Bishop defends forerunner on Medjugorje

Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar breaks a self-imposed silence on Medjugorje for the third time saying that his predecessor did not collaborate with the ruling Communists in repressing Medjugorje. Bishop Peric does not address all points raised, and cites the onset of a case that Bishop Zanic later lost as the starting point of Zanic’s disbelief in the apparitions.

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Pavao Zanic, Bishop of Mostar 1980-93

The ruling Communists of then Yugoslavia tried to manipulate Bishop Pavao Zanic of Mostar as part of their plan to suppress Medjugorje and the claims of apparitions. Spies were around him and his telephone was wiretapped.

But Bishop Zanic did not collaborate with the Yugoslav regime or with UDBA, the secret police, and the threats and repressions against Medjugorje were not decisive when the Bishop replaced his initial belief in the apparitions with a stance of disbelief and opposition.

So says Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar, the successor of Bishop Zanic, in a new article published on the diocesan website.

Reaction to secret police revelations

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Ratko Peric, Bishop of Mostar

Bishop Peric’s article comes in response to the book “Medjugorje Misterij”, published in June 2011, and later coverage by Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli. In the book, four Croatian journalists documented how the Yugoslav secret police (UDBA) repressed Medjugorje in the 1980s, through papers unearthed from UDBA’s archives.

Leaving the issue open to interpretation, the authors cited a collaboration between Bishop Zanic and UDBA as one possible way of understanding a certain document. In his article Bishop Ratko Peric denies this option, and further points to factual errors in UDBA documents. Early on, the Bishop clarifies his motives for writing:

“Since the late Bishop Pavao Zanic is mentioned in numerous pages of the book, and not in a complimentary way, it is our duty, for the love of truth and out of respect for Bishop Pavao, who was a bishop in Herzegovina for 23 years, to respond to such arbitrary claims and insinuations” Bishop Ratko Peric writes.

Bishop Zanic was influenced by false documents

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Andrea Tornielli

When the book “Medjugorje Misterij” had lend new insight into the Yugoslav secret police’s take on Medjugorje, expert Vatican journalist/commentator Andrea Tornielli took up the issue in Vatican Insider. From the original documents translated into Italian, Tornielli derived four conclusions:

1)  The secret police used Bishop Zanic as a “main tool” in compromising Franciscan priests associated with Medjugorje.
2)  As “the second part” of the secret police plan, Tornielli cites “using the ancient conflict that exists in Herzegovina between the secular clergy and Franciscans, foreseen to create chaos in the local Church by turning everyone against everyone.”
3) Bishop Zanic’s hostility to Medjugorje was “fed by a series of documents put together ​​by the men of the secret police, which were circulated among Mostar, the Vatican and some European countries.”
4)  A secret police report of November 17th 1987 “shows how Bishop Zanic was willing to accept any document against the Franciscans and against the apparitions, even if of dubious origin.”

Cardinal Camillo Ruini heads the Vatican Commission investigating the events of Medjugorje. One Italian author notes that the Commission will scrutinize the documents from the Yugoslav secret police, while the documents make another writer suggest the Church to delve further into why Bishop Zanic changed his mind on Medjugorje

“These documents will also be scrutinized by the Holy See committee called upon to pronounce itself on Medjugorje” Andrea Tornielli concluded.

Bishop Peric’s recent article takes on Tornielli’s subsequent coverage in Vatican Insider from the first paragraphs, referring to “very grave accusations”. In addressing Tornielli’s conclusions, the Bishop allows a Medjugorje opponent in Canada to speak for him, from a short mail exchange between the Canadian and Andrea Tornielli:

Tornielli is “attacking the intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral integrity of the former Ordinary of Mostar, Msgr. Pavao Zanic” but “does not ‘document’ anything, does not verify anything: he copies/pastes very serious allegations without granting his readers any factual historical retrospective” Bishop Peric’s recent article says.

Andrea Tornielli has informed that his article in Vatican Insider was based on translations of the original documents from the secret police, given to him by “Miserij Medjugorje” main author, journalist Zarko Ivkovic.

Bishop Peric’s article does not that address the conclusions that the secret police gave his predecessor false documents, and that the Communists used the centuries-old conflict among the Hercegovian clergy in battling Medjugorje.

One out of five book errors touches issue

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Bishop Ratko Peric

Bishop Peric numbers five factual errors in “Misterij Medjugorje”. The first four do not deal with the relationship between his predecessor and the secret police:

1)  The book mentions June 25th 1981 as the day of the first apparition when really it took place on the day before.
2)  In 1986, Bishop Zanic went to Rome 7 times, not 14 as claimed in the book.
3)  A UDBA document claiming that 10 priests had disobeyed Bishop Zanic over referrals is incorrect, as no one disobeyed.
4)  A UDBA document saying that Bishop Zanic had left a meeting with the other Yugoslav bishops in protest after his negative stand on Medjugorje had been criticized by Cardinal Franjo Kuharic of Zagreb is likewise incorrect.

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Cardinal Franjo Kuharic

The book’s fifth factual error, as found by Bishop Ratko Peric, relates to a UDBA  document informing that the secret police considered to compromise Bishop Zanic by fabricating anonymous letters against him. These letters were to be sent to Cardinal Kuharic, to Archbishop Frane Franic of Split, and to Ratko Peric himself, during his time as rector of the College of St. Jerome in Rome.

In his article, Bishop Peric acknowledges that “the document states that the letter was sent to UDBA superiors for approval”. Possibly, no letters were sent. Bishop Peric then writes:

“Peric, the former rector and current bishop of Mostar, affirms responsibly that he never received any anonymous letter, then or ever, against Bishop Zanic.”

“But who will be able to rebut all the insinuations from UDBA, which the fans of Medjugorje pass along as the greatest discovery!” Bishop Peric also writes.

Bishop Zanic was wiretapped and spied on

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Pavao Zanic, Bishop of Mostar when the appariions began in Medjugorje

From a UDBA document of November 17th 1987, the authors of “Misterij Medjugorje” conclude that Bishop Zanic was either wiretapped, had a mole near him, or collaborated with the secret police.

In dismissing the last-mentioned theory, the article of Bishop Ratko Peric first qualifies the second one by informing that “moles” were indeed around Bishop Zanic, and that post-Communist years have brought codenames such as “Poseidon, Fides, Tomislav, Sijedi, and others” to the surface as pseudonyms of agents working close to Bishop Zanic. His predecessor then continues:

“The UDBA document doesn’t absolutely show that the conclusion of “collaboration” with UDBA was “possible”, as the reporter states, but precisely the opposite! This should have been evident to the author of this “conclusion”, from the “conclusion” just preceding: if Bishop Žanić was really a “collaborator”, why were there “moles” around him? And, in particular, so many “moles”?”

“That the Bishop was wiretapped is not a “possible” conclusion, but a universally known fact. Not only he, but all the bishops. It was known then as much as it is now! At least this is known by everyone. And by reporting such a thing, the journalist is only reinventing the wheel!” Bishop Peric also writes.

Bishop’s actions in 1981 used to acquit him in 1987

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Medjugorje in 1981 when Bishop Zanic visited the place five times, and first spoke out in favor of the apparitions

It is well-established that Bishop Pavao Zanic first believed in the apparitions in Medjugorje. Why he later changed his mind to instead become Medjugorje’s most vocal critic has been a subject of discussions ever since, a subject Bishop Peric likewise brings up in his recent article. But initially Bishop Zanic believed:

“I am deeply convinced that no child who says that they have seen Our Lady, has been talked into doing so. (…) I am also convinced that the children are not lying. The children are only speaking out what is in their hearts..It is certain: the children are not lying” the Bishop said in his homily on July 25th 1981 in Medjugorje, one month into the apparitions.

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The cover of "Misterij Medjugorje" whose revelations from the archives of the Yugoslav secret police have been debated since the book came out in June 2011

“It is definite that the children were not incited by anyone, and especially not by the Church, to lie” Bishop Zanic told the Catholic newspaper Glas Koncila on August 16th 1981.

Aiming at dismissing the theory of Bishop Zanic as a collaborator with UDBA in 1987, Bishop Ratko Peric refers to Bishop Zanic’s position in 1981, six years earlier, when the Bishop was known to be in favor of the apparitions and, so, in opposition to the stance of the Communist regime:

“It is equally clear that the Bishop had nothing to do with UDBA, since Ivkovic reports the document of July 14, 1981, which states at the end that Bishop Zanic was not willing to receive the president of the Commission for Religious Affairs and his co-workers, after they were at the [Franciscan] provincial administration in Mostar” Bishop Ratko Peric writes.

“A “collaborator” does not avoid a meeting, but runs to it! We have already said that in August 1981 the Bishop was counted among the enemies of the State!” Bishop Peric continues – though no claim has been made that Bishop Zanic collaborated with the Communists in 1981.

Lost case cited as onset of Zanic’s disbelief

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Fr. Ivan Prusina in 2009

In explaining why his predecessor changed his opinion of the apparitions, Bishop Ratko Peric points to the beginning of a Church juridical dispute that Bishop Zanic ended up losing when the Vatican later decided the case in 1993.

Shortly after the apparitions began, the priests Fr. Ivica Vego and Fr. Ivan Prusina from Mostar were expelled from the Franciscan Order. The case of the two priests stemmed from the so-called Hercegovina case, a centuries-old dispute over parishes between the diocesan Bishops and the Franciscans.

According to Bishop Ratko Peric’s recent article, the decisive moment for his predecessor came when Medjugorje visionaries, in January and again in April 1982, told Bishop Zanic of messages in which the Virgin Mary had criticized the Bishop’s handling of the two Franciscans, had maintained that the two priests were innocent, and described the Bishop’s decision in the cases of Fr. Vego and Fr. Prusina as “rash”.

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Medjugorje visionaries Vicka Ivankovic and Jakov Colo during an apparition in 1984, two years after they warned Bishop Zanic that he had acted wrongly against two Franciscan priests

Though the seers never claimed this, in Bishop Peric’s recent recollection of the events in early 1982, the Virgin Mary placed this label upon the Bishop’s handling of the whole centuries-old Hercegovina case, not only the cases of Vego and Prusina:

“The real turning point for the bishop took place after January 14, 1982, when the three “seers” Vicka, Marija, and Jakov went to him to convey the “message from Our Lady” according to which the Bishop had been “rash” in the Herzegovina case” Bishop Ratko Peric states.

“On April 3, 1982 Vicka and Jakov went to the Bishop, again at Our Lady’s orders, to tell him that the disobedient curates of Mostar “did nothing wrong”! At this point when it became clear that the “Medjugorje phenomenon” was inserting itself into the “Herzegovina case”, there was a real change and rupture. And there was no longer a possibility of turning back. A long series of arguments persuaded the Bishop more and more that it was only a case of fraud and lies in service of the sad “Herzegovina case” Bishop Peric further writes.

When the Vatican declared the expulsions of the two Franciscan priests contrary to Church law in 1993, it was too late for Fr. Ivica Vego who had given up his priesthood while Fr. Ivan Prusina had upheld it.

Medjugorje priests: The Bishop was threatened

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Fr. Jozo Zovko, parish priest in Medjugorje in 1981. When he came out from 18 months in prison, Fr. Jozo has stated that he met with Bishop Zanic and found out the Bishop had stopped supporting Medjugorje because of threats from communists, and his own clergy

Another explanation of why Bishop Zanic changed his mind on the apparitions in Medjugorje was offered by the Franciscan priest Fr. Ljudevit Rupcic with his book “The Truth About Medjugorje”, published 1990. Citing Fr. Jozo Zovko, parish priest in Medjugorje in 1981, Fr. Rupcic wrote that the Bishop bowed down to threats:

“While Bishop Zanic and Fr. Jozo were both threatened with imprisonment if they did not stop supporting Medjugorje, it was only Fr. Jozo who ultimately went to prison. Just after Fr. Jozo was released from prison, he met with the bishop, who explained to him that he was forced by the Communists to change his opinion on Medjugorje from open/supportive to negaitve, saying; “I could not have gone to prison for Medjugorje”, and “How could I have acted differently?”, and “nor did I wish to go from being Bishop to assistant pastor of a village” (referring to the pressure from his diocesan priests, who were insisting that he condemn the apparitions)” Fr. Ljudevit Rupcic wrote.

UDBA summoned both Bishop Zanic and Fr. Jozo Zovko for questioning in their Sarajevo offices in the Summer of 1981. After the meeting, the Bishop’s open support of Medjugorje ceased. The recent article of Bishop Ratko Peric reflects this initial change of attitude with quotes from Bishop Zanic’s letters to the Apostolic Nuncio to Yugoslavia, and to Pope John Paul II:

“In my soul a judgment about all this has not crystallized. Hallucinations? Supernatural?” Bishop Zanic wrote to the Nuncio on August 19th 1981, two days after Fr. Jozo Zovko had been arrested.

“I spoke with the young seers. They are seeing ‘something’, but to me it is not clear if this is a supernatural phenomenon or not” the Bishop told Pope John Paul II on September 6th 1981.

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Antonio Socci

The Vatican Commission on Medjugorje ought to further examine why Bishop Zanic changed his mind, journalist/author Antonio Socci suggested in Andrea Tornielli’s article for Vatican Insider:

“In the beginning, the Franciscans of Medjugorje were very hard with the visionaries, they feared that it was a trap, an invention of the regime.  While the bishop of Mostar, Pavao Zanic, was more understanding and open.  He also went to celebrate Mass in Medjugorje and defended the young people.  Then from January 1982 his position completely changed. The Church should reflect on the fact that certain decisions were certainly not made serenely, but were heavily influenced” Antonio Socci said.

Having lamented the number of perceived factual errors in the secret police documents, in his article Bishop Peric next laments this suggested involvement of the Vatican Commission:

“And these and so many other untruths would have to be forwarded to the Vatican Commission on Medjugorje (the latter is for the vaticanist Tornielli), so that the members would discuss them at their meetings!” Bishop Ratko Peric writes.

Third Medjugorje statement since self-announced stop

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Bishop Ratko Peric

In late February 2011 Bishop Peric told Catholic News Service that he would no longer comment in public on Medjugorje, “out of respect for the Vatican Commission”. The Bishop’s recent article is his third on Medjugorje since then.

The first one came in June 2011 when the Bishop re-printed a critical review of the first medical-scientific investigations of the Medjugorje visionaries. Dating back to 1986, a number of the points raised by the article had been dealt with by later scientific studies.

Bishop Peric’s second public expression on Medjugorje since he announced them to have ceased came in August when he addressed some comments put forth by visionary Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovic upon a major victory to local tennis ace Ivan Dodig.

 

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