Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Fr. Vlasic's Laicization

By now everybody knows that Fr. Tomislav Vlasic has been laicized. Let's review some of the events in this saga and see what it implies (if anything) for Medjugorje.

Vlasic was confined to a Franciscan monastery in L'Aquila, Italy, in February 2008 after he refused to cooperate in a Vatican investigation of his activities for suspected heresy and schism.

In the decree of the Congregation [see circular 939/2008, dated 8 July 2008, from the Curia of Mostar] it was written that Fr. Vlašić was suspected of "heresy and schism" and accused of "spreading questionable doctrines, manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism, disobedience to legitimate orders and violations contra sextum (against the sixth commandment, that is, relating to his impregnation of a nun in the Queen of Peace community).

Last week it was announced that the CDF, acting upon Fr. Vlasic's request, had reduced him to the lay state and imposed several penalties on him. A transcript of the statement reads:

The Holy Father, accepting the request of friar Tomislav Vlasic, O.F.M, member of the province of friars minor of St. Bernardino of Siena (L'Aquila), responsible for conduct harmful to ecclesial communion both in the spheres of doctrine and discipline, and under a censure of interdict, has granted him the favor of reduction to the lay state (amissio status clericalis) and of dismissal from the Order.

The following penalties were imposed on Fr. (now Mr.) Vlasic:

Absolute prohibition from exercising any form of apostolate (for example, promoting public or private devotion, teaching Christian doctrine, spiritual direction, participation in lay associations, etc.) as well as of acquiring and administering goods intended for pious purposes;

Absolute prohibition from releasing declarations on religious matters, especially regarding the "phenomenon of Medjugorje";

Absolute prohibition from residing in houses of the Order of Friars Minor.

So, what does this mean for the Medjugorje movement? First, let me state explicitly what this does not mean. It does not mean the apparitions are a fraud (though I think they are), nor does it represent any official Vatican condemnation of the apparitions. We ought to be precise when we speak about this, for we don't want to errantly go around saying the Church has come down against the apparitions when in fact it has only laicized a single man who has not been actively involved with the apparitions since the 1980's.

But hold on. Many Medjugorje enthusiasts are going even further and asserting that this has absolutely no bearing on the status of the apparitions whatsoever. I certainly wouldn't say that - there are various grades of status between outright support and categorical condemnation, and the fact that Fr. Vlasic's laicization does not mean the phenomenon itself has been condemned is no reason to assert that its status has not been affected.

A good parallel would be the case of Fr. Maciel. When the founder of an entire order is found guilty of something like fathering an illicit child (as did Mr. Vlasic), you cannot think that the organization he founded is somehow immune to this or that it can simply be written off. Regardless of the intentions and charisms of the persons involved with RC/LC, their organization will suffer because of the shenanigans of their founder.

But there is a difference between Medjugorje and RC/LC - in the case of Fr. Maciel, prior to his downfall we were not asked to accept anything he said on faith. That is to say, he was simply the head of an order, and his fall reminds us that all men can sin. Fr. Maciel was not asking us to put our faith in his word about anything. On the other hand, Fr. Vlasic, spiritual director and mentor of the young visionaries, was asking us to accept his word, and the word of his proteges, about something extraordinary. In his case, though his fall was not entirely different from Fr. Maciel's, it has a direct bearing on the credibility of the thing he promoted. His credibility was more personally bound up in the events at Medjugorje than Fr. Maciel's was with the Legionaries. The Legionaries could easily endure and move on despite Fr. Maciel's fall (which I don't think they will), but Medjugorje is forever linked to Fr. Vlasic and it will not be as easy to put this hurdle behind them.

But Medjugorje proponents will say that Fr. Vlasic has not been associated with the visions since the mid-1980's, and that this laicization has very little to bear on Medjugorje today. Let us not forget a few things;

First, even though Fr. Vlasic was not laicized until this year, the original investigation of him was "in the context of the 'phenomenon at Medjugorje'", as the original document of interdict from the Vatican stated. Even though it has been a long time since he was directly connected with Medjugorje, the charges leveled against him were brought up regarding the time he was involved in it.

Second, Fr. Vlasic's first known impropriety happened not after he distanced himself from Medjugorje, but in 1977, well before the first (non)apparitions. Therefore, we can deduce that at the time the apparitions began, Fr. Vlasic was already of questionable character.

Third, as the "creator" of Medjugorje, he bears a special relation to it, even though he has since moved on. He introduced himself to Pope John Paul II in 1984 as "the one according to Divine Providence who guides the seers of Medjugorje" (source). He was present when the phenomenon began and was instrumental in making it what it is today. He guided the seers through their first interviews with Bishop Zanic and got Medjugorje noticed in the Church at large. You cannot separate him from Medjugorje - he is, as Bishop Zanic said, the "creator" of the phenomenon, and the fact that the creator and "guide" of the seers is a sexual deviant and all other sorts of improprieties does in fact bear very heavily on the reliability of the supernatural visions this same person asks us to accept.

Fourth and finally, we are always being told to judge Medjugorje by its fruits. Very well, then. How about we start with the fruits of the ones closest involved? Don't you think that, if anything, the spiritual guide of the seers should be the holiest of all? If he was really privy to the secrets and graces given to the seers through Mary, would he be impregnating nuns? My wife made an interesting observation about Fr. Vlasic: the reason he was laicized was because he asked for it. He was under investigation and when he found out the penalties that were to be imposed upon him, he requested for laicization rather than endure them. When she heard that a priest had voluntarily asked to be removed from the priesthood rather than submit to discipline, she said, "He must not love God very much."

If he were really a man of God, would he really ask to leave the priesthood rather than submit to discipline? St. Padre Pio, who was innocent of the charges levelled against him, submitted to unjust disciplines for years, trustful in God's justice. But as soon as Fr. Vlasic is disciplined, he requests that he be laicized. Had Mary really been appearing to the seers he was guiding, he should have had a bit more dedication to his vocation than that.

Fr (now Mr.) Vlasic's laicization does not mean Medjugorje has been condemned, but it is a strong sign that the Vatican (or at least the CDF) is moving in that direction.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the write-up here. Medjugorje coincided with my adolescence and young adulthood, and at one time I was a pretty strong believer in it. But that has cooled for several of the reasons you mentioned in your essay, plus the fact that my faith has matured and does not depend on apparitions--although I do believe in those approved by the Church.

Vlasic's actions weigh heavily in my opinion on the validity of Medjugorje for all the reasons you pointed out. Most of these apparitions are like jigsaw puzzles--many pieces must come together to make a correct and valid picture. Vlasic's actions seem to leave a couple of large pieces missing permanently. Not that God couldn't restore them and truly be behind the apparitions, but apparition evolution doesn't seem to work that way based on others I am familiar with. People endure the trials associated with the apparitions, not engage in questionable behavior that points in the opposite direction of God.

Estase said...

One of the people who claimed a Medjugorje miracle was Fr. Kenneth Roberts, himself defrocked for sexual misdeeds.