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Rarely, if ever, has there been such a blatant eruption of antagonism between bishops and "seers."

At least, rarely has one followed the other so swiftly.

Most flagrant: a dispute in Ireland -- at the famed old apparition site of Knock -- between a modern-day "clairvoyant named Joe Coleman who claims to see and hear the Virgin (yet also partakes in New Age-style mysticism), and an archbishop named Mike Neary who warned that alleged new apparitions at the shrine (which was approved in the 19th century) threatened to "mislead God's people and undermine the faith."

Despite those warnings, Catholics have been responding to Coleman's call -- thousands defying the archbishop on October 31 to witness what had been promised as a manifestation.

"The trouble for the church is that if its leaders continue to pour scorn on Coleman’s visions, and more importantly on his followers, they risk alienating Irish Catholicism’s most devout," noted one Irish newspaper.  "Regardless of fears that the events predicted by clairvoyant Joe Coleman would ultimately undermine their faith, thousands are preparing for another apparition next month."

That immediately preceded a strong action in the United States when, on November 17, Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland issued a decree to clergy and laity of the diocese that Holy Love Ministries in nearby Elyria is officially off limits. He "admonished" the faithful to "cease" devotions there -- and prohibited priests from within or outside the diocese from celebrating the sacraments there. It was the strongest denunciation since an October 8, 2008, pastoral advisory against alleged apparitions on the East Coast.

We take no stand on such mysticism but rather report Church rulings in the spirit of obedience. The Ohio decree already has met with the resistance of followers who dispute the bishop's authority and say that the apparitions claimed there by a woman named Maureen Sweeney and the organization formed around them are "ecumenical" and not under Catholic jurisdiction. The site also quotes positive comments from other bishops.

"We are not condemned," said a website representing the seer. " We are ecumenical.  We are not under diocesan authority.  We maintain the right to propagate these Messages from Heaven, and to unite in prayer here."

The seer, meanwhile, claimed to ask Jesus His reaction to the bishop and to have received this response: "I am disappointed that My bishops and others within the Church take such an active role in opposing Heaven's intervention, not only here but in many places in the world. Heaven intercedes on behalf of the salvation of souls, which should be the goal of everyone, especially within the Church."

Followers have gone so far as to label anyone who reports on the bishop's actions as "reprehensible."

We have to be careful with that. Reporting on what bishops say is a responsibility for news organizations (and obedient Catholics). Still, we find it difficult. A great test of the Church has always been obedience, which is also emphasized in the Bible. St. Padre Po remained in strict obedience to his bishop despite blatantly unfair treatment by the diocese, which at one point stripped him of his faculties for public Mass and confessions.

Indeed, though the archbishop was persecuting the famous priest, St. Pio forbade anyone to criticize him.

That is not to imply that current cases are persecution.

Similar protests, arguments, or defiance has been seen at other sites or with other seers who likewise have been ruled against by local bishops and is not surprising in that other somewhat older apparitions denounced by local bishops -- including sites in Bayside, Queens, New York; Necedah, Wisconsin; and San Damiano in Italy continue to draw followers despite proclamations.

San Damiano still draws pilgrims though it first drew a negative opinion by Bishop Umberto Malchiodo on September 7, 1965. In 1968 the Vatican sent a statement throughout Europe saying the site was "not worthy of confidence."

It was Rome, said Bishop Kenny of Cleveland, that also nudged him into issuing his decree. The same is true for a devotion known as Rosa Mystica-- the statue of which is allowed, but not propagation of the apparitions linked to the devotion in Montichiari denounced by the Bishop of Brescia, Bruno Foresti, on October 15, 1984.

In the U.S. -- in California, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Wisconsin, Texas, and elsewhere -- attempts at dismissing apparitions even with the support of Rome and even when a succession of bishops with a cardinal has ruled on the matter, have met with mixed results. The relative of one seer darkly hinted at suing a priest who attempted to implement a bishop's rejection.

In the Philippines, meanwhile, a bishop last week reversed a ban on alleged apparitions at Lipa and reopened the investigation. The same occurred several years ago in Holland. A problem in the West has been tremendous negative "spin" placed on any statements concerning apparitions by "mainstream" Catholic news sites, which have grown very secularized.

In some cases, it is not only bishops versus seers and laity, but bishop versus priests, and even bishops disagreeing with each other. While Ratko Peric, the bishop who oversees Medjugorje,  in Bosnia-Hercegovina, loudly declaims the famous apparitions, the Vatican, which may soon issue a statement on Medjugorje, has removed his authority to rule on the events and hundreds of bishops have visited the site, including, two weeks ago, the papal nuncio from Austria -- Archbishop Stephan Zurbriggen. Shortly, Medjugorje will also be visited by a group of pilgrims led by Cardinal Christopher Schönborn of Austria -- who directed writing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Astonishingly, a Sarajevo cardinal recently said there is no Vatican commission studying Medjugorje, after stating last year that there was one being formed. Meanwhile, until further Vatican notice, pilgrims are allowed to go there.

Stay tuned.

[resources: Visions of the Children]

[see also: New probe into Lipa, Bishop lifts ban on apparition in Philippines,  Response of 'Holy Love, and 'Proclamation on 'Holy Love' will test obedience']

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