November 3, 2020
Dear Apostles of Our Lady of Medjugorje
Crisis Magazine published an article today that needs to be exposed:
Exposing “Medjugorje – A Cult Exposed”
Julie Stannus, a traditionalist Catholic, has dredged up an old and long-discredited charge against the most popular Marian apparition destination in the world. She makes no secret of her view of this apparition given her choice of title – “Medjugorje – A Cult Exposed.” She does not argue for her novel thesis that Medjugorje is a cult. She simply takes it as her starting point. This is her approach throughout an article which substitutes invective for argument.
Her approach is no different from that of the Fundamentalists who start of with the assertion that the Catholic Church is a cult and buttress their charges with accounts of the “bad popes.” Yes, there were bad popes but that has no bearing on Christ’s promise of the Church’s infallibility and the truth of the constant teaching of the Church. Analogously, every major authentic apparition of the Virgin attracts crazies who use it to push their own agendas. Check out, for instance, the Fatima groups who “excommunicated” John Paul II or claimed that the Sr. Lucia who met with outsiders was an imposter. Yet we do not (or at least should not) judge Fatima on the basis of the hangers-on who try to manipulate it to push their own agendas.
The basic fallacy of Medjugorje polemicists like Stannus is a pre-meditated refusal to distinguish between the Medjugorje phenomenon itself – namely the visionaries and their messages – from peripheral events and individuals. If some of the Franciscans who supported the visionaries were later guilty of sexual immorality, why should this be laid at the feet of the very visionaries who are calling the world to repentance and purity?! If Pope Alexander VI had several mistresses, why should this be thought off as an argument against the truth of the Nicene Creed?
Vlasic was clearly a bad actor and he thrust himself into activities surrounding Medjugorje in its early days. The visionaries took him at face value but once his malicious manipulation became apparent, they cut off all contact with him. Fortunately, in Fr. Slavko Barbaric the visionaries had a holy and intellectually sophisticated spiritual director. Stannus, of course, fails to mention this. Again she talks about the unfortunate acts of certain of the Franciscans but says not a word about the thousands of conversions attributed to Medjugorje. Nor does she mention the perspectives of two saints, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, who both prayed to Our Lady of Medjugorje. Worst of all, she has the temerity to suggest that Medjugorje could be diabolic when the world’s foremost exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, proclaimed that Medjugorje is a “fortress against Satan!”
Stannus’ potted history too is rife with error. One serious error of fact is her claim that Fr. Jozo Zovko was laicized. Not so. Although he had indefensible run-ins with some in the hierarchy, he remains a priest in good standing. Another equally serious error is her claim that the Franciscans, with particular reference to Fr. Zovko, first nurtured and “promoted the Medjugorje cult.” As a matter of fact, as any history of Medjugorje will tell you, Fr. Zovko was skeptical and it was the Bishop of Mostar who was the fervent supporter of the “cult”. The Bishop sought to change Fr. Zovko’s views. Of course, this “inconvenient truth” does not fit in with Stannus’ narrative where the Bishop is portrayed as the champion of truth against the cult. (She never defines “cult” or explains how Medjugorje can be thought off as a cult.)
Her seemingly innocuous comments about the tense history between the Bishop of Mostar and the Franciscans ignores the well-known fact that the local Bosnian Catholics had a deep attachment to the Franciscans who stayed and served during the long Ottoman reign in contrast with the ecclesial hierarchy who fled to safer pastures. When the area regained its independence and the hierarchy returned to take over, there was understandable friction between the hierarchy and the Franciscans. Stannus also says that the Medjugorje defenders portrayed Bishop Zanic of Mostar as “a Communist collaborator with no interest in the truth about the apparitions.” She adds “Nothing could be more unfair to Bishop Zanic.” Here she is either ignorant or allergic to the truth.
When Fr. Zovko was imprisoned by the Communist authorities for defending Medjugorje, Bishop Zanic wrote to him saying that he could not help him for fear of being imprisoned himself. This is when he changed his stance on Medjugorje. The correspondence exists. John Paul II had plenty of experience dealing with the Communists. This is why he turned down the Bishop’s request to condemn the apparition and removed his jurisdiction over the phenomenon – a first in the history of the Church. Like every other relevant fact, this little tidbit failed to show up in Stannus’ hit piece.
The Stannus article is a slipshod work of polemics that seeks to manipulate its readers much as Vlasic sought to manipulate the visionaries. It is a surprise that a publication like Crisis would publish it.