Here’s a stunning development, reported by Catholic News Service, about the popular Marian shrine at Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which demonstrates the Vatican’s continued reluctance about the site.  The sanctions are about as severe as can be leveled against a priest, short of dismissal from the clerical state or excommunication, which has now been threatened.  It is rare to have someone so closely linked with such a popular movement disciplined so severely and so publicly.  The Vatican, and some local bishops, have always evinced deep suspicion about some aspects of the shrine, which nonetheless continues to draw pilgrims from across the globe, including thousands of devout American Catholics.

LONDON (CNS) by Simon Caldwell -- The Vatican has authorized "severe cautionary and disciplinary measures" against a priest who served as spiritual director to the visionaries in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written to Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, whose diocese covers Medjugorje, to inform him that they are investigating the case of Franciscan Father Tomislav Vlasic.

The congregation has asked the bishop, for the good of the faithful, to inform the community of the canonical status of the Bosnian priest, whose actions automatically provoked Vatican sanctions.  In a statement posted on the Web site of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, Bishop Peric explained that Father Vlasic has been reported to the congregation "for the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspicious mysticism, disobedience toward legitimately issued orders" and charges that he violated the Sixth Commandment.

The doctrinal congregation said in the letter, also posted on the Web site, that the priest had been disciplined after he stubbornly refused to cooperate with the inquiry, instead "justifying himself by citing his zealous activity" in initiating religious communities and building churches in the Medjugorje area.

A decree confirming action against Father Vlasic was signed by Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the doctrinal congregation, and Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, the minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, earlier this year.  It confined Father Vlasic to a Franciscan monastery in Italy and banned him from contact with the Queen of Peace community, which he founded, or with his lawyers without permission from his superior.

He is banned from making public appearances, preaching and hearing confessions, and he will be required to make a solemn profession of the Catholic faith. The Vatican has warned Father Vlasic that he will be excommunicated if he violates any of the prohibitions.  "Father Vlasic is forewarned that, in the case of stubbornness, a juridical penal process will begin with the aim of still harsher sanctions, not excluding dismissal, having in mind the suspicion of heresy and schism, as well as scandalous acts ’contra sextum’ (meaning against the Sixth Commandment) aggravated by mystical motivations," Bishop Peric wrote.

In Rome Sept. 5, a Franciscan official told CNS it is true that "disciplinary measures have been taken" against Father Vlasic "but he is still a friar of our order; he has not been dismissed from the Franciscans or the clerical state." Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, also confirmed the content of Bishop Peric’s letter, including the fact that the doctrinal congregation had suspended the Franciscan’s priestly faculties. 

Father Vlasic was a central figure in promoting the apparitions at the unofficial shrine in Medjugorje.  In 1984 he wrote to Pope John Paul II to say that he was the one "who through divine providence guides the seers of Medjugorje."  Four years later -- after it was revealed that he fathered a child with a nun -- he moved to Parma, Italy, where he set up the coed Queen of Peace religious community dedicated to the Medjugorje apparitions.

Father Vlasic is the second spiritual adviser to the visionaries to be suspended from his ministry. Bishop Peric confirmed the suspension of the faculties of the other priest, Father Jozo Zovko, in 2004.

The Medjugorje phenomenon began June 25, 1981, when six children told a priest they had seen Mary on a hillside near their town. Since then, Mary is said to have appeared to the six more than 40,000 times and imparted hundreds of messages.  But three church commissions failed to find evidence to support their claims, and the bishops of the former Yugoslavia declared in 1991 that "it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations."

In 1985 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the doctrinal congregation and now Pope Benedict XVI, banned official, diocesan or parish-sponsored pilgrimages to the shrine. However, individual Catholics are still free to visit and have a priest with them.’ --CNS

James Martin, SJ

Comments

Anonymous | 9/6/2008 - 10:42pm
I don't understand the almost gushy happiness the poster of this news article seems to have; obviously the poor priest has his troubles; can the validity or non-validity of Medjugorje be deduced from this fact - I don't think so. What can be known is that the original bishop in Medjugorje was under a communist regime that barely tolerated Catholicism and Medjugorje was an attention getter he surely didn't want in his diocese; hence, the early-on persecution and proscription of the visionaries. Most people, but not all, I have talked to who have visited Medjugorje have found the experience to be faith-enhancing. Can the same be said of 'America Magazine'? There seems to be a thread of rationalizing scepticism and 'modernistic' snootiness that I can suppose comes from the education system of some Jesuits or contributors that seems to laud dissenters and undercut common piety. If you don't use holy water then you know who you are.
Anonymous | 9/7/2008 - 7:46pm
Father, I don't mean to nitpick, but when "sanction" is used as a verb, doesn't it mean "to approve of," not "to impose sanctions upon?" What are the implications of this for Medjugorje itself?
Anonymous | 9/6/2008 - 11:01pm
Although I claim no knowledge of Medjugorje, the sheer number of apparitions claimed, as well as the number of seers, has always worried me away from it. Now what could this mean, that not one but two spiritual advisors of these seers have been censured to the point of suspension from priestly ministry? It's very helpful to know that the Church has investigated the claims three times and so far failed to approve or affirm the apparitions or revelations, and banned official Church pilgrimages even at the parish level. In this internet age, perhaps there is an easy way to look these things up--information on how to do that, perhaps on vatican.va, would be of interest.
Anonymous | 9/7/2008 - 3:41pm
It is rather inappropriate to try to dismiss the contents of a Catholic News Service Article as some kind of Jesuit Conspiracy just because it gets reprinted in a Jesuit Journal. The article doesn't make any attempt to portray the church’s actions as a formal condemnation of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje per se. It simply states an evident fact: This priest and another before him, who served as Spiritual directors to the children have had their faculties as priests suspended by the Church. The basis for the suspensions are very serious charges. That fact however, does make it fairly clear that the alleged seers were getting some rather questionable spiritual direction for quite a number of years. That isn’t the seers fault. But it most certainly could have affected their ability to discern what was happening in their minds and hearts. It is also a fact which every Catholic has a need and a right to know about - in order for them to make their own discernments about any alleged ‘private revelation’; As the Catechism of the Catholic church teaches; 67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. GUIDED BY THE MAGISTERIUM OF THE CHURCH, THE SENSUS FIDELIUM KNOWS HOW TO DISCERN AND WELCOME IN THESE REVELATIONS WHATEVER CONSTITUTES AN AUTHENTIC CALL OF CHRIST OR HIS SAINTS TO THE CHURCH. Catholics have a need and right to know these types of things for their private discernment processes.
Anonymous | 9/8/2008 - 12:41am
I HAVE BEEN TO MEDJUGORJE 3 TIMES AND I CANNOT BEGIN TO TELL YOU OF THE PEACE YOU RECEIVE IN YOUR ENTIRE BEING. THIS IS A VERY SPECIAL PLACE AND I HAVE BEEN HONORED TO HAVE STAYED WITH ONE OF THE VISIONARIES TWICE. SHE IS TRULY A HUMBLE, GENTLE WOMAN AND DOES NOTHING BUT SERVE THOSE AROUND HER AND TO GIVE THE MESSAGE OF OUR BLESSED MOTHERS MESSAGES REGARDING THE LOVE OF HER SON JESUS FOR ALL OF GODS CHILDREN. FATHER IS JOZO IS TRULY BLESSED WITH MANY GIFTS AND ONCE YOU HAVE HAD THE BLESSING TO HAVE BEEN IN HIS PRESENCE YOU KNOW THAT HE IS A HOLY MAN AND DOES NOTHING BUT SERVE JESUS AND HONOR HIS MOTHER MARY. THERE WERE MANY CONVERSIONS AND AS MANY MIRACLE HEALINGS THERE IN MEDJUGORJE. THE FRUIT IS IN THE CONVERSIONS BACK TO JESUS THAT IS WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT NOT FAME OR GLORY BUT TO KNOW AND SERVE JESUS AT EVERY MOMENT OF YOUR DAY. I AM HOPING TO GO BACK FOR A FOURTH TRIP NEXT YEAR AND BELIEVE ME I CANNOT WAIT. IT IS NOT A DISNEYWORLD PLACE BUT A SPIRTUAL JOURNEY THAT IS FEEDS YOUR HEART WITH GODS LOVE AND HIS PEACE THAT HE WANTS FOR ALL MANKIND.
Anonymous | 9/8/2008 - 11:06pm
Rather than tear these two lost Priests apart, woud it not be better to just Pray for them? As for the authenticity of Medjugorje, Pope Urban VIII summed it up perfectly. "It is better to believe, than not to believe because if you believe and it is proven to be true, then you will be happy you believed without proof. However, if it is proven to be false, then you will receive all the Graces as though it were true, because you believed it to be true" ...... for my part, I'll go with Pope Urban VII. As I recall, Pope John Paul II during his visit to Medjugorje said that he would love to move Rome there. While I accept the authority of Pope Benedict, it can not go unnoticed that he was often at odds with Pope John Paul II.