UNDERSTANDING THE MEDJUGORJE SAGA is greatly facilitated by beginning with a historical review of the evangelization of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This northwestern Balkan region was evangelized by courageous Franciscan missionaries as early as the fourteenth century and then later by episcopal efforts to establish diocesan clergy; the latter virtually ceased to exist by the 18th century. Thus, when the Holy See established an Apostolic Vicariate for Bosnia in 1735, it assigned Franciscans as Apostolic Vicars (implying thereby that Bosnia was a “mission territory”). Later, in 1878 Herzegovina fell from the grip of the Ottomans and became part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Pope Leo XIIl (1881), seeing that Bosnia was now ruled by a more stable Christian regime, took steps to re-establish dioceses governed by local bishops rather than Franciscan Apostolic Vicars.
The new bishops endeavored to build their dioceses by working with the long-established friars asking some to assist diocesan clergy and to help facilitate the transfer of parishes from Franciscan jurisdiction to Diocesan jurisdiction. Rather than cooperate, many Franciscans recalling the Order’s heroic sacrifices and deep cultural roots in the area, chose to resist, such that by mid 1940 the friars still retained 80% of the 79 parishes in the dioceses of Vrhbosna and Mostar. This conflict reached a boiling point in 1960 when the Franciscans unleashed a torrent of criticism at the bishop and threatened him with violence, which led to Vatican involvement.
1968: “… the Holy See ordered the Franciscans to hand over five parishes to the diocesan clergy. They surrendered only two. In 1975, … a Decree of the Holy See was issued regarding the division of parishes in Hercegovinia. The Franciscans publicly and collectively denounced the decree.”
This resistance continued unabated into the 1970’s when the friars in Herzegovina formed the “Mir i Dobro” association of priests, to arouse popular support for Franciscan autonomy and opposition to diocesan parishes. Once again, the issue grew brawny enough to reach the Holy See.
On June 6, 1975, Pope Paul VI issued a Papal Decree entitled Romanis Pontificibus, which addressed the “Herzegovina Affair” involving the Franciscans of Herzegovina who, despite their vows of obedience, maintained control of local parishes and refused to relinquish them to the local bishops. The decree clearly specified the canonical jurisdictions of both the friars and of the diocesan clergy. Pope Paul VI ordered the Franciscans to transfer more parishes to the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno and to accept the episcopal ministry of the bishop:
The pope explained that:
“It is the bishop’s role, as the ruler and center of unity in the diocesan apostolate, to promote missionary activity, to direct it and to coordinate it but always in such a way that the zeal and spontaneity of those who share in the work may be preserved and fostered. All missionaries, even exempt Religious, are subject to his power in the various works which refer to the exercise of the sacred apostolate” (Ad Gentes)
In the spring of 1976, the friars conducted a survey among themselves after which they forwarded a letter to the Holy Father in which they stated their opposition and refusal to implement the decree, “Romanis Pontificibus“:
“…we fully aware and with full responsibility on behalf of our monastic province which we lead and before God’s people which has been entrusted to the pastoral care of our brothers (disregarding the bishop) in the same monastic province, before Christ’s Church and before You, Holy Father, (we) state that the Decree, “Romanis Pontificibus” evidently contradicts the truth, offends natural justice and directly opposes good souls and has tarnished the reputation of the Church.”
In other words, not only is the bishop, wrong, so too is the pope. Consequently, “we” judge the pope’s directions (in Romanis Pontificibus) to “contradict the truth”, offend natural justice” and “oppose the good of souls”.
“As such we feel bound by our conscience to undertake the stand that we cannot and will not; no we cannot take responsibility for the repercussions which will surely follow if we were to approve, accept or implement the Decree.”
Predictably, Rome responded by imposing sanctions:
- The Provincial administration was removed
- The Supreme General of the Order in Rome was given authority to administer the Province
- There were prohibitions from accepting new recruits to the novitiate
Still, many Friars refused to cooperate; resistance continued; well into the 1980’s Franciscans still held 50% of the parishes in violation of the papal decree. Thus, when in the year prior to the apparitions (1981) Bishop Pavao Žanić decided to found a new parish in the city of Mostar, he entrusted it to the diocesan clergy and reduced the size of the existing Franciscan parish. In response, Friar Ivica Vego (a Franciscan priest who became a close confidant, and spiritual guide of the seers) and Friar Ivan Prusina, like Franciscans before them, opposed the bishop in the canonical exercise of his episcopal ministry as spelled out in the Decree, Romanis Pontificibus.
According to Bishop Zanic:
“In 1981, the parish of Medjugorje was governed by the Franciscans. On 19 December of that year, the above mentioned Father Ivica Vego went to Medjugorje, spoke with the visionaries and consulted the Madonna, through them. And Our Lady, from this moment, in her messages began to defend with resentful words the rebel Franciscans.”
Nonetheless, the bishop endeavored to remove Friars Vego and Prusina from Mostar due to the disorder they were causing and for their disobedience. Vego defended himself, however, by defaulting to Our Lady who had advised him, via the seer Vicka, not to leave Mostar. On January 3, 1982 Our Lady stated to Vicka that:
“Ivica (Vego) is not guilty. If they expel him from the order, he must be courageous […] Let him remain! Ivica is not guilty […] The Bishop does not arrange the situation and therefore he is guilty. And then he will not always be the bishop. I will show the justice in Paradise.”
Then, on 15 April 1982 Our Lady also told the priests not to obey the bishop:
“Do not obey anyone!” (Nemojte slušati nikogo!)”
With these words, according to the “visionary” Vicka, “Our Lady spoke to the two rebel Franciscans Ivica Vego and Ivan Prusina, inducing them to disobey the local bishop and the general vicar of their order” (Patrick Madrid).”
To make matters worse, on 21 June 1983 another seer, Ivan Dragicevic, wrote a letter to the bishop, which contained a warning from Our Lady given during an apparition. Significantly, Father Ivica Vego was present at this apparition as he often was (He was also present when the Virgin Mary supposedly dropped the baby Jesus, to be examined later below).
“Excellency. These are the thoughts that she (the Virgin Mar) told me: ‘Tell the Bishop that I seek a quick conversion from him towards the happenings in Medjugorje, before it is too late. May he accept these events with plenty of love, understanding and great responsibility. I want him to avoid creating conflicts between priests and to stop publicizing their negative behaviours.'”
“The bishop is the spiritual father of all the parishes in Hercegovina. For this reason I seek his conversion towards these events. I am sending my second-last warning. If what I seek does not come about, my judgement and the judgement of my Son await the Bishop. This means that he has not found the way to my Son Jesus.”
Finally, on October 30, 1984 “Vego and Prusina were both suspended a divinis and reduced to the lay state (by the Vatican Congregation for Religious) and dismissed from the Order (by the General Curia in Rome).”
Like the cadre of Franciscans before them, they disobeyed the order. In the bishop’s own words, both Vega and Prushina “continued exercising sacerdotal duties in the area of the new founded cathedral parish” and “tirelessly propagandize the Medjugorje apparitions.” They were encouraged in their disobedience by the Gospa of Medjugorje (as recorded in the diary of Vicka and statements of the visionaries) who continually proclaimed their innocence while also claiming that the bishop was in error. Things changed when Vega’s lover, Sister Leopolda, became pregnant; subsequently, they both left Medjugorje but continued to live nearby.
By the nineties there were still seven parishes that had not been turned over to the diocese. Again, the Holy See intervened. In order to assure compliance to Romanis Pontificibus, the assistance of the Superior General of the entire Order was requested and obtained. Nonetheless, newly appointed diocesan clergy were refused admittance to their churches by recalcitrant friars. As a result, several contumacious Franciscans were expelled from the Order for disobedience. Nonetheless, like other Friars disciplined over the Medjugore affair, they continued to be disobedient and to exercise priestly ministry even though expelled.
Thus, on December 13 and 14 of 1998, the General of the Order of Friars Minor, Fra Giacomo Bini, and Bishop Peric, the canonical authorities charged with putting the decree Romanis Pontificibus into effect, met in Mostar. They were joined by Fra Tomislav Pervan, Franciscan Provincial of Herzegovina and Archbishop Marcello Zago, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, representing the Holy See.
As a result of this meeting, the Bishop of Mostar in conjunction with the Provincial Superior of the OFM issued a joint declaration (December 14, 1998) to the priests and faithful of Mostar-Duvno in which they specified that the decree Romanis Pontificibus would be fully implemented and that disobedience would not be tolerated:
“The Holy See and the (Franciscan) order are well aware of the steps that are being taken. Disobedient Franciscans should know that they are liable to be punished according to canon law and the rules of their order. It is desired that the decree (Romanis Pontificibus) should at long last be implemented for the good of the Church, the diocese, the Franciscan province, and, above all, the faithful.
“We remind the faithful that sacraments received from punished Franciscans are invalid”…(The priests were suspended a divinis).
“It is important that all, both clerics and the faithful, should see the local bishop, who is working with the secular and religious clergy, as the centre and point of reference of diocesan ecclesiastical life.”
Nonetheless, several Franciscans not only refused to cooperate with the bishop, they illicitly conducted the sacrament of confirmation against his wishes both years before, and years after, the the December 14 (1998) meeting.
Communique of the Bishop’s Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina Concerning Confirmation (May 29, 2001)
“We the bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina, motivated by our responsibility to maintain unity in the Church and by our pastoral care for the good of souls, having gathered together for a special session in Mostar, wish to communicate to the Catholic faithful and the general public the following: The appearance of a member of a non-Catholic community who recently held the rite of confirmation in three parishes of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, is an overt attempt to disintegrate the unity of the Roman Catholic Church in this country and to break its centuries-old bond of communion with the Apostolic See of St. Peter.
The priests dismissed from the Franciscan Order, as well as those who in disobedience to their religious and Church superiors, who invited a non-Catholic to preside at a Catholic rite, are directly acting against the holiness of the sacraments and the unity of the Church.”
The Franciscans seem to have clear “liberal” tendencies” including, inter alia, problems with obedience to legitimate episcopal and canonically established authorities. Given such an umbrous historical context, it is a good thing that The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) spent four years (1974-78) developing an objective set of “Positive” and “Negative” criteria to assist episcopal authorities with their apostolic and canonical duty of discerning the authenticity of alleged apparitions and surrounding events/circumstances such as those associated with Medjugore.
Criteria established by CDF for the Discernment of Apparitions
A) Positive Criteria:
a) Moral certitude, or at least great probability of the existence of the fact, acquired by means of a serious investigation;
b) Particular circumstances relative to the existence and to the nature of the fact, that is to say:
- Personal qualities of the subject or of the subjects (in particular, psychological equilibrium, honesty and.rectitude of moral life, sincerity and habitual docility towards Ecclesiastical Authority, the capacity to return to a normal regimen of a life of faith, etc.);
- As regards revelation: true theological and spiritual doctrine and immune from error;
- Healthy devotion and abundant and constant spiritual fruit (for example, spirit of prayer, conversion, testimonies of charity, etc.).
B) Negative Criteria:
a) Manifest error concerning the fact.
b) Doctrinal errors attributed to God himself, or to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or to some saint in their.manifestations, taking into account however the possibility that the subject might have added, even unconsciously, purely human elements or some error of the natural order to an authentic supernatural revelation (cf. Saint Ignatius, Exercises, no. 336).
c) Evidence of a search for profit or gain strictly connected to the fact.
d) Gravely immoral acts committed by the subject or his or her followers when the fact occurred or in connection with it.
e) Psychological disorder or psychopathic tendencies in the subject, that with certainty influenced on the presumed supernatural fact, or psychosis, collective hysteria or other things of this kind.
Major Players in the Medjugorje Affair
The Clergy Father TomislavThe Bishops Father Tomislav The Seers Supporting Cast
Father Jozo Zovko Bishop Zanic………………………..Vicka Ivankovic Bishop Hnilica
Father Tomislav Vlasic…….. Bishop Peric……………………….. Ivan Dragicevic Mark Miravalle
Father Iveca Vego…………………………………………………………..Marja Pavolovic
Father Iveca Vego…………………………………………………………..Marijana Dragicevic
Father Iveca Vego…………………………………………………………..Jakov Colo
Father Iveca Vego…………………………………………………………..Ivanka Ivankovic
Bishop Pavao Zanic
Prior to the apparitions in 1981, Pavao Zanic, the Bishop of Mostar declared two Franciscan Friars, Ivica Vego and Ivan Prusin, suspended and endeavored to have them expelled from the Franciscan Order. The two refused to relinquish their ministries, leading to increased and ever-spiraling controversy. Shortly thereafter, Our Lady reportedly appeared to five teenagers (and 1 boy of 10) closely connected with the two friars. On January 11, 1982, Bishop Žanić established a diocesan commission to scrutinize the purported occurrences.
The Bishop of Mostar, however, has not been in charge of issue since 1986. In April of that year, Bishop Zanic presented the CDF (headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) with an unfavorable report. Thereafter, Cardinal Ratzinger, acting as Prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF), relieved Bishop Zanic of the burden and placed it in the hands of the Yugoslavian Bishops Conference, which, since the break-up of Yugoslavia, has become the Episcopal Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Then in January of 1987 Bishop Žanić, himself, along with Cardinal Kuharić (President of the Yugoslav Bishop’s Conference) issued a joint statement announcing the formation of a new Commission, as requested by Cardinal Ratzinger, to be overseen by the Yugoslavian Bishop’s. Instead of listening to endless speculation articulated by Medjugore zealots, speculation about how Bishop Zanic was “sacked” by Rome due to his ineptitude etc., it is actually beneficial to look at the documented reason for the shift from the Local Bishop’s Conference to the National Bishop’s Conference. According to Cardinal Kuharic (who headed the National Bishop’s Commission) and to Bishop Zanic (whom Cardinal Ratzinger named as “Co-Chair), according to the Co-Chairs of the new Commission of the National Bishop’s Conference themselves, the reason for the shift had nothing to do with ineptitude or the need to “sack” a rancorous bishop; the reason is simply canonical:
“In accordance with the canonical regulations which treat the matters of discernment of alleged apparitions and private revelations, the Diocesan Commission formed for that purpose by the Bishop of Mostar, the local Ordinary, investigated the events of Medjugorje. During the inquiry these events under investigation have appeared to go much beyond the limits of the diocese. Therefore, on the basis of the said regulations, it became fitting to continue the work at the level of the Bishops’ Conference, and thus to form a new Commission for that purpose.”
Even Medjugore devote and cleric Rene Laurentin, recognized the fact:
“When a phenomenon of apparitions takes on international proportions, or when qualified groups from among the faithful demand Rome’s intervention, the Holy See itself assumes responsibility.”
As will be seen below, the CDF eventually reaffirmed Bishop Zanic and seconded his disapproval of pilgrimages to Medjugore. This eventuality was foreshadowed at the close of the statement in which Bishop Zanich and Cardinal Kuharic announced the formation of the Yugoslav Bishop’s Conference to further investigate the Medjugore phenomenon, a phenomenon that had reached international proportions; they iterated ideas that were clearly in accordance with Zanic’s own views of the matter:
“It is not permitted to organize either pilgrimages or other religious manifestations based on an alleged supernatural character attributed to Medjugorje’s events. Marian devotion, legitimate and recommended by the Church, must be in accordance with the directives of the Magisterium, and especially the apostolic encyclical (exhortation) “Marialis Cultus”.
According to Marialis Cultus:
“The Blessed Virgin’s exemplary holiness encourages the faithful to “raise their eyes to Mary who shines forth before the whole community of the elect as a model of the virtues.” It is a question of solid, evangelical virtues: faith and the docile acceptance of the Word of God; generous obedience; genuine humility; solicitous charity; profound wisdom; worship of God manifested in alacrity in the fulfillment of religious duties, in gratitude for gifts received, in her offering in the Temple and in her prayer in the midst of the apostolic community… her virginal purity…. These virtues of the Mother will also adorn her children who steadfastly study her example in order to reflect it in their own lives.”
While waiting for the Yugoslav Bishop’s report, it became increasingly evident to the bishop that the Franciscan spiritual directors and conferees of the seers were deficient in many of these virtues and promoting unapproved devotion to Our Lady of Medjugorje, he remained steadfast in his negative judgement. By March of 1990 the bishop was so convinced of the errancy of the apparitions that he made public his profession: The Truth About Medjugorje, wherein he writes,
“I have already declared earlier and now I repeat the same declaration, that if Our Lady leaves a sign which the “seers” are speaking of, I’ll make a pilgrimage from Mostar to Medjugorje (30 km) on my knees and beg the Franciscans and the “seers” for forgiveness.”
“On the move are tourist agencies, pilgrimages, prayerbooks written by two Franciscans Vego and Prusina who were thrown out of the OFM Order, published in many languages in 600,000 copies, fanatical prayer groups that are inspired by the apparent messages of Our Lady and the great motivator of all – money.”
“One month after the beginning of the “apparitions” I went to Medjugorje to question the ‘seers’. I asked each of them to take an oath on the cross and demanded that they must speak the truth. (This conversation and oath was recorded on tape). The first one was Mirjana: “We went to look for our sheep when at once…” (The associate pastor in the parish interrupted and told me that they actually went out to smoke, which they hid from their parents). “Wait a minute Mirjana, you’re under oath. Did you go out to look for your sheep?” She put her hand over her mouth, “forgive me, we went out to smoke.” She than showed me the watch on which the “miracle” occurred because the hands of the watch had gone haywire…. I told her not to mention that a miracle occurred. Yet, on cassettes taped later on, she went on to speak of how a miracle occurred with the watch and that initially they had gone out to search for their sheep.”
Accordingly, on April 10 1991, the Yugoslavian Bishop’s Conference promulgated a statement, known as the “Zadar Declaration“, which confirmed Zanic’s position while leaving the whole question open to further inquiry:
“On the basis of the investigations so far it can not be affirmed that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations….Yet the gathering of the 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 (the Bishop of Mostar) 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 (according to the “bishops” not the Medjugore Franciscans) may be promoted.
The Zadar Declaration left the doors to future scrutiny open; it also clearly indicated (and indicates) that the Yugoslavian Bishop’s Conference found nothing that verified claims that Medjugore has a supernatural origin in God. Moreover, since it did not overrule trips to Yugoslavia, it did specify that visitors should be provided with pastoral care and authentic Marian spirituality under the direction of the local bishop (again, not the Franciscans – unless they have the Local Bishop’s approbation).
This means that the Zadar Declaration did not give permission to foster devotion to “Our Lady of Medjugorje”; this remains a current impossibility since it has not been established that the Virgin Mary is appearing at Medjugore. Rather, it has been established that it “cannot be affirmed” that anything supernatural is occurring there.
Five years later, Archbishop Bertone, Secretary of the CDF, made it clear (March 23, 1996) that the faithful could go to Medjugorje but NOT if the trip was promoted as a pilgrimage or journey to a place of authentic Marian apparitions or as an official diocesan or parish led pilgrimage.
“Official pilgrimages to Medjugorje, understood as a place of authentic Marian apparitions, are not permitted to be organized either on the parish or on the diocesan level, because that would be in contradiction to what the Bishops of former Yugoslavia affirmed in their fore mentioned Declaration.”
In the meantime, Bishop Žanić, in accord with the Zadar Statement, continued to exercise his legitimate episcopal duties by forbidding priests from organizing official parish-diocesan pilgrimages, pilgrimages that ascribed or presume supernatural events are occurring, or have occurred, at Medjugorje. Again, he was disobeyed by the Franciscans. There is no problem with disobedience from diocesan clergy; “not one” of the hundred (then ministering)…accept them as authentic“
Bishop Žanić retired in 1993 at age 75 and was succeeded by Bishop Ratko Perić.
Bishop Ratko Peric
Bishop Ratko Peric was born on February 2, 1944. In December of 1979, he became Rector of the Pontifical Croatian College of St. Jerome in Rome and later taught ecumenical theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University until 1992. Like his predecessor, Bishop Zanic, Bishop Peric doubts the authenticity of the apparitions; he refers to them as a “religious show” and “spectaculum mundo. Consequently, he defers to the statement of Yugoslavia Bishop’s Conference of 1991 and interprets it to mean that the Virgin Mary is not appearing at Medjugorje.
On April 1, 1995 Bishop Perić was kidnapped by Croatian militia of the HVO (anti-Serb and anti-Muslim Croatian nationalists) after he tried to replace Franciscan HVO sympathizers with less nationalistic diocesan priests.
Bishop Peric has pointed out that diocesan commissions studied the apparitions from 1982-1984 and then again from 1984-1986. These diocesan studies were followed by the Yugoslavian Bishops’ Conference, which studied them from 1987 to 1990. All three commissions have concluded the same thing: It cannot be affirmed that a supernatural event occurred or is occurring on Medjugore.
Under his tutelage, Pope Benedict XVI commissioned a team that after four year of investigation wrapped up its work in 2014 and presented it to the CDF, which is currently reviewing the report and expected to rule on it soon, perhaps for the 100th anniversary celebration of Fatima.
During his entire reign, Peric has consistently believed and stated, “these are not real apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” He bases his claim on a thorough review of the transcripts, which include interviews with the visionaries from the very beginning that provide him ample reason to doubt the authenticity of the alleged events. Some of these reasons he wrote about include:
- Friars Slavko Barbaric and Tomislav Vlasic, spiritual directors of the seers, filtered their so-called messages from the “Gospa”.
In the Chronicle of April 12 1984, Vlasic recorded:
“Today I spoke with all the seers. I brought to their attention again the necessity of not releasing statements to anyone without informing us.”
- The children reported that the Madonna taught them that those who ascend to heaven do so in both body and soul
Finally, Bishop Peric points out that after Father Vasic was removed, Our Lady wanted Slavko Barbaric to replace him as spiritual director of the seers so Barbaric could document the apparitions and messages. Slavko Barbaric passed away in AD 2000, and the alleged apparitions continue to this day… without Slavko Barbaric. Another “vision” that never came true.
On January 3, 1985 Bishop Zanic asked the Franciscan Provincial to transfer Friar Barbaric:
“I ask you to transfer friar Slavko Barbaric from Medjugorje to another position. He at Medjugorje, on the very important questions regarding the alleged “apparitions” of the Madonna is making propaganda in a way completely opposed to the directions I have given many times orally and in writing.”
Apparently, the Virgin Mary had other plans, contrary to those of the bishop. She expressed her desire that the friar remain at Medjugorje to help guide events and to chronicle her visits. Writing in third person, Friar Slavko recorded this message in the Chronicle:
“3 February 1985. (Sunday) The vision came suddenly. Shorter this evening than in some days, just 2 minutes. Marija, Ivan, and Jakov were present. The message was for friar Slavko, as promised in the vision yesterday. It was given by Ivan. It went as follows: “I would like that Slavko remain here, and attend to all the details and the notes so that at the end of my visit we will have a synoptic image of everything. I am praying especially for Slavko at this time and for all those who work in the parish.”
Unfortunately, Father Slavko died on November 25, 2000 years before the visions ended, years before a synoptic version could be completed as the Gospa had indicated. In other words, her remarks about Friar Slavko preparing a “synoptic image of everything” were incorrect; Father Slavko died making this a false prophecy.
For reasons such as these, and many others, Bishop Peric remains skeptical, more than skeptical, he continues to deny the validity of the apparitions. At a recent confirmation ceremony in which one of the seers, Ivan Dragicevic, was present, the bishop pronounced from the pulpit:
“Apollos (St. Paul) has shown us that the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace is more important than any personal talents, intractable charisms, speaking in tongues, falling on the floor, monthly double messages and tenfold talents. Our faith is founded on the Bible and tradition through the Magisterium of the Church, and not private hallucinations which occur three times daily.”
GO TO: PART TWO: “Medjugore Saga Priests & Bishops to Seers & Advocates : Ivan Dragizevic”