Brother v Brother - Medjugorje Objections Answered
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Pope John Paul II called Medjugorje “The continuation and fulfillment of Fatima”. It is from this positive viewpoint of hope and unity from one of our most beloved pontiffs that we unfortunately must trace a downward spiral of controversy in order that we might unravel it and rise again to the purity of the Pope’s exclamation and move onwards with the blessing of the Vatican.
There is much damage to Catholic hearts and minds, much division of thought, much angst and confusion, leading to disruption of peace, prayer and devotion, as certain quarters of the media, Catholic media no less, have taken it upon themselves in a misguided Indiana Jones style adventure, reminiscent indeed of the ancient witch hunts, to pre-empt an unlikely negative Vatican decision and do all they can to stain everything and everyone involved on the “Mary side” of Medjugorje, smothering its beauty, purity and power and leading souls away from salvation by the thousands. It is actually not a matter of Medjugorje per se. It is a matter of human souls.
The troubles and controversies we see today within the Catholic Church over Medjugorje can be boiled down to political machination. Many pilgrims manage to completely avoid the controversy by the grace of God. For those involved in the controversy, either as participants or as observers, there is what borders on the biblical end-times prophesy of brother against brother.
I first became aware of the controversies when I frequented an atheist website forum (“Internet Infidels” at IIDB.org) to “talk God” with some of the hard core atheists there, a very difficult task as most of them have fallen into a debating mentality where the goal is to win and argument and one-line and one-up your opponent into oblivion. My angle was that science doesn’t have the tools to prove that God exists yet and it could be a very long time before it does. Let us therefore look at other possible pointers to God, one being “miracles”. I brought up Medjugorje as an example, giving as much evidence as I could for its being worthy at least as a pointer to a possible God, and I urged the atheists to delve a little deeper and see if there was any truth in it. They obviously did go away and delve deeper and they came back to me with every kind of objection under the sun, which had originated from the Bishop of Mostar, Pavao Zanic, and which many others sections of the media had picked up on. While I never doubted the authenticity of the visions by virtue of a few human oddities and cults of personality, I set about looking deeper into the allegations. What I found was a long history of problems in the region concerning the relations between Franciscans and Diocesan clergy and this immediately cast doubt on the credibility of the main objector – Bishop Pavao Zanic. From there, I discovered little by little how a little twist of a statement here and there, or a slight leaning to one side of the truth, can make a big difference to how something appears.
Bishop Zanic’s writings are certainly persuasive, but after looking at his experience as a negotiator for the Vatican during the infamous Herzegovinian Affair and his direct involvement in the removal of the Franciscans from their parishes after 1968 during the Mostar and Apeljina Affairs, it shouldn’t have surprised me.
His persuasive arguments caused a few people to denounce Medjugorje. I hope those people eventually dug a little deeper, as I and others did, or simply managed to shrug off the objections, because there wouldn’t be a single objection by which one can say the apparitions at Medjugorje are false. There are many who read Bishop Zanic’s writings and felt doubts, but nevertheless went to Medjugorje to see for themselves and to talk personally to the visionaries and Franciscans. From this effort, they were able to get a much more balanced story. I highly recommend this to any person feeling further doubt after reading this book
Medjugorje is the most significant apparition of second millennium, possibly ever in the history of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic has heard about it and every Catholic has been inspired by it. Not only Catholics, but Protestants, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics and anyone else one cares to mention. Medjugorje is the dream scenario for those seeking lasting world peace and unity of mankind under one God. The apparitions continue today after 25 unbroken years, during which the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared every single day.
Names will be mentioned only when absolutely necessary because, despite my disappointment at the actions of some individuals and the damage that has been caused, I must believe that the Lord still loves them and will show kind patience towards them, something that I cannot presume not to do myself as I am nothing more than Christ’s servant, if indeed I am fortunate enough to be called His servant. Furthermore, the mention of names may be seen as a crown to be worn by those individuals, a situation which I certainly do not wish to encourage.
Father Jozo Zovko
He was at first inclined to think that the six children were pulling a prank and indeed he chastised them for such. He expected the children to own up to their prank, but the children rather stuck to their story, firmly insisting that the "Gospa" had really appeared to them. Still not believing them, he knelt in the church of St. James alone one morning after Mass when he heard a Heavenly voice saying, "Protect the children." Then, almost immediately, the children came bolting into the rectory pursued by communist soldiers. His doubts by now completely dispelled, he immediately sought to provide sanctuary to the children, an act for which he paid a dear price. He was summoned to communist headquarters in Mostar where he was accused of provoking an uprising by spurring the children to fabricate stories of apparitions and by stirring up passion among parishioners against the communists – surely a suicidal move if true – and hardly the type of actions one would expect from a Catholic priest in a communist country.
Father Jozo has endured a great deal of injustice and persecution. Media have deliberately lied in what are very strange (to some, diabolically inspired) obsessions with destroying Medjugorje. There is also a culture, particularly in the USA, of intrigue and innuendo and and misplaced desire to uncover “corruption and injustice” simply for the sake of entertainment, ratings and book sales. We see a plethora of “Reality TV” shows cropping up together with a rampant tabloid media culture where ratings are king and everybody wants to read and hear the latest gossip.
What is Father Jozo’s defense against all of this? "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do."
Yes, forgiveness we ask for them, but we will also try to undo the damage done by them, not merely for the sake of justice, which is God’s to dispense, but for the sake of lost souls turned away from their possible conversion and salvation because of fallacious reports they have read and heard.
Father Jozo is generally to be found each day, spending most of his time in front of the Tabernacle in prayer, pleading for God’s reputation to be upheld, not his own.
Other persecuted Franciscans follow this same path - men like Father Svetozar Kraljivec, OFM, an extremely humble and holy priest who wished for his wartime heroic actions to remain unspoken and who would probably not approve of my mentioning him in this book. Then there is Father Ivan Landeka, OFM, who is the current pastor of St. James since Father Jozo’s transfer. Another is Father Slavko Barbaric, OFM, who was voted number forty-one in the “Top 100 Catholics of the Century”. Then there is Father Petar Ljubicic, OFM, who was selected by visionary Mirjana Dragicevic to be the one to receive and announce the ten secrets. Father Tomislav Vlasic, OFM, Father Ivan Dugandzic, OFM, Father Tomislav Pervan, OFM, now the Franciscan provincial, and Father Ljudevit Rupcic, OFM who we personally interviewed extensively along with Archbishop Frane Franic, the former Archbishop of Split, who was instrumental in the Vatican taking the matter of judging on the authenticity of the apparitions out of the Bishop of Mostar's hands.
Unfortunately, there have also been Franciscan casualties. By all reports, father Philip Pavic, OFM has been transferred from Medjugorje at his request. We are not sure of his reasons, but it is possible that he became involved with some of his American countrymen’s detraction. He was affectionately known as the loveable ol' curmudgeon with a cynical streak. The cynicism appears to have finally given way to full renunciation, though we cannot be sure of the current status of Pavic. He was also outspoken on certain issues, including the book “Poem of the Man-God”, which many of the other Franciscans had no problem with, but which Father Pavich crusaded vociferously against. This book by Maria Valtorta is not on the Vatican index of banned publications. Our Lady said of this book “You may read it”. Possibly this statement went against Father Pavich’s own beliefs about the book and may have contributed among other things to his eventual departure.
There is also the story of Father Ivica Vego, one of the priests persecuted by the Bishop of Mostar during the infamous Mostar Affair during which time the Franciscans were being bulldozed out of their parishes. Fathers Vego and Prusina were accused by the Bishop of Mostar of administering sacraments to the faithful of their ex-parishes who refused to receive the sacraments from the secular clergy who had taken over their parishes. Such was the depth of feeling and love the local parishioners had for the Franciscans. In this case, the Vatican decided in 1993 that Prusina and Vego were not guilty of any wrong-doing and, that in fact, it was the Bishop of Mostar’s actions that were reproachable against Cannon Law. However, Fr. Vego later left the Franciscan order as he had fallen in love with a nun and made a decision that the religious life was not his permanent vocation.
Another of the objections to Medjugorje is the money-making aspect. Father Jozo’s opinion was asked regarding these criticisms. He winced but admitted “Our Lady is so pure that I would like the entrance to her shrine to be clean, with no shops at all. But I also understand that the people want to take something home, to remember their visit. This is something that happens in all famous places." Unfortunately, this is one aspect of pilgrimages that cannot be escaped, whether it be Guadalupe, Lourdes or Fatima, even the Vatican itself. Vendors are everywhere; and why not. If a converted pilgrim wants to buy a rosary or some prayer cards to begin their new life of devotion, what better place to buy one than at the place of their conversion.
Father Jozo was also asked for this view on the fact that the apparitions had gone on for so long with no end in sight. He replied "A made-up story could not last this long. And it couldn't be satan's work. Satan doesn't call for prayer and conversion." Prayer and conversion are the main messages of Our Lady and that is all this humble and charismatic priest cares to promote and his reward is counted purely in converted souls.
The Bishops of Mostar
His appointment as Bishop of Mostar came on September 14, 1980 in the middle of the Herzegovina Affair during which the Franciscans were attempting to negotiate the terms of the handover of parishes after the Decree Romanis Pontificibus was passed by the Holy See, ordering the handover of Franciscan parishes to the Diocesans. At the time, the Franciscans were never against any handover, but felt they were being steamrolled and that the Holy See was blissfully ignorant to the trickery employed by the Diocesans to essentially dupe the Holy See into agreeing to the wholesale handovers in the first place, and likewise to the heavy-handed way the Diocesan side were attempting to exercise the decree. They felt unable to communicate their concerns and were not even sure if their letters of objection were getting through to the Holy See.
One year before the apparitions began, Bishop Žanić took the helm at Mostar and immediately announced at his inauguration that he was going to establish a cathedral parish in Mostar and that he was going to carve up the Franciscan monastic parish so that four-fifths of the faithful would belong to the cathedral parish and one-fifth to the Franciscan monastic parish. His explanation for this decision was that the Franciscans had agreed. This immediately caused a negative reaction amongst the faithful in the church because it was precisely this type of statement by which Zanic’s predecessors duped the Vatican in agreeing to the draconian handovers in the first place; and the continuing presumptuousness of the succeeding Bishop was too hard to stomach for many.
When the parish priest of the Franciscan monastic parish cautioned the Bishop, while still in the church, that his explanation that the Franciscan had agreed to this was not the truth, the Bishop withdrew any jurisdiction and Cannon mission away from the parish priest with effect in the entire diocese. “Heavy-handed” was beginning to sound like an understatement and it looked ominous for the Franciscans and their faithful parishioners.
At the time of the first apparitions in 1981, Bishop Žanić was reported to have wept for joy and rushed to visit the Franciscan-run parish to speak to the priest and the six children. He is also recorded as saying, in a sermon given on the feast of St. Jakov, the patron saint of Medjugorje, on the 25th of July 1981:
"I am deeply convinced that no child who says that they have seen Our Lady has been talked into doing so. If we were speaking about one child only, one might say he could be stubborn and that not even the police could make the child renounce what he said. But six innocent, simple children in the space of half an hour, would, if they were pushed, admit all. None of the priests, I guarantee, had any idea of putting the children up to something.... I am also convinced that the children are not lying. The children are only speaking out what's in their hearts.....It is certain: the children are not lying"
In Glas Koncila, the Croatian national catholic newspaper, 16th of August, 1981, he stated:
"It is definite that the children were not incited by anyone, and especially not by the church, to lie."
It is also reported that Bishop Žanić even encouraged the doubting Father Jozo Zovko to believe, calling on him and his colleague Fr. Zrinko Cuvalo to be more decided and to recognize God’s deeds around them. Zovko and Cuvalo told Žanić that there was no need to hurry and expressed their opinion that it would be better to wait and see what developed.
As pilgrims began arriving in Medjugorje by the thousand from all over Yugoslavia, the Communist authorities cracked down. It is known that the communist secret police summoned Bishop Žanić to Sarajevo where pressure was put on him to renounce the alleged apparitions. At first, he refused and in August 1981 published a declaration of support in the main Catholic newspaper. However, he began to speak less and less about the apparitions and, after a period of silence he joined in challenging what was happening and eventually became the staunchest opponent of the shrine and of the rapidly developing pilgrimage industry.
Fr. Zovko, on the other hand, began to believe more and more in the supernatural origins of the apparitions, which we know was as a direct result of the message he received to “protect the children” while kneeling alone in prayer in St James’ Church in Medjugorje, trying to make sense of what was happening. He willingly went to jail rather than renounce his absolute conviction in the authenticity of the apparitions.
After Bishop Žanić had begun his vocal anti-Medjugorje campaign, an official memorandum of the Vatican State secretary office (no.:150.458) on the 1st of April 1985, from Cardinal Casaroli, charged Croatian Cardinal Franjo Kuharic with the task of conveying to Bishop Žanić that he should "suspend the airing of his own personal statements and renounce making judgements, until such time as all the elements could be conclusively gathered together, and the happenings could be clarified". This was because bishop Zanic's statement, which began "the actual position.....", had had considerable reverberations in the press. In fact, even till today, detractors from all over the world are confusing the faithful and dissuading them from going to Medjugorje by equating the opinions of the Bishop of Mostar with the official position of the Church. Unfortunately this request from Cardinal Casaroli did not appear to have made much impression on the Bishop and his rampant crusade went relatively unchecked.
Objections first began with the Bishop of Mostar, Pavao Zanic. As mentioned earlier, Bishop Zanic was ready to pronounce the visions authentic while Father Jozo Zovko was still highly doubtful and preferred the “wait and see” approach. Then we have seen that, after being hauled in for questioning by the communist secret police. Zanic is believed to have told Father Jozo that he was not ready to go to prison for Medjugorje. Father Jozo, on the other hand, had no such qualms about going to prison for his beliefs. Zanic suddenly became less vocal in his support, then went very quiet, then came out with all guns blazing against Medjugorje.
Bishop Zanic eventually came out with a long list of objections he had against Medjugorje. The Western media picked up on the objections, and once that happens, it’s almost “goodnight nurse”. Every maverick crime-busting journalist in the USA worked overtime taking this and that statement out of context, making fantastical connections to all kinds of illicit things, even Nazism and ethnic cleansing and generally making a hash out of the whole affair.
We know that the Bishop’s investigations were, as a result of his newly found anti-Medjugorje position, very unsatisfactory, so much so that eventually the then Cardinal Ratzinger took the matter from his hands and handed it to the Yugoslav Bishops Conference.
Furthermore, during the course of his initial investigations, Bishop Zanic heard from the visionaries that the Virgin has spoken against him, accusing him of being responsible for the disorder in Herzegovina. This must have been a key moment for Zanic and he would not have liked hearing this. But to observers, the stories of the Herzegovinian, Mostar and Apaljina Affairs cannot help but bear out the Virgin’s accusations. It is well-known that Bishop Zanic’s attitude, approach and selective obedience during these “affairs” left a lot to be desired. Below is an extract from “The Truth About the Herzegovinian Affair” by Viktor Nuiæ, OFM, Dr.
The Herzegovinian bishops often stressed obedience as the supreme principle of conduct within the Church. In practise however, they themselves at times, did not adhere to this principle but rather when it suited them. When Bishop Zanic,
for instance, came to Mostar as the Assistant Bishop he immediately embarked on convincing the Herzegovinian Franciscans to disobey their lawful Provincial Šili, with the intention of better achieving his aims. He did not succeed in this. When he took over the diocese that is in 1988, a group of Franciscans did not accept transfers, which had been assigned them by the Provincial administration. Bishop Zanic backed them up in their refusal. He even forbid in writing that they be transferred! They who were disobedient were allowed to keep
their jurisdiction and Canon mission yet he refused to issue these to those who were lawfully, pursuant to decision of the Provincial administration, to succeed them. This same practise was continued by the bishop's successor, Bishop Ratko Peric.
The Herzegovinian bishops demanded that the Franciscans hand over parishes which belonged to them in accordance with the Decrees of 1967 and 1975, yet he continually refused to take over the parishes of Glavatievo and Nevesinje, which were assigned to him in the Decree of 1923, and which the
Franciscans had been offering for quite a while. The bishops were not prepared to implement the Decree of 1975 in its literal sense. The Franciscans offered Bishop ani that upon carving up the monastic Franciscan parish in Humac he found new secular parishes in Zvirii-Bijaa and Crveni Grm as determined in the Decree of 1975. Nevertheless he refused this and demanded that the heart of this same parish - Ljubuški and Radišii and that he be allowed to found a new secular parish in these towns even though this is the one thing that was explicitly
forbidden in the 1975 Decree! Bishop Peric at all costs demanded that he be given Mostar and apljina yet he refused to take over the parishes in Jablanica and Blagaj which had been virtually completely ethnically cleansed by the Muslims but which nevertheless were to belong to him in accordance to the same Decree of 1975!
These few examples clearly show that the Herzegovinian bishops are not exactly marked by uncompromising obedience to decisions adopted by the Holy See even though they demand this same obedience of the Franciscans.
The 1991 Zadar Declaration, which stated “On the basis of the investigations so far it cannot be affirmed that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations”. The upshot of the Zadar Declaration is essentially the following:
- The Zadar Declaration is and remains the only official declaration of the Church on the events of Medjugorje.
- All subsequent declarations of the Holy See refer to this Declaration.
The position of Mgr Ratko Peric, Bishop of Mostar, has to be understood as merely his personal conviction and not the position of the Church.
- The final judgment on the supernaturality of the apparitions and revelations remains open. The events are still happening and have to be examined by the Church.
- The “especially suitable liturgical-pastoral directives” envisaged by the Declaration of Zadar have been given.
- The envisaged new Commission has begun in November 2006
- Private pilgrimages to Medjugorje are allowed under condition that they are not considered as the recognition of the events which are still occurring, and which demand to be examined by the Church.
- The Church does not forbid priests to accompany these pilgrimages.
So, the Church has officially spoken, and there is not a Catholic Medjugorje supporter that has any serious problem with this declaration, assuming it is not somehow twisted by the media into a statement that the church “disapproves” of the apparitions or that there are no apparitions happening in Medjugorje. Indeed, headlines appeared to this affect all over the world after the release of the Zadar Declaration, causing a great deal of damage.
It is standard procedure for the Holy See to be cautious especially as the visions are still ongoing, making it highly unusual for a positive pronouncement to be made, even if everything looks perfectly genuine. It is wise and sufficient and Medjugorje supporters can freely travel to, and worship at, Medjugorje. Everybody should be happy.
So, why on earth can detractors not adopt the same attitude and just wait for the final pronouncement, just as the Holy See warned Bishop Zanic to do? The answer is in the media’s itchy trigger finger. There is money to be made from intrigue; there is kudos to be received by exposing a fraud or a scam; there is narcissism in a self-image based on a Hollywood maverick, crime-busting Indian Jones-esque personality. The public are nourishing themselves on a diet of reality TV, gossip shows and internet blogs and they demand satiation, a demand that some quarters of the media are only to happy to fill, something that Bishop Zanic would have been pleased with as he attempted to make his noises heard to the ends of the earth.
The objections of Bishop Zanic, Ratko Peric, E Michael Jones and others are answered in separate blogs on this website.