Part 7: Did the Commission Slander Bishop Žanić?
by Marco Corvaglia
Go to Part 1: An Inadequate Commission
Go to the full index of the study: Who Will Judge the Judges? The Unresolvable Contradictions of the Commission of Inquiry on Medjugorje
Msgr Pavao Žanić
In the Final Report we read with reference to Bishop Pavao Žanić (who was in charge when the phenomenon began and who became an opponent of it):
There are testimonies that there had been pressure on the Bishop, who, probably due to that and certainly due to the subsequent statements of some of the alleged visionaries on the pronouncements of the Gospa regarding the Herzegovina question, changed his opinion on the authenticity of the phenomenon.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 44; Murgia, p. 35]
For the sake of logical consistency: if the bishop changed his opinion due to pressure from the Communist government, as the commission considers only probable, following a theory spread at the time by Medjugorje propaganda, then he did not change his opinion for the reason that the commission considers certain, the statements of the seers. If he changed his opinion due to the claims of the seers, then he did not change his opinion due to pressure.
This not very logical judgment arises from the wish to support a thesis in the absence of evidence.
The commission speaks of "testimonies", but Bishop Žanić was notoriously hated by the most extreme supporters of Medjugorje. So first of all we need to see who the witnesses are. We will find out later.
In the meantime, let us ask ourselves: if one goes to consult the documentation of the Secret Services of the former Yugoslavia, what does one find against Msgr. Žanić?
Zero evidence and zero clues. Zero.
To the contrary, the documents confirm that the bishop was considered an enemy by the ruling Communist dictatorship and that he continued to be considered as such until the fall of the regime itself.
On 30 September 2012, a member of the commission accessed the Secret Archives in Sarajevo, led by an official (a director) of the facility. The following 5 October he presented to the commission his report, which was attached to the proceedings of the meeting:
1. Msgr. Pavao Žanić, the Bishop of Mostar
2. Friar Jozo Zovko (the parish priest of Medjugorje)
The Director (name redacted) explained to me that the persons indicated above had never been collaborators of the Secret Services, but rather were persons under continual observation by the Secret Services and were considered dangerous people to the State of Yugoslavia and to the Communist regime. This conclusion is drawn from the documents about them found in the Archives. They had been under observation from 1971 until 1990.
[Appendix III - 5 October 2012 Proceedings, in David Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, Rubbettino, 2021, pp. 148-149]
After quoting this report in full, Murgia goes on to summarize the subsequent discussion among the members of the commission. One member raises a question:
Redacted asks if there is any document that clarifies the reasons for the change in Msgr. Žanić's evaluation of the phenomenon. Indeed, several times it was stated that the critical position eventually taken by the prelate was due to the fact that Our Lady allegedly pronounced herself against him. – In particular, had any evidence been found of a manipulation of the alleged message?
Redacted, the drafter of the attachment, reports that in this regard "nothing was found in the Sarajevo Archives."
[D. Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, cit., p. 151]
After that, David Murgia adds:
In this regard, a curious document is cited (of which I personally knew nothing) which bears the signature of the famous exorcist father Gabriele Amorth. It is a nine-page undated document, titled "An aspect of Medjugorje", in which Father Amorth reports a little-known event: the threats by police against the Bishop, Msgr. Žanić, which allegedly caused the decisive change in the Bishop’s attitude:
We have described on another occasion what the evolutionary line of Msgr. Žanić seemed to us. We cannot help but summarize these lines of attitude. At first he was fully in favor. [...] Against the writings of a certain government press, he defended the possibility of apparitions, defended pilgrimages, and above all he proved courageous in defending the parish priest, Fr. Jozo Zovko, when he was arrested. But then what happened? He was summoned by the Sarajevo Executive Council. He later said: “They threatened to put me in jail; I am not ready to go to prison for Medjugorje”. It was the first change, unexpected and complete.
[Ibid, pp. 151-152]
In reality, this document does not turn the tables at all. If anything, it makes it possible for us to grasp further responsibilities, somewhat serious responsibilities, on the part of the commission. Let's see why.
We naturally take it for granted that David Murgia published the most relevant passage to show the bishop as “guilty” (since this is the thesis to be demonstrated and the most cherished by Medjugorje supporters).
Well, based on the fact of this document, we are able to discover that the commission improperly presented as a "testimony" what simply is not a testimony.
Two unusual photos of the exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth (Source: Il Messaggero - Photogallery)
Father Gabriele Amorth was an Italian priest, director of the Pauline monthly Madre di Dio, who began to attend Medjugorje as a pilgrim starting at the end of 1981 and immediately became an unconditional supporter (see, for example, his catecheses published in G. Amorth, Un esercito contro il male. La mia verità su Medjugorje, BUR, 2019).
On what basis does he report, in the document, that quote attributed to the bishop?
Was he present in Sarajevo? Obviously not.
Was he told by the Communist authorities? Obviously not.
Did Bishop Žanić tell him that? Obviously not.
The unsubstantiated words of Amorth do nothing but report the rumors that were notoriously circulating among the Medjugorje pilgrims, roughly since the mid-1980s. That is why it is not a testimony.
But what is the original source of these rumors?
Probably Father Jozo Zovko. But his story, on one hand, does not seem to stand up and, on the other, flatly contradicts the version reported by Amorth, from the point of view of chronology.
We read, from the book-length interview Incontri con Padre Jozo, the account of an event that allegedly occurred a few days before August 17, 1981, when Father Jozo was arrested (the question is by Sabrina Cović, the reply by Father Jozo):
The newspapers were blaming you, but the bishop was still supportive of the children. What was your relationship with the bishop when the attacks against you began?
We had a good relationship ... The bishop also had been accused. One day he asked me to come to him. [...] The bishop wanted to see me alone. He took me to the window of the living room and, with tears in his eyes, said to me: "Father Jozo, today I was summoned to Sarajevo ... They told me that if I protect Medjugorje, if I side with Medjugorje, they will arrest me. I cannot go to prison for Medjugorje. I am a bishop!"
[Sabrina Covic, Incontri con padre Jozo, Les éditions Sakramento, 2006, pp. 63-64]
As we have seen, Father Jozo places the summons of the bishop to Sarajevo before his own arrest.
The version reported by Father Amorth places the calling of the bishop to Sarajevo after the arrest of Father Jozo and after the intervention of the bishop in defense of Father Jozo ("...he proved courageous in defending the parish priest, Fr. Jozo Zovko, when he was arrested. But then, what happened? He was summoned by the Sarajevo Executive Council").
Now, let's see if we can present three theoretically possible hypotheses, followed by my observations.
Hypothesis 1: Father Jozo is the original and direct source of a truthful story.
First observation: it would hardly be credible that the bishop would have made such an admission spontaneously, knowing that he would thus be setting himself against the whole parish and would lose face. A coward is a coward. Likely, the "whimpering" bishop would have kept the secret to himself.
Second observation: the chronology does not square with the sequence of established historical events. In fact, on the subsequent 1 September, the bishop did exactly what he was never supposed to do, if Father Jozo's story were true: he defended the Franciscans from the reprisals they were suffering from the government and he did so in ringing tones and addressing himself to the highest political authority, the president of the Yugoslav Federation, Sergej Kraigher:
in the newspapers, on the radio, on television broadcasts, it was reported that on 17 August 1981 a meeting of the municipal conference of the Citluk Socialist Union of Working People took place in Citluk. [...]
It was declared that it was necessary to explain even more clearly to the people what the priests Jozo Zovko, parish priest of Medjugorje, his colleague Ferdo Vlasić, the bishop of Mostar, Žanić, and other extremists have planned and intend. [...]
I consider it my duty and my right to vigorously protest against such slanders, totally devoid of any foundation. As a Catholic bishop and as the Ordinary responsible for the diocese of Mostar, I myself am saddened, along with my priests put into question, by these slanders and irresponsible attacks, whose bad taste certainly cannot help anyone to serenely observe the events that have taken place in the parish of Medjugorje. Fundamental human rights and rights as a citizen are offended by such proceedings.
I ask you to accept my protest (I address it to the person who holds the highest office in Yugoslavia) and to react firmly against such attacks.
[Letter (1 September 1981) from the bishop of Mostar Pavao Žanić to the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in René Laurentin, La Vergine appare a Medjugorje?, Queriniana, 1991, p. 61]
Again on November 2, 1981, the assistant pastor Tomislav Vlašić wrote in the parish chronicle:
Today I went with Vicka to Fr. Bishop P. Žanić. I wanted him to receive the information directly. He listened to Vicka with great openness and encouraged her. He told her to always be sincere and free in saying what she experiences ... "
[Tomislav Vlašić, Kronika ukazanja u župi Međugorje (Chronicle of the apparitions of the parish of Medjugorje), initial unnumbered volume, under the date 2/11/1981, document in the archives of the curia of Mostar and of the parish of Medjugorje.
Original text: «Danas sam s Vickom bio kod o. biskupa P. Žanića. Htio sam da dobiva informacije direktno. On je slušao Vicku s velikom otvorenošću i ohrabrio ju je. Lui rekao joj je da lei uvijek bude iskrena i slobodna da lei kaže sve što lei doživljava ... "]
This would be very strange behavior for someone who knew he had made an admission that in the meantime had obviously already been leaked to the whole parish.
In fact, from the words written in the Chronicle it is evident that in November the Franciscans of Medjugorje (specifically the vicar Vlašić) knew nothing of what Father Jozo, a few years later, would assert had happened in August, days before his arrest.
Hypothesis 2: Father Jozo is the original source, but the story was invented by him (after February 1983, when he was released from prison) to neutralize the bishop's opposition.
In this hypothesis, Father Amorth's version (which the latter may have simply reported as it circulated) would constitute a correction of the original one, modified to make it more consistent with the chronology of known facts and therefore more "credible" (this version, in fact, places the "confession" after the bishop’s public defenses of the Franciscans and of father Jozo himself, already arrested).
In any case, Father Amorth contradicted himself, since - according to what is reported - he said: "In the first months of the apparitions, the Communist police behaved very harshly [...]. It was the period in which Monsignor Žanić was particularly favorable to Medjugorje. When the bishop became a strong opponent, the police became much more tolerant..."[G. Amorth, Un esercito contro il male. La mia verità su Medjugorje, BUR, 2019, pp. 14-15].
And this is pure truth: Monsignor Žanić always found himself on the opposite side from the government.
Hypothesis 3: The original story was invented by an unknown source.
In this hypothesis, which is entirely theoretical, after his release, Father Jozo allegedly "took" a rumor that was circulating and, in retrospect, inserted himself into the story, but with an implausible chronology.
In any case, it is not the first time that a testimony by Father Jozo is in conflict with chronology (see M. Corvaglia, La verità su Medjugorje. Il grande inganno, Lindau, 2018, pp. 43-48]
Finally, it is fitting to underscore that there is no mystery about the reasons Msgr. Žanić always gave for having begun to be suspicious. They were based on some serious contradictions for which Vicka and Jakov became responsible in April 1982, in relation to the Herzegovina “question”. The bishop himself made note of them in the “Supplement to the ‘Information’” sent as a circular letter to the pastors of Herzegovina, protocol number 1213/82, on 16 December 1982.
Subsequant part will follow
English linguistic revision by Richard Chonak
Copyright © Marco Corvaglia. All rights reserved