Before continuing with the third editorial announced earlier for mid-July, allow me to share with you hereafter some interrogations about the “collective construction” of Medjugorje. Should I be forced to interrupt my writing by circumstances, my own questioning will already be set on this blog and hopefully become part of your extended reflections and discussions.
Critics will always be blamed for denouncing any deception that goes on. This recent threatsays it all:
“It is common knowledge that the devil hates Medjugorje. Be careful of those who attack Medjugorje and all the good it stands for especially when they have these other personality traits of pride, envy and malice.“
A strange echo to the admonition letter written by Bishop Pavao Zanic to Fr. René Laurentin, 25 years ago.
“He who does not accept the Medjugorje “apparitions” is detested and considered an atheist by many. A fierce frenzy has taken hold of many faithful who were good until now; they have become excessive and peculiar penitents… One can look forward to a religious war here…“ The Hidden Side of Medjugorje, p. 135+136
And yet, we are only reminded of the “rules of the game” that some bad faith promoters feign to ignore. To them, the good fruits come first.
The “Rules of the game”
But the 1978 Normssay otherwise concerning positive criteria. These include:
– moral certitude or at least great probability of the existence of the occurrence, acquired through serious investigation, – personal qualities of the subject or subjects, especially psychological balance, uprightness and moral rectitude, sincerity and habitual docility toward ecclesiastical authority, – spiritual veracity, freedom from all error and conformity of revelations with theological doctrines, – and, as a last resort, the question of spiritual fruits.
On the other hand, with regard to negative criteria, the first one to be listed deals with a patent error about the facts of the case. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is very clear about the mandate of the competent authority:
“So that the ecclesiastical authority is able to acquire more certainty on such or such an apparition or revelation, […] it will proceed to render a decision on the authenticity of the supernatural character, if the case requires this.”
Here is how Fr. Michael O’Carroll understood the 1978 Norms:
“Private revelation made public for any reason — because, for example, of a message intended for others — claims the attention of the Church for different reasons, principally because it must be related to public revelation and must not upset right public order. “Then the first task is to establish genuineness. – The norms of critical history must be strictly applied; – the resources, of normal and paranormal psychology, fully used. – Error can enter at any stage of the alleged communication. If error is clearly discovered, through deceitful testimony, psychiatric disease, mistaken observation, or defect in a spoken or written narrative, an adverse judgment may be pronounced to avert further harm. If a message or meaning contrary to church teaching is attributed to the event, the decision will be stricter. – If there is no reason for an intervention of this negative kind, the Church authorities may still show nothing more than tolerance, permission for the common acts of worship on the spot where the apparition is said to have taken place. – Competence lies with the bishop of the diocese. […] “Benedict XIV, in his classic treatise on the Beatification and Canonization of the Servants of God, insisted on the fact that the assent to apparitions was of human faith following the rules of prudence. “In summary the extremes of naive credulity and irreverent scepticism are to be avoided.” [O’CARROLL, M. (1982) Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier Inc., p. 48]
Subsequently to the publication of his Encyclopedia, the late Fr. Michael O’Carroll became however an ardent Medjugorje promoter. Clearly I do agree with his interpretation of the Norms. But I strongly disagree with his strange manner he chooses to enact them. I will come back to that question when I will expose the stratagem that he elaborated together with René Laurentin in their opposition to the Bishop of Mostar.
Shortage of fair play!
For now, let us be reminded that Medjugorge’s promoters and critics do agree on the formulation of the said Norms and on the need to enact them with a certain rigour. Let us be reminded also that the competent ecclesiastical authority was able to acquire more certainty on the Medjugorje phenomenon and that it proceeded to render a decision of “non constat de supernaturalitate” in 1986, reaffirmed in 1991, and still valid in 2010. Yet Medjugorje promoters apparently do not want to understand what “non constat” does mean. According to them, the 24-year old decision was and should be of “constat de supernaturalitate”. The protagonists-promoters-players behave as if the Virgin Mary is appearing in Medjugorje… and in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, with the benevolent permission of Cardinal Schönborn. Unfortunately, while knowing the rules of the game and showing the apparent intention to apply them, key protagonists-promoters-players have engaged in duplicity by breaking them so seriously that their credibility has to be questioned. Attached to the non constatis a precise pastoral directive that has been first published in 1987:
“it is not permitted to organize either pilgrimages or other religious manifestations based on an alleged supernatural character attributed to Medjugorje’s events.” The Hidden Side of Medjugorje, p. 140
I repeat: — religious manifestations — based on an alleged supernatural character — attributed to Medjugorje’s events. Is it not clear that each of the religious manifestations organized with or without the visionaries in Medjugorje with the Lady of Medjugorje presented as the supernatural character “Gospa” constitutes a mighty coup de force [takeover by force] against the competent authority that formulated the directive? One is looking already to a religious war here… Credibility has to be deserved. After having studied the Medjugorje phenomenonon the basis of:
– personal observation of events on the field, – the interviews given to me by certain protagonists and a follow up through corresponding with them, – the consultation of archival documents in Mostar and interviews and correspondence with Bishop Pavao Zanic, – personal counter-verification of the so-called “medical and scientific” studies – and close collaboration with Fr. Ivo Sivric, O.F.M. which lead to the publication of The Hidden Side of Medjugorje, I have come to the conclusion that key protagonists-promoters-players of the “cause” of Medjugorje :
– have engaged in dissimulation of important events and falsification of historical documents, – contributed to the elaboration of a peculiar character ─ the “Lady of Medjugorje” – and therefore are not up to the credibility attributed to them.
My view of Medjugorje is presented here with key words that I will develop and substantiate gradually in the next editorials, articles and commentaries. Here are some elements of my considerations:
Medjugorje : a collective construction…
Thanks to the tools developed by disciplines I am more familiar with such as psychology, electrophysiology, socio-politology, I have tried to reconstruct the first minutes of Medjugorje’s events in their proper context and discern the stakes that permitted their continuation. The main protagonist of the first days is Ivanka Ivankovic. She was in grief by her mother’s sudden death due to an attack of bronchial asthma, on April 1981, at the age of 39. The grief was enhanced by the fact that her mother died alone. The Medjugorje events began three days after her 15th birthday. Ivanka is the first to have namedthe Gospa. She was accompanied by Mirjana Dragicevic who didn’t feel the need to look at the Podbrdo, thereby confirming her “imperience”, or the profound inner experience of a grieving adolescent. To my knowledge, no member of the pastoral personal took into account those crucial psycho-affective dynamics.
If there is something authentic at the beginning of the events, it is most likely that spontaneous appeal to a spiritual substitute of her earthly mother. The following day, Ivanka is again the first to see the entity she names the Gospa. She inquires about her mother and even hopes to see her. She said later on that she saw her deceased mother four times until the ultimate daily “apparition” on May 7th, 1985.
Because of those personal events of outstanding importance, the meticulous analyst should refrain from pretending that fraud presided to the creation of the event. Thereafter, the group of the six youngsters takes shape, trying to impose its “power” ─ the visions on the hill ─ on their parents and the parish priest, Jozo Zovko, who wants to repatriate the entity into the church. The youngsters manifest their opposition, then give up by announcing, on the seventh day, the end of the “apparitions” for the tenth day, while they are submitted to unbearable pressure from their own parents ─ some among them are at odds with political authorities ─ from the parish priest who fears reprisals from the police force and from the onlookers crowding around them to obtain miracles. On the evening of June 29th, the charismatic Franciscan Tomislav Vlasic appears on the Medjugorjean stage for the first time since the beginning of these events. He will exert a profound influence on the visionaries, but first, according to my hypothesis, on Jozo Zovko who converts to the “Lady of Medjugorje” at the beginning of July 1981.
The entity: The “Lady of Medjugorje” (LoM)
I want to clarify straightaway what I mean by using the expression “Lady of Medjugorje”. It does not refer to the Virgin Mary, the important spiritual figure whose qualities have been acknowledged and specified by the Catholic Church over the centuries. The Lady of Medjugorje (LoM), according to my perception, is the product of a collective construction initiated by Ivanka Ivankovic, on June 24th1981, shaped first by the visionaries and later by the Croatian pastoral personnel of St. James parish who, to a certain extent, controlled her image and messages communicated worldwide. Those are continuing to be her fervent zealots. I wish my respectful position to be remembered as such concerning:
a peculiar character, created by Medjugorje protagonists, which does not involve the Virgin Mary or Gospa, as Croats call Her, who is not the target of my working hypothesis.
The justification of my critical position
It has been written that the non-believers who attack Medjugorje and its believers seem to be “a necessary evil”. May I respond that my intention is not to attack Medjugorje or its believers but rather try to be a useful good in the spirit of the 1978 Norms. The separation of truth from lies, wheat from chaff, is in the line of Benedict XIV’s heritage. This is the proper meaning of discernment which is not only the prerogative of experts, bishops and «even» cardinals, as the sensus fidelium — understood as sensus fidei — implies and permits. Therefore, when one observes writings, behaviours, manipulations and dissimulations that are contrary to truthfulness, it is not only the prerogative but also the duty of the faithful to inform other faithful in communion with the competent authority of eventual transgressions of the Norms. Is not the welfare of the Church at stake? In doing so, “the extremes of naive credulity and irreverent scepticism are to be avoided” as Fr. O’Carroll rightfully expressed.
The credibility of the Lady of Medjugorje (LoM)
The credibility of the LoM has been tainted a few times over the first days, in particular when she “spoke” of incredulous Judases. We know that Fr. Svetozar Kraljevic and the theologian Mark Miravalle have tried to “help” her as they corrected incredulous and changed it for the adjective unfaithful. Moreover historian René Laurentin changed the name of Judas into Thomas because, as he told me in a 1988-08-04 telephone conversation: « un historien doit tenir compte des lapsus » [“an historian must take lapsus into account”]. But the credibility of the LoM is most questionable when she overrides her announcement of her apparitions’ termination for the 3rdof July, 1981, by continuing to manifest herself during the following days. That breach of truthfulness and coherence seemed too “human”. One had to correct that blunder. Consequently, the pastoral personnel and René Laurentin, among other promoters, decided to silence the mistake of the LoM. I will show it very soon with the help of authentic documents that reveal the historical falsification.
The pastoral irresponsibility of Medjugorje’s Franciscans towards the visionaries (Summer and Fall 1981)
During what has been called by René Laurentin the « Hidden Phase » [Phase clandestine – 1981-06-30 to 1981-12-31], the visionaries play spirit games with the LoM without being dissuaded to do so by the pastoral personnel. In the fall, Ivica Vego and Ivan Prusina persist at confronting the Bishop of Mostar and use the visionaries and the LoM to consolidate their position. After the third of July 1981, the visionaries are sort of “spiritual hostages” during the discrete phase of indoctrination─ the Medjugorje Franciscans do not wish obviously the end of the “apparitions” because they keep silent about the LoM’s previous announcement ─ and in the fall, they finally stand by their Croatian spiritual “abductors” and still do so until today.
The incredible story of the 45 secrets
September 1981: five secrets in total already transmitted to the visionaries The incredible story of the secrets has not been discussed deeply enough. One must remember that the first version concerning the existence of the secrets ─ five secrets already given to the visionaries, most of them concerning all mankind ─ is known on 1981-09-09 [see The Hidden Side of Medjugorje, p. 108-110] The Medjugorje Franciscans keep silent about that first version in their official writings.
October 1982: ten secrets in total ─ three already transmitted, seven to come The second version of the story is officially published in October 1982 in Informacije [see The Hidden Side of Medjugorje, p. 108-110]. According to that final official version, three secrets have already been given to the visionaries. The subsequent secrets are being given gradually and individually to each visionary.
We now know that from five secrets, there is an escalation to the possibility of forty-five (7×6+3). Is not there a stratagem to spin things out until today and beyond? Are the secrets made by the group of the visionaries, their spiritual director, or both parties by mutual agreement? On the side of the visionaries, the power of the secretsgives them the possibility, with the first version, to distinguish themselves from the adults. One seems to have ignored these adolescent dynamics. However, the second version ─ the secrets to be delivered ─ confers them an almost absolute control over the course of events with the support of the Medjugorje Franciscans through Fr. Petar Ljubicic.
The Lady of Medjugorje and Croatian nationalism
Here is a delicate and complex question that has to be approached. Recently, the BBC has broadcasted a revealing report on that dimension. Journalist Allan Little submits that in that region of the world, religion and national identity are inseparable. The former parish priest of Medjugorje, Fr. Tomislav Pervan, approves. The appearing on the Medjugorje stage of the Queen of Croats is perceived as the support of the Croatian nationalist aspirations in a place surrounded by Bosniaks (Muslims) and Serbs (Orthodox). After so many centuries of domination by strangers of all sorts, the Croatian people are finally liberated with the support of the Virgin Mary, says Fr. Pervan. Unfortunately, during the three-year war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995), ethnic groups tear each other to pieces: punitive expeditions lead by combatants “fearing neither God nor man” and committing rapes, massacres, ethnic cleansing and seclusion in concentration camps. What was the reaction of the Lady of Medjugorje when she saw “her” Croatian soldiers or militiamen in slaughtering expeditions against Orthodox and Muslims outside her favourite village? Has she addressed specific reprimands against them? I have no documented answers to these questions. But an article published in the Medjugorje Press Bulletin, 142, May 3, 2000, leaves me perplex. Please read it in its entirety. It is entitled: “Missionary Travel of Fr. Slavko Barbaric”
“On April 7th, I visited our prisoners in the Haag. This was not my first visit with them at the Haag, but this time there was somehow a difference in my spirit than in previous visits. Previously there was always in my heart a great hope that the court will do justice and act worthily. In September of last year when I was with them, we were hoping that the trial would be in keeping with personal culpability, which the court obviously could not prove for some of them even at the end of four years. We were always worried about the trial being politicized, and there were good reasons for being afraid of that. But still we were hopeful?! But, the Tribunal showed its face. The Croatian people have been condemned in those good and noble men. And the sentences came down 45, 25, 15, 10 and 8 years. “In my spirit it was difficult for me to meet those men again, but on the other hand I rejoiced over the meeting because Medjugorje means very much for all of them. And when the first group voluntarily went to the Haag, they stopped in Medjugorje, prayed and took courage under the patronage of the Queen of Peace. They never ever suspected that there was a different truth and justice for the great and for the small, for the powerful and for the weak. Nor did they suspect how very small they were and how small in the eyes of the great is the nation to which they belong and how it has no right to its own self defense, a thing the powerful in their sentences proclaim to be aggression!?! “All these thoughts were in my heart while I passed through all those many prison doors and corridors. Waiting even for the last door to open, behind think glass I beheld General Blaskic with lawyer Nobilo and two other men. Many documents are in front of them. General Blaskic immediately stood up and said to wait for him, that he wanted to be at the Holy Mass and go to confession and that he was coming as soon as he was finished with the lawyers. His demeanor, the expression on his face, the happy wave with his hand, freed me from those anxieties that were in my heart when I was thinking how am I going to meet him now, after the passing of an unjust sentence against him, a sentence that the Croatian people at every level clearly and loudly condemned as unjust! Passing through the last barrier I silently greeted all those who were waiting in the area set apart for visiting. My spirit was all the more freed and rejoicing because I sensed: These dear men had lost neither the hope nor the will to fight to prove their innocence. “They had accepted the sentences as a fact, aware that they are continuing to suffer for that same people for whom they were ready to lay down their lives in defense of their own homeland. In my heart arose the thought: We must not be allowed to forget these men, we have to be worthy of them, they must know that their sacrifice was not in vain. They asked about everything that was happening; everything is of interest to them. The conversation flowed spontaneously, and then they wanted confession and a personal talk. In each individual conversation I am a witness, I felt a strong faith, a deep hope, a love that forgives and heals. After confession we celebrated Holy mass and stayed on in pleasant conversation. There was a certain festive atmosphere. They all greeted everyone and wished everyone a Happy Easter. I promised them that we will not forget them. “And while the prison doors opened and closed at the clang of big keys, I wished profoundly that the sacrifice of these men be blessed and that everything turns out for the good. And that is just what the Easter message is.”
All of that would be very edifying if it would imply innocent persons whose “sacrifice should be blessed”. But Fr. Barbaric is praising war criminals who, according to the international tribunal of The Hague, committed crimes against humanity not in “defense of their own homeland” but in an organized attack against Ahmici and other places in the Lasva Valley that is part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Are the key protagonists of Medjugorje nourishing themselves from that peculiar nationalist missionary pastoral teaching? Has the very voluble Lady of Medjugorje who, according to the visionary Ivan, speaks pure Croatian, said a word of reprimand on that warlike manner to envisage the defense of the Croatian people? In passing: has she pronounced, since 1981, a single word of welcome in one of the few hundreds of languages spoken and understood by the millions of international visitors who paid her a visit in her village of predilection? It amazes me that one does not seem surprised by that incongruity concerning elementary rules of politeness… It may be that the Lady of Medjugorje has, together with her constructors, a strong Croatian nationalistic agenda to impose to naïve pilgrims and to the world. The Medjugorje Franciscans have strong ambitions. At the time I was in Medjugorje, they were suspected, if not accused, by the Bishop of Mostar, Mgr Pavao Zanic, to be the manipulators of the young visionaries and the writers of the LoM’s messages. They were not as rich as today with more than 2G$ that came in Medjugorje since 1981. Now, they are rich, so rich that they have been able to invest more than 40% of shares in the foundation of the Hercegovacka Banka. Now, they are very powerful. They have the full collaboration of the visionaries. Over the years they have benefited from a strong lobby in Rome. They could “get rid” of Mgr Zanic’s successor, Bishop Ratko Peric who is in the way of their diocesan, national and international ambitions, if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would permit them to do so, in other words, if the CDF pronounces a political decision. Maybe the new Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, will be of some help to Benedict XVI not to resort to a political decision concerning the case of Medjugorje. His recent declaration reveals his intentions: “We need spiritual discernment and not just political calculation of the risk of the possibility of the message being received.” The success of the Medjugorje Franciscans and protagonists is due to the application of a theory called consequentialism. “Utilitarism” is one example of that theory with the well known motto:
“The end justifies the means”
which erodes the credibility of key Medjugorje protagonists.
The credibility of leading figures in the Medjugorjean adventure
I have already named key Medjugorje protagonists whose writings and behaviour concerning the first months of the events I will soon analyse: historian René Laurentin and Franciscan Tomislav Vlasic. These two figures are at the center of the elaboration of the Lady of Medjugorje. Both have expressed vigorous opposition against the Bishop of Mostar, Mgr Pavao Zanic, who, history will tell, had guessed probably right about all of their manipulations. The question of their credibility is fundamental. I will bring it up with the help of documents, some of them having not yet been published. Readers are invited to judge me severely on the solidity of the documentary proofs that will be submitted. Your commentaries are welcome, except the “anonymous” ones that will be discarded. With my cordial greetings, Louis Bélanger