Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Medjugorje: "Pope defrocks priest" (Fr. Tomislav Vlasic Laicized)

Sex! Secret Documents! Hypocritical Catholics!

Responding to those statements in order: Maybe; Sort of; Possibly.

There are some facts involved in what promises to be on tabloid covers and talk shows soon.

Purported Medjugorje Apparitions (Still) Under Investigation, Priest Laicized

Father Tomislav Vladic asked permission to be laicized - to have his priestly authority removed. The Vatican granted his request.

And, yes: the laicization of Fr. Tomislav Vlasic does seem to have something to do with the ongoing investigation of the purported ("alleged" in Western newspaperese) Marian apparitions at Medjugorje, Bosnia.

This milestone in Tomislav Vlasic's career, and the situation at Medjugorje is in this morning's Daily Mail Online. I've excerpted the juicier parts of the article:
"The Pope has defrocked the priest at the centre of claims that the Virgin Mary has been appearing in the Bosnian town of Medjugorje.

"The Vatican stripped Father Tomislav Vladic of his priest status after an investigation into growing concerns over the alleged apparitions.

"Father Vlasic was named as the 'creator' of the phenomenon by Pavao Zanic, the local bishop at the time the apparitions began in 1981...."

"...The Vatican also began an inquiry into claims he was guilty of sexual immorality after he made a nun pregnant.

The defrocking was secretly signed off by the Pope in March....

"...It emerged yesterday that he has chosen to leave the priesthood and his order, a move which has brought the investigation to an abrupt halt...."

"...The seers have grown wealthy as a result of their claims – and so has their town, which has boomed as a result of the 'Madonna gold rush'.

"Some today own smart executive houses with immaculate gardens, double garages and security gates, and one has a tennis court.

"They also own expensive cars and have married, one of them, Ivan Dragicevic, to an American former beauty queen...."
(Daily Mail Online)
I've made the point before, that secular publications don't have the best record for accurate reporting on matters concerning the Catholic Church. (September 16, 2008)

Not that the Daily Mail Online is in the same class as the Star: but I think that, between a desire to publish attention-grabbing headlines and an unconscious ignorance of Catholic beliefs and practices, secular journalists are likely to blunder when covering events which involve the Church.

Whaddaya Mean, "Unconscious"?

By "unconscious ignorance of Catholic beliefs and practices," I mean that secular journalists - as well as some Catholics - are clueless when it comes to what the Catholic Church teaches, and how we operate.

Having a lack of specific knowledge is no problem for journalists, or anyone else: as long as the person is aware of that lack. A reporter, writing about Zoroastorianism, might not be familiar with the teachings of Zoroaster, or just what was in the Avesta. No problem: there are reference materials available which should give the reporter enough background information to get by.

As I see it, problems start when a journalist, or anyone else, has a knowledge deficit - and doesn't know it. There's quite a great deal about Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, that 'everybody knows' - that just ain't so.

One Catholic-oriented website (Catholic Online) used the Daily Mail article as the basis of it's coverage, so I'll take some points in the order that they appeared in the Daily Mail Online.

"The Pope has defrocked..."

The term is "laicized," which is pretty close to "defrocked," although a bit more specific to Catholic procedures. The verb "to laicize" means to "reduce to lay status" (Princeton's WordNet) I could quibble about using "defrocked" in this context - but more of the Daily Mail's readers probably understand "defrocked," so it's probably good sense to stick with a familiar vocabulary.

The Vatican's Been Investigating the Purported Medjugorje Apparitions

This is standard operating procedure for the Church: It would be shocking if the Catholic Church didn't investigate whether or not someone claiming to have talked with Mary was telling the truth, the victim of a hoax, or in need of therapy. As for the bickering between priest and bishop that's implied: So far, all Catholics have been and are human beings. We don't always get along. That's the way it is.

Sex! Oh, Wow! Sex!

Remember what I said, about Catholics being human beings? We're also sexual creatures - and sometimes we do things with our sexuality that aren't right.

People following in the tradition of Maria Monk notwithstanding, the Catholic Church doesn't maintain nunneries to provide harems for priests. We take the idea of celibacy rather seriously: and in a case where a priest is accused of making a woman pregnant, an investigation would be in order.
The Perfidy of the Pedophile Priests
For anyone who may have been isolated from the rest of the world for the last couple of decades: There has been a scandal in America, about a few priests who raped quite an impressive number of boys.

Those pedophile priests shouldn't have done what they did, and the Church is dealing with them.

Moving along.

"The defrocking was secretly signed off by the Pope"

For people who really believe that there's a global conspiracy involving Jesuit assassins, and that the Vatican has a vast secret library that nobody ever gets to see except the conspirators: this sort of thing 'proves' their point.

For many others, the idea of 'secret signings' and shadowy intrigue are, well, intriguing.

Okay: the Pope didn't make a public announcement about allowing a priest to withdraw from the priesthood. Some American cultures are a bit over-enthusiastic (I think) about "privacy," so consider the sort of fuss that could have been raised if the Vatican hadn't kept Tomislav Vlasic's change of status quiet. I could be wrong, but I think that headlines about "public humiliation" might be popping up about now.

"The seers have grown wealthy as a result of their claims..."

Yeah. This is one reason why the Church investigates claims about apparitions.

It's a fact: A whole lot of 'Jesus junk' has been sold in and around Medjugorje; quite a few books about Medjugorje have been sold - for a profit; and news outlets have used Medjugorje in headlines, to get readers.

Hello? If there's a profit to be made, someone's going to try to make a profit: whether it's Michael Jackson's death; or a purported Marian apparition.

But wait! Aren't religious people supposed to be poor? You know: despising the vain trappings of the world and all that?
Louie: The Saint Who Owned France
Your history text probably called him King Louis IX of France. If you've got a book about saints, you may know him as Saint Louis the Confessor. Either way, he was king of France for part of the 13th century. A rather conventional biography of Saint Louis the Confessor starts with "In Louis IX of France were united the qualities of a just and upright sovereign, a fearless warrior, and a saint...." (EWTN)

As king, Louis IX of France had the sort of authority over, and control of, French land that makes it not altogether unreasonable to say that he owned France. Whatever, he wasn't exactly poor.
Catholicism: Poverty Not Required
I've been taught, and believe, that material poverty brings with it certain opportunities for practicing holiness.

I've also been taught, and believe, that being stinking rich brings with it certain opportunities for practicing holiness. They're not the same opportunities as you get with being poor: but Saint Louis the Confessor made pretty good use of what he had - and is recognized as a saint.
Back to Medjugorje
People who have used the purported Medjugorje apparitions strictly as a way to make money aren't, I think, making good use of their opportunities.

The Daily Mail Online says: "...The seers have grown wealthy as a result of their claims...." I think it makes a difference, whether they tried to become wealthy, and just what they did to obtain the wealth. There isn't enough detail in the news article for me to go 'tsk, tsk' or 'good for them.'

Bottom line: Although people in some religious orders take vows of poverty, it's okay as a rule for a Catholic to be rich - or poor - in terms of material things.

One of the Medjugorje "Seers" Married - the Horror! the Horror!

Remember what I said, about human beings being sexual creatures? Part of what I've been taught, and believe, is that God made human beings. Also, that God doesn't make defective products. Yes, evil exists - but that's a matter involving free will - and a topic for other posts.

Sex itself is built into humanity, at the cellular level. It's literally in our genes. And yes: sex is okay, although the Catholic Church does have some rules about what we're supposed to do with it.

Let's put in this way: Marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic Church, and we're supposed to have sex if we're married.

And, although most of us haven't married "an American former beauty queen," I haven't seen anything in the rules saying that Catholics are supposed to avoid marrying attractive people.

I'm Not Happy About This News: But I'm Not Shocked or Disheartened, Either

I've been following the purported Marian apparitions at Medjugorje for quite a few years, and I'm not at all happy to read the latest developments. However, I was aware that the Church was still investigating the purported apparitions, and hadn't heard anything about their being approved: so this is just one more piece of news to come out of Bosnia.

Disappointed? Yes. But there's nothing here to shake my faith. The purported Medjugorje apparitions may be the real deal, or they may not. I don't have enough information about what's been going on in and around Medjugorje, Bosnia, to have an informed opinion, one way or another.

It would be nifty-keen if the Church does declare that they're in the same class as, say, the Lourdes event - but I'm willing to wait for an official decision, one way or another.

Related posts:
In the news:

A tip of the hat to Roseblue, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this news.


Timothy said...

Thank you for posting a more fair and balanced review of this incident than many. The truth is that those who are so opposed to Medjugorje (and I still can't figure out why they have so much energy about this!) will grasp at any negative news and amplify it to support their position. After the apparitions of Our Lady in Medjugorje began and the pastor of Medjugorje was put in prison by the communists, Fr. Tomislav Vlasic was assigned to St. James parish in Medjugorje. In September, 1984 he left Medjugorje and in 1985 was assigned to the parish in Vitina (with all priestly faculties - to preach, to hear confessions, celebrate Mass, etc., ie., when he left, he was in good standing with the Church). He was never formally designated pastor of St. James parish. Parish records state that Fr. Tomislav Pervan served as pastor in Medjugorje from 1982 through 1988. 

Fr. Tomislva Vlasic moved to Italy in 1987 and in 1992 joined the Italian Franciscan Province of Abbruzzo. All these years he has not been a member of the Franciscan Province of Herzegovina. It appears he decided to go on a different path in the mid 80’s, having been heavily influenced by a German woman who had come to Medjugorje, Agnes Heupel, who claimed to be a visionary, and with whom he formed his own community in 1987. During this time he tried forcing one of the visionaries of Medjugorje, Marija Pavlovic, to publicly state that Our Lady supported his “spiritual marriage” with Agnes Heupel and the new way of life of his community. To the contrary, Marija’s conscience forced her to write a public statement on July 11, 1988, disavowing any connection with him or with his community: “I repeat that I never received from the Gospa, nor gave Fr. Tomislav or anyone else, a confirmation of the program of Fr. Tomislav and Agnes Heupel.” Though Fr. Vlasic would later build a house outside of Medjugorje behind the hill of Crnica, between the village of Surmanc and Bijakovici, he, himself, kept distant from Medjugorje and was never involved in any activities of the parish. 

The fact is that in the mid 80’s Fr. Vlasic decided to go his own way and since then none of the visionaries of Medjugorje have had any contact with him.

Let’s not forget that during this time the events of Medjugorje were situated between a hostile communist government and a bishop who had stated publicly, “I want Medjugorje destroyed!” (and that anyone purporting Our Lady was appearing in Medjugorje deserved the lowest place in hell)! During a filmed interview in his Episcopal residence in February 1989, in response to a question, “Who is the pastor in Medjugorje?” the Bishop replied, “I don’t know, I think it’s the fat one!” Medjugorje has not been cared for by the local Ordinary – though literally hundreds of bishops throughout the world are testifying to incredible graces having come into their own dioceses through Medjugorje. Though vulnerable itself from attacks on all sides – lacking protection that should have been in place – this little parish has continued going forward, renewing the Church! The parish – and visionaries – have been nothing less than heroic! Let’s not forget that early on in her messages Our Lady had warned that Satan left many places in the world in order to focus his attack against Medjugorje – to try to thwart what God was doing there. All those who continue answering Our Lady’s call to be her apostles are vulnerable to his attacks. 

Don’t be distracted by what you might read in the media. Present developments are a good sign. Rome is finally beginning to give some shepherding to Medjugorje – to take seriously protecting what God is doing there. Good things lie ahead!

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Thank you for the comment.

I'm glad you found the post 'a more fair and balanced review of this incident than many.'

I don't know what happens in other people's heads - but I get the impression that many read some of the news, and form opinions on the basis of that.

News coverage of matters concerning the Catholic church suffer, I think, from ignorance of the Church, its history and procedures. Sadly, I also think that many journalists - and Catholics - aren't aware of how much they don't know.

I do want to make something clear. Although I'd like to think that what's happening at Medjugorje is, in fact, a set of Marian apparitions: that's simply my preference.

To the best of my knowledge, the Church has not determined what the status of the Medjugorje phenomena are. Until such a determination is made, I'll use a phrase that's more often heard in a military context than otherwise: "I have no opinion."

Anonymous said...

I have a question.....does anyone else think that it may be possible that the reason the Pope is so against Medjugorje is because Our Blessed Mother is said to have told one of the visionaries that "all religions are equal before God's eyes" know catholics take big issue with this....they do not believe that other religions are acceptable to God. Just a thought

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Anonymous of October 8, 2009,

I'm quite sure that someone else feels that "Pope is so against Medjugorje is because Our Blessed Mother is said to have told one of the visionaries that 'all religions are equal before God's eyes' ".

With a world population of over 6,000,000,000: just about any notion could plausibly be held by more than one person.

This is the first that I've heard about that angle on the Medjugorje situation, by the way.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.