Many people blame the Catholic Church for having made Mother Mary into something that goes far beyond the Bible and resembles more a somehow "pagan" Goddess. What they don’t realize is that this Queen of Heaven, who does exceed the Bible, has been revealing herself in apparitions throughout the world, on every continent, and since the first century after Christ. The Catholic Church never chose all this activity - God/dess1 did. The faithful masses, and especially women, usually love it when their Heavenly Mother appears to someone, but the church hierarchy and institution has a sort of love-hate relationship with Our Lady of the apparitions. They appreciate her for bringing people to the faith, but they fear a loss of control whenever the Spirit moves freely. No wonder - Spirit has this habit of speaking through uneducated, unordained peasants, mostly women and children, and it dares to call the clergy on its shortcomings.
Hardly anybody could be more suspicious of mystical apparitions of any sort than the Catholic Church itself. Read any account of the famous apparitions (like Lourdes, Fatima, Rue du Bac in Paris, or the Virgin of Guadalupe) and you’ll always find Church authorities who are trying to block the whole thing, who interrogate and disrespect the visionaries, who refuse to believe until miraculous proof is piled up before them. Then they send that proof to scientists of all sorts for investigation. Next, they let a lot of time pass, hoping people will forget about the whole thing. And finally, years or decades later, if they have to, they will admit that there really was an apparition of Our Lady and give their official stamp of approval. After that they may still spend a few decades procrastinating actually doing some of the things she asked for.
In order not to allow apparitions of any kind to have too much influence on the Catholic faith, the authorities decided to classify them all as "private revelations" that are not necessary for salvation. However, as far as I can tell, her messages are rarely private and never unnecessary. In 1982 Our Lady of Medjugorje was asked why she has been appearing so often and in so many places. She answered: "It is necessary to awaken the faith. It is a gift from God. If it is necessary, I will appear in each home."
So if you want to blame someone for Mother Mary’s position in the Catholic Church, blame the God/dess who sends us Marian apparitions and the masses who appreciate them, but not the Vatican.
To be fair, I will concede to the Vatican that the apparitions of the Queen of Heaven do pose a serious theological challenge. Because even though the clergy puts great stress on the opinion that Mary is not God, our Lady sure comes across as divine. She appears from heaven, speaks for God, acts for God and calls Jesus "my son", even though she’s obviously not talking about the historical Jesus anymore. She makes the sun dance, writes messages into the sky and performs countless other miracles. In short she acts like God.
Besides the theological, there is also the emotional challenge of how to love a God/dess who has multiple aspects. Christians deal with this all the time. How often do I hear people say, they love Jesus but they don't feel any connection with God the Father, or vice versa. And how many have no clue as to what to do with the Holy Spirit! To have a deep emotional relationship with all three persons of the Holy Trinity is not easy and extremely rare.
For me the same issue came up when Our Lady of Medjugorje said in October 2003: "I call you anew to consecrate yourselves to my heart and the heart of my Son Jesus." It didn’t make sense in my mind, because when you consecrate yourself, you give yourself entirely to a heavenly person. How could I give myself entirely to Mary, and then, when I was already given away, give myself again to Jesus? I had a real problem with this, also because I didn’t feel that I could love Jesus and Mary exactly equally. A friend of mine was helpful when he reminded me that God commanded us to love our father and mother but didn’t say we had to love them in exactly the same way. Even our worldly parents don’t expect us to have the exact same love for our father and mother. Sometimes we will feel closer to one, other times to the other. The only important thing is that we somehow love them both. Still I resisted, until one day I thought to myself: "Quit thinking about it; just do what She says!" When I gave myself entirely, first to Mary and then to Jesus, it immediately became clear to me that they weren’t two, but one, and that consecrating myself to both allowed them to celebrate their union in me. What joy I felt!
Intellectually I had seen them as one already for quite some time, but I hadn’t "gotten it" emotionally until then.
I suspect that Catholics all over the world and of all ranks have a similar problem: We don’t want to dilute our love for God by spreading it around to all kinds of heavenly persons and saints. And we feel slightly inadequate when we don't love all aspects of God equally. The solution however is not to narrow God down to something we can love easily, but to expand our love to match God’s reality. To me, the solution is not to create a hierarchy where maybe the Son is less than the Father and the Mother is less than the Son. Rather we would do well to realize in our hearts that all persons, aspects, and extensions of God are one but not mingled, distinct but inseparable.
1. A note on my use of gender in writing: Most of us were still taught that the word man includes woman, he includes she, and God includes God the Father and Mother. Yet, as far as I can see wo/man includes man, s/he includes he, and God/dess includes the aspects of the divine in whose image we were created as male and female.
2. For details about apparition stories and the Catholic Church’s handling of them, see Roy Abraham Varghese’s book "God Sent: A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary" or search the net under keywords "Mary apparitions".