Will the real Prince of Darkness please stand up? Are you Pope Benedict XVI or the spitting image of the Mother of God?
Benedict says that the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) allegedly making daily appearances in the village of Medjugorje in Herzegovina is a fraud designed by the Devil to lure Catholics from the path of righteousness. Vatican officials have admitted that the apparition is virtually indistinguishable from, so to speak, the real thing — as one would expect from such a cunning falsifier of truth as Beelzebub.
Indeed, speaking last year, senior Vatican cleric and former top exorcist Bishop Andrea Gemma pointed out that it is the very plausibility of the Medjugorje BVM which most strongly suggests she is a fake. “The whole sham is the work of the Devil.”
On the other hand, defiant devotees of the Medjugorje BVM are adamant that it’s those who deny her authenticity who must be accounted diabolical.
Said Philip Wallace of the National Medjugorje Council of Ireland last week: “We accept that Medjugorje is constantly under attack and we view that as a sign of the authenticity of the visions and of the powerful graces which are flowing. If Satan wasn’t attacking this great work, it would be surprising.”
He was commenting on news that Benedict had finally lost the bap and ended any official ambiguity about the status of Medjugorje by defrocking Fr. Tomislav Vlasic, original “spiritual father” of the six children, now adults, visited by the Medjugorje BVM at 6.40pm local time every evening for the past 28 years, not to mention biological father of a child of his own, the fruit of communion with a nun.
It was just Fr. Vlasic’s luck that Benedict won the vote to be Pope in 2005. Back in 1976, letters the priest had written to the woman, then pregnant with his child instructing her to “imitate Mary” and stay schtum about the baby, fell into her landlady’s hands, who sent them to the Vatican.
But little enough happened as a result. Fr. Vlasic was at hand to take spiritual control at the first sighting of the Medjugorje Virgin in 1981. He wasn’t to know that the official on whose desk the letters had landed, and who had a famously vivid memory for this sort of thing, would rise through the ranks of the velvet bureaucracy and eventually be selected to succeed John Paul II.
John Paul had not endorsed, but neither had he explicitly denounced, the Medjugorje phenomenon, which by the end of his papacy had drawn 30m pilgrims from all parts of the world, including tens of thousands from Ireland.
Benedict clearly took a sterner view. The charge sheet drawn up against Fr. Vlasic at Benedict’s instruction last year accuses him of heresy, schism, sexual immorality “aggravated by mystical motivations” and “the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders.”
Benedict — supposing he isn’t acting as an agent of the Devil — may now feel that he is clearing up business which ought to have been gotten out of the way long ago.
The parish of Medjugorje is run by Franciscans at the Church of St James.
In the early 1940s, priests from the church had operated locally as the spiritual wing of the Ustashe, the Croatian Nationalist movement aligned with the Nazis which slaughtered 250,000 Orthodox Serbs in its effort to create a Catholic State for Catholic people.
Through all the change and tumult in the region since, the Franciscans of Medjugorje have resisted control by the Diocese of Mostar. Since the early 1980s, their “possession” of the Virgin, and their brilliant success in marketing her to the world, has been a trump card.
The political background isn’t remote. The Franciscans’ website, medjugorjepilgrim.com, currently provides intending pilgrims with a potted history of the district since the seventh century.
The early 40s are covered thus: “1941: During World War II, German and Italian forces |under Communist Tito (!) occupy Yugoslavia.
“1945: The Communists kill 69 people from the Franciscans community in Herzegovina in February and May.
“In the village of Siroki Brijeg on February 7, 1945, the Communists kill 760 parishioners and 30 Franciscan priests and brothers. They burn the school, library, archives and church records.” And that’s it. Croatian Holocaust denial.
Pilgrimages leave Ireland every week for Medjugorje. Joe Walsh Tours advertises a service which guarantees each pilgrim a personal meeting with a visionary.
The website of Knock airport tells that, “Uniquely special pilgrimage experiences are offered to Fatima, Lourdes and Medjugorje. Enjoy a relaxing holiday with a spiritual focus...” (We might wonder why Knock, with its offically endorsed BVM, would plug these counter-attractions. You scratch my back, perhaps?)
Whether or not the Devil is at work in all of this, and if he is, what side he’s on, there’s a whiff of sulphur in the air around Medjugorje that Benedict, understandably wants dispersed.
So what’s to become now of all the Medjugorje Prayer Groups across Ireland, including the North, many of which meet on Church premises?
And will we have a statement from the Northern Bishop who has personally led a pilgrimage to what he is now required to believe is a shrine to Satan?