December 5, 2002
Reverend Edward D. O'Connor, C.S.C.
Congregation of the Holy Cross
University of Notre Dame du Lac
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556-5680
Dear Father O'Connor,
In your letter of October 7, 2002 you questioned the Commission's findings regarding the theological problems found in the alleged visions of Dr. Gianna Talone-Sullivan.
I thank you for your concern and for the opportunity to respond. Attached to this letter are the findings of the Commission regarding the theological and doctrinal
content of the alleged visions.
As you may remember from your own interview, and can see from the attached, the Commission was made up of Father Francis Morrissey, O.M.I., J.C.D., Professor of
Canon Law at St. Paul University, Ottawa, Father James Gill, S.J., M.D., Chicago, Illinois, and Father Dominick Maruca, S.J., S.T.D., now of Baltimore and until
recently in Rome, where he served as a Consultor to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. These priests, highly qualified in Canon Law, human behavior, theology,
and spirituality, interviewed a number of people, including Dr. Talone- Sullivan and others whom she named as witnesses.
The members of the Commission devoted a significant amount of time to studying the some 600 pages of testimony and other documentation. As is evident from the
excerpts, they conducted their investigation using the methods and policies followed by the Roman Dicasteries in similar investigations and with a profound
attentiveness to other Marian apparitions, most especially those at Fatima. Their review was extremely thorough and scientific in nature. Obviously, their goal was
not to attack Dr. Talone-Sullivan but to determine to the extent possible whether or not there was any supernatural element to the messages. I am deeply grateful to
them for these efforts in service to the needs of God's people.
In summary, the Commission found several problems with the messages. Their concerns centered around the apocalyptic nature of the messages. Some of these related
that Jesus will come in glory as a child. Other messages placed undue emphasis on future destruction and still others called for great and miraculous signs. As
pointed out by the Commission, these are not compatible with tradition and teachings of the Church. I am bound by my duty as bishop to ensure that these inaccuracies
are not disseminated in any way that can confuse the faithful.
Another doctrinal point raised by the Commission was the question over what fruits the apparitions have borne. Many have spoken of the impressive results that were
reported in those who came to the prayer meetings, including greater devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and to His Blessed Mother along with an increased
appreciation for the sacrament of reconciliation. The Commission noted that these results are not necessarily directly connected to the alleged visions and cannot be
considered to demonstrate an argument for the supernatural character for them. While many have called into question this finding of the Commission I can tell you that
those same prayer meetings also caused division within the parish and great difficulties for many of the faithful of the parish.
It is my desire as bishop and shepherd of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to ensure that the faithful are not led astray and that the unity of the Church is
preserved. This was my goal in convening the Commission and in making public their response. Again, I thank you for your concern and for allowing me the opportunity
to provide the findings of the commission. May our Blessed Mother continue to watch over us and lead us to the peace of her Son. Sincerely yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Baltimore
Excerpts from the Report of the Commission
19. As a result of this and other requests, on June 1, 2001, Cardinal Keeler constituted a diocesan commission for the purpose of collecting
information regarding the phenomena mentioned above, asking that the Commission report results and recommendations to him. Since the alleged visionary was domiciled
in the Diocese of Harrisburg, authorization was received from the Most Rev. Nicholas Ditillo Bishop of Harrisburg, to establish the Commission and for it to proceed
with its inquiry.
20. The Commission was composed of:
- Rev. James GILL, S J., M.D., Chicago, IL,
- Rev. Dominic MARUCA, S.J., S.T.D., Baltimore, MD
- Rev. Francis G. MORRISEY, O.M.I., J.C.D., Ottawa, Canada.
The Commission was ably assisted throughout its work by
- Rev. Gilbert J. SEITZ, J.C.L., Interdiocesan Appeal Tribunal.
21. The Commission members began their work by reading the abundant documentation made available by the Archdiocese. They then met in Baltimore June 10-13 to pray
together, to review the material presented, to hear the parties and witnesses proposed both by them and by the Archdiocese, to review videotapes of material presented
either by Dr. Michael Sullivan or by the Archdiocese.
22. The Commission interviewed the following persons (alphabetical order):
- Rev. Melvin BLANCHETTE, S.S., (at the time, St. Mary's Seminary, Balt.)
- Mr. John B. CLOTE, Mundelein, IL
- Mr. Philip COGHLAN, Carol Valley, PA
- Mrs. Shirley Sarah DILLON, Emmitsburg, MD
- Rev. Robert FARICY, S.J., (at the time, Gregorian University, Rome)
- Rev. Joseph L. IANNUZZI, O.S.J., S.T.L. Jacksonville, Augustine, FL
- Rev. Michael KENNEDY, C.M., Emmitsburg, MD
- Msgr. Jeremiah KENNEY, Baltimore, MD
- Rev. James KIERNAN, C.M., Emmitsburg, MD
- Mr. Richard KLDWELL, Fairfield, PA
- Mrs. Maureen KIDWELL, Fairfield, PA
- Rev. Walter MENLG, C.M., Emmitsburg, MID
- Rev. Edward D. O'CONNOR, C.S.C., Notre-Dame University 14. Dr. Gianna Marie TALONE-SULLIVAN 15. Dr. Michael SULLIVAN.
23. In carrying out its work, the Commission had before it a number of church documents which guided its deliberations, including the following:
- Pope JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter, "Teruo Millennio Adveniente", November 10, 1994, esp. par. 24, where he speaks , of "Millenarianism".
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Normae S. Congregationis pro Doctrina Fidei de Modo Procedendi in Duudicandis Praesumptis Apparitionibus ac
Revelationibus", February 25, 1978.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "The Message of Fatima", June 26, 2000, including interpretation by Cardinal J. RATZINGER.
- "Judgment on the Apparitions of Kibeho" in L'Osserattom Ramano, July 11, 2001, English edition, p. 8.
III. DOCTRINAL ISSUES
29. At present, our country — and some would even say the world — is faced with a proliferation of persons who claim that they are receiving divine messages. While
undoubtedly some apparitions have, in the course of time been recognized as authentic, this phenomenon of alleged visionaries is disorienting and confusing many good
people who are seeking to know and embrace God's will. As the year 2000 approached, Pope John Paul II and other Church authorities advised us to avoid millenarianism
in any form; we should not encourage apocalyptic predictions or cater to a miracle-mania mentality.
30. What were the facts presented to the Commission? Many impressive results were reported to have occurred in connection with the Thursday evening prayer sessions
at St. Joseph Parish. Among these should be mentioned: conversions of heart, increased celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation, physical and spiritual
healings. These were reported by persons who approached God with faith in His mercy and power, asking for help in their spiritual or physical distress. Some of these
reports were accompanied by medical documentation; others were related only anecdotally. There were clear signs of pastoral benefits to many persons. 31. While the
Commission gladly recognizes the workings of God's grace, even in somewhat strange circumstances, it must note, however, that no necessary connection has been
demonstrated between Gianna Talone- Sullivan's alleged apparitions and the reported benefits. Down through . the centuries, the Church has taught that the
communication of divine grace is independent of an instrument's state of soul. A preacher or minister may be far from holy or even morally unworthy, yet God's grace
can effect marvels in persons who worship with faith. All the positive benefits reported do not in themselves constitute an argument . demonstrating the supernatural
character of the alleged apparitions; nor do they prove the divine origin of any messages directed to the public at large or to private individuals. Religious
gatherings and activities need not be authentic in order to occasion deep faith and devotion in hearers.
32. Other fruits are presented as supplementary evidence that the visual and auditory phenomena are beyond natural explanation: the Mission of Mercy, the Armata
Bianca, the Jesus of Mercy Community of Laity. There is no question that Mission of Mercy's mission statement, "to restore dignity, healing through love", has
inspired a noble endeavor. Mission of Mercy has benefited many needy persons. Encouraging children to become an army praying for the world's conversion is certainly
commendable; enabling persons to share a common faith- vision is also a worthy initiative deserving of admiration.
33. But, to establish the supernatural character of Gianna Talone-Sullivan's apparitions and the divine origin of messages that she has transmitted, other criteria
must be taken into consideration. Foremost among these are the character and conduct of the visionary and the doctrinal content of her messages.
V. DOCTRINAL CONTENT OF THE LESSONS AND MESSAGES
43. In general, the lessons and messages presented as the words of Jesus and Mary are within the boundaries of orthodox doctrine; they reflect traditional Church
teaching. For example: God as merciful and loving; the need for prayer, penance and conversion; the supreme importance of charity and loving service of others. These
teachings, which are elementary and doctrinally consistent with Church teaching, are regularly presented as addressed to "My dear little children." A Note
underscoring this appears on the title pages of the early volumes of Gianna Talone-Sullivan's books "I am Your JESUS OF MERCY": "Since all the words herein are
those of Our Lord, as recorded from the messenger involved, quotation marks for each lesson are eliminated." It was also noted that
Gianna Talone-Sullivan sees her role as a "messenger" and not as one who is to interpret the full meaning of the "words from heaven" for anyone who sees and hears
them. The interpretation of these must be done by each individual in the context of revealed truths found in Scripture and Tradition and in the teachings of the
Magisterium of the Church (see "Fact Sheet", Lessons, p. 4).
If a reader believes that these messages are the very words of Jesus or Mary, dictated by them to a scribe who transmits them verbatim, the words could possibly be
inspiring, moving persons to conversion of heart.
44. In reading through the six volumes of I am your JESUS OF MERCY, however, there is no perceptible development or progression. In what seems to be
a free association of ideas, the lessons and messages consist of a bland repetition of basic Christian spirituality. They are comparable to the milk with which
infants are first nourished before they are ready for solid food (cf. I Cor. 3:1-3 and Heb. 5:12-13); milk is surely necessary early in life, but it is to be followed
by a more substantial form of food. Absent from these published lessons and messages is the broad range of Jesus' full teaching as reported in the canonical Gospels.
We saw no evident reference toy, much less any correlation with, the cycle of readings prescribed for the liturgical year. If these lessons and messages are the only
nourishment offered, Christian spiritual life would be arrested at a very early stage of its development. Moreover, if theological reflection is treated with
condescension or suspicion, it is unlikely that readers will arrive at a mature Christian spirituality.
45. In brief, it would be pastorally irresponsible to promote a diet based on . the regular reading of these lessons and messages alleged to be from a divine
source, claiming indeed to be "the Word of the Lord". They are doctrinally orthodox, but seem to be a deficient presentation of our Lord and His teaching. It would be
pastorally more advisable to encourage the solid food of lectio dthia, prayerful reading of the Bible which the Church recognizes to be divinely inspired. In
this regard, we are reminded of the words written by the late Fr. Fred Jelly, O.P., who had served on a Commission appointed to investigate alleged apparitions:
We cannot build our faith on the sand of alleged apparitions and private revelations, regardless of how well-intentioned the individuals involved might be. If we
believe that our salvation depends on what is found in private revelation, or if we place — with vain credulity or naiveté — our confidence in private revelations, we
are mistaken and are not building our faith on a solid foundation, namely, the Word of God, Scripture, tradition, and the teaching of the Church. Even with properly
approved apparitions, we must maintain a proper perspective - viewing them as an assistance to nourish our divine faith in the central dogmas of Christ, the Trinity
and the Eucharist ["Discerning the Miraculous: Norms for Judgmg Apparitions and Private Revelations", in Mariam Studies, 44 (1993), p. 54].
46. Passing on to the specific content of the lessons and messages, we must point out certain questionable elements. First, let us consider how we think about the
person of our Lord, our Savior. There are many references in the written and filmed documentation to the return of Jesus as a child (with pictures of the Infant of
Prague in the background, etc.). There are references to "a Eucharistic spiritual reign where the Child Jesus will usher in a kingdom of peace" (May 5, 2001). Yet,
for Catholics, in celebrating the Eucharist it is the paschal mystery, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that is salvific. It is our crucified and
risen Lord who leads us in thanksgiving to His Father. An authentic theology of this sacramental mystery does not foster a sentimentalized image of Jesus, He was
indeed born of the Virgin Mary, a child as dependent as any human child. During his earthly pilgrimage he passed through the various stages of life culminating in his
death. But the Church does not look forward to the return of this child, lovable though He was. Jesus Christ will return in glory as the crucified, risen Lord, not as
a child. To say the least, such a spirituality is not the traditional Church teaching about the Eucharistic mystery. It may well . be a comforting devotion for the
visionary, but it cannot claim to be a private revelation of divine inspiration, to be presented as a divine message for the public.
To try and shift the focus from a "child" to "littleness", as was done in Gianna Talone-Sullivan's public address of May 5, 2001, is to displace the issue.
47. Our Blessed Lord has taught us: "Every tree can be told by its own fruit" (Lk 6:44; Mt 7:16). In dealing with good people, it is characteristic of the Lord's
spirit to give courage, strength and peace. At the same time, we keep in mind the words of St. Ignatius Loyola who teaches us that it is the mark of the evil spirit
to assume the appearance of an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14): he begins with holy and pious thoughts; afterwards, he will endeavor little by little to draw the souls
into his hidden snares and evil designs (Spiritual Exercises, nn. 332, 336). In particular, this can find its expression in a shift from the spiritual to
concern for monetary considerations. For instance, as we have seen in Gianna Talone-Sullivan's behavior, the collection of names of potential donors, the distribution
of boxes to collect alms for the Mission of Excerpts fern the Report of the CGninission Page 6 Mercy, and so forth. This is one aspect of the entire matter which
causes concern, even if the money is being used for good purposes.
48. We have already noted that the Church discourages excessive concern about the future. In one of our Lady's "messages" there is a warning against futuristic
thinking: "Too much emphasis is placed on what the future holds for humanity, which is creating lack of peace and anxiety, worry and even fear" (January 29, 1998).
Yet, some of the "messages" derived from presumed apparitions seem to be apocalyptic forebodings, the prediction of forthcoming catastrophic events, such as the death
of all the fish in the world. We find this discrepancy disconcerting.
To speak of the "bitterness of chastisement" (November 24, 1991), "humiliations and persecution" (summer, 2000), desire for "some extravagant sign from God" (May
5, 2001), "purging the world from its crimes" (April 16, 1998), and similar expressions is not the way for Christ's message of peace and love to be transmitted.
49. Gianna Talone-Sullivan reports in some "messages" that Our Lady praises the unpretentious virtues of littleness, simplicity and humility which lead to joyful
detachment from a personal agenda which is often aimed at gaining notoriety and acclaim. Such humility and simplicity seem incompatible with the sensationalism
associated with spectacular events and gatherings. Is there not a discrepancy between's Mary's emphasis on littleness and the alleged messages calling for grandiose
preparations in anticipation of some spectacular event? Is it really our Lady, the humble maid from Nazareth, who wants enormous crowds and spectacular celebrations?
We seriously question that such a message was a private revelation miraculously produced, or that it is an expression of the divine will.
50. Finally, there is the matter of conversion. It is traditionally acknowledged that an enduring conversion of heaii is a gradual process that takes time.
Repentance that is to have a lasting effect does not ordinarily occur instantaneously. What are we to make of apparitions alle g that there will be a universal
revelation of everyone's state of so (November 24, 1991) and subsequent conversion? Such a teaching is not consistent with traditional Church doctrine. Moreover, when
He was on earth Jesus rejected Satan's temptation to coerce faith among the masses by resorting to a spectacular entrance into the Temple. Is He now reversing his
approach, resorting to sensational means to dazzle crowds (July 13, 2000)? We think not.
51. To conclude this section: given the present circumstances throughout the world of what may be called a growing addiction to the spectacular, we think that the
Church should not promote or encourage persons claiming to have extraordinary channels to God. It would Excerpts from the Report of the Commission be pastorally more
advisable to ensure Scripture-based preaching that can rekindle and deepen faith in the efficacy of the sacraments to give and sustain life in the Spirit of Christ.
"No one can go off and start up his own church and call it Roman Catholic."
Have your own stories or thoughts about the Our Lady of Emmitsburg Cult?
If so, send them to us as firstname.lastname@example.org
Other Articles on the 'Our Lady of Emmitsburg' Cult