Vatican supports action to suppress visionary

By Christopher Gaul

Review associate editor

The Vatican has strongly confirmed Cardinal William H. Keeler’s September 2000 decision to prohibit the Thursday evening prayer services at St. Joseph, Emmitsburg, in which Gianna Talone Sullivan claimed to receive messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In an April 2 letter to Father William O’Brien, C.M., pastor of St. Joseph, Cardinal Keeler reported the Feb. 15 ruling of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, that Baltimore’s archbishop is in a position to conclude the matter with a decree that the alleged apparitions are clearly not miraculous ("constat de non supernaturalitate").

Cardinal Ratzinger said his opinion on the decree was made after careful consideration of the report of a three-member theological Commission of Enquiry appointed by Cardinal Keeler that concluded there was nothing supernatural going on and that there were, in fact, "negative elements" contained in some of the apocalyptic prophecies that Dr. Talone Sullivan made public. As a result, Cardinal Keeler informed her that "no Catholic church properties may be used for the purpose of providing a platform for any activities associated with the alleged apparitions."

Dr. Talone Sullivan, who has a doctorate degree in pharmacology, claimed to receive messages from the Virgin Mary during Thursday evening prayer services at St. Joseph beginning in 1993 until September 2000 when the archdiocese banned them.

The three-priest commission wrote that, "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."

In response, Dr. Talone Sullivan said she is "grateful for the time, devotion and commitment, which the commission undertook in reviewing and studying the alleged experiences and events."

"It is," she stated, "a great gift to belong to the Catholic Church, and we are always safe when we bow in obedience under her wing." However, she maintained that her apparitions and messages were and continue to be real.

Married to a physician, Dr. Michael Sullivan, Dr. Talone-Sullivan is the founder of the Mission of Mercy, based in Fairfield, Pa., near Emmitsburg. It is a non-profit mobile medical program that works to provide free medical and dental care to the poor, homeless, uninsured and underinsured patients in central and Western Maryland.

After first receiving "private revelations" in Scottsdale, Ariz. in 1987, Dr. Talone-Sullivan said she began to receive messages in 1988 that she said the Virgin Mary wanted to be made public. She said that from Dec. 19, 1989, to the present time, Our Lady has appeared and spoken to her nearly every night except Fridays during her private prayer, and during nearly every public prayer group in both Scottsdale, Ariz., and from November 1993 to Sept. 2000 at St. Joseph, Emmitsburg.

In 1989 Bishop Thomas O’Brien of Phoenix formed a commission to look into Dr. Talone-Sullivan’s reported apparitions and later announced that the diocese neither supported nor condemned the events.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore remained silent on the events in Emmitsburg until Aug. 30, 1995, when a spokesman said that because a diocesan investigation in Arizona had uncovered "nothing contrary to faith" Baltimore was "neutral on the matter at this time."

The Thursday evening prayer services attracted crowds of about 600 people, growing to some 1,000 in the summer. Cardinal Keeler noted that the commission acknowledged that "impressive results" came from the Thursday evening prayer services, including conversions, increases in the number of confessions as well as physical and spiritual healings.

However, he noted his commission’s finding which stated that while it "gladly recognizes the working of God’s grace, even in somewhat strange circumstances," it saw "no necessary connection" between Dr. Talone-Sullivan’s alleged apparitions and the reported benefits.

In his most recent letter, Cardinal Keeler said he trusts "this final decision will clear up any confusion that still exists and relieve the doubts of the faithful regarding the alleged apparitions and any public dissemination of their message."

Father O’Brien acknowledged that some St. Joseph parishioners and regular visitors to the Thursday prayer services were unhappy with the archdiocesan commission’s findings.

However, he said, the issue is not as controversial anymore and that it no longer disturbs parish life.

"The prohibition stands and is reinforced by (the Vatican Congregation’s) consideration that I may conclude the matter is not supernatural in nature," Cardinal Keeler told the pastor.