On December 31, 2009, journalists transmitted: “While some were expecting that the Cardinal’s visit to Medjugorje would be private, he has nevertheless surprised the locals by being very visible. He has spent time celebrating Mass at the Church of St. James the Apostle, walking up the hill where the apparitions occur with the visionary Marija Lunetti, praying in the silence of Adoration, and perhaps the most significant thing, delivering a speech at the parish church in the company of the Franciscans.”
5. In all of this, I have to admit that, as diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, I have remained very surprised. I understand that a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church enjoys the faculty to confess and preach the gospel in all the Catholic Church. But when it comes to public appearances outside of his own diocese, there is, among us bishops, a certain ecclesial courtesy: the bishop or the cardinal who is planning on coming to another diocese and appearing publicly, announces himself to the local bishop first, something suggested by ecclesial prudence. I believe that such ecclesial prudence, and such a rule, deserved to be applied especially in this case.
6. I am surprised that the office of Cardinal Schönborn has not, to the day of the publication of this statement, contacted us. I suppose that the Cardinal is aware of the Church’s position regarding Medjugorje, a position based on the investigations and conclusions according to which it is not possible to say, “The apparitions or revelations are supernatural.” His visit to the Cenacle Community, that is to say, to Sister Elvira, who obiter dicendo, as a religious does not have the permission to live or work in this diocesan territory, could be interpreted as a support for her. It can not only be interpreted as support to her, but also to the conspicuous number of new communities and associations of the faithful who live in Medjugorje in disobedience, and may read an encouragement to their ecclesial disobedience into the Cardinal’s visit.
7. As bishop of the diocese, I will highlight and repeat some painful facts:
· First of all, I highlight the painful “Herzegonvinian case” of the parishes which are linked to the “Medjugorje phenomenon:” from the beginning, some Franciscans, who were then in disobedience, have decisively taken the side of the figure of Medjugorje, accusing the then-diocesan bishop of causing the local crisis. One of them has since left the order and the priesthood.
· In the territory of the diocese, we now have nine ex-Franciscans who were dismissed by the superiors of the Order of Friars Minor. The Holy See has confirmed such their dismissal. Despite being suspended a divinis, they operate in the usurped parishes as legal priests. While the alleged figure of Medjugorje responds to the most frivolous questions of the curious, we have never heard a word against the grave abuses that are damaging the unity of this local church.
· We have had a tragic experience in 2001: A few Franciscans, some of whom had already been dismissed by their order, and some others who had not yet been dismissed, invited an “old-Catholic” (a small European schismatic community) deacon who introduced himself as an “archbishop” who “confirmed” more than 700 young people in the usurped parishes. All of this occurred invalidly and sacrilegiously. He also celebrated the Mass invalidly as a deacon in some parishes. The apparition of Medjugorje doesn’t even mention this abuse of the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Eucharist!
· We have also had another sad episode: Two of these priests have gone to an “old-Catholic” bishop in Switzerland requesting to be ordained bishops and to separate themselves from Mostar and from Rome in order to create a formal schism. This is something the “old-Catholic” bishop has declined to do.
· We also have had problems with the presence of two particularly charismatic promoters of the “Medjugorje phenomenon.” One of who is the profoundly disobedient Tomislav Vlašić, who was dismissed from the Franciscans last year, and who the Holy See has relieved, upon his own request, from any priestly duty or responsibility. The other is Brother Jozo Zovko, who has been deprived from any priestly duty in the territory of this diocese since 2004, and who, according to news stories, has been pulled out of the territory of Herzegovina by his religious superiors and has been forbade from any contact with Medjugorje.
8. The Cardinal remained enthusiastic about the many confessions heard at Medjugorje where the Father’s mercy was expressed. We believe that the mercy of the Heavenly Father is equally expressed in Medjugorje as in any other parish of our diocese, before or after the Medjugorje phenomenon. Just take a look at the long lines of faithful in front of the confessionals in all of our parishes, especially before Christmas, Easter, liturgical feasts, or confirmations. Many claim that the confessions at Medjugorje are a strong proof that our Lady “appears.” According to such conclusions regarding to the numerous confessions, our Lady would appear in all of our parishes, and not only to those three persons to which she appears once a year at Medjugorje and the other three to whom she appears every day, both inside and outside of Medjugorje, and even at the Vienna cathedral, as they say. In total, up to now, some 40,000 “apparitions!” Moreover, we have the impression that some of the “visionaries” decide where and when Our Lady will “appear,” since she appears where and when they want. Isn’t this an unacceptable manipulation of Our Lady, and of the sacred in general?
As diocesan bishop, I wish to inform the faithful with this statement that the visit of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn does not imply any recognition of the “apparitions” related to Medjugorje, I am saddened by the fact that the Cardinal, with his visit, presence, and statements, has contributed to the current suffering of the local church, and even added to it, which does not contribute to the much needed peace and unity.
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Ratko Perić, bishop