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WHAT IS THE POSITION OF THE CHURCH?
In order to know the Church's true position on Medjugorje, it is necessary to begin at the highest authority in Rome, rather than with the local bishop. Normally, it is the local bishop who is the first authority for judging alleged apparitions within his diocese. However, since the Holy See has intervened on a number of occasions, we must give precedence and respect to the ecclesial hierarchy. Thus, we shall proceed in the following manner, in order of authority;
1. The Pope
The pope is the highest authority in the Catholic Church, having universal jurisdiction by virtue of his office as Vicar of Christ. He "has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered." (Catechism, 882). What is more, his authority is especially suited for matters of private revelation, fitting squarely under the umbrella of "faith and morals". As Pope Leo X stated; "When it is a question of prophetic revelations, the Pope is the sole judge!" There is no man on earth who is singularly protected by the Holy Spirit as is the pope. And this fact has been demonstrated numerous times through history to such a degree that we can say, without exaggeration, that if it wasn't for the popes, the Catholic Church would have collapsed long ago during the first century of its infancy.
With that said, however, we might note that Pope John Paul II made no official statement about Medjugorje in the form; "I hereby solemnly declare Medjugorje worthy of belief". Yet we can also say that he has done everything but. He has expressed, on numerous occasions, both verbally and in his own pen, his personal support for the apparitions (see below). In fact, whenever a bishop would inquire about Medjugorje to the pope, he would invariably give his staple response; "If I was not pope, I would already be there!". We list below just a few of the many statements the pope to various bishops, as well as letters in his own pen.
1988: "Pray for me in Medjugorje. [...] Medjugorje is the spiritual heart of the world." (Pope John Paul II to bishop Maurillo Kreiger)
Aug. 1989: "Let them go [to Medjugorje]. They are going there to pray. When you get there, you pray for me." (Pope John Paul II to Archbishop Patrick Flores, Message de Paix, Montreal, 11/12/89).
1994: "Our Lady of Medjugorje will save America!" (to Bishop Hnilica, National Conference, Notre Dame)
May 14th, 1989: "Yes, it is good for pilgrims to go to Medjugorje and do penance. It is good!" (Pope John Paul II to Bishop Sylvester Treinen, USA)
Aug. 1, 1989: "Today the world has lost the supernatural. Many people sought it and found it in Medjugorje through prayer, fasting, and through confession." (Pope John Paul II to Bishop Paolo Hnilica)
April 29, 1990: "Medjugorje is a great center of spirituality." (NCR, Pope John Paul II to Bishop Murilo Krieger)
Feb. 1991: "There are bishops, like in Yugoslavia for example, who are against this. But it is important to look at the great number of people who are answering her invitations, the amount of conversions... All this is underlined in the Gospel... All these facts have to be seriously investigated." (to Archbishop Kwangju, L`Homme Nouveau, 3. February 1991.)
Nov. 11, 1990: (with regard to the liberation of Poland from Communism) "No, this is not my merit. This is the work of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as She had predicted in Fatima and in Medjugorje." (Pope John Paul II to Msgr. Angelo Kim, President of the Korean Bishops' Conference)
Aug. 1988: "The pope spoke very favorably about the happenings at Medjugorje...To say nothing os happening there is to deny the living, prayerful witness of hundreds of thousands who have gone there." (Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, Pastoral Letter of August 5, 1988)
August 24, 2002: "I grant from the heart a particular blessing to Father Jozo Zovko, O.F.M., and I invoke a new outpouring of graces and heavenly favors, and the continuous protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary". (signed letter to Fr. Jozo, link)
We again note, however, that these are private statements, not formal declarations. Therefore, it is arguable whether they should have absolute authority. In a spirit of fidelity and obedience, perhaps they should. But from a purely legal standpoint, perhaps not. For those who remain unconvinced, we will thus defer to the next highest authority in the Church; the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
2. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
With the favorable support of pope John Paul II in the back of our minds, let us now turn to the second highest authority, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (hereafter termed the "CDF"). Given its supreme authority, what it says must trump all other statements of lesser authority (including those from the local bishop), if there is a disagreement. Secondly, we also give precedence to more recent statements, if they may appear to conflict with past statements, as the CDF may refine its position over time.
1991: Cardinal Ratzinger (prefect of the CDF) quotes the Yugoslavian Bishops as stating the following;
In the same year, the Cardinal stated;
As we see above, we have a few cautiously optimistic statements from the head of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger. These statements were made during the investigation of the 1991 Yugoslavian Bishops Conference, while awaiting a final decision (more on the 1991 Bishops Conference in section 3).
1998: The secretary of the CDF, Cardinal Bertone, states in a letter to Bishop Aubry on the status of Medjugorje, making three important points (complete text);
From this letter by Cardinal Bertone, we can conclude three things regarding the position of the Church;
1. Most importantly, this letter defers authority to the 1991 Zadar Declaration, made by the former Yugoslavian Bishops Conference. Therefore, if we want to better understand the Church's position, we must look to the findings of this Bishops Conference (next section below). This is the key to understanding the Church's position on Medjugorje.
2. The CDF has taken an unprecedented position by stating that the bishop's negative convictions of Medjugorje is merely "his personal opinion". If we are to be honest with ourselves about the implications of this statement, we must then dismiss anything the bishop says on the matter as not holding any authority, since it is based on his personal opinions (as opposed to an official pronouncement). This includes his many writings against Medjugorje, the numerous articles, his appearances on public television condemning the apparitions, the commentary on his diocese website, and so forth. None of this can be given any more authority than if a layperson were saying the same.
3. The letter concludes by permitting private pilgrimages under the condition that the pilgrimages are not seen as official recognition by the Church as an approved apparition site (According to the CDF's 1978 norms for judging alleged apparitions, this is standard protocol for any alleged apparition that has favorably passed the initial investigative phase, while further verification continues. As the norms clearly state; "if this examination appears favorable, to allow certain public demonstrations of cult and devotion, while continuing to investigate the facts with extreme prudence (which is equivalent to the formula: “for the moment, nothing is opposed to it')". It cannot be stated any more plainly than this. By the mere fact that the Church allows "public demonstrations of cult devotions" (i.e., pilgrimages), we can then say with certainty two things; 1) the "examination" of Medjugorje "appears favorable", 2) "for the moment, nothing is opposed to" Medjugorje. This is straight from the norms.
2008: Cardinal Bertone, secretary of the CDF, re-iterates the previous statement of the CDF with the following;
“Bishop Peric’s statement expresses a personal opinion of his own. It is not a definitive official judgment on the part of the Church. The Church defers to the Zadar statement issued on 10th April 1991 by the bishops of the former Yugoslavia and the statement leaves the door open to further investigations of the affair. So the process of verification needs to move forward” 2
Again, we see Rome stating the unusual clarification regarding the bishops personal convictions, and expressing the Church's openness and desire to move forward with verification (which it did in 2010 by convening a new Commission).
3. 1991 Zadar Declaration from the Yugoslavian Episcopal Conference
As we have seen above, the CDF has deferred authority to the 1991 Yugoslavian Bishops Conference (and tacitly distanced itself from the local bishop's negative opinions). Therefore, everything we need to know about the Church's position on Medjugorje can be found here, in light of JPII's favor. Most importantly, since the Bishops Conference is of higher authority than the local bishop, its findings take precedence over that of the local bishop's. Therefore, if there is any conflict between the two, we must ignore the local bishop in deference to the Bishops Commission. So let us know examine key findings of the Bishops Conference.
Overview and Findings of the 1991 Commission
1. First, we must understand that the Zadar Declaration is a formal church document, and as such is written in a church language that was not yet parsed for the public. Thus, in order to properly understand the words of this declaration, we will begin by examining the public statements of the members of the commission (especially by he president of the commission). These statements will help provide the proper context to reading the Zadar Declariation correctly. Furthemore, we must also remember that the Church uses very specific terminology when judging apparitions. Tthe bishops had to classify Medjugorje in one of three ways, either; 1) it is confirmed supernatural, 2) is it not yet confirmed supernatural, or 3) It is confirmed not supernatural. The bishops voted against the third classification by a vote of 19 to 1, deliberating primarily between positive approval and neutrality. Ultimately (and after overwhelming pressure from Bishop Zanic), they chose the second classification, since they could not yet confirm supernatural origin, but recognized Medjugorje as a place of prayer and pilgrimage.
The following statement by the President of the commission, Cardinal Kuharic, represents the most clear and concise summary of the Zadar Declaration;
"The Church is not in a hurry. We, the bishops, after three years of examination by the Commission, have declared Medjugorje a place of prayer and a Marian sanctuary. This means that we are not opposed to people coming on pilgrimage to Medjugorje to venerate the Mother of God there, in conformity with the teaching and faith of the universal Church. As to the supernaturality of the apparitions, we have declared: Up to this moment, we cannot affirm it. We leave it for later. The Church is not in a hurry." 3
Since the above statement was spoken to the public, the words he chose were such that a simple layman can understand. This effectively orients us to a proper reading of the formal written declaration which we will examine below (which is more an internal church document than a public statement). The Cardinal (who again we note was the President of the commission, and thus had all authority to speak for the commission) wanted to make it clear that we understood this. Whenever he was asked about the position of the Commission, he has always had positive words to say. For example;
"We (the Bishops Conference) "have a positive opinion of the Medjugorje events." 4
2. Bishop Komarica, a member of the commission, came to Medjugorje to celebrate a mass of pilgrimage. He declared publicly:
"I came not only in my own name but in the name of all the Yugoslav bishops, including Msgr. Zanic. Other bishops will come..." [...] "the commission recognizes these good fruits." 5
3. On May 31st, 1991, the Commission issues a pastoral report on liturgical guidelines and how to best serve the pilgrims in Medjugorje. 6
4. On June 17th, 1991, the Commission forms a "Pastoral and Liturgical Conference" to assist the Franciscans in safeguarding Catholic and Marian devotion in Medjugorje. 6
5. Archbishop Frane Franic, a member of the Commission, stated the following;
"The Queen of Peace of Medjugorje has done more in six years of apparitions than we Bishops in forty years of pastoral work." 7
"The bishops do not wish to humiliate Monsignor, Zanic, [...] And when it was brought to his attention.. that his opposition was unfounded, he began to cry and shout, and the bishops finally stopped arguing." 8
6. Now that we better know the mind of the members of the commission, particularly the statement by its President, Cardinal Kuharic, we, as laymen, can now properly read and understand the actual Zadar Declaration itself;
"On the basis of studies made so far, it cannot yet be confirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations. Yet the gathering of faithful from various parts of the world to Medjugorje, inspired by reasons of faith or other motives, require the pastoral attention and care, first of all, of the local Bishop and then of the other Bishops with him, so that in Medjugorje and all connected with it, a healthy devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the teachings of the Church may be promoted. The Bishops will also provide special liturgical and pastoral directives corresponding to this aim. At the same time, they will continue to study all the events of Medjugorje through the Commissions."
Here again we see the bishops classifying Medjugorje into the second category (non constat de supernaturalitate; "it cannot yet be confirmed supernatural"), and urging the local bishop to care for the pastoral needs of the pilgrims while further investigation continues. Many critics misinterpret the declaration as a negative judgement, when almost the opposite is true. By even the simple fact that the Church allows private pilgrimages to Medjugorje, according to the CDF's 1978 norms for judging alleged apparitions, communicates that the investigation was more favorable than negative. This is plainly written in the norms; "if this examination appears favorable, to allow certain public demonstrations of cult and devotion, while continuing to investigate the facts with extreme prudence (which is equivalent to the formula: “for the moment, nothing is opposed to it')".
Thus we now know the Church's current position on Medjugorje, that is, at the very least, one of cautious optimism. First, we have the unprecedented support of pope John Paul II, who clearly favored the apparitions even though lower authorities had not yet judged them (this is unprecented in church history). Then we have the hopeful statements by the CDF, the censuring of the local bishop, and the defering of judgement to the regional bishop's conference. Next we have the allowing of pilgrimages, which the norms state is equivalent to saying "for the moment nothing is opposed to it". And finally, we have the 1991 Bishops Conference, which as we noted previously was favorable to the apparitions, despite its inability to confirm supernatural origin. Therefore, we can say with certainty that the faithful are free to believe in Medjugorje, promote Medjugorje, and make pilgrimages to Medjugojre, while the process of verifcation continues. The Church apears hopeful, while still is reserving judgement until a final verdict is reached. This is the definitive and conclusive position of the Church at this moment in time, if there could be said to be one.
4. The Local Ordinary (bishop)
Since the CDF has stated that the opinions of local bishop do not carry any authority, we do not believe it is necessary to examine his views on the matter, other than re-iterating his official position, which he issued in a Positio on Oct. 30th, 1984, declaring; "moral certitude that the Medjugorje events are a case of collective hallucination". (we might point out that the idea of "collective hallucination" is no longer accepted by the scientific community as credible). Anyone who has studied the history of the apparitions, and have read the statements of the local bishop, will agree that bishop Zanic aggresively opposed the apparitions, and did everything in his power to eliminate them, rather than maintain objectivity for the sake of the investigative process (please read our History of Events for more details).
5. Other Notable Figures
It is also interesting to note, that those who are arguably most qualified at discerning supernatural phenomenon, have also positively discerned Medjugorje to be authentic. Among the many notable figures, are; Mother Teresa, Fr. Gabrielle Amorth (the chief exorcist in Rome), Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Padre Pio.
written in a letter: "We are all praying one Hail Mary before Holy Mass to Our Lady of Medjugorje." 9
spoken to an eye witness, Dr. Mark Miravalle (theologian and professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville):
Father Gabriele Amorth (Chief Exorcist of Rome)
Interview: "I always understood Medjugorje as a continuation of Fatima. According to Our Lady’s words in Fatima, if we had prayed and fasted, there would not have been World War II. We have not listened to her and therefore there was a war. Also here in Medjugorje, Our Lady often calls to prayer for peace. In her apparitions, Our Lady always presents herself under another name to show the goal of her apparitions. At Lourdes, she presented herself as the Immaculate Conception, in Fatima as the Queen of the Holy Rosary. Here in Medjugorje, Our Lady presented herself as the Queen of Peace. We all remember the words “Mir, mir, mir” (peace, peace, peace) that were written in the sky at the very beginning of the apparitions. We see clearly that humanity is running the risk of war, and Our Lady insists on prayer and on Christian life to attain peace." 11
Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar
Reply to bishop Zanic's "unofficial" condemnation: "My Lord, what a sorry document you have sent throughout the world! I have been deeply pained to see the episcopal office degraded in this manner. Instead of biding your time, as you were recommended to do by higher authority, you fulminate and hurl thunderbolts like Jupiter. While you denigrate renowned people who are innocent , deserving of your respect and protection, you bring out accusations that have been refuted a hundred times over." 12
"The Blessed Virgin will soon be visiting your homeland." 13
Bishops who have visited Medjugorje 14
|Cardinal Timothy Manning, Los Angeles, California (USA)
Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, Kampala (Uganda)
Cardinal Jean Margeot, Port Louis (Mauritius)
Cardinal Ruiz Bernardino Echeverria, Quito (Ecuador)
Cardinal Giuseppe Uhac, Congreagation for Evangelization of Peoples (Vatican)
Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, Archbishop of Zagreb (Croatia)
Archbishop Girolamo Prigione, Apostolic Delegate (Mexico)
Archbishop Frane Franic, (retired), Split (Croatia)
Archbishop Gorny Kazimierz, Krakow (Polarta)
Archbishop Patrick Flores, San Antonio, Texas (USA)
Archbishop Philip Hannan, New Orleans, Louisijma (USA)
Archbishop Giuseppe Casale, Foggia (Italy)
Archbishop Donat Chiasson, Moncton (Canada)
Archbishop Sablan Apuron, Guam, (Oceania)
Archbishop George H. Pearce, Suva (Fiji Islands)
Archbishop Pantin Anthony, Trinidad (W. Indies)
Archbishop Joachim Johannes Degenhardt, Paderborn (Germany)
Archbishop Edwardo G. Amaral, Maceio (Brazil)
Archbishop Jose Hipolito De Morais, Lorena (Brazil)
Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, Pontifical Council (Rome)
Archbishop Jean Chabbert, Perpignan (France)
Archbishop Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka, Jos, Plateau State (Nigeria)
Archbishop Francisco Spanedda, Oristano (Italy)
Archbishop Franc Perko, Belgrade (Yugoslavia)
Archbishop S. Fumio Hamao, Pres., Bishops Conf. of Japan
Archbishop Fabio B. Tirado, Manizalesa (Columbia)
Archbishop Andre Fernand Anguile, (Gabon)
Archbishop Jan Sokol, Trnava, Bratislava (Slovakia)
Bishop Damian Kyaruzi, Bukoba, (Tanzania)
Bishop John E. M. Terra, Brasilia (Brazil)
Bishop Jimenez Lazaro Perez, Halisco, (Mexico)
Bishop Giulio Calabrese, Papal Nuncio (Argentina)
Bishop Antonius Hofmann, Passau (Germany
Bishop Christian Werner, Eca, Vienna (Austria)
Bishop Enrico Masseroni, Mondpvi (Italy)
Bishop Tonino Bello, Molfetta (Italy)
Bishop Nicholas D'Antonio, New Orleans, LA (USA)
Bishop Carl A. Fisher, Los Angeles, California (USA)
Bishop Michael Pfeifer, San Angelo, Texas (USA)
Bishop Francis A. Quinn, Sacramento, California (USA)
Bishop Sylvester William Treinen, (retired) Boise, Idaho (USA)
Bishop Stanley Ott, Baton Route, Louisiana (USA)
Bishop George Patrick Ziemann, Santa Rosa, Californhk(USA)
Bishop Henry Joseph Kennedy, Armidale, New S.W. (Australia)
Bishop Thomas O'Connell, Los Angeles, Calif (USA)
Bishop J. Carboni, Macerata (Italy)
Bishop Jose Gabriel Diaz Cueva, Guayaquil (Ecuador)
Bishop L. Graziano y Antionelli, San Miguel (El Salvador)
Bishop Seamus Hegarty, Derry (Ireland)
Bishop Paolo Hnilica S.J., Rome (Italy)
Bishop Murilo Krieger, Ponta Grossa (Brazil)
Bishop Myles McKeon, Bunbury (Australia)
Bishop Thomas McMahon, Brentwood (England)
Bishop Gratian Mundadan, Bijnor (India)
Bishop John Baptist Odama, Nebbi (Uganda)
Bishop M. Quedraogo, Quahigouya (Burkina Faso)
Bishop Mukombe Timothee Pirigisha, Bukavu (Zaire)
Bishop Matthias Chimole, Lilongwe (Malawi)
Bishop Antonio R. Tobias, San Fernando (Philippines)
Bishop Daniel Tomasella, Marilia (Brazil)
Bishop Severiano Potani, Solwezi (Zambia)
Bishop Hilario Chavez Joya, Casas Grande (Mexico)
Bishop Santana Hermin Negron, San Juan (Puerto Rico)
|Bishop Mazzardo Angelico Melotto, Solola (Guatemala)
Bishop Mauriche Chequet, Ottawa (Canada)
Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise, San Luis (Argentina)
Bishop Manuel Menendez, San Martin (Argentina)
Bishop Lahaen Petrus Frans, Sakania (Zaire)
Bishop Aloysio Jose Leal Penna, Bauru (Brazil)
Bishop Paolo Afonso, (Brazil)
Bishop George Henry Speltz, St. Cloud, Minnesota (USA)\
Bishop Janos Penzes, Subotica (Yugoslavia)
Bishop Vitalis Djebarus, Bali, (Indonesia)
Bishop Patrick Quenon, Manila (Philigmnes)
Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, Las Cruces, New Mexico (USA)
Bishop Armando Ochoa, El Paso, Texas (USA)
Bishop Raymond Mpezele, Livingston (Zambia)
Bishop Jean-Louis Jobidon, (retired), Mzuzu (Malawi)
Bishop Bonaventura da Gangi (Italy)
Bishop Francis Paul McHugh, Ontario (Canada)
Bishop Thomas Connolly, Baker, Oregon (USA)
Bishop Homero Leite Meira, Irece (Brazil)
Bishop Paetau Luis Maria Estrada, Izabal (Guatemala)
Bishop Serafino Faustino Spreafico, Grajau (Brazil)
Bishop Andre Richard, Bathurst (Canada)
Bishop John Mone, Glasgow (Scotland)
Bishop Donald William Montrose, Stockton, California (USA)
Bishop Domingos Gasbriel Wisniewski, Apucarana (Brazil)
Bishop Daniel Nunez, Chiriqui (Panama)
Bishop John Jobst, Broome (W. Australia)
Bishop Joseph Devine, Motherwell (Scotland)
Bishop Nicola De Angelis,Toronto, Ontario (Canada)
Bishop Pearse Lacey, Toronto, Ontario (Canada)
Bishop Gilbert Aubry, St. Denis, Le Reunion (France)
Bishop Roman Danylak, Toronto, Ontario (Canada)
Bishop Basil Filevich, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Canada)
Bishop Sebastian, Olinda (Brazil)
Bishop P. Arokiaswamy, India
Bishop Agostinho Kist, Diamantino (Brazil)
Bishop Lorenzo Castellani, Rome (Italy)
Bishop Barraza Isidoro Quinones, Mazatlan (Mexico)
Bishop Guiseppi Varelanga, Salerno (Italy)
Bishop M. Wiwchar, Byzantine Eparchy of Chisago (USA)
Bishop Francesco Mirabella, Palermo (Italy)
Bishop Ruben Hector Di Monte, Avellaneda, (Argentina)
Bishop Georges Lagrange, Gap (France)
Bishop Pierre R. DuMaine, San Jose, CaUfornhh(USA)
Bishop Augustine Harris, emeritus of Middlesborough, (England)
Bishop Zbigniew J. Kraszewski, Warsaw-Praga (Poland)
Bishop Carvalheria Marcelo Pinto, Guarabire (Brazil)
Bishop Mario Zanchin, Fidenza (Italy)
Bishop Ramirez Carlos Talavera, Coatzacoalcos -Veracruz (Mexico
Bishop Moged Elhachem, Be El' Ahhahmar (non)
Bishop Frederick Dranuba, Arua (Uganda)
Bishop Deogratias Byabazaire, Hoima (Uganda)
Bishop Joseph Oyanga, Lira (Uganda)
Bishop Adalbert Ndzana, Mbalmayo (Cameroon)
Bishop Wim Ellis, Curacao, Neth. Antilles (Caribbean)
Bishop Stanislaus Szyrokoradiuk, Kiev (Ukraine)
Bishop Johannes Dyba, Fulda (Germany)
Bishop Dominic Su, Sibu (Borneo)
Bishop Bernard Joseph Flanagan, Worcester (USA)
Bishop Timothy Joseph Harrington, Worce^r (USA)
Bishop Franjo Komarica, Banja Luka (Bosnia Hercegevina)
Bishop Kazimierz Nycz, Krakow (Poland)
1b. Emmanuel Nolan, op. cit., p.4.
2. Cardinal Bertone, The Last Secret of Fatima, p.94
3. Declaration printed in Vecernji List, August 1993, Latest News 13, page 41. [see also; Glas Koncila, August, 1993]
5. Emmanuel Nolan, op. cit., p.3.
6. Emmanuel Nolan, op. cit. p. 3, 6, 7.
7. Press Bulletin, Information Center MIR, Svetiste Kraljice mira, July 30, 1997 [link]
8. Interview with the Italian daily (Corriere della Sera), January 15, 1991] [link]
9. In response to a letter of inquiry from Denis Nolan, April 8th, 1992.
10. Dr. Mark Miravalle & Wayne Weible, Are the Medjugorje Apparitions Authentic?, New Hope Press 2008, p.19. [link]
11. Don Gabriele Amorth (founder of the Association of Exorcists), July 2002 interview with Fr. Dario Dodig. [link]
12. Kevin Delvin, The Medjugorje Story, RAD Background Report/72.
13. Mary Craig, Spark From Heaven: The Mystery of the Madonna of Medjugorje, Ave Maria Press 1988, p78. (impartial BBC journalist)
14. Emmanuel Nolan, op. cit., p.14-16.
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