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3. The Communist Regime, Intimidation and the Bishop

by Marco Corvaglia


Go to the page Responses to Saverio Gaeta (Part 1)

Copertina del libro di Saverio Gaeta

Saverio Gaeta writes:​

 

Critical essayist Marco Corvaglia entitles part of his latest book: “Persecutions? Not against the visionaries”, and instead immediately afterwards supports the idea that “[in Medjugorje] opposition on the part of Žanić [the local bishop, nda] constituted a stance that not only did not please the government, but was even undesirable.”
[Saverio Gaeta, Medjugorje. La vera storia, San Paolo, Milan, 2020, p. 101]

 

 

Apart from the fact that, by putting things in these terms Gaeta is combining things that are clearly on different temporal planes, he evidently believes that the visionaries were persecuted and that the bishop did not oppose the regime’s wishes.

 


So, he strongly objects to my statements with the following arguments:

 

We need only to cite the Vatican Commission of Inquiry into Medjugorje, which analyzed these events over the course of four years and had the ability to consult numerous confidential documents: "The Communist authorities also then intervened. During the interrogations that followed, the alleged visionaries received serious threats. They continue to maintain and in no way deny what they experienced. There are testimonies that there had been pressure on the bishop.”
[Ibid.]


Yet, in a book published four months earlier, Gaeta himself had noticed "a flaw in the composition of the Commission, due to the absence of an expert in the story of the Marian apparition of Medjugorje who could keep everything straight regarding the proposed reconstruction of the protagonists’ accounts” [Gaeta, Dossier Medjugorje, San Paolo, Milan, 2020, p. 65].

 


But let's stick to the facts.

 


Regarding the first week of the phenomenon (that is, the last week of June, 1981) and some of the threats received by the “visionaries” from individual police officers, I wrote:

 

The youngsters don’t seem to have taken certain threats too seriously, and we can’t say they were wrong, since no punitive actions have ever been taken against them, nor against their parents, brothers or sisters. 
[
Marco Corvaglia, La verità su Medjugorje. Il grande inganno, Lindau, Turin, 2018, p. 58]

 

In principle, even Saverio Gaeta concedes to my concluding words but commits a serious error in the logic of his argument, as we shall now see.

 


On June 30, 1981, the "visionaries" stated that the apparitions would only last another three days. However, as we know, they’ve never stopped. Addressing this issue, Gaeta writes:

 

As a matter of fact, the news that the apparitions would only last another three days made the police authorities refrain from taking serious action against the visionaries by carrying out threats of incarceration or confinement to a psychiatric hospital. 
[Gaeta
Medjugorje, p. 127]


The historical and objective fact is more simple and more fundamental  — no “serious action" was ever taken against the visionaries. Stop.

 


If the authorities had - as Gaeta claims - changed their minds due to the established end of the apparitions on June 30th, it’s obvious they would then revert to their previous thoughts once they had figured out on July 4th that they’d been duped (since the “apparitions” continued).

 


However, in reality, serious measures were not taken for the simple fact that... they never saw fit to take them.

 


Turning then to examine the situation in the second half of 1981, I wrote:

 

The authorities waited a full month and a half before showing any resolve. In mid-August, coinciding with the issuing of an outright prohibition of access to Podbrdo, which was implemented through the constant presence of police officers (who would remain on guard for six months), there was indeed a worsening of punitive measures, which, however, did not directly affect the youngsters.
[
Corvaglia, La verità su Medjugorje, pp. 58-59]

 

It should be emphasized that during this most hostile period, virtually nothing was done to the youngsters. One of the reasons, is explained by Mirjana the “visionary" herself (who, after the summer holidays, returned to Sarajevo where she lived and where she was the only one who had some real troubles):

 

The city was full of hardcore communists, while most of the police in Medjugorje were Catholic and believed in the apparitions.
[Mirjana Soldo, Il mio cuore trionferà, Dominus Production, 2016, p. 136 (English version: My Heart Will Triumph, Catholic Shop Publishing, Cocoa FL 2016)
]

 


“Visionary” Ivan, interviewed by Krešimir Šego, editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine Glasnik Mira (published by the Mir Information Center in Medjugorje), states:

 

It was difficult to see my parents undergo ill-treatement. They were intimidated and threatened. When that didn't work, the autorities tried to bribe them to make us say that we fabricated the whole thing.
[Krešimir Šego, A Conversation with the Visionaries, Medjugorje, 2012]


 

This doesn't sound like much of a persecution.

 

 

Moreover, Vicka, also interviewed by Šego, replies:

 

Neither I nor the other visionaries had problems with the authorities; the authorities had their problems with us.  
[Ibid., p. 112]

 

She couldn't have been clearer that that...

 


Nor were pilgrimages prohibited. Franciscan Marijan Ljubić, who closely followed the events of Medjugorje from the first days and was the author of the first book ever published on Medjugorje (Erscheinungen der Gottesmutter in Medjugorje, Miriam Verlag, 1982), writes:

 

No one can say for sure how many pilgrims have already traveled to Medjugorje. However, it’s certain that by the end of October 1981, the half-million mark had been exceeded.
[Marijan Ljubić, André Castella, Medjugorje. Dernière invitation à la prière et à la conversion, Parvis, Hauteville 1986, p. 37]

This video documents the large influx of pilgrims in June 1982:

 

 

The government didn’t care about the apparitions in itselves. Their concern was that the apparition was contrived by the Franciscans (historically close to the views of the Croatian Nationalists, the Ustaša) to begin giving celestial messages of independence (Yugoslavia was a federation of six republics).

 


Consequently, there were only (very serious) retaliatory actions against some Herzegovin Franciscans who, for years, had already been considered political enemies of the government. Only one of them was closely associated with Medjugorje— parish priest Jozo Zovko, who was arrested on August 17, and had long been considered a subversive by the regime. (There are police reports against him dating back to 1977 and 1978 [Cfr. Žarko Ivković et al., Misterij Međugorja, Večernji edicija, 2011, p. 153]).

 


And Bishop Žanić, while the government's hostility toward Medjugorje is at its peak, does what?

 


On September 1st, complaining about the smear campaign organized by the regime press against Medjugorje and local Franciscans, he sends an emotional letter of protest to the president of the Yugoslav Federation, Sergej Kraigher [cf. R. Laurentin, La Vergine appare a Medjugorje?, Queriniana, Brescia, 1991, p. 61].

 


The following October, in the diocesan newsletter, Crkva na Kamenu, on the subject of Medjugorje, Žanić writes that in these sorts of situations, "caution and openness to the Spirit of God, who acts in the Church, is always necessary" [P. Žanić, Bishop, Pred odgovornošću, «Crkva na kamenu», no. 9-10, October 1981, p. 2; original text: «Zato je uvijek potreban oprez i otvorenost Duhu Božjemu, koji u Crkvi djeluje». Cf. Michael Kenneth Jones, Medjugorje Investigated, Devotions, 2006, p. 135].

 


It should be noted that throughout 1981, in the parish document entitled, Chronicle of the Apparitions (Kronika Ukazanja), compiled at that time by vice-parish priest Tomislav Vlašić, the bishop's openness to the phenomenon is always highlighted.
On November 2, 1981, we read:

 

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 ... "]

 


And all this during the time of extreme government hostility!

 


The Vatican commission, as Gaeta reported, writes that "there are testimonies that there had been pressure on the bishop.” But first, we need to see where and from whom these testimonies come. In fact, if they were true, the better it would be for the bishop’s image.

 


Being pressured is certainly no fault of the recipient. Continuing on one's own way without being influenced by pressure is, on the other hand, a virtue.

 


Regarding the attitude toward Medjugorje, 1982 is a year of transition, both for the government and for the bishop. But in opposite directions.

 


In fact, on exactly April 4, 1982, Žanić begins to have serious doubts, certainly not unjustifiably so, but rather, in the face of documented, serious and objective contradictions incurred by Vicka and Jakov, whom he welcomed in Mostar on that day [visit the website of the Curia of Mostar to view a document published as a supplement to the Službeni vjesnik (Official Bulletin), no. 2/1982: Supplement to the “Information" of Mons. Pavao Žanić].

 


However, at the end of 1983 Žanić still whole-heartedly hoped that there was something to be salvaged from the phenomenon.

 


Interviewed by journalist Renato Farina for the weekly newspaper, ”Il Sabato," the bishop said:

 

If everyone were like Marija... She’s the perfect witness, she’s like Bernadette. But the others are not convincing to me. They can't talk, they’re also hot tempered [...] How happy I’d be to acknowledge that the "Apparition" is authentic. But the responsibility is great, enormous...
[Interview with Renato Farina, originally published in "Il Sabato", year VI, no. 38, September 17, 1983, p. 16, in  Mario Botta, Luigi Frigerio, Le apparizioni di Medjugorje, Mimep-Docete,
Pessano 1984, pp. 153-154]

 

Here is a statement (in Italian) from Bishop Žanić, dating back to early 1984:

 

Integral translation:

 

I think: if I’m guilty, I deserve the bottom of Hell. But I can not pass over all these…deceptions, I think. All these revelations, according to me, are by Father Vlašić. He knows what to tell all the world.
Perhaps he is a saint and I am damned, I don’t know. I am waiting on the Grace or a sign by Our Lady in order to believe
. This way, I can not believe.

 

 
On the other hand, in 1982 the regime's suspicion of Medjugorje slowly and gradually begins to loosen up.


Cyrille Auboyneau, a devout French author who moved permanently to Medjugorje in 1984, and for seven years was the interpreter for Father Jozo and the visionaries, reports that "after the apparitions began, the police began to back off over the course of a few months” [C. Auboyneau, La vérité sur Medjugorje, clef de la paix, F.-X. de Guibert, 1993, p. 22].

 


In one of the first books on Medjugorje published outside the former Yugoslavia (April 1984), it was written:

 

The Marxist government cannot officially authorize pilgrimages. However, it’s well-disposed and tolerant of tourists who go on their own to pray in Medjugorje with respect for public order.

[René Laurentin, Ljudevit Rupčić, La Vierge apparaît-Elle à Medjugorje ?, O.E.I.L., Paris 1984, p. 188]

In 1985, the "evolutionary process" will be brought to completion, and it’s the state TV itself that produces propaganda for Medjugorje, with the (hour-long) documentary Faith and Mysticism - Five Years of Our Lady of Medjugorje, broadcast on October 16 & 17, 1985.

 

 

Even Medjugorist authors admit it, including Fr. Luigi Bianchi, who saw in that broadcast a huge exaltation of Medjugorje or Father Slavko Barbarić, who on December 27, 1985 enthusiastically affirmed:

 

One thing that was a miracle to me was on October 17th, when they showed a documentary on Medjugorje on Belgrade television. It was really good, and it gave new impetus to our people.

[Tomislav Vlašić, Slavko Barbarić, Pregate con il cuore, Amici di Medjugorje, Milan 1986, p. 211]


The following video (dubbed in Italian) featured two clips from this documentary:
 

 

 

 

Also in 1985, government-controlled newspapers published articles entitled: "Virgin is ‘Working’ for the State", “Herzegovinian Economic Miracle,” “Apparitions of Tourism in Međugorje,” “Virgin of Gold,” and “Dollars in the Valley of Tears” [B. Aleksov, Marian Apparitions and the Yougoslav Crisis, «Southeast European Politics», vol. V, n. 1, giugno 2004, p. 9].

 


In September 1986, The Secretary of the Commission of Religious Affairs for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Filip Šimić, interviewed by the BBC, states that pilgrims are welcome in Medjugorje (the statement was also reported in BBC journalist Mary Craig’s book, Spark from Heaven, Hodder & Stoughton, 1988, p. 191):

 

 

Throughout this time frame (and afterwards), the more the government loosens its stance on Medjugorje (to the point of openly supporting it for purely economic reasons), the more critical the position the bishop takes towards it.

 


Moreover, in now declassified UDBA (the secret police of Communist Yugoslavia) documents, Bishop Žanić, “being a staunch opponent of the communist system, is explicitly named at the top of the list of persons ‘responsible for enemy activity’ in documents dated January 31, 1983, November 7, 1983, December 8,1983, January 4, 1984, March 7, 1984 and April 24, 1986”, as disclosed on January 12, 2012 by the Press Agency of the Curia of Mostar (KIUM).

 


In 1988, Father Laurentin specifically admits the following:

 

It’s well known that today, the country's economic and tourism authorities would consider the condemnation of Medjugorje as a national catastrophe.

[Laurentin, Dernières nouvelles de Medjugorje, n. 7, O.E.I.L., Paris 1988, p. 23]

On 20 October 1989, in an interview with the journalist Kieron Wood, of the Ireland Radio-Television, in defiance of the government that would consider, as Laurentin says, "a condemnation of Medjugorje as the national catastrophe," Žanić said:

 

Money plays an important role in this issue.

[in Fr. Michel de la Sainte Trinité, Medjugorje en toute vérité, CRC, Saint-Parres-lès-Vaudes 1991, p. 487]

 

 
♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

 


On July 6, 2020, Saverio Gaeta sent me the following comment on this page:

Hello Marco,
Regarding "Part 3," it seems to me that we’ve repeated the remarks we’ve made before with a debate that, in general, seems to me to be essentially based on the subjective difference of the interpretation of facts.
Therefore, I would have no particular additions, except for an objection that the lack of a historian i
n the commission does not seem to me to impede the claim that there was pressure on the bishop. Here, it’s not a question of interpretation or overall knowledge of the facts, but solely of an ability to read the documentation received. (However, since I do not possess it, I am honestly unable to further corroborate the meager quote from the "Ruini report").

 

 

Responding on the same day to Saverio Gaeta, I then explained to him more fully my position, which I report the gist of below.

 


I start from the premise, of course, that knowledge of one, two or three pieces of raw data is one thing, extensive knowledge is another thing, and knowing how to critically relate facts is entirely something different.

 


Having clarified this, the issue addressed on my page is not only related to pressure on the bishop, but also to the "persecution" of the visionaries. If two people have equal knowledge of some of the facts, it’s always possible for them to express different conclusions, but they will do it mindfully.

 

 

On the other hand, those who are not familiar with the story, at best (that is, if they’re in good faith), evaluate based on what they more or less casually learn from such and such a source. Depth, perspective, nuance and contrasts are not evaluated or considered.

 


However, this also applies to pressure. The committee member must (or should) have the tools to understand whether a source, a "testimony" (individual and oral?) is reliable or suspect.

 

 

Without historical-critical knowledge of the facts and characters, how is it done?

 

 

On the other hand, as I emphasized, receiving pressure means absolutely nothing, it’s of no fault and not dependent on the person receiving it.

Regarding all this, take a look at this page as well: Did the Commission Slander Bishop Žanić?

Marco Corvaglia

 

Go to the page Responses to Saverio Gaeta (Part 4): Apparitions? Three more days!


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