“Dear Bishops, don’t be fooled…”

Sara Manzardo, a young married woman connected with the Italian Catholic blog “Cor XIII”, wrote this beautiful letter to the bishops on the occasion of the Synod on youth; it’s appeared on a couple of sites. The translation is mine. She writes:

Now that the Synod has just begun, the media buzz has started too and, looking at what the newspapers report, this synod on youth will be talking mostly about migrants, LGBT, and naturally about premarital sex, because chastity seems to be the main reason why youth drift away from the Church.

But we young people deserve much more. We aren’t satisfied any more to hear homilies full of politics, the common good, the news, the environment. And above all we don’t need anyone to be soft about premarital chastity: there’s already a whole world that gives us permission to live our sexuality any way we want. We young people in the Church are looking for valid, credible, convincing reasons to understand and choose a different sexuality: one that knows about waiting, choosing, bearing fruit.

We don’t drift away from the Church because it’s preventing us from having sex before marriage, let alone if we’re interested in any of what the priest thinks. We drift away because we don’t find anything in the Church different from what they say to us outside: nothing more moving, nothing worth the trouble of living and dying.

Instead we come closer to the Church when someone explains to us why they have chosen chastity (and it’s never “because the Church says so”, hardly). We come closer when someone opens our eyes about our life, when someone says words to us that burn like salt in a wound, but they’re living, true, strong words.

We come closer when someone gives us testimony of real, lived faith. We come closer when someone shows they wish us well and wish what is good for us, helping us to grow as persons from every point of view, even showing us the junk that makes us sad and unsatisfied.

We come closer when we see courageous people who make extreme choices, who know what they want, who live sexuality as a gift and as a responsibility. We come closer when someone tells us that to make love is an experience of paradise and it needs to be done well. Not to possess, not to please the other person, not a game, not out of habit. And precisely for the sake of this, they have chosen to become one flesh with the one person they have really chosen, once and for all, for ever, for eternity. Because youth know that love is for ever, or else it’s not love, it’s something similar, a nice friendship, or a substitute.

Dear bishops, don’t be fooled by the headlines in the newspapers. Don’t be influenced by what the world would like from you, but be daring. Have the courage to be fathers. Have the courage to be attentive and merciful guides, have the courage to say great things that start us discussing, things that unveil the mystery, that speak of the infinite.

Have the courage to address us, young married people, young engaged people, young priests, young consecrated people, young people searching. Have the courage and the patience to ask us the “why” for our choices, to ask us the “Who” we are living for, and then, tell the young people you see around you that it is possible to be happy, to live fully, to make great choices, to go against the current.

Have the courage to form future priests and future married people conscious of what they are choosing, in love with Christ and the Gospel, ready to give testimony to the youth who are far away, shy, undecided: that they will not be coming back to a Church in line with the world. They will be coming back to a beautiful and holy Church that lives what it believes in and has the courage to show it.

Sara Manzardo

Medjugorje: focus on the first ten days

One would think that the ardent promoters of Medjugorje would be overflowing with Christian virtues, given that they supposedly get the benefit of so much spiritual guidance in the form of frequent sermonettes from Heaven: over 1000 messages by now. But some of them responded quite bitterly to the recent interview given by Fr. Manfred Hauke in the “Tagespost” Catholic newspaper in Germany: one Austrian news site headlined its piece “If a ‘Mariologist’ fights against the Mother of God”, presenting attacks from the physician and Medjugorje devotee Dr. Christian Stelzer of Vienna.

Ah, well. One must be patient and persistent, and so the professor is. Here, in an interview published at gloria.tv August 27, 2018, Dr. Eva Doppelbauer gives Fr. Hauke the opportunity to go into some detail, telling the story of the first ten days of the alleged apparitions: facts which Medjugorje devotees aren’t going to find very much in the promotional literature. The translation is mine. Thanks to Fr. Hauke for permission to publish it here.

[Updated: 9/14/18 with a corrected citation.]

Is the Medjugorje phenomenon authentic? Exclusive interview with Prof. Manfred Hauke

Q: Professor, you find it unimaginable that the Mother of God has been appearing in Medjugorje since 1981. Why?

There is a whole series of arguments that have to be viewed together. The most weighty are the internal contradictions of the messages connected with the “Mother of God”. These began as early as the first days of the phenomenon and are documented in detail in tape-recorded interviews with the seers.

For example?

On the question of how long she would continue to appear, the “Gospa” answered on June 29, 1981: “As long as you want.” A day later on June 30, she answered the same question: “Three more days”: or, three times. That was witnessed not only by five seers (with the exception of Ivan Dragicevic, who was absent on June 30), but also by two women who were present at this “apparition” and had heard the clearly spoken words of the seers (who were not at all in ecstasy). Because of that, the seers expected the end of the apparitions to be on July 3.

The two “apparitions” contradict one another…

Not only that. The first answer binds the duration of the “apparitions” to the subjective will of the seers, which contradicts the heavenly origin of authentic apparitions – as for example in Lourdes or Fatima. The second answer contradicts the factual outcome of the events, since the “apparitions” did also continue after July 3, 1981. Hence it is a false prediction which, according to the testimony of Deuteronomy, speaks against the authenticity of a prophecy. Deuteronomy asks: “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?” The answer is: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken” (Dt 18:22).
I have no doubt that in the first days “apparitions” took place. I do doubt that the Mother of God appeared to the young people in Medjugorje. A whole series of further indications speaks against it; I will come back to those.

You wrote in the Tagespost that Cardinal Ruini’s Medjugorje commission overlooked the interview tapes. What kind of tapes are they?

This is about interviews with the seers, recorded on tape, that were conducted from June 27 to 30, 1981, by Fr. Zrinko Cuvalo, OFM, at the time the vicar of the Medjugorje parish, on the morning of June 27 and afterward by Fr. Jovo Zovko, OFM, then the parish priest, from the afternoon of June 27 onward. In addition there are taped excerpts of the “apparitions” of June 28 and 29, 1981.

What has been done with these interviews?

Fr. Ivo Sivric, OFM (d. 2002), a Franciscan born in Medjugorje, working in the United States, published a French and English translation from the Croatian tape transcripts in collaboration with the Canadian parapsychologist Louis Bélanger.[1]
The distribution of these books was in fact boycotted by interested parties. Copies that were sent to France, for example, never arrived. The book is very hard to get in Europe. When I ordered it in 2010, I had to contact Bélanger personally, who arranged for me to get both editions. Sivric and Bélanger do not consider the “apparitions” authentic.

Are there any other editions of the taped interviews?

The publication of the texts in Canada inspired a Croatian-born supporter of the “apparitions” living there, Daria Klanac, who published her own edition of the taped interviews in order to check the work of Fr. Sivric.[2] The result doesn’t show any significant differences from the content of Sivric’s previous publication.
After Donal Anthony Foley had published a painstaking analysis of the tape transcripts (first in 2006, with a second edition in 2011), this alarmed Medjugorje devotees in the English-speaking world. So James Mulligan published a further English edition of the texts that adds a few additional recordings and confirms what was already known.[3]

Did the unavailability of this publication cause the Ruini commission to not take it into account?

The difficulty of obtaining the source texts is certainly a factor that one has to take into account, as well as the difficulty that the transcripts are not available in Italian translation. But they absolutely should have evaluated them closely. These earliest texts are closer to the origin than later interviews (such as those of Fr. Bubalo with Vicka from 1983-84). Failing to basically evaluate a historical source of this rank is scandalous from a scholarly point of view, especially if a recognition of the “first days” (and only those) is recommended by the Ruini commission.

What problems present themselves on the basis of the tapes?

I mentioned the unfulfilled prediction of the end of the apparitions “in three days” and that it was contradicted by the assertion that the duration of the apparitions depended on the will of the seers. The seers also asked the “Gospa” for a sign, but there was none given. The fact that the hands of a watch belonging to one of the seers had allegedly moved on its own was not given any great importance later by the seers.

Were there other “signs”?

There was the case of Daniel Setka, a disabled three-year-old boy. On June 29 the “Gospa” promised a healing for him. However, Fr. Zovko determined on June 30 that this had not succeeded.[4] According to the testimony of the parents (April 3, 1983) there was a gradual improvement, but no immediate and complete healing, as would be expected of a miracle recognized by the Church (according to the guidelines of the medical bureau at Lourdes).

What is the content of the “message” of the first days?

In contrast to what happened later, there is no clearly identifiable message in the first days of the “apparitions”, as Fr. Zovko stated on June 29 in a communication to the members of the parish at Medjugorje. Instead the “Gospa” responded to the private questions of the seers.
On June 29, she spoke of the “unbelieving Judas”, which the French Mariologist René Laurentin (principally responsible for the worldwide spread of the “apparitions” of Medjugorje) modified to “unbelieving Thomas”. The expression “unbelieving Judas” is plainly heard on the tape recording that was taken during the apparition itself.

How does the “Gospa” present herself?

The appearance of the “Gospa” contains numerous unusual details that we do not find in authentic Marian apparitions. Her hands tremble. Whenever people step on her overly long veil, she disappears over and over and then comes back. She allows herself to be grasped and laughs at it. Whoever grasps her has the feeling of grasping steel. The color of her garment is gray. There is no cincture in her garment and her foot cannot be seen. As in spiritualistic phenomena, her face becomes visible slowly and gradually. When she is asked whether she would like to appear in the church (which was Fr. Zovko’s preference), she hesitates. When holy water is sprinkled, three of the female seers faint. The seer Marija complains on June 26 of having ice-cold hands as a result of the encounter with the “Gospa”.
Donal Anthony Foley’s commendable work Medjugorje Revisited[5] illuminates some of these aspects.

The Ruini commission wants to recognize the first days of the “apparitions”. Where do they draw the boundary?

The content of the Ruini commission’s assessment is under the obligation of papal secrecy. At the same time it has become known, through press reports that were not denied, that the commission recognized the first seven “apparitions” in the first ten days as worthy of belief.

Are there reasons for drawing that boundary?

It is meaningful to set off the first ten days, that is, from June 24 to July 3, and it has been done already by multiple scholarly studies, because the “apparitions” were supposed to end on July 3, according to the statement of the “Gospa”.
But, to my knowledge, no researcher familiar with the sources has set off the first seven apparitions from the later ones. Sivric regarded the first seven days as distinct (they were dealt with in the taped interviews), without excluding the later ones from the investigation; Bubalo only mentions the meaning of the first week of apparitions (eight days, up to July 1). The number of apparitions and the number of days also do not match. On June 29, the sixth day of the “apparitions”, there is talk of the “apparitions” to come on the next three days. If someone wants to recognize the seven days from June 24 to 30 as authentic, he cannot logically exclude the time from July 1 to 3, because the prediction on June 29 refers to it.
If someone wants to set off the first “seven” apparitions, then (depending on how you count them), that runs up to June 29 or June 27. Perhaps the “apparitions” from June 24 to 29 were grouped together because they took place on Apparition Hill (Podbrdo), while the “apparitions” afterward took place in the area of Cerno (June 30), or in the rectory and in other places (in a car, etc.) But there were also later “apparitions” on Podbrdo, so that drawing such a boundary would be problematic.

What happened in the first days of the “apparitions”?

In the following, I would like to attempt an overview. To take a more precise position, one should compare the sources I have mentioned and especially Foley’s presentation.
The events did not begin on June 25 (i.e., according to the anniversary dates given on the web sites of Medjugorje devotees), but on Wednesday, June 24, on the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist. In the late afternoon Ivanka Ivankovic (15 years old) and Mirjana Dragicevic (16) were at the Podbrdo, between Bijakovici (a section of Medjugorje) and Cilici, on the way to listen to rock music and smoke cigarettes without permission. All at once Ivanka says: “Look, the Gospa!” Mirjana doesn’t even look at the place indicated by her friend: “What you do mean? Do you really think the Gospa would appear to us?”

And when did the second apparition happen?

The second “apparition” takes place on the evening of the same day, after Ivanka and Mirjana have gone to the home of Milka Pavlovic, a younger sister of Marija Pavlovic, who was later to be a seer. Milka asks Ivanka and Mirjana to help her drive her sheep back home from the hill. While climbing the hill (Podbrdo), the three girls see the form of a woman from a distance (about 200 meters), holding a white bundle that could be a child (though no one sees a head or hands or feet). The figure repeatedly covers and uncovers the “child”; she makes a gesture that the girls should come nearer. In front of the “apparition”, Vicka Ivankovic, a friend of Ivanka and Mirjana, happens upon the group.
At the cries of the girls, two boys who were gathering apples nearby approach: Ivan Ivankovic (who later does not take part in the “apparitions”) and Ivan Dragicevic, whose description of the vision deviates somewhat from that of the other seers. He reports having seen a woman with a blue cape, a white veil and a silver crown, while according to Mirjana the dress was gray and the veil whiteish; she also mentions a shining crown. There is no message.

What happens then?

The third “apparition” takes place on Thursday, June 25, at 6 p.m. on Podbrdo. Since people had said that Mary had appeared 18 times in Lourdes, Ivanka, Mirjana, and Vicka go to the hill in the evening in the expectation that the “apparition” could perhaps repeat itself. Milka and the two Ivans (from the previous day) are not there. In the taped interview on June 27, Ivan Dragicevic emphasizes three times that he was not present at the apparition. According to an interview on June 28, which was first published by Mulligan in 2013, the Mother of God is said to have asked: “Where is that boy?” (without using a name), and afterward had appeared to him separately.
While Ivanka runs to the “apparition”, Vicka turns back to the village to fetch Marija Pavlovic and Jakov Colo. As they run to the hill, they feel themselves as though “carried” through the thornbushes by a superhuman power, similarly to what the seers of Garabandal reported, where there was a comparable problem. This time, for the first time, the seers are quite close to the “Gospa” and can touch her. The seers perceive a sort of fog that draws ever nearer to them and gradually the body becomes visible.
Vicka describes touching the “Gospa” with the expression ‘grasping steel’, while Marija has the opinion, it was like air. As the seers touch the figure, it itself begins to laugh. According to Ivanka’s description the apparition is wearing a white veil and a very long gray cape, as well as a crown upon the head, with stars; she wears no belt; she has blue eyes and black hair. Ivanka asks where her mother (who had died two months previously) is. The “apparition” answers that her mother is well, and she should obey her grandmother. Mirjana asks for a sign and says that she saw the hand of her wristwatch turn. When asked if she would come again, the “Gospa” answers with a nod and says, “Go in peace”. When Marija returns home, she is deeply frightened; she cannot eat, and her hands are ice-cold.

The fourth apparition?

At the fourth “apparition” on Friday, June 26, all six seers, who subsequently form a group, are together for the first time (Ivanka, Mirjana, Vicka, Marija, Jakov, Ivan Dragicevic). It is again the start of evening, around 300 meters from the apparition site of the previous days. Three lightning flashes announce the “apparition”. For the first time, a large crowd of people is present. When Marija greets the figure with the words “My Gospa” as it appears, the “Mother of God” nods repeatedly (so it seems) with her head and makes the sign of the Cross several times. Ivanka asks the “Gospa” why she has come and receives the answer: “Because there are many believers, who should be together.” The people and the whole world should be reconciled to one another.
Upon Vicka’s interior request to give a sign, the “Gospa” answers: “Come again tomorrow”, to the place where she had appeared before. Mirjana asks about her deceased grandfather and receives the answer: he is doing well. She should visit the cemetery. According to Ivan the “Gospa” says, before the crowd: “You, who have gathered here around me, are the best of believers.”
Vicka sprinkles holy water (made with blessed salt, added to water which was not blessed), in order to test whether it might be the devil who was appearing. Jakob relates that instantly three of the female seers (Ivanka, Marija, Vicka) faint, in contrast with him and Mirjana. In 1983 (or 1984) Vicka, in her interview with Fr. Bubalo, mentions that the “Gospa” smiled. This detail, which may possibly be derived from the description of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes, according to which the Mother of God is said to have smiled during the sprinkling of holy water, is absent in the taped interviews.
After the end of the (repeated) fainting, the seers pray seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys and seven Glory bes, as the grandmother of one of them had recommended; and also the Creed. This means: the initiative for the prayers did not come from the “Gospa”, but arose from Croatian popular piety.

The following apparition?

On Saturday, June 27, the fifth “apparition” takes place, or rather, the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth. The differing possibilities for counting them arise from the account (by Jakov and Marija), that the “apparition” had gone away three times: that it had removed itself twice because people had trod on the veil. According to Mirjana’s count, in contrast, there were not three but four “apparitions” on the same evening.

And then?

The sixth (or 9th-10th) “apparition” takes place on Sunday evening, again on Podbrdo. The seers ask for a sign twice. The first time, the “Gospa” smiles and disappears, but returns again. At the repeated request for a sign, the figure says, “Go in the peace of the Lord”, before disappearing.

Then the seventh or eleventh “apparition” follows…

The seventh or eleventh “apparition” takes place on Monday, June 29, the seventh day of the apparitions. The “Gospa” promises the healing of the disabled three-year-old boy Daniel Setka, while on the next day Fr. Zovko determines that the healing did not occur. But there was, as mentioned above, a gradual improvement.
When a physician (Darinka Glamuzina) wants to touch the “Gospa”, it answers: “There are always unbelieving Judases! She should come.” The physician herself later gave contrary testimony about whether she had touched the “Gospa” or not; according to Ivanka, she was able to touch the “Mother of God”. Fr. Zovko intervenes to say that Judas was not unbelieving, but rather Thomas; the seers, however, insist that the word was “Judas”, as the tape recording of the “apparition” itself confirms.
When Vicka asks the “Gospa” why she had come there, in particular, she gets no answer. At Ivanka’s question of how long the apparitions would continue, the “Gospa” answers: “As long as you want.”
She says yes to the question of whether she would also come on the next day (thus on June 30, in the vicinity of Cerno). If someone were to judge only the “apparitions” thus far on the hill as genuine, the question poses itself: why that does not apply to the “apparition” at another location, announced on June 29.

What happens on the seventh day of apparitions?

The eighth or twelfth “apparition” on the seventh day of “apparitions” is the first to take place away from Podbrdo, namely in the vicinity of Cerno. Accompanied by two young women, the seers (with the exception of Ivan) undertake a car trip, in order – so it says in the taped interview – to “try out” whether the “Gospa” would also appear in another place. At this “apparition” Mirjana asks how long the “Gospa” would remain with the seers, and receives the answer: “Three more days”, that is, until Friday, July 3.
Fr. Zovko would like the “Gospa” to agree to appear not on the hill but in the church. The corresponding question from the seers seems not to please the “Gospa”. “Apparently she didn’t like it. But finally she said she wasn’t angry.”
Half an hour later, Fr. Zovko is already interviewing the seers in the rectory at Medjugorje. The women accompanying the seers had no apparition themselves, but confirm the words spoken aloud by the seers during the “apparition”, referring to the end of the “apparitions”.
The taped interviews end on June 30. Other sources give information about the first three days in July, especially the interviews of Fr. Bubalo with Vicka (1983-84, published in 1985). According to that, on July 1 there was an “apparition” in an auto, on July 2 and 3 in the rectory instead (so all together about 12-16 “apparitions” during the first ten days). On July 3, the seers declared before many witnesses that the “apparitions” of the “Gospa” had ended.

The Vatican wants to overlook the question of the authenticity of the “apparitions” and concentrate on “good fruits”. Is that legitimate?

I hope that the Vatican does not overlook the question of authenticity in the future. Placing practice ahead of theory is questionable in any case. An apostolic visitor for Medjugorje has been named without first declaring a position on the question of authenticity. The phenomenon should first be clarified in its various dimensions, and only then can the practical conclusions be drawn for pastoral care. Wherever people set out to pray, there are good fruits. But there are also bad fruits that are inseparably connected with the “apparitions”.

What are the bad fruits?

The disobedience fomented by the “Gospa” against legitimate church authority (particularly on the part of prominent Franciscans), the linking of Medjugorje with hundreds of alleged “seers” and obvious pseudo-mysticism, a kind of dependency on “daily” “apparitions”, the ties to economic interests, and a neglect of authentic apparition sites recognized by the Church.

Are there things in the Gospa messages that contradict the faith?

The collection and filtering of the “messages” constitutes its own problem. In the “Chronicle of the Apparitions” produced in the rectory at Medjugorje, there is a series of doctrinal errors.

For example?

On September 16, 1981, as an example, one can read there that the seers didn’t need to pray for themselves, but only for others. This assertion recalls the erroneous Pelagian doctrines condemned by the Church, according to which it was not necessary to pray the Our Father for ourselves with its petition “And forgive us our trespasses”, but only for the sins of others.[6]
Under May 6, 1982 it says, according to the message of the “Gospa”, the saints are in heaven with soul and body. This contradicts the doctrine that ties the resurrection of the body with the second coming of Christ (see, for example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1001).
On October 1, 1981, it is noted that the “Gospa” said the following: “Before God all the religions are equal …” One can compare that, in contrast, with the declaration “Dominus Jesus” from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, from the year 2000.

Medjugorje devotees say that the “Gospa” cannot be saying anything new, but only recalling what is old, as a patient mother.

The count of over 40,000 “apparitions” with around 1000 “messages” is a verbose opposite to the authentic Marian apparitions recognized by the Church, e.g., four in Guadalupe (1531), three at the Rue du Bac (Paris, 1830), one in La Salette (1849), 18 in Lourdes (1858), three in Champion (Wisconsin, USA, 1859) and six in Fatima (1917).
Medjugorje devotees often cite the apparitions in Le Laus (France), which spanned 54 years, as a counter-example. But there were no daily Marian apparitions underway for 54 years there, but rather – except for individual mystical experiences – a cycle of apparitions in four months (May to August 1664), with a conclusion on September 29-30 of that year.

The physician Christian Stelzer from Vienna accused you in the Tagespost (August 10) of simply echoing the arguments of Bishop Peric of Mostar.

Bishop Peric is certainly an important witness with a comprehensive knowledge of the phenomenon. My study of Medjugorje is, however, not limited to the observations of the current bishop. Even if that were the case, it is not important who presents an argument, but rather the truth contained in it should be put to the test. Two times two is four, regardless of whether a ten-year-old child or a professor of mathematics affirms it.

Stelzer says that the claim that the Mother of God was born on August 5, 16 B.C. does not come from the Medjugorje seers.

According to Stelzer the “Gospa” only named August 5 as her birthday, but did not designate the year 1984 as her 2000th birthday, which would give her birth in the year 16 B.C., so that Mary would have been 9 or 10 years old at the birth of Jesus (around the year 7 B.C.)
But the “Chronicle of the Apparitions” says this expressly several times. This fact, which is known in the research, was brought to mind again in a publication from the Diocese of Mostar on August 2, 2018.
On May 28, 1984, Fr. Vlasic writes in the Chronicle, “Today I visited Bishop Pavao Zanic. I brought him the last part of the ‘journal’ from Jelena and Marijana Vasilj. I also brought him the message from the Gospa that was given to Jelena for him, for the Holy Father, and for the Christian public, according to which the 2000th birthday of the Mother of God is August 5, 1984.” The entries of June 14, and July 27, 29, and 30, 1984 also refer to the 2000th birthday in 1984.[7]

There was also moral misconduct surrounding the “apparitions”.

Moral misconduct should only be mentioned here when it stands in connection with the alleged “apparitions”. This relates to disobedience against legitimate church authority, as well as misconduct against the eighth and the sixth commandments (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”). There is an extensive dossier here, but I would like to limit myself to three Franciscan fathers closely connected with Medjugorje: Jozo Zovko, Slavko Barbaric, and Tomislav Vlasic.

What is the problem with Fr. Jozo Zovko?

At the beginning of the apparitions, Fr. Zovko was the parish priest of Medjugorje. By “inviting” the “Gospa” to “appear” in the parish church, he took it upon himself to lend the phenomenon a quasi-official recognition, which is only up to the Bishop. Zovko claims to have had an “apparition” of the “Mother of God” himself on July 1 and 19, 1981. He was imprisoned by the Communists because he had compared the 40th anniversary of Communist dominance in Yugoslavia to the 40 years of the Babylonian captivity.
During his time in prison, he himself “appeared” to the “seers” multiple times together with the “Gospa”, who says this about him, according to the “Chronicle of the Apparitions” on October 21, 1981: “He is a saint; I’ve said that to you already.” He also appears as a “saint” in the reader comments to one of the articles on kath.net August 10, 2018.

What is Zovko’s ecclesiastical status?

This “saint” repeatedly brought church sanctions on himself because of his Medjugorje activities and because of controversial “charismatic” practices that began before the “apparitions”. At present he is not allowed to live in Bosnia-Herzegovina or to speak publicly about the alleged “apparitions”.
The testimony of Mark Waterinckx from Belgium, who made numerous pilgrimages to Medjugorje since 1984, came into public view. In the summer of 1989 he uncovered the sexual molestation of an American pilgrim, and learned of similar cases.
In connection with other negative experiences, this was the impetus for him to distance himself from the Medjugorje “apparitions”. Waterinckx has made part of his related experiences public.[8]

The second Franciscan is Fr. Tomislav Vlasic.

Exactly. Fr. Tomislav Vlasic, OFM (b. 1942) visited the seers as early as June 29, 1981. He worked as parochial vicar in Medjugorje from 1982 to 1984 and described himself as the “spiritual director” of the seers, assigned by the “Gospa”. Vlasic continued to be closely connected with Medjugorje after his removal from the parish. The “Kraljice mira” community connected with him to this day has a gigantic presence there with a big four-story building and an amphitheater for gatherings. Before coming to Medjugorje, Vlasic had lived in a mixed Franciscan community (1976) and got a religious sister pregnant, who was sent away with her child to Germany. There was an attempt in the order to deny his fatherhood and attribute it to a former Franciscan who had emigrated to the USA.
Vlasic, of all people, was the object of a “prophecy” by two well-known figures in the “charismatic movement”, during a May 1981 meeting in Rome. An Irish “charismatic” sister saw him on a seat surrounded by a great throng, and from there streams of living water flowed out. Another “prophet” spoke: “Do not be afraid, I am sending you my mother.”
During his presence in Medjugorje, Vlasic maintained the “Chronicle of the Apparitions”, which was turned over to the Bishop later, after the texts had been purged. Despite this, many “problems” in the “messages” remained visible. For example, Vlasic recorded the words of the “Gospa” that placed her 2000th birthday on August 5, 1984.
On February 28, 1982, these words of praise from the “Gospa” to the seers are in the “Chronicle” “Third Diary” of the seer Vicka: [9] “You can thank Tomislav; he is leading you so well.” Vlasic did not create the Medjugorje phenomenon, but he channeled it.

What has happened to Fr. Vlasic?

Things came to a break with the mainstream of the Medjugorje movement when Vlasic, of all people, founded a mixed Franciscan community in 1988 and arranged for the seer Marija Pavlovic to write a message from the “Gospa” in support of the new foundation. On July 11, 1988, Marija made an official declaration that she had written that message under pressure from Vlasic. Vlasic then entered into a “mystical marriage” with a German seer, who left him after a few years. Currently he is closely connected with UFO messages with a decisively spiritualistic background from the seer Stefania Caterina. In those messages, Medjugorje is bound up with an imaginative world history and the preparation for a future visit by space aliens. Pope Francis is urged to announce the Good News of the presence of other brothers in the universe.
The problem with Vlasic is the connection with pseudo-charisms and a moral conduct that is at least very ambiguous. Bishop Zanic, in 1984, called him a “mystificator and charismatic magician”. On January 28, 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith applied disciplinary measures on the ground of dubious mysticism and transgressions against the sixth commandment. The Franciscan order laicized him in 2009.
If one is to believe Dr. Stelzer, this case has “nothing to do with Medjugorje”.

And there was also Fr. Slavko Barbaric.

Yes, Fr. Slavko Barbaric, OFM worked in Medjugorje for many years, from 1984 until his death in the year 2000. As the successor of Fr. Vlasic he functioned as the spiritual director of the seers. When he took a stand against the Bishop’s directive that the “apparitions” no longer take place in the church, he was removed. The “Gospa” spoke against that directive herself on February 3, 1985, saying: “I wish Slavko to remain here to take care of all of the details and the transcriptions, so that we have a clear picture of everything at the end of my visit.” It is hardly credible that the “Mother of God” would support canonical disobedience against a justified order from the bishop. Furthermore the “message” stated that Barbaric would still be living at the end of the “apparitions”. But Barbaric died and the “apparitions” are still going.
After his removal Barbaric worked in Medjugorje despite the bishop’s prohibition (I encountered him there in October 1985). He supervised the publication of the “monthly messages” of the seer Marija, and fewer theological problems popped up in them than in the visionary texts under Vlasic’s direction. In the year 2000, he signed a declaration that he was leaving Medjugorje, but remained there. Hence the bishop (again) withdrew his faculties to hear confessions. Fr. Barbaric died in that irregular situation on November 24, 2000. The “Gospa” announced the beatification of the rebel Franciscan on that very day: “I am happy with you, and would like to tell you that your brother Slavko has been born into Heaven and intercedes for you.”

Medjugorje devotees make reference to medical investigations of the seers that would point to extraordinary phenomena. Have you looked into those?

I have. There are several studies that claim to have established “ecstasies” with no natural explanation, and hence conclude that the “apparitions” have a supernatural origin. Even if these studies were convincing, such a determination would not say anything about a supernatural origin. The devil can also produce phenomena that have effects upon the natural powers of human beings.
In any case, it does appear that during the first days of the “apparitions” there were no real ecstasies to certify. The seers remained in contact with their surroundings, took questions from bystanders and shared answers from the “Gospa” with them. The seers saw and heard things that those around them did not perceive, but they themselves spoke in a loud voice. Only later did this change, as it seems, through a process of learning.

Is that different from, for example, St. Bernadette of Lourdes?

St. Bernadette did not feel the flame of a candle during an apparition of the Mother of God, because she was in a real ecstasy. In contrast, with the seers of Medjugorje, we find rather the experience of a trance or incomplete ecstasy. For the Medjugorje fan Jean-Louis Martin, his world fell apart on January 14, 1985 during the seers’ allegedly complete ecstasy, when he moved his spread fingers at the eyes of Vicka and the seer jerked and moved backward. Later she put out the information that she had wanted to catch the infant Jesus, whom the Mother of God had allowed to drop. This information was not convincing to Martin, who had wanted to test the ecstasy: “Why, then, did you move backward and not forward?”

How do you explain the origin of the Medjugorje phenomenon?

There are various hypothetical explanations. Based on what has been said, a supernatural origin is excluded. A psychological or parapsychological explanation is also not sufficient, especially to explain the beginning of the phenomenon. “Collective hallucinations”, which Bp. Zanic brought up in the early years, are not the case. Hallucinations are always individual. In my assessment, the first “apparitions” (and probably a good part of the subsequent phenomena) are of “preternatural” (i.e., outside of nature) origin, that is, they derive from evil spirits whose fruits show themselves in disobedience, lies, and other moral failings. There is also human influence, even including the business dealings of the Camorra from Naples, if one believes the papal visitator Archbishop Hoser.

How were things able to get so far?

The priests active in the parish should have exercised restraint, to make a discernment of spirits possible for the seers. Fathers Zovko and Vlasic particularly were not capable of that, and they let loose a pseudo-charismatic avalanche, which has led to a great chaos in the Church.
Failing to name these evils by their names is worse than the bishops’ silence about sexual misconduct in Chile.
The “pastoral” practice of promoting visits to Medjugorje without clarifying the authenticity first, is playing with fire, which can have uncontrollable effects, not least for the successor of St. Peter. We should pray for Pope Francis, that he can recognize the duty to clarify and discern according to the principle he treasures: “see, judge, act”. First, to see and judge, then to act.

[1] The Hidden Side of Medjugorje, Saint-François-du-Lac (Quebec): Psilog, 1988. (See en.louisbelanger.com).
[2] Aux sources de Medjugorje, Montréal, 1998.
[3] Medjugorje. The First Days, Medjugorje, 2013.
[4] Svetozar Kraljevic, The Apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1984, 181-185.
[5] Medjugorje Revisited, Theotokos Books, Nottingham 2011.
[6] Synod of Carthage, 418, canon 7: DH 229.
[7] http://www.md-tm.ba/clanci/mostar-le-fantasie-sul-compleanno-della-madonna-ovvero-come-e-sorto-il-festival-dei-giovani (in Italian)
[8] “The ‘Saint‘ Jozo Zovko and his Many Sex Affairs”, 2004: http://www.unitypublishing.com/ZovkoSex.htm; also, E.M. Jones, The Medjugorje Deception, South Bend, 1998, 164-165.
[9] [This citation was corrected September 14, 2018 by Fr. Hauke.]

“The Courage to Reveal”

The chairman of the German Society for Mariology, Manfred Hauke, looking at the Bosnian pilgrimage site Medjugorje, calls first for a clarification on the question of the phenomenon’s authenticity and then for pastoral answers. By Regina Einig

Q. Professor Hauke, the new Apostolic Visitator to Medjugorje, Archbishop Hoser, has recently determined that the pilgrimage activity in that town in Bosnia-Herzegovina corresponds to the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council. How do you interpret this statement, and how can we place it in context?
Hauke: In his first homily as Apostolic Visitator to Medjugorje on July 22, Archbishop Hoser mentioned that the Marian devotion carried out in the parish places Christ at the center and therefore corresponds to the Second Vatican Council. It really does not belong to his assignment as papal emissary to make a statement about the authenticity of the reported Marian apparitions. In his interview on August 18, 2017, he emphasized that he had not involved himself with the content of the “apparitions”, as that was not his assignment. Such a separation between the truth of the messages and pastoral care cannot be reassuring: the question of authenticity needs to be posed first, and only then can the pastoral answer follow, and that includes concern about those who visit Medjugorje.

Q. Why must the question of authenticity be posed first?
Hauke: According to the Council, forms of Marian devotion that are “recommended by the Magisterium” (Lumen gentium 67) should be encouraged. Certainly that does not include celebrating a youth festival again on this August 5, based on the message that the Mother of God had celebrated her 2000th birthday on August 5, 1984 (and would therefore have been born in the year 16 B.C., which would mean that in the historical year of Jesus’ birth, that is, circa 7 B.C., she would have been about nine years old). This absurd message was spread by Fr. Tomislav Vlasić OFM, who was laicized in 2009, whom the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accused of dubious mysticism and transgressions against the sixth commandment, among other things. That the real Mother of God is suggesting to change the liturgical date of her September 8 birthday feast and correspondingly also the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, is ridiculous. The Second Vatican Council, moreover, emphasizes very clearly the responsibility of the bishop for his diocese and the obedience owed to him on the part of the faithful (Lumen gentium, ch. 3). The local bishop has complained against the establishment of houses by religious communities in Medjugorje without his written permission.

Q. For more than thirty years people have been streaming to Medjugorje. Archbishop Hoser points to the search for Christ as a theme of the pilgrims. Does this make the question of the authenticity of the apparitions superfluous? What good will it do to publish the results of the commission’s investigation now, if the Church is certifying de facto that there’s no problem?
Hauke: The current handling of the problem should be turned around completely: the Holy See should publish a statement, supported with historical facts and theological explanations, that takes a position on the phenomenon of the reported apparitions; the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would have the competence to do this. After that, it should rule on the pastoral issues, which would probably be resolved gradually after a disclosure of the facts and the scandals at the root of the case.

Q. The Pope wants the Visitator to give the pilgrims and those who provide pastoral care stability and guidance. Why is this needed at all, if religious practice in Medjugorje, in regard to prayer and the reception of the sacraments, is substantially more intensive than in most parishes?
Hauke: Perhaps the need for direction is due in part to the problem of five Franciscan parishes in Bosnia, which Archbishop Hoser himself mentioned in August 2017. The disobedience of the Franciscans toward the bishop can be traced in fact to the “Gospa”, who, according to the seers’ assertions, spoke more than once against the removal of two Franciscan parochial vicars and thereby criticized the bishop.

Q. Bishop Ratko Perić of Mostar-Duvno considers the apparitions thoroughly implausible—including those that took place in June 1981, which were evaluated positively by a Vatican commission in 2015. How do you interpret this assessment? What reasons are there for or against the position of the Bishop of Mostar?
Hauke: Bishop Perić has known the events connected with the “apparitions” since the beginning, including numerous details that are not known to the public. After it was reported by the press, and not denied by the Vatican, that the Ruini commission had judged the first seven apparitions on the first ten days as genuine, the bishop made his own investigation known to the public (2017). The result reflects the examination undertaken of several scholarly studies, on the basis of tape-recorded interviews made by Franciscans from June 27 to 30, 1981. Apparently the Ruini Commission did not study these interviews, which so far have been available in print only in English and French translation, at all. The very delineation of “seven” initial apparitions in “ten” days, of which a member of the commission spoke, contradicts the historical events. Depending on how you count them, there were 17-18 “apparitions” in the first ten days with quite unusual happenings. To “overlook” these facts for the benefit of the pilgrimage industry is as weighty as the mantle of silence over the moral scandals that are connected with the “apparitions”. These scandalous facts are thoroughly comparable with the abuses in Chile: the Holy See only intervened (2018), when the truth could no longer be hidden, because the secular press worldwide was showing interest. In order to prevent something similar in the case of Medjugorje, courage is needed to reveal countless facts that are uncomfortable for the Church.

Q. Are the apparitions of June 1981 formally recognized by the Commission’s reported evaluation?
Hauke: The Ruini Commission presented its report as requested by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the responsible body; according to the interview of the Pope on May 13, 2017, it asked for further study and does not share the assessment of the Commission. Pope Francis himself expressed his very personal, very negative evaluation of the “apparitions” of Medjugorje in May 2017 on the return flight from Fatima, but at the same time he took the dossier away from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This seems to be a “pastoral” way, at the expense of the question of truth, full of deep-reaching contradictions. Such an approach seriously hurts the credibility of the Church and of doubtlessly authentic Marian apparitions (Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima).


(My unofficial translation from the German Catholic newspaper Die TagespostAugust 1; I edited a few words for clarity on August 11.)

Swiss bishop offers guidance on Amoris Laetitia

This week the bishop of Chur, Switzerland published his guidance for confessors for the implementation of Amoris Laetitia.  Here I offer an English translation:

The Holiness of the Marriage Bond:
a word on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia

Dear confreres in the priestly ministry,

In discussion about the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the eighth chapter, with the question about civilly remarried divorced persons, has come to stand in the center. For this reason I am, in my responsibility as bishop, bringing some guidance to the attention of pastoral ministers (confessors).

As a preface, I would like to hold fast to the following: the Holy Father says in the introduction to Amoris Laetitia, “that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium” (AL 3). This statement helps us recognize the level of authority of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

“If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases” (AL 300), says the Pope in connection with discernment in irregular situations. This also means that the bishop is called upon all the more to point the way with a word, because priests have the task to “accompany [the affected persons] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.” (AL 300). Furthermore, “every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace” (303). This corresponds fully to what the Holy Father says in Amoris Laetitia 307: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur: ‘Young people who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the sacrament of marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church’. A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves.” Keeping in mind all this guidance within Amoris Laetitia, I ask priests to observe the following:

1. The starting point for accompaniment, discernment, and integration must be the holiness of the marriage bond. The task of the pastoral minister is to convey to people an awareness of the holiness of the marriage bond; or to reconvey it. The Holy Father speaks of “pastoral care … centered on the marriage bond” (AL 211: in the Italian language, “vincolo”). The official German translation of “vincolo” with “Bindung” (connection) is too weak. Therefore I am speaking expressly here of the bond.

2. The marriage bond is already holy, from the creation itself (natural marriage), and all the more through the new creation (the order of grace), through sacramentally contracted marriage (the supernatural order). The formation of conscience in regard to this truth is a pressing duty in our time (cf. AL 300).

3. This formation of conscience is all the more necessary, as a pastor cannot be satisfied “simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” (AL 305). The marriage bond itself is a gift of God’s love, wisdom, and mercy that lends grace and help to the married couple. Therefore reference to the marriage bond must come first on the path of accompaniment, discernment, and integration.

4. If, during the confession of an unknown penitent, a confessor recognizes questions that call for clarification, in regard to the marriage bond, he will ask the penitent to confide in a priest who can accompany him on a longer path of conversion and integration; or the penitent should contact the confessor himself outside the context of confession.

5. In the pastoral accompaniment of civilly remarried divorcees, the next point to examine is whether the marriage contract (the “first marriage”) was made validly: whether a marriage bond really exists. The individual priest cannot undertake this examination, and certainly not in the confessional. The confessor must refer the affected person to an official of the diocese.

6. As always in regard to the validity of the marriage contract, a failed marriage must be treated in every case humanely and according to our faith. That means one must tread a longer pastoral way which demands more patience. “Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone” (AL 300). “The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements” (AL 308).

7. The reception of Holy Communion by civilly remarried divorcees may not be left to subjective decision-making. One must be able to base oneself on objective factors (on the conditions of the Church for the reception of Holy Communion). In the case of civilly remarried divorcees, respect for the existing marriage bond is determinative.

8. If in conversation (during a confession) the absolution of a civilly remarried divorcee is requested, it must be established that the person is ready to take on the prescriptions of Familiaris consortio 84 (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, November 12, 1981). That means: if both partners cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they are required to live together as brother and sister. This rule still applies now as then, because the new apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia expressly does not intend “a new set of general rules, canonical in nature” (cf. AL 300). The penitent must manifest the firm intention to live with respect for the marriage bond of the “first” marriage.

9. In the preparation and accompaniment of engaged couples, married couples, and families, let us always keep the word of St. Paul in view: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32) – Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico in Christo et in Ecclesia.

With my thanks for your fidelity to the Lord and his work, I send cordial greetings, together with my episcopal blessing

Chur, February 2, 2017
+Vitus Huonder, Bishop of Chur

On the topic: José Granados, Stephan Kampowski, Juan José Pérez-Soba: Amoris Laetitia, Accompagnare, discernere, integrare. Vademecum per una nuova pastorale familiare, Siena 2016.  A German translation is anticipated from femedienverlags GmbH, D-88353 Kisslegg. [Translator’s note: Also available in Spanish as “Acompañar, discernir, integrar”.]


Heraldic question

This evening I took a look at heraldist Fr. Guy Selvester’s blog Exarandorum, which shows examples of heraldry in the coats of arms of bishops, parishes, and dioceses.

To start with, the posts tagged with the label “Bad Heraldry” are particularly educational for an uninstructed person such as myself, and some are a bit amusing.  They remind me of the classic site “Web Pages That Suck”, which helped readers learn good design by looking at examples of bad design.

coat of arms of Bp. Steven LopesThe most recent posting by Fr. Selvester is not a case of Bad anything. It is the noted artist Marco Foppoli’s rendering of a new coat of arms for Bishop-elect Steven Lopes. He was recently appointed by Pope Francis to lead the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the diocese-like structure for Catholics of Anglican heritage in the United States.

It took me a minute or so to get the symbols: the wolf for the surname, because “Lopes” (a Portuguese name) is derived from Latin lupus; and the crown for his Christian name Steven, since a crown is a stephanos in Greek. A tidy use of symbols!

Are there any readers with an interest in heraldry who could tell me what are the objects to the left and right of the crown?

While Bishop-elect Lopes is a worthy candidate for the office, I do think that some bishops ought to depict a wolf on their coats of arms, whether it’s historically justified or not, just as a matter of Truth In Labeling.