Conflict Between Franciscans and Priests

By: Father Rene Laurentin
"An Unfortunate Interference which obscures the message of Medjugorje".

This section deals with the words attributed to the Blessed Virgin on the famous "Hercegovina Question:" a painful and inextricable question which is centered in the diocese of Mostar. It is the difficult re distribution of parishes between: The Franciscans, the only priests of this country for centuries, and the secular clergy established after the end of the Turkish occupation in 1881.

There has been a prolonged disagreement over this re distribution. This matter has nothing to do with the apparitions themselves, though some forces have worked desperately hard to imply that it does. It does not involve the issue of whether the Virgin appears here, or whether she doesn't.

Some newspapers, usually better informed, said that the priests at Medjugorje were "suspended, and in conflict with the bishop." (Derneieres Nouvelles" #2, Pg. 19). That is false. The parish of Medjugorje is a normal, fervent, exemplary parish. The bishop himself recognizes the marvelous fruits which the Lord accomplishes there. He successively transferred several priests from this parish, whose influence served the apparitions which he fought, (including Tomislav Vlasic). They obeyed, and he replaced them regularly with the agreement of the Franciscan Provincial, named by Rome, to be its right arm in this matter.

Two Friars, who were suspended and the object of so many questions to the Gospa, do not belong to the parish of Medjugorje. They live in the episcopal city, in the provincial house of the Franciscans. And the provincial, a declared ally of the Bishop, did not expel them according to directives from Rome.

The words attributed to the Blessed Virgin with respect to the conflict of Hercegovina must be situated within this context.

1. It is an inveterate and passionate conflict in spite of virtuous efforts to peacefully defuse this tension. Anyone who speaks about it successively, to the bishop, then to the Franciscans, as I have done several times, has the feeling of attending Pirandello's drama, "Each In His Own Way." The two points of view hardly tally in their respective coherence:

The Franciscans see and live their secular ties with a people. They continue the heroic and fervent tradition of the faith spread, then maintained by them, during the four centuries of Muslim persecution not without apostacies. There were some religious and laity martyrs. From that, there results a filial attachment of the people to the Franciscans. Even when the latter accepted to yield parishes to the secular clergy, their parishioner often did not follow. They are like children to whom one would say: "Change parents." And, according to the radical and impetuous temperament of this country, they are ready to abandon the Church if it cuts this umbilical cord so vital for them.

At Grude, the parishoners blocked the doors of the church when the bishop named a secular priest to it. The problem then is inextricable, agonizing, insurmountable on the surface.

The bishop himself, sees the importance of regulating boldly and quickly, the matter of distribution of the contested parishes, according to plans from Rome, in spite of the irresistible obstacles and dialogues which have been without solution for 40 years. To wit: He has engaged all his power intrepidly, and has acquired very high support to force those who resist him; and through his means of authority, and procedures of urgency, he sometimes short-circuited canonical rules and good uses of the Church. He can do it much better through local awareness, as if the measures of authority were taken in Rome itself, and not by virtue of his diocesan powers.

2. At the time when the apparitions began, two young Franciscan Friars, Ivan Prusina and Ivica Vego, were excluded from the Franciscan Order, and suspended-(they were forbidden from administering the sacraments). They were accused of having administered the sacraments in the Franciscan chapels in Mostar, to people who did not want to attend the new parish under the secular clergy at the Cathedral.

This new parish was created by Bishop Zanic, September 14, 1980, the same day he became Bishop of Mostar, after having been coadjutor. Through this legitimate act of authority, he took away from the Franciscans, 80 percent of their principal parish.

Many other Franciscans also administered the sacraments to other recalcitrant parishioners in the same Franciscan chapels, but without being punished. Ivan and Ivica served as scapegoats to set an example. They received orders to leave Mostar, with threats of sanctions, in April of 1981, two months before the apparitions began.

After the apparitions began, some of their parishioners, who had supported the two, spoke about it to the seers and asked them to consult the Blessed Virgin with regard to this matter. It seemed to them that the Friars were suffering an injustice. The two Friars themselves, had visited the place of the apparitions since the end of June, 1981. They also questioned the seers when the canonical sanctions fell on them, progressively from December 29th, 1981 to April 29th, 1982.

First of all, from July 22, 1981, a decree from the vicar and procurator general of the Franciscans, Father Honorious Pontoglio, special delegate from the Holy See, threatened them with suspension and exclusion from the Franciscan order if they did not cease their ministry, and if they refused to leave Mostar.

They ceased to administer the sacraments, but stayed in Mostar. Other Franciscans continued to administer the sacraments in the same chapels, something that they do even to this day, without having any worries with the tacit agreement of the provincial and the bishop.

On December 29, 1981, a "final admonition" was communicated to the two Friars by the provincial delegate, Nikola Radic.

On February 18, and April 22, the Friars submitted their protests and justifications, which were not taken into consideration. The decree of July 22, 1981, excluded all possibility of recourse.

Considering that their vows, which had been made before God and duly recorded in the Church, could not be annulled in such a summary fashion, the two Friars appealed this decision as invalid, with respect to "fundamental rights," and under canon law of the Church. They remained in Mostar, ready to leave, they said, should a normal, canonical judgment be pronounced. Thus, the vicar general of the Franciscan Order (H. Pontaglio) informed them on april 29, 1982, of their suspension from the Order, of which they had been previously threatened.

It is in these complex conditions, and in this conflicting, painful and passionate climate, that the Gospa was consulted by the seers after successive requests of the parishoners regarding the two Friars; then by the two Friars themselves, and finally, by Father Tomislav Vlasic, spiritual director of Medjugorje, concerned with clarifying these inextricable "oracles."

What is the value of purpose of it?:

"it is the Virgin! It is then absolutely true," said some. "This support given against the authority of the Church, proves that it is not the Virgin," said the bishop.

These two radical conclusions had the error of simplifying a very complex problem. In order to judge it beyond the slogans, producing the file is necessary, though it be painful. It shows the complexity of the problem, and the marginal character and limits of this file, and which the Bishop of Mostar has used well to prepare for a negative judgment, which he thought he had to rapidly disseminate.

The file should not have to be included throughout these pages speaking of Medjugorje since it is certainly not part of the messages of Medjugorje. However, in attempting to list the dialogue of Our Lady during these last years, it becomes necessary to offer a full explanation regarding those passages which we list in the messages, that pertain to the Hercegovina question. Here we present the documents of the file, which will permit one to judge this matter in a less summary and less passionate manner.

...... To Be Continued.

Last Modified 11/22/2001