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6. Father Jozo: Testimony or Fantasy?

by Marco Corvaglia

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

Jozo Zovko

Father Jozo in a picture from 2020.

When the “apparitions” began, Father Jozo Zovko, parish priest of Medjugorje, for a number of years was already considered - of course, from the point of view of the ruling communist regime - a subversive: "His file at the UDBA [Yugoslavian secret police, nda] offices was quite extensive" [D. Vidović, La salvezza dell'umanità. Le apparizioni della Regina della Pace dal 24 giugno 1981 sino ad oggi, Fram Ziral, 2010, p. 42]

 

 

As we’ve already discussed (cf. Part 3), Franciscans were looked upon with suspicion by the regime as historically close to nationalism and therefore Croatian independenceism (on whether the pastor had nationalistic leanings, there are no doubts, however. Even an apologist of Medjugorje, Father René Laurentin, during the terrible Yugoslav war of the early 1990s between the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, witnessed Father Jozo demonstrating “unbelievable Croatian patriotism at times” [R. Laurentin, Dernières nouvelles de Medjugorje, no. 15, O.E.I.L., 1996, p. 26].)

 


Surely, in retaliation against the “apparitions” (believed to be an invention of the Franciscans to incite the people), Father Jozo was arrested on pretext in August of 1981, along with other Herzegovinese Franciscans.

 

 

On October 21 of that same year, according to the “visionaries”, the Madonna affirmed:

Do not fear for Jozo. He is a saint, I have already told you.
[Laurentin,
Message et pédagogie de Marie a Medjugorje. Corpus chronologique des messages, O.E.I.L., Paris, 1988, p.159. English edition: Messages and Teachings of Mary at Medjugorje. Chronological Corpus of the Messages, Riehle Foundation, 1988]


Following a show trial, Father Jozo was sentenced by a lower court to three and a half years in prison, which was then reduced to one and a half years upon appeal.

 


Other Franciscans not directly linked to Medjugorje (Ferdo Vlašić and Jozo Krizić) had even more convictions [cf. S. Gaeta, Medjugorje. La vera storia, San Paolo, 2020, pp. 190-191] on charges of compromising state security and producing nationalistic propaganda.

 


Honoring the political martyrdom of Father Jozo, however, leaves other issues that are quite problematic.

 


Father Jozo returned to Medjugorje (after a brief stay in Zagreb) on the fourth day of the “apparitions” (June 27, 1981). At first, he was suspicious of the young visionaries, but only because he feared that it was staged by the communists:

I thought to myself that the communists had manipulated the children in order to ridicule our faith, and I said to myself, “I left my parish for a moment and look at what a low blow these ugly communists have dealt me!” They wanted to ridicule the Church to discredit my work along with everything else.

[Sabrina Covic, Incontri con Padre Jozo, Sakramento, Paris 2006, pp. 52-53]

 

 

Father Pietro Zorza, who had interviewed him several times, wrote:

He was convinced that the two girls he had never seen (because Ivanka was from Mostar and Mirjana from Sarajevo) had been sent by the communists and had undermined the other four with drugs…

[Pietro Zorza, Cari figli, grazie per aver risposto alla mia chiamata, Eurostampa, 1991, p. 100]

 


Within just a few days, he changed his stance, becoming a believer in the “apparitions”. The most realistic hypothesis is that this took place the moment he understood that the communists were not behind the events.

 


For his part, Father Jozo will say that in these first days he heard (while he was in the church and the youngsters were trying to elude the police) the “voice of Christ” who said to him, “Get out there and save my children. Later, I’ll tell you what you need to do” [statement from Father Jozo Zovko, in Zorza, Cari figli, grazie per aver risposto alla mia chiamata, p. 20].

 


What effect would this alleged supernatural experience have on him?

 

 

In 1991, he states:

​But how could I believe these children? [...] I said, “Jesus, I don't believe.” Even after hearing the voice, I still had doubts.
[Ibid., p. 21]

 


In 2001, however:

 

​​

​So, you believed from the day you heard the voice in the church?
What I’m trying to say is...a big change was taking place. I felt good. God was there. God answers our prayers. God gives us signs. The youngsters became, for me, strong individuals, witnesses, the ones who carry the message and don’t fabricate the messages they receive. This was now enough for me.

[Covic, Incontri con Padre Jozo, p. 61]

 

 

Of the alleged supernatural voice, it’s worth noting that Father Jozo did not speak of it until two years later, in August of 1983 (six months after being released from prison).

 

 

Obviously (as essentially, Saverio Gaeta objected to me via a note in his book), he could not have spoken about it from prison. However, approximately one and a half months passed between the alleged incident and the arrest (time that would have been more than enough).

 


Moreover, it’s impossible to determine precisely the day when such an enormous and memorable event allegedly happened, both because, on four different occasions, Father Jozo provided four different dates (June 29, 1981 [Jozo Zovko, «Va’ e difendi i ragazzi!», in Ivan Sesar et al., Medjugorje, Centro informativo Mir Medjugorje, Medjugorje 2003, p. 34], June 30th [interview with Barnaba Hechich, cf. René Laurentin, Racconto e messaggio delle apparizioni di Medjugorje, Queriniana, 1987, p. 62, note 1], July 1st [interview in S. Kraljevic, The Apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje, Franciscan Herald Press, 1984, pp. 41-43], July 5th [book interview with S. Covic, Incontri con Padre Jozo, pp. 58-61]), and because whichever date you want to try to take as correct, irreconcilable logical and chronological discrepancies and inconsistencies occur, as I have both documented and demonstrated [cf. M. Corvaglia, La verità su Medjugorje. Il grande inganno, Lindau, 2018, p. 43, ff.].

 

 

Saverio Gaeta, in turn, reports an incident with unlikely details as told by Father Jozo and admits that it’s obviously “fictionalized” [Gaeta, Medjugorje, p. 151; cfr. Corvaglia, La verità su Medjugorje, pp. 46-48].

He also adds a sentence written by apologist René Laurentin, who, in the early 1990s, stressed that “it's a well-known fact that Father Jozo’s memory is not accurate” in that, for him, “a memory is regarded as a memory of the heart and not because of its historical accuracy” [Gaeta, Medjugorje, p. 151].

 


Compounding all these premises, the picture that’s painted doesn’t objectively seem to be that of a very reliable person in terms of his accounts and testimonies.

 

 

By the way, what exactly does the euphemism memory of the heart mean? It means a “subjective reworking of the facts”.

 

 

The only thing that remains to be seen is whether it’s conscious or unconscious.

 

 

But let’s move on.

 


After being released from prison, Father Jozo was assigned to the parish of Bukovica. Then, in 1985, Bishop Žanić assigned him to the parish of Tihaljina, 30 kilometers from Medjugorje.

 


Saverio Gaeta writes:

 

​​

Then, the provincial minister moved him to the Marian shrine of Široki Brijeg, arousing, however, the opposition of Bishop Perić, who did not confirm the canonical mandate.
[Gaeta, Medjugorje, p. 207]

 


In reality, during that time (1991), Žanić was still the bishop. At any rate, the way Gaeta’s sentence is written, since it’s not specified where opposition to the confirmation of the mandate came from, the idea that it was an arbitrary act on the part of the bishop implicitly passes.

 


The fact is that, on August 23, 1989, Father Jozo had been removed from “every jurisdiction in the dioceses of Herzegovina” [Ogledalo Pravde. Biskupski ordinarijat u Mostaru o navodnim ukazanjima i porukama u Međugorju (Diocesan Curia of Mostar on alleged apparitions and messages from Medjugorje), Mostar 2001, p. 52], a result of serious moral censure.

 


In addition, the Vatican's Dicastery of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (by letter ref. 5673/89 dated February 15, 1990) had requested that Father Jozo be sent to a monastery “far away from Medjugorje” (while Široki Brijeg is only approximately 30 kilometers away).

 


In letter ref. 843/2004, dated June 26, 2004, Bishop Perić indeed reminds Father Jozo:

 

​​

Diocesan Ordinary Msgr. Pavao Žanić, after a threefold admonition to the provincialate, with letter no. 622/89, August 23, 1989, while you were the parish priest in Tihaljina,deprived you of “all jurisdiction and canonical missions from the Dioceses of Mostar-Duvno and Trebinje-Mrkan” due to your non-clerical behavior [...]
With letter no. 557/91, from July 30, 1991, the bishop informed the provincialate, “I cannot in any way confirm…the appointment of Father Jozo Zovko to Široki Brijeg.”
He also cited the reasons. The congregation's letter, and, second, “In addition to this reason, I also consider his questionable private moral life.”

[Biskupova odluka Fra Jozi Zovki, OFM, Prot. 843/2004, 6/26/2004]

 


The following are defined by Gaeta as “years of stalemate” [Gaeta, Medjugorje, p. 207].

 


In reality, the “stalemate” consisted of the following: despite being suspended a divinis (until June 26, 2004 latae sententiae and, after that date, by formal act of Bishop Perić), Father Jozo remained in Široki Brijeg through 2009 (essentially two decades), illegally exercising priestly functions and in disobedience to his diocesan bishop.

 


The matter is thoroughly chronicled and documented in detail in an official act of the curia of Mostar: the aforementioned letter ref. 843/2004 dated June 26, 2004.

 

 

For post-2004, this statement was given by Bishop Perić on April 16, 2007 at the Franciscan monastery in Humac:

 

 

It is a purely arbitrary expression of the pastors themselves and other pastoral staff members of Medjugorje that a member of your province, Fr. Jozo Zovko, who has been prohibited from exercising priestly ministry in this diocese, has been invited to lead the Stations of the Cross in Medjugorje this year and is allowed to hear confessions.
[Words taken from the speech published in full in Crkva na kamenu, diocesan pastoral newsletter, 5/2007, pp. 33-35]

 


I myself saw him celebrate Mass at 6:30 pm on June 28, 2007 in Široki Brijeg.

 


Let’s now resume Saverio Gaeta’s account where we left off:

 

 

After years of stalemate, since Feb. 9, 2009, as an official statement given, Father Jozo "for reasons of health, rest and convalescence and the start of construction work on the island of Badija (Croatia), requested of his superiors to reside outside of his province.”

[Gaeta, Medjugorje, p. 207]
 

 

Here, a major point needs to be made.

 

 

It’s true that the news in question was communicated to Medjugorje devotees in a fax signed by the Franciscan himself (as Father Jozo does not express himself well in Italian, the Italian version of February 9, 2009 was instead underwritten by one of his co-workers, Vesna Cuzić). Here is the document:

Il fax diffuso da padre Jozo per giustificare il suo trasferimento a Badija

 

However, the content once again turned out to be a "reworking" of the facts (But this time, it's not a question of memories).

 


This was initially revealed in the press and later confirmed through the development of events.

 


As early as February 24, 2009, in issue 693 of the Croatian magazine Nacional, the following news appeared:

 

Charismatic priest, Father Jozo Zovko, the primary symbol of the Medjugorje phenomenon for the past 27 years, did not voluntarily leave Herzegovina, announcing his move to the empty and dilapidated Franciscan monastery on the small island of Badija, near Korcula. Father Jozo did not voluntarily withdraw to Badija for health and recovery reasons, as he publicly announced last week, but was exiled from the Franciscan Province of Herzegovina.
After 18 years of resistance and disobedience, he was required to obey the Holy See's decree of February 1990.

[Željko Rogošić, Iz tiskanog izdanja: Zašto je Papa prognao fra Zovka iz Međugorja, Nacional, 24/02/2009]

 


The article, signed by Željko Rogošić, explicitly refers to the Vatican injunction (Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) directed at Father Jozo in 1990 to relocate to a “monastery far from Medjugorje”.

 

 

As the newspaper states:

 

Fr. Zovko has not gone far from Medjugorje. He relocated to the Franciscan monastery in Široki Brijeg, where he served as guardian.
He remained closely associated with Medjugorje. [...]
(Already) last year, the government of the Franciscan province of Herzegovina had asked Father Jozo to finally submit to the sanction by relocating to Badija and collaborating on the restoration of the Franciscan monastery that the Croatian republic returned to the friars of Zadar in 2003 in an extremely precarious state. The friars of Zadar donated it to the Herzegovina Franciscan province, who will operate it for 99 years.
Father Jozo then had not obeyed the decree of the government of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor.[...]
Many wonder why, after 18 years, Father Jozo finally obeyed the Church’s decision. [...] The Vatican will soon form a commission to review the events of Medjugorje. [...] Father Jozo has now decided not to obstruct that process.

[Ibid.]
 

 


Father Jozo is still banished to the small island of Badija.

 


Since February 2009, Father Jozo has also been prohibited from speaking in public about Medjugorje. He himself, interviewed by Medjugorje activist Paolo Brosio in July 2011, states:

 

 

I cannot give interviews concerning my past, my trials and tribulations, the time of the apparitions in Medjugorje, the relationship with the visionaries or anything about life in my land of Herzegovina.
[Statement from Father Jozo Zovko, in Paolo Brosio, Viaggio a Medjugorje, Piemme, Milan 2011, p. 275]

 


On the same page, another statement is given (also revisited later by Gaeta):

 

 

I am a Franciscan Friar Minor who’s obedient to my superiors and the bishop of Mostar, who, on my behalf, wanted a long period of obedience and spiritual rest, away from the noise and away from the public spotlight.

[Ibid.]
 


This is another reworking, given that his disobedience lasted from 1989 to 2009, as also documented by the aforementioned decree of the Curia of Mostar ref. 843/2004 dated June 26, 2004, available in Croatian on the website of the Diocese of Mostar.

Marco Corvaglia

To be continued


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