On June 13, 2020, Father José Luis Saavedra, a Spanish theologian whose master´s and doctoral thesis centered on Garabandal, author of the book Garabandal, Message of Hope and the force behind the script for the movie Garabandal, only God knows, shared an hour long presentation in Spanish aired on YouTube focusing on the priesthood and Garabandal. Father José Luis has been encouraged in his initiatives to disseminate information on Garabandal through periodic talks by Cardinal Osoro Sierra, Archbishop of Madrid and former Apostolic Administrator of Santander (2006-2007).
Father José Luis noted that one of the foremost themes of the Garabandal apparitions was the priesthood and the special love of the Blessed Mother toward priests. While the visionaries received mystical communions from the Angel, they did so only when there was not a priest in town, at which time they received Communion from the priest. In the cuadro, the cordoned off space set up so the four girls could be protected from the crowds, only a privileged few were allowed in, among these priests. There were instances when the girls in ecstasy gave the crucifix to kiss only to several men who turned out to be priests dressed in civilian clothing. Among the phenomena evident at Garabandal was hierognosis, the mystical ability of the girls to recognize the sacred, especially priests. Our Lady told the visionaries that should they meet a priest and an angel, they should greet and venerate the priest first because he is consecrated, echoing St. Catherine of Siena´s writings in which Our Lord told her that he had granted dignity to priests which he had not granted angels.
While on the one hand showing great deference to priests, Our Lady seemed to be quite severe toward the priesthood at all levels of the hierarchy in a portion of her June 18, 1965 message that indicated “many cardinals, many bishops and many priests are on the road to perdition and are taking many souls with them.” Controversy over these words soon followed. The first was the fact that while the message as initially read mentioned only priests, it was subsequently amended to include bishops and cardinals as well. Why? Conchita herself had prudently elected to leave out the reference to bishops and cardinals thinking that all were priests. Father Luis Luna, Professor at the seminary in Zaragoza who was intricately involved with the Garabandal apparitions and accompanied Conchita to Rome in 1966 to meet with Cardinal Ottaviani, Prefect of the Holy Office, now Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, clearly heard Conchita in ecstasy repeat very surprised “bishops, bishops also?” In a letter dated November 13, 1965 by Lucio Rodrigo, SJ of the University of Comillas to Father Ramón Andreu, he indicated that he had personally met with Conchita who confirmed that the Angel had explicitly referenced bishops and cardinals, but out of prudence she had elected to reference only priests given that all were priests.
The reaction to the message was swift and not well received in many quarters. The first to have strong reservations were some family members of the girls. Father Materne Laffineur who extensively studied and wrote about Garabandal indicated that a group of local priests met shortly after the message had been issued in the neighboring town of Puentenansa, taking umbrage at the reference to priests thinking that it was addressed to them. They lost no time in voicing their strong reservations to the Bishop of Santander. Even prelates who were favorable toward the Garabandal apparitions were taken aback by the reference to priests, bishops and cardinals. In 1992, Bishop Juan Antonio del Val Gallo who had been bishop of Santander from 1971 to 1991 indicated that while “the message of Garabandal is theologically correct, important and similar to Lourdes and Fatima,” he thought that the reference to priests, bishops and cardinals was “severe.”
The message coincided with the fourth anniversary of the Garabandal apparitions. The text began by admonishment relating to the fact that Our Lady´s message of October 18, 1961 had not been complied with nor disseminated. To whom was this addressed? Father José Luis cited Father Laffineur in placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Santander diocese, whose Commission to study Garabandal over a four year period had failed to interview the seers, their families and townspeople who were witnesses or even the local priest. In effect, no one who could contribute in a favorable manner toward providing information on the apparitions was interviewed.
Some thought that the reference to priests, bishops and cardinals was unmerited and without precedent. But was it? Father José Luis went on to illustrate a theological and scriptural backdrop to show that indeed this heavenly admonition was not unprecedented. He cited Ezekiel 34:2-10 where the Prophet was severe toward the shepherds of Israel who shepherd themselves, eat the choicest portions, dress in fine wool, while failing to strengthen the weak, heal the sick or search for the lost sheep. He then quoted that St. Augustine´s comments on this passage of Ezekiel which excoriated shepherds who in addition to ignoring their flock kill the ones who are strong whose faith nevertheless is undermined by their pastor´s abhorrent conduct and scandal. The Spanish theologian referenced Psalm 41:9 denoting the dynamic of betrayal from those whom one trusted and added that among the twelve disciples, virtually all betrayed Jesus. He recalled Jesus´ frequent rebukes of the Pharisees and learned scholars of the law and the dichotomy between the faithful and unfaithful servant described in Luke 12:35-48.
Father José Luis underscored that the admonition toward clergy in the June 18, 1965 message, like the rest of the message and the prior one as well, encompassed a call to change and conversion. As to priests, it sought to elevate and restore the priesthood rather than tearing it down. He referenced vignettes from many lives of the saints who had personal encounters with errant priests and became an integral part of their conversion through prayer, sacrifice and example. When Our Lord revealed the interior life of a priest to St. Margaret of Cortona, she did not hesitate to confront him in love and attained his conversion and change of life. Similarly, St. Teresa of Avila was shown the deplorable state of the soul of a priest who was involved in an affair with a woman and carried her amulet. Through much prayer and perseverance, St. Teresa achieved a complete change in the priest. He described how Saint Faustina Kowalska was shown images of the flagellation of Our Lord and how priests, religious and maximum dignitaries of the Church had wielded the whip without mercy. Christ revealed to the Saint that while the great sins of humanity may injure his heart superficially, the sins of an elected soul trespass his heart completely. Citing yet another example, he pointed out that St. Padre Pio who has so many linkages to Garabandal, had a vision of Our Lord on a Good Friday. Christ showed himself as being grossly disfigured with tears rolling down his cheeks. Jesus then proceeded to tell Padre Pio how his agony did not just last three hours, but would last until the end of time on account of ungrateful souls whom he had showered with favors.
In closing, Father José Luis quoted from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI´s prayer for the sanctification of priests which he composed on the 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé of Ars. He also noted how Saint Jacinta Marto emphasized the need to pray very much for our priests, a sentiment and need echoed by Conchita of Garabandal. In short, despite admonitions contained in the Garabandal messages, including some addressed to priests and Church prelates, Father José Luis underscored that behind it all is a great message of maternal love and a call to conversion to all her children. He urged us to pray incessantly for our priests. The talk ended with prayer and with the trailer for the new Garabandal documentary entitled Garabandal, Unstoppable Waterfall. The documentary covers the prophetic elements of the Garabandal apparitions, which were not included in the hit movie Garabandal, Only God knows.