with documenting and investigating" whether a certain apparition was true, it allowed time to pass. And, if devotion there continued, a church or shrine was built.
- - -
Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.