Friday, July 31, 2009

The troublesome priest of Medjugorje

The Vatican has achieved a significant victory over Tomislav Vlasic, the Franciscan at the centre of the Medjugorje cult.

In the end, he was pushed after he asked to jump.

And Pope Benedict won another small victory in his campaign to reconcile faith and reason.

It has emerged that the Vatican has agreed to a request for laicisation from Tomislav Vlasic, a Franciscan friar and seminal influence on the cult of Our Lady of Medjugorje.

A letter sent by the minister-general of the Franciscans to the heads of the order in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Italy informing them of the decision was posted on the internet this week.

It was dated 10 March, so we can assume this was not exactly news the Catholic church was keen to put about. And no wonder.

Vlasic was deputy parish priest of Medjugorje, a small town in Herzegovina, when in 1981 six children announced that they had been visited by the mother of Jesus. He became their unofficial spiritual adviser.

Since then, the so-called "visionaries" claim to have seen Mary around 40,000 times and been told some or all of the "Ten Secrets" at the heart of a cult that has inspired some 30 million pilgrimages.

Vlasic meanwhile has rarely been out of trouble with the church hierarchy. A few years after the purported miracle, he left Medjugorje following the disclosure that he had had an affair with a nun and fathered a child by her.

In Italy, he founded a new community of the "Queen of Peace". Last year Vlasic was confined to a Franciscan monastery in L'Aquila, after refusing to cooperate with a Vatican investigation into his activities.

Among the transgressions of which he was suspected were heresy, schism, the spreading of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, and disobedience of legitimately issued orders.

Quite a collection.

While it is true that he left Medjugorje at an early stage, the Franciscan's personal dodginess is part and parcel of the broader dodginess of the cult itself.

The local bishop accused him of having invented the whole thing. And in 1985, when the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was prefect of the Vatican "ministry" that enforces doctrinal orthodoxy, he banned diocesan- and parish–sponsored pilgrimages to the shrine.

Individual Catholics are free to go to Medjugorje and be accompanied on their visit by a priest.

But the sort of miracle-seeking religiosity it inspires is precisely the kind this pope is keen to curb.

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