Bishop of Mostar-Duvno says John Paul 11 and Pope Benedict XVI supported his stance on Medjugorje
BY SIMON CALDWELL
A BOSNIAN Catholic bishop has called on six alleged visionaries to stop claiming that the Virgin Mary has been visiting them for the last 25 years.
Bishop Ratko Perk of MostarDuvno said that the Church "has not accepted, neither as supernatural nor as Marian, any of the apparitions" said to have been witnessed by a group of people from Medjugorje, a village in his diocese.
"As the local bishop, I maintain that regarding the events of Medjugorje, on the basis of the investigations and experience gained thus far, throughout these last 25 years, the Church has not confirmed a single 'apparition' as authentically being the Madonna," he said.
"Therefore 1 responsibly call upon those who claim themselves to be 'seers', as well as those persons behind the 'messages' , to demonstrate ecclesiastical obedience and to cease with these public manifestations and messages in this parish," the bishop continued.
"In this fashion they shall show their necessary adherence to the Church, by neither placing private 'apparitions' nor private sayings before the official position of the Church. Our faith is a serious and responsible matter. The Church is also a serious and responsible institution."
He said the position of the local Church was supported by Pope Benedict XVI and previously by Pope John Paul II.
The bishop's comments were made during a homily at a confirmation Mass in St James's church, Medjugorje, on June 15, the feast of Corpus Christi. They were published last week in English and Italian by the Diocese of Mostar.
His remarks in the church made famous by claims of the Virgin Mary appearing there came just 10 days before thousands of pilgrims converged on the village to mark the 25th anniversary of their onset.
Since June 25, 1981, the alleged seers Ivan Dragicevic, Vicka Ivankovic, Marija Pavlovic, Mirjana Dragicevic, Jakov Cob and Ivanka lvankovic — have together claimed to have received more than 40,000 messages from about 35,000 apparitions.
Some of the six have toured the world, saying they were able to receive the apparitions wherever they went.
But Bishop Peric said in his homily that "the flood of so-called apparitions, messages, secrets and signs, do not strengthen the faith, but rather further convince us that in all of this there is nothing neither authentic nor established as truthful".
He said that in February the Pope expressed similar doubts when the pair discussed Medjugorje during the Bosnian bishops' four-yearly ad limina visit to Rome.
He said: "I am truly grateful to the Holy Father the Pope, to John Paul 11 of blessed memory and to the reigning Benedict XVI, who have always respected the judgments of the bishops of Mostar-Duvno, of the previous as well as the current bishop, regarding the so-called 'apparitions' and 'messages' of Medjugorje, all the while recognising the Holy Father's right to give a final decision on these events."
He then summarised the judgments of the bishops, telling the congregation that because the Church did not accept the claims of the seers it was illicit for any priest to "express their private views contrary to the official position" during Mass, in acts of popular piety or in the Catholic media.
He said Catholics were also forbidden from making pilgrimages to Medjugorje if by such visits "they presuppose the authenticity of the 'apparitions' or if by undertaking them attempt to certify these 'apparitions' ".
He also said it was wrong even to refer to Medjugode as a "shrine" since this was a title which could only be conferred by the Church.
The bishop dismissed as an "illogical and inconsistent conclusion" the claims by some pilgrims that spillla consolations received Medjugorje offered sufficient proof that the Virgin Mary was appearing there.
He also warned his audience of a schism emerging in the region between the Church and more than a dozen of Franciscan brothers and priests who have been expelled by the Genemlate of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome because of their disobedience to the Pope.
He said that the expelled Franciscans "have not only been illegally active in these parishes, but they have also administered the sacraments profanely, while others invalidly, such as confession and confirmation, or they have assisted at invalid marriages".
"This type of anti-ecclesial behaviour is shocking to all of us," he added. "We pray to the Lord that this scandal and schism be uprooted as soon as possible from our midst." Bishop Peric shares the view of his predecessor, Bishop Pavao Zanic, that the alleged apparitions are linked to the Franciscan schism, which began in the 1970s when friars defied an order by Pope Paul VI to hand over some of their parishes to the diocese.
Throughout the 1980s Fr Jozo Zovko, a Franciscan priest, acted as "spiritual adviser" to the seers.
But three Church commissions failed to find evidence to support their claims and in 1991 the bishops of the former Yugoslavia declared that "it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations".
A short while later Fr Zovko was stripped of his faculties to exercise any priestly functions by Bishop Zanic in a decree upheld by Bishop Peric.
At the Vatican, officials said they are still monitoring events at Medjugorje, but emphasised that it was not necessarily the Vatican's role to issue an official judgment on the alleged apparitions. because the diocesan bishop was the competent ecclesiastical authority. The Vatican has more than once said, however, that dioceses or parishes should not organise official pilgrimages to Medjugorje. But it has also said Catholics are free to travel to the site, and that if they do the Church should provide them with pastoral services.