From René Laurentin - The Position of Medjugorje in the Church
The Hierarchical Church: The Bishops and the Pope
The situation is more complex on the side of the authorities.
The Local Bishop
The local bishop, Msgr. Zanic, successor of the apostles and the one responsible for discernment in his diocese, was at first favorable during the summer of 1981 (although he does not want to remember it today). But the local conflict with the Franciscans (who make up 80% of the priests of his diocese) aggravated everything step by step. The time allotted here does not permit me to give the details of this problem. For that I refer you to my books.
When I went to Medjugorje for the first time at Christmas 1983, I believed that he was still favorable but he disillusioned me. I listened to him and did my best to note his objections, although they seemed to me quite external, partial and weak in comparison to the obvious facts, which got me involved in a difficult venture in respect to his episcopal authority. I went to see him as often as I could. He confirmed to me his radical opposition. At the end of the visit with him, I asked for his blessing. Once he found it difficult. I insisted, saying, “If I am a problem for you, give me the blessing for my conversion”. To that he responded with his episcopal magnanimity, “Remain Laurentin”
His Official Position of October 30, 1984 against Medjugorje defamed me on several points in a surprising manner: I was supposed to have counselled him to hide the truth; I disqualified myself as a theologian; I was supposed to have done this for money; I had earned more than a billion!; I had succumbed to the charm of the visionaries of Medjugorje rather than to listen to the bishop. But he had never forbidden me to go to Medjugorje or asked me to stop writing.
I prepared myself to keep silence after the negative verdict, which he had publicly announced. But when he came to Rome in April 1986 to propose it, Cardinal Ratzinger told him (and Bishop Zanic, a man of clarity and of no duplicity, revealed it openly): “No, you are going to dissolve your diocesan commission. The verdict is transferred to the Bishops Conference.”
This was unexpected; because, according to an old tradition, aggravated by Cardinal Ottaviani, who in 1959 and 1960 made the decisions against Sister Faustina (beatified today) and Mother Yvonne Aimée etc., the Holy Office generally supported bishops who were unfavorable towards apparitions and rather restrained favorable judgments. Here then it was reversed. One could ask why. I believe I have the explanation.
In July 1984 Pope John Paul II, into whose own hands I gave my first book, “Is The Virgin Mary Appearing at Medjugorje?” (February 1984), had read it in Castelgandolfo and had recommended it to Bishop Pio Belo Ricardo of Los Teques (Venezuela).
The following year, he also read “Scientific & Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje”, which I wrote together with Professor Joyeux from Montpellier.
Finally, I initiated an international meeting of doctors and theologians at Milan to establish ten scientific and ten theological conclusions concerning Medjugorje. Agreement was easily reached in one day of work, and these twenty conclusions were sent to John Paul II by Doctor Luigi Farina, the President of ARPA, where this meeting had taken place. The Pope sent all these documents to Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, who seems to have made this new decision after having conferred with John Paul II. It was an unprecedented decision. It took the bishops ordinary authority away from him without taking it away completely, since he would still be a member of the Yugoslav Bishops Conference, to which the judgment was transferred.
The result was a long journey. Cardinal Kuharic, with whom Vicka had an apparition (in his living room in 1983, as he told me ) was, it seemed to me, open and discretely favorable. In any case, he desired the bishops to peacefully take the responsibility for this important and fruitful place of pilgrimage instead of stirring up one of those conflicts around apparitions that create discomfort and divisions within the Church, which are detrimental to the faithful, the bishops, and God Himself.
But being prudent and respectful of Monsignor Zanic, the local bishop who is responsible before God and the parish of Medjugorje, Cardinal Kuharic rightly maintained a prominent place for him. Every time a question was addressed to the Bishops Conference, he was always the one to speak first. With his characteristic vigor Bishop Zanic repeated all the objections he had developed twice publicly and retained them:
1. The Official Position on Medjugorje of October 30, 1984, dealt a blow to the further expansion of Medjugorje, since he invited all the bishops of the episcopal conferences of the world to support his negative position, suggesting that official pilgrimages (he underscored the “official”) were not authorized.
2. His severe sermon of July 25, 1987, against Medjugorje during the confirmation ceremony. He expected to see the parishioners revolt, but they silently listened to him with respect, in spite of the deep hurt they felt in their hearts. They gave proof of their heroic respect and obedience, but the bishop interpreted their reaction differently. During the dinner that followed, he concluded, “They dont believe so much any more today.” The Franciscans disabused him (the sermon is published with my critical observations in Seven Years of Apparitions, pp 72-77).
After this first intervention of the local bishop, the other less informed bishops kept silence or supported him out of solidarity. The only one who pleaded for Medjugorje was Msgr. Franic, archbishop of Split, an authority in these matters, since he was president of the Yugoslav Bishops Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith. But he retired on September 10, 1988, and was no longer a member of the Bishops Conference thus leaving open terrain for Bishop Zanic.
Under these circumstances, I never came to know how Cardinal Kuharic was able in November 1990 to succeed through the Bishops Conference in obtaining the recognition of pilgrimage and its practice. It was done according to the directives and criteria published February 25, 1978 by Cardinal eper, (the predecessor of Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation of the Faith ). In the case of apparitions, if no serious objection presents itself and if the fruits are good, the bishop takes charge of pilgrimage in order to direct the piety of the faithful. After that, he can eventually, without haste and with the necessary caution, recognize the apparitions themselves. Unfortunately, Bishop Zanic accepted this recognition of pilgrimage (to which he was opposed) only on condition that several negative clauses be introduced. These minor restrictions made the text so obscure that the Cardinal and the Bishops Conference decided not to publish it , and to recognize it in action (as was done in Rome without a declaration for the recognition of Tre Fontane).
This is how Bishop Komarica, president of the Yugoslav Bishops Commission for the investigation of Medjugorje, came to Medjugorje to celebrate a mass of pilgrimage. He declared officially:
“I came not only in my own name but in the name of all the Yugoslav bishops, including Msgr. Zanic (the local bishop and the number one opponent). Other bishops will come…”
And other bishops followed, including Msgr. Zanic and his archbishop, the future Cardinal Puljic of Sarajevo.
Everything seemed to be going well. But on January 2, 1991 the text, kept secret because of its ambiguity, was published by the Italian News Agency ASCA (on the initiative of Msgr. Zanic, according to the Counter Reform which was very much behind him) with a radically negative commentary. This obscure text, published under savage conditions, created uncertainty and disarray with pilgrims on an international scale. They referred to Cardinal Kuharic, who replied:
“The Church is not in a hurry. We, the bishops, after three years of examination by the Commission, have declared Medjugorje a place of prayer and a Marian sanctuary. This means that WE ARE NOT OPPOSED to people coming on pilgrimage to Medjugorje to venerate the Mother of God there, in conformity with the teaching and faith of the universal Church.
As to the supernaturality of the apparitions, we have declared: UP TO THIS MOMENT WE CANNOT AFFIRM IT. WE LEAVE IT FOR LATER.. THE CHURCH IS NOT IN A HURRY.” ( Declaration printed in Vecernji List, August 1993, Latest News 13, page 41). Several Croatian bishops spoke in the same way.