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									Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                                                       07/30/2006 08:06 PM

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                 FASCINATING DISPUTE
                                                       Rome or Mostar?

                                                       That question -- and confusion -- reared its head again last week
                                                       when the bishop of the diocese that oversees Medjugorje, the
                                                       famous pilgrimage site in Bosnia-Hercegovina, was reported to
                                                       have once more denounced the apparitions, demanding that seers
                                                       there "demonstrate ecclesiastical obedience" and "cease with
                                                       these public manifestations and messages in this parish."

 Since 1981, six visionaries have claimed to see the Blessed Mother on a regular and in some
 cases daily basis, issuing a monthly message that is disseminated around the world.

 The bishop, Ratko Peric, actually had made the remarks more than two weeks before (it took a
 while for the diocese to publish them) and the confusion was that the Vatican -- while
 prohibiting official parish pilgrimages to Medjugorje -- has for years said that the matter is still
 under review and -- contrary to the bishop's pronouncements -- that unofficial pilgrimages,
 including by priests and bishops, are acceptable. "You cannot say people cannot go there until it
 has been proven false," stated the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, in Rome's last
 official statement, which was reiterated several weeks ago. "This has not been said, so anyone
 can go if they want."

 There was thus a curious choice: were the faithful to heed the local bishop, who almost always
 has jurisdiction over apparitions in his diocese, or the Vatican -- which has authority over                                                                           Page 1 of 9
Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                             07/30/2006 08:06 PM

 bishops and the final say on private revelations, through its Congregation for the Doctrine of the

 The matter is almost surely one that in the end, publicly or quietly, will be resolved by the
 Vicar of Rome.

 And therein is the uncertainty.

 While Pope John Paul II was widely reported to have had a positive discernment of the
 apparitions, it is not known how the current Pope feels. He has indicated both ways.

 But it was Benedict XVI, in 1986, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
 who removed the authority of the Mostar bishop to rule on the apparitions, placing the matter in
 the hands of a national commission that is now headed by the Cardinal of Sarajevo -- which has
 stated that it will not issue a final decision until the apparitions have come to a conclusion.

 The issue remains a matter of misunderstanding, misrepresentations, and sharp debate. When he
 was secretary of the Congregation (under Cardinal Ratzinger), and asked about similarly
 negative statements from the bishop in a periodical called Famille Chretienne, the new Vatican
 Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, wrote:

 "What Bishop Peric said in his letter to the Secretary General of Famille Chretienne, declaring:
 'My conviction and my position is not only 'non constat de supernaturalitate,' but likewise,
 'constat de non supernaturalitate' of the apparitions or revelations in Medjugorje [that they were
 false], should be considered the expression of the personal conviction of the Bishop of Mostar
 which he has the right to express as Ordinary of the place, but which is and remains his
 personal opinion."

 There is thus no judgment recognized at this point by Rome. According to a Croatian source
 who is close to the situation Bishop Peric and his predecessor had been instructed by the
 Vatican not to make public remarks about the apparitions.

 The history of the controversy is meticulously detailed by a professional British journalist and
 broadcaster, Mary Craig, who first traveled to Medjugorje to produce a documentary for the
 British Broadcasting Corporation and later penned a book about the controversy called Spark
 From Heaven.

 According to Craig, the opposition of the local bishop is largely rooted in or at least
 exacerbated by a long-standing dispute between the secular priests in the diocese, based in
 Mostar, and Franciscans who have functioned independent of diocesan oversight and operate
 many parishes in what was once Yugoslavia -- including the parish of Medjugorje.                                                 Page 2 of 9
Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                                                   07/30/2006 08:06 PM

 Franciscans are the oldest priests in the region and predate existence of dioceses. But bowing to
 pressure from Austro-Hungary, the Vatican created a secular diocese to oversee the area on July
 5, 1881, despite dogged Franciscan opposition. It was these attempts by the diocese to absorb
 Franciscan parishes that sparked antagonisms.

 Initially, Pope Leo XIII halted the secular archbishop from claiming right to the Franciscan
 parishes, but as the years and decades wore on, pressure built and some parishes were turned

                                                       Tensions remained particularly acute in the Diocese of Mostar.

                                                       "The mutual animosity was unbelievable," commented an
                                                       observer quoted by Craig. "The Franciscans simply didn't want to
                                                       go. After all, they had been there for more than four centuries."

                                                       By 1966 the situation was described as "intractable," and
                                                       attempts by the diocese to absorb the Franciscan strongholds
                                                       were met by actual protests by villagers, who were loyal to the
                                                       Franciscans and in some cases reacted with violence.

                                                       So furious was the bishop of Mostar at the time, Petar Cule, that
                                                       he banned Masses, baptisms, and catechism lessons at the guilty
                                                       parishes. "Cule had the enthusiastic support," writes Craig, "of
                                                       his new auxiliary bishop, Pavao Zanic."

                                                       Bishop Zanic, who immediately preceded Bishop Peric, became
                                                       bishop on August 31, 1980, and immediately demanded the
                                                       surrender of three-quarters of the Franciscan parishes -- once
                                                       more spiking tensions between Franciscans and the diocese. Two
                                                       especially recalcitrant Franciscan priests, Ivica Vega and Ivan
                                                       Prusina, were expelled.

 It was Zanic -- as successor to Cule -- who would initiate the rulings against the apparitions at
 Medjugorje, which began shortly after the expulsions.

 On January 10, 1982, faced with thousands of pilgrims descending on the Franciscan parish, the
 bishop set up a four-man commission to study the reputed apparitions.

 Just four days later, when summoned to Mostar to see the bishop, one of the seers, Vicka
 Ivankovic, without preamble, defended the Franciscans and indicated that the Blessed Mother
 felt he had acted hastily in dismissing the young priests -- a claim that according to Craig                                                                       Page 3 of 9
Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                                                     07/30/2006 08:06 PM

 enraged the bishop. "'Go away,' he shouted at Vicka, reportedly adding, "And when your Lady
 finally reveals her true colors and curses God, be sure and let me know," writes the British

 While initially a believer that Mary was appearing, the dispute erupted in the early days of the
 apparitions and the bishop had also grown concerned about what he later termed as widespread
 "hallucination" at the site of apparitions.

 In 1984, the bishop issued a position paper saying that the only unique feature of Medjugorje
 was the blame it seemed to levy on him in the matter of the two Franciscans. Animosities only
 grew as pilgrims streamed in and the diocese was unable to exert control.

 The matter intensified in 1985 when on June 2 of that year, Bishop Zanic went to Rome to
 present an up-to-date report on Medjugorje to the Vatican that was strongly negative. "Rather to
 his dismay," reports Craig, "he was asked to soft-pedal his opposition, to let events take their
 own course."

 Added Craig -- who also penned a major biography of Lech Walesa -- "an affair that should
 have been no more than an irritating side issue had turned into a creeping cancer that threatened
 to destroy the integrity of the Medjugorje events."

 Meanwhile, three of the seers, Ivan Dragicevic, Marija Pavlocic, and Jakov Colo, reported that
 during an apparition, the Blessed Mother had said, "Tell the bishop that I beg him most
 earnestly to endorse the events in the parish of Medjugorje before it is too late. I want him to
 approach those events with great understanding, love, and a deep sense of responsibility. The
 bishop is father-in-chief to all the Hercegovina parishes, and head of the Church in that
 province. For this reason, I beg him to accept what is happening there."

 By this time Medjugorje and its messages were the subject of deep interest by John Paul II,
 who encouraged visiting bishops to visit the site and studied the monthly messages. It is all but
 certain that it was John Paul II, working quietly behind the scenes, who prevented the bishop
 from making an official negative pronouncement.

                                                            The Pope's views had been influenced in large measure by
                                                            French theologian Rene Laurentin, widely considered the
                                                            greatest Marian scholar in the world and an expert on the
                                                            apparitions at Lourdes. After visiting Bishop Zanic, Father
                                                            Laurentin became "alarmed by the anger in the bishop's voice,"
                                                            says Craig, and "begged him not to give voice to accusations
                                                            which could only scandalize the pilgrims."                                                                         Page 4 of 9
Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                            07/30/2006 08:06 PM

                                  The issue was placed in the hands of the Pope's top lieutenant,
 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- who as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
 had jurisdiction over private revelations.

 The controversy was further fueled, notes the journalist, by the two ends of the Church
 spectrum: liberals who disdained any supernatural claims, preferring a psychological approach
 (and dismissing such matters as hallucinations) and "traditionalists on the right" who
 condemned the ecumenical messages from Medjugorje (where the Blessed Mother had said
 people of all religions were God's children).

 In July of 1984, the visionaries were banned from the church by the bishop -- who did have the
 authority to do that -- and henceforth would have their apparitions in the rectory or a side

 As for investigations, a commission that was seen as negative to Medjugorje from the start was
 established by Bishop Zanic but composed of just four people (only one of whom visited
 Medjugorje) and in January of 1984 Cardinal Kuharich of Zagreb asked Bishop Zanic to form
 "a larger, more serious commission," says the author.

 Such was done and a new commission was formed with 14 members.

 "None, however, was known to the public, and none had the remotest connection with the
 events they were investigating," notes Craig. "Moreover, the mixture was no more balanced than
 before, as ten of the 14 were known opponents of Medjugorje. Indeed, one of Zanic's fellow
 bishops dryly observed that disapproval of Medjugorje seemed to be a condition of selection."
 According to Craig -- -- who also takes swipes at the pro-Medjugorje camp -- the bishop, in
 pronouncing himself chairman of the commission, "declared his intention of 'crushing the

 If any more heat was needed, the Archbishop of Split, Frane Franic, threw his support behind
 Medjugorje, saying that the apparitions had borne more fruit for the region in three years "than
 all of our pastoral letters in forty."

 It was a strange result, noted Craig, "for Satan to achieve."

 The controversy over the apparitions, though still erupting, was thus a full-blown one more than
 twenty years ago. But back to the history:

 The new commission proceeded with a report deploring those who "organize pilgrimages and
 demanded silence on the subject," says the book.                                                Page 5 of 9
Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                                              07/30/2006 08:06 PM

 "But the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, gave it front-page prominence, and from
 there it spread around the world," says Craig, "creating the false impression, highly satisfactory
 to Bishop Zanic, that Medjugorje had been placed out of the bounds to faithful Catholics."

 When the commission met on October 11, 1984, it was rapidly deadlocked despite the bishop's
 efforts and managed only a re-issuance of its earlier communique promising more investigation
 and expressing dissatisfaction over pilgrimages, which had continued and soon were to expand
 to such an extent that Medjugorje became the most visited site of apparition at such an early
 stage in modern Church history, with millions traveling there despite the rule of Communism.

 When the new communique was sent for endorsement by the Yugoslav bishops, says Craig, the
 word "official" was inserted in front of "pilgrimages," thus recognizing that "though there could
 be no major pilgrimages led by a bishop or cardinal to Medjugorje, private pilgrimages
 remained a matter of free choice."

 They further suggested that a larger commission be instituted -- with international membership,
 for with visitors from nearly every nation, Medjugorje had far outgrown status as a local or
 even national event. So it is that the issue was beginning to grow beyond local control.

 Despite criticisms, says Craig, "Bishop Zanic's position paper almost came near to torpedoing
 Medjugorje, as the international press danced to his tune."

 A lack of knowledge into Church jurisdictions when it comes to apparitions aggravated the
 problem. So did politics.

                                                      "Communist journals in Zagreb and Belgrade were claiming that
                                                      Cardinal Ratzinger had banned the pilgrimages," writes the
                                                      former BBC broadcaster. "But Ratzinger maintained a prudent
                                                      silence on the subject of Medjugorje, and Glas Koncila (a
                                                      newspaper that made it sound like Medjugorje had been
                                                      condemned) had to publish a denial."

                              The fight between Bishop Zanic and Archbishop Franic exploded
                              in 1985 when Bishop Zanic asked the Vatican Secretary of State
                              to stop the archbishop from interfering in the issue while, for his
                              part, the archbishop went higher -- to Cardinal Ratzinger,
                              pleading that the Vatican halt Bishop Zanic from defaming the
                              site and noting the "large number of authenticated cures" at
 Medjugorje, something that had also caught the attention of Father Laurentin.

 "An international commission should be set up, to stop the Bishop of Mostar forbidding all                                                                  Page 6 of 9
Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                            07/30/2006 08:06 PM

 pilgrimages to Medjugorje, which would cause great scandal not only in Yugoslavia but
 throughout the world," wrote Archbishop Franic -- who on paper had spiritual if not
 administrative authority. "Medjugorje belongs not only to the Church in Yugoslavia but to the
 universal Church."

 The bishop suffered further scrutiny when he accused a Franciscan who had served as a spiritual
 director at Medjugorje of having an affair with a nun -- an accusation that was hotly denied and
 eventually discredited.

 In July of 1985, however, one of Cardinal Ratzinger's assistants, Archbishop Alberto Bovomne,
 asked Italian bishops to "publicly discourage the organization of pilgrimages and all other forms
 of propaganda for Medjugorje." It seemed like Bishop Zanic was finally on his way to settling
 the matter.

 But in April of 1986 Bishop Zanic -- traveling to Rome with further commission findings --
 "returned visibly chastened from a visit to Cardinal Ratzinger," reported Craig.

 The bishop's commission assembled to vote the following month, with results that were never
 made public but were considered suspect.

 "The die was cast," writes Craig. "The Commission may not have completed its work, but it
 had voted. The ballot papers were sent to Rome.

 "Three weeks later, in May, Cardinal Ratzinger dissolved Bishop Zanic's commission, and
 ordered the Yugoslav Bishops' Conference to set up a new one. He gave no reasons for this
 action, unprecedented in the history of the Vatican, which has always left such investigations to
 the local bishop. In October, Cardinal Kuharic of Zagreb and Archbishop Franic of Split sent a
 joint letter to all the bishops, asking for nominees from each diocese."

 Thus, the matter is now in the hands of a national commission -- albeit different from the one
 formed immediately after Cardinal Ratzinger stripped the Mostar diocese of its authority over
 the matter.

 Although Bishop Zanic is now deceased, his successor and close assistant, Bishop Peric, who
 assumed control on July 24, 1994, is at least equally opposed to the apparitions and reportedly
 was a significant force behind Bishop Zanic's own misgivings throughout the 1980s.

 His pronouncements are now in eerie echo of Bishop Zanic's -- and with the same result in the

 Interrupted by civil war in Yugoslavia during the 1990s, and creation of the new nation of                                                Page 7 of 9
Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                                                 07/30/2006 08:06 PM

 Bosnia-Hercegovina, the national commission, which issued an intermediate report in 1991
 saying there was as yet no proof of the supernatural, has been reformed into one that is headed
 by Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo and also includes his auxiliary bishop; the Bishop of
 Banja-Luka; and Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar.

                                                 How the Church will eventually rule is anyone's guess. Dozens of
                                                 visitors, including bishops and archbishops, have said that John Paul
                                                 II was highly favorable, and recent handwritten notes to a Polish
                                                 intellectual have documented the late Pope's devotion to the site, but
                                                 the stance of Pope Benedict is not known. If the commission rules
                                                 against Medjugorje during his pontificate, he then has to accept it
                                                 fully or intervene once more.

                              It has been asserted that as Cardinal Raztinger he visited Medjugorje
                              incognito in 1984 and then again in 1986 or 1987 -- a claim given
                              some credence by the fact that John Paul II encouraged underlings
                              to go there and by the fact that high-ranking Vatican observers have
                              been noted in the village on various occasions, including in 2002.
 However, Bishop Peric asserts the Pope told him recently that he never did visit the famous
 site. The Vatican itself has not commented.

 Of potential future relevance is the fact that at the Shrine of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, a similar
 dispute between Franciscans and a secular bishop was recently settled when Pope Benedict
 placed the shrine in the secular bishop's hands.

 The Vicar General of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Hercegovina told Spirit Daily several years ago that
 there will be no official determination on the apparitions until long after they have ended. That
 vicar, Father Mato Zovkic, said there are no current plans to reopen an investigation into the
 apparitions that stalled when a previous investigative body was dismantled due to the Bosnian
 conflict. He said it could take "10 or 15 years" after the conclusion of apparitions for the
 Church to reach a final determination on authenticity. At least two members, Cardinal Pulic, in
 concert with Bishop Peric, have indicated negatively.

 "As the local bishop, I maintain that regarding the events of Medjugorje, on the basis of the
 investigations and experience gained thus far throughout these last 25 years, the Church has not
 confirmed a single apparition as authentically being the Madonna," he said. According to
 reports in the Catholic media, he then called on the alleged visionaries to cease with the "public

 "In this fashion," said the bishop, "they shall show their necessary adherence to the church, by                                                                     Page 8 of 9
Spirit Daily - Daily spiritual news from around the world                                                           07/30/2006 08:06 PM

 placing neither private apparitions nor private sayings before the official position of the church.
 Our faith is a serious and responsible matter," he added. "The Church is also a serious and
 responsible institution."

 Bishop Peric made his remarks on June 15 at a confirmation Mass in Medjugorje's St. James
 Church, a week before a record number of pilgrims flooded the area for the apparition's 25th
 anniversary. The diocese published the homily in Italian and English on July 3.

 Meantime, in Medjugorje, where the seers do not publicly react to press reports, sources say the
 apparitions and messages will continue until they hear from Rome.
 [see: John Paul's handwritten notes on Medjugorje and Vicar says Medjugorje will not be judged until after apparitions]

 [see also: official declarations on Medjugorje and Bishop urges Medjugorke seers to halt claims]

 [the Bishop's homily]

 [resources: Medjugorje and the Church, The Fruits of Medjugorje, Vicka, a Mother's Love, and Queen of the Cosmos]

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