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MEDJUGORJE-BISHOP (UPDATED) Jul-7-2006 (760 words) xxxi

Bosnian bishop urges Medjugorje visionaries to stop claims

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- The bishop whose diocese includes the Bosnian village of Medjugorje has urged six alleged Marian visionaries to stop claiming that Mary has been visiting them for 25 years.

Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, Bosnia-Herzegovina, said the church "has not accepted, either as supernatural or as Marian, any of the apparitions" said to have been witnessed by a group of people from Medjugorje.

"As the local bishop, I maintain that regarding the events of Medjugorje, on the basis of the investigations and experience gained thus far throughout these last 25 years, the church has not confirmed a single apparition as authentically being the Madonna," he said. He then called on the alleged visionaries and "those persons behind the messages to demonstrate ecclesiastical obedience and to cease with these public manifestations and messages in this parish."

"In this fashion they shall show their necessary adherence to the church, by placing neither private apparitions nor private sayings before the official position of the church," he said.

"Our faith is a serious and responsible matter," he added. "The church is also a serious and responsible institution."

The bishop made his comments June 15 during a homily at a confirmation Mass in Medjugorje's St. James Church. The diocese published the homily in English and Italian July 3.

On June 25, thousands of pilgrims converged on Medjugorje to mark the 25th anniversary of the onset of the alleged apparitions.

Marian experts continue to debate the significance of Medjugorje, and several have published books -- ranging from enthusiastically supportive to skeptical -- to coincide with the anniversary.

At the Vatican, officials said they are still monitoring events at Medjugorje, but emphasized that it was not necessarily the Vatican's role to issue an official judgment on the alleged apparitions there.

More than once in recent years, the Vatican has said that dioceses or parishes should not organize official pilgrimages to Medjugorje. That reflects the policy of the local bishops. But the Vatican has also said Catholics are free to travel to the site, and that if they do the church should provide them with pastoral services.

Since June 24-25, 1981, the alleged visionaries together claim to have received more than 30,000 messages.

But Bishop Peric said in his homily that "so-called apparitions, messages, secrets and signs do not strengthen the faith, but rather further convince us that in all of this there is nothing either authentic or established as truthful."

He said in February that Pope Benedict XVI expressed similar doubts when they discussed Medjugorje during the Bosnian bishops' visit to the Vatican.

Bishop Peric told the congregation that because the church did not accept the claims of the visionaries it was illicit for priests to "express their private views contrary to the official position" during Mass, in acts of popular piety or in the Catholic media.

He said Catholics were forbidden from making pilgrimages to Medjugorje if by such visits "they presuppose the authenticity of the apparitions or if by undertaking them attempt to certify these apparitions."

Bishop Peric said his views, and those of his predecessor, Bishop Pavao Zanic, who was also opposed to the claims, were supported by the pope. He expressed appreciation to Popes Benedict and John Paul II, "who have always respected the judgments of the bishops of Mostar-Duvno, of the previous as well as the current bishop, regarding the so-called apparitions and messages of Medjugorje, all the while recognizing the Holy Father's right to give a final decision on these events."

He also warned his audience of a schism emerging in the region between the church and more than a dozen Franciscan brothers and priests who have been expelled by the generalate of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome because of their disobedience to the pope.

He said that the expelled Franciscans "have not only been illegally active in these parishes, but they have also administered the sacraments profanely ... or they have assisted at invalid marriages."

Bishop Peric said he shared the view of Bishop Zanic that the visions and the Franciscan "schism," which began under Pope Paul VI in the 1970s, are linked.

Throughout the 1980s, Franciscan Father Jozo Zovko acted as "spiritual adviser" to the visionaries.

But three church commissions failed to find evidence to support their claims, and in 1991 the bishops of the former Yugoslavia declared that "it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations."

A short while later Father Zovko was stripped of his faculties to exercise any priestly functions by Bishop Zanic in a decree upheld by Bishop Peric.

END


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