Part 5: The Rescue of Medjugorje? Based on Strange Psychological Theories (Introduced by a Commission Member Convicted of Sexual Abuse)
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
Father Tony Anatrella, the French psychoanalyst and member of the pontifical commission of inquiry into Medjugorje.
Abstract and unproven psychological theories: these were the basis on which the investigative commission on Medjugorje found reasons to support the credibility of the first "apparitions".
The editor of Processo a Medjugorje, David Murgia, introducing the commission's meeting on 5 October 2012, writes:
We can consider it a success that a member specialized in therapeutic and experimental psychoanalysis was included in the Commission of Inquiry. This allowed the visionaries themselves - and even the doctor who witnessed the first events - to be studied and analyzed also from this point of view.
This is a fundamental step for the final result of the Commission's work.
The final psychological study on the personality of the six visionaries was then presented to the Members and Experts of the Commission.
The report delivered to Members and Experts is in French.
[David Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, Rubbettino, 2021, p. 135]
The name of the commission member and author of the psychological report is redacted, but it is absolutely certain that it is the French psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Msgr. Tony Anatrella.
Anatrella, in January 2023, after an ecclesiastical trial that lasted six years, was condemned with a definitive sentence to a prohibition against hearing confessions, celebrating Mass in public, and continuing his psychotherapeutic activities, by decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and that of the archdiocese of Paris, having been found guilty of repeated acts of sexual abuse committed during his therapeutic activity.
The accusations against Anatrella had already been well known since at least 2001, as was underscored in several interviews by the Dominican Philippe Lefebvre, a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
This means that, when Anatrella was appointed as a member of the Pontifical Commission of inquiry on Medjugorje, the accusations against him had already been known for at least a decade.
Anatrella evidently played a major role in favor of Medjugorje: the ideosyncratic and abstract psychological theories on which the commission mainly relied, in the Final Report, to justify its favorable opinion on the "first seven apparitions", can only have been elaborated and/or endorsed by the one psychoanalyst and psychotherapist present on the commission, that is, Anatrella (with at most the help of Father Mijo Nikić, professor of psychology, who, although not a member of the commission, collaborated in the capacity of an expert).
Regarding the testimony of Dr. Darinka Šumanović-Glamuzina (see Part 2: A Breakthrough in the Investigation, or Just Subjective Impressions?), Anatrella wrote:
We think that there is not any reason to doubt the testimony of this doctor and that it is also an important element, which facilitates the discernment of the words of the youngsters when they said then that they had seen and heard the Gospa.
[Psychological conclusions, Appendix IX - 5 October 2012 Proceedings, in D. Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 138]
In fact, there is no reason to doubt the doctor's sincerity, but, as we have seen, her testimony is lacking in any interest or objective significance in support of the words of the then-youngsters.
Anatrella also wrote:
The interviews of the "seers" of Medjugorje that we carried out between 2011 and 2012 at the headquarters of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the analyses we have done each time with a clinical note, lead us to conclude that these different personalities do not have psychiatric and neurological disorders.
[Ibid., p. 136]
Nobody can think that behind the Medjugorje phenomenon there are six people with psychopathological problems, but it is not clear what scientific completeness an analysis could have (an analysis even claiming to be neurological) if it were derived from the mere observation of six persons having non-clinical interviews.
In the final part of his psychological study (actually not fully clear and cohesive), Anatrella asserted, in a nutshell, that "the exceptional experience lived by these children" took place in a region characterized by "notable anthropological conflicts" (Christianity, Islam, Communism), in which "the geophysical situation of the land" also plays a role [ibid., pp. 144-145, passim]. In fact, using considerations inspired by so-called ethnopsychoanalysis, he wrote:
[The area of Medjugorje is] made up of [...] hills and basins founded on a soil [that is] clayey, stony and rich in limestone soil. [...] Personalities who live on this type of earth (limestone) are generally of a strong, resistant and even obsessive temperament. They develop strong convictions, while those who live on shale have a depressive tendency and others who live on granite are rather of a temperament led to exaltation, or to civilized delirium.
[Ibid., p. 143]
It goes without saying that these are theories not supported by any validation or scientific logic. So they are pseudoscientific. They really seem to go back to the time of Herodotus, who, 2500 years ago, wrote that "from soft places are usually born soft men" [Herodotus, Histories, IX, 122]
It is therefore not surprising that, in the Final Report, the assertion of the supernaturality of the first seven apparitions is also essentially based on completely unproven psychological theories [italics in the original]:
The events that the witnesses declare to have occurred on Mt. Podbrdo have been identified as those that correspond better to a situation free from improper elements of influence. [...]
The relocation of the alleged apparitions/Mariophanies to the parish house of Medjugorje, however, also marked the transition to a new phase of the phenomenon, to an objectively less spontaneous and free situation than the previous one, loading the events (and the alleged visionaries themselves) with a series of expectations and needs absolutely not present in the first seven apparitions.
[Final Report: Gaeta, pp. 47 and 49-50; Murgia, pp. 37-39]
Was it thus proved that in the "first seven apparitions" the visionaries were sincere and not influenced by anything or anyone?
So what do these unsupported claims accomplish?
As we have seen already (Part 1 and Part 3), once the undeniable problematic aspects had been acknowledged the commission decided, in the autumn of 2012, to divide the phenomenon in two.
Anatrella's psychological theories try to mitigate the responsibilities of the visionaries. They support the idea that, when the seers probably began to say things that did not correspond to reality, they did so because the events were loaded with an ill-defined "series of expectations and needs".
It is not necessary to comment on the abstractness and absence of solid arguments in support of assertions such as these, also present in the Final Report:
• the way of relating to the subject of the first seven alleged apparitions, the Gospa, is such as to arouse a subjectuality, a responsibility and a protagonism for which the alleged visionaries were neither prepared nor accustomed;
• the subject of the first seven alleged apparitions, the Gospa, presents herself with unexpected characteristics and familiarity, in relation to what the alleged visionaries could know about her;
• the object of the requests/messages, that is to say, peace in its essentially theological dimension, acquires an urgency, a dimension and a meaning that expands well beyond the horizons already possessed, lived and desired by the alleged visionaries and their vital environment.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 59; Murgia, pp. 45-46]
The Final Report continues [emphasis added]:
[...] the International Commission considers that it can affirm with reasonable certainty that the first seven apparitions prove to be intrinsically credible, as they were capable of fostering in those who saw them an awakening of faith, a conversion in their way of life, and a renewed sense of belonging to the Church.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 61; Murgia, p. 47]
From a rational point of view, this argument is devoid of any meaning or probative value. If many people are convinced that a phenomenon is true, this obviously does not constitute a proof of its truthfulness (all the more so if that phenomenon leverages the psychological weaknesses of those people).
Equally unfounded and gratuitous, from a logical point of view, is this other statement contained in the document:
[...] the succeeding thirty-year history since the original events has spread so widely, and in such depth, as to exclude an individual or mass manipulation.
[Final Report: Gaeta, p. 71; Murgia, p. 50]
To make a comparison, the 8 million Jehovah's Witnesses in the world have also experienced "an awakening of faith" by joining their movement. Would the international commission agree, therefore, that they followed the right path?
Islamism and Hinduism have "spread" very far and in-depth. Does the international commission believe them to be true?
Let us now pass from psychological to historical motivations.
The Report states that, in the first days, when they were questioned by the police, “the alleged visionaries were exposed to grave threats. They resist, however, and do not deny at all what they have experienced” [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 44; Murgia, p. 35].
If these serious threats had really occurred in the first week, would they have ceased soon after?
And then, if the commission thinks that these alleged grave threats prove the sincerity of the visionaries, why does it write that "the events subsequent to the first seven apparitions constitute a real problem, which makes rather difficult an evaluation consistent with what can be recognized in the original sign"? [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 83; Murgia p. 58]
The truth is that there is no proof of these grave threats against the visionaries. There are only a few episodic accounts from the seers themselves.
In the early days, the youngsters were actually interrogated several times and subjected to medical exams, but strict measures were never taken against them, nor against their parents, brothers and sisters.
The "seers" and their families were far from terrified.
On the fourth day (June 27, 1981) the youngsters refused to be brought by the police to Mostar to be visited by a psychiatrist.
Here is how Mirjana, in her autobiography, recounts what happened on that day when, in Čitluk, a general practitioner, Dr. Ante Vujević, had just finished visiting them:
He came to us and said, "Now you'll be examined by a psychiatrist in Mostar."
"No", I said.
"No?", he said.
"Maybe you think we're all crazy, but what more do you want from us?" I opened the door. "Goodbye. We have to leave."
And we left.
[Mirjana Soldo, My Heart Will Triumph, Catholic Shop Publishing, Cocoa (FL) 2016, p. 45]
On the eighth day (July 1) the youngsters refused to respond to a police call to Čitluk. The story was recounted by Vicka:
Vicka: [...] they summoned us and our parents to school, and...
Father Janko: Who summoned you?
Vicka: Why, you know who! The ones from the Internal [Secret Police, Tr.] [...] Our parents went, but we did not. Why, didn't we dance around with them half the night prior to this! But, our parents didn't always go when they were summoned.
[Fr. Janko Bubalo, A Thousand Encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, Friends of Medjugorje, Chicago (IL) 1987, p. 45]
The first Medjugorjan historian, Father Marijan Ljubić, wrote:
Nobody can say for sure how many pilgrims have already gone to Medjugorje. It is however certain that by the end of October 1981 the number had already exceeded half a million.
[Marijan Ljubić, Medjugorje. Dernière invitation à la priere et à la conversion, Parvis, 1986, p. 37]
Which is obviously incompatible with the idea of severe repression.
The authorities waited a month and a half before showing a certain resolve: there was actually a tightening of the repressive measures in mid-August, coinciding with the issue of a real ban on access to Mt. Podbrdo (also mentioned by the commission in the Critical Chronology [Appendix V – 3 March 2011 Proceedings, in Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 58]).
This crackdown, however, did not directly affect the youngsters (and did not even stop the influx of pilgrims, as we have seen), but was aimed at leveling "exemplary" punishments, on various pretexts, on some Franciscans of the region whom the regime had long considered as its real political opponents, including the parish priest of Medjugorje, Jozo Zovko.
So an indirect attack was made on the phenomenon. The reason for this strategy is easy to understand: the Yugoslav authorities, unlike those of other communist regimes, tolerated the religions and therefore feared criticism from the international community if they were proved to have broken from their own traditional line of conduct.
With regard to the testimonies of the "seers", consider the two existing versions of the facts regarding the "apparition" that took place in Cerno on June 30, 1981.
In the Final Report, the Commission wrote that in Cerno "the then adolescents had been brought by car by police officials" [Final Report: Gaeta, p. 48; Murgia, p. 38], but the commission contradicted itself, given that in the Critical Chronology it wrote correctly (albeit wrongly spelling the name of the place):
The children, accompanied by two girls (Mica and Ljubica), made an excursion by car and had the vision at Cerna.
[Critical Chronology of the First Eleven Days Related to the Medjugorje Events, Appendix V – 3 March 2011 Proceedings, in Murgia, Processo a Medjugorje, p. 56]
So, was it an excursion or a forced trip?
In the long serial interview released between 1983 and 1984, Vicka stated:
Vicka: We already realized while on the road that we made a mistake in going for the outing, for, in the end, it seemed to us that they just took us so that we might not be present for the Virgin. [...]
However, on the way through Cerno, we asked that they stop so that we might pray to the Virgin.
Father Janko: At what time of the day was it?
Vicka: Somewhere about six in the afternoon. When we usually meet with the Virgin. [...]
They were somewhat reluctant to stop. They pretended not to hear us. But, when we said we would jump out of the car if they didn't stop, they stopped.
[Bubalo, A Thousand Encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, pp. 37-38]
Given that they were talking about the two social workers (Mica Ivanković, a cousin of Vicka and Ivanka, and Ljubica Vasilj-Gluvić), the tape-recorded conversations between the priests of the parish and the children, in the first days, run counter to the version told by Vicka in 1983, who was contradicting not only the other "visionaries" but herself as well.
The tapes have been transcribed and translated by three authors, of whom two (Daria Klanac and Fr. James Mulligan) are open supporters of Medjugorje.
The tape recorded on the evening of June 30 by the parish priest Jozo Zovko (starting around 18:30) makes unequivocally clear that for the youngsters, in reality, it was a pleasant excursion: the youngsters freely chose Cerno as their destination.
They all said together: “We did, we decided ourselves”. Vicka herself, with her proud attitude, was even more explicit: "We decided ourselves and that was all. We don't need anybody to tell us" [J. Mulligan, Medjugorje. The First Days, Boanerges Press, 2013, p.242; D. Klanac, Aux sources de Medjugorje, Sciences et Culture, 1998, p. 171].
Also interesting is the passage in which Father Jozo asked the children if they had been annoyed by the presence of the two women. The youngsters’ reply was: "Not at all, they were very nice" [Mulligan, Medjugorje, cit., p. 247; Klanac, Aux sources, cit., p. 176].
The episode is important because it shows how the later accounts of the "seers" must be considered with some prudence.
Go to Part 6: The Seers’ Credibility: The "Real Problem" Admitted (Even) by the Commission
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