Monday, August 24, 2009

The Herzegovinian and Mostar Affairs

Many people would like to know what happened in the Bosnia-Herzegovina region that has caused such tension between the local Franciscan population and the relatively newly-arrived secular clergy.

I'll attempt to summarise it as briefly and objectively as possible. Brevity won't be easy because it is the long history of events that bring the important nuances which will help the reader fully comprehend the events. For example, I could simply jump in at 1980 with something like

"Zanic arrived in 1980 as the new Bishop and immediately told the community of his intentions to carve up the Mostar parish - four-fifths to the seculars and one-fifth to the Franciscans.

But, you would miss the fascinating history that lead up to why Zanic would make a point of saying such a thing in his inauguration speech as the new Bishop of Mostar.

Objectivity won't be easy either. It really is a sad story of long-lasting suffering for true men of God, no matter which way you look at it.

Is it possible for a bishop to dupe the Vatican? How could one bishop possibly be allowed to pressure the Vatican with threats? Could a secular bishop really seek dishonestly to take parishes away from the Franciscans? Could a secular bishop REALLY refuse to allow fellow priests to take shelter anywhere in their previously-owned parishes while their monastery stood destroyed? What caused emotions so powerful that the local parishioners could not contain the violence against their elected bishop? Oh, the saga, the injustice! Injustice raises emotions, prolonged injustice can result in violence. Please read on.

This article quotes and extensively summarises the very long and detailed document written by Viktor Nuiæ, OFM, Dr.

A New and Alien Church Heirarchy For the Franciscans to Deal With

The Franciscan Friars arrive in Bosnia in 1339 and adapted and flourished in the region. Then the Turks invaded Bosnia, but Austria and some other European countries began to ward them off, liberating Hungaria, Slavonia and Dalmatia. These events began at the end of the Seventeenth Century and spanned the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.
However, during this time, the Turks humiliated, detained, beat and murdered the Franciscans.

Despite the calamities to the Catholic population, who mostly fled, one section nevertheless remained in Bosnia thanks to God and the perseverance of the Franciscans. And so Catholicism was preserved in these regions.

With Austria now the dominant force in the region, a new Church hierarchy was born. Austria didn't want the Slavs and Croats unified into a strong local Bosnian population, desiring to keep them as separate and uneducated as possible. But, the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Franciscans were considered a threat to the fulfilment of this plan because they stressed and promoted a Croatian belonging.
The Austrians thus felt is was necessary to diminish the influx and influence of the Franciscans. And so it came about that a succession of Austrian secular bishops came to the region to implement Austrian policy.

First, let it be known that from all my personal studies of these events, it appears that the Franciscans were always warm and hospitable at the arrival of new secular clergy and were ready to walk hand-in-hand with them in service of the local people. Indeed, they made many undemanded sacrifices to show their readiness to work as one. After all, through their previously trials and tribulations in the region, they had surely become extremely adaptable and, through being geographically and politically distanced from the trappings of monarchy and wealth prevalent in Europe at this time, they had retained a warm earthy humility.

But, right from the outset, it became clear that this was not a two-way street. And it began with the arrival of Archbishop Stadler - a conscientious man, who nevertheless was the main go-to guy for the Austrian plan for the Franciscans. Three main anti-Franciscan problems featured during his bishopric and that of his successor Šari:

  1. the dispossession of parishes

  2. the secularization of the Franciscans

  3. the squeezing out of Franciscans from public life

The Dispossession of Parishes

On 10 December 1881, The Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastic Business determined that all parishes were to be placed at the disposal of the bishops if the Franciscans did not manage to claim their rights to them, except those parishes which were adjoined to Franciscan monasteries. Unsuccessfully claimed parishes were to be handed over to the bishop upon them being vacated.

It was not a difficult task for the Franciscans to claim ownership of their parishes. According to the Ecclesiastic law of the time, the Franciscans satisfied claims to monasticity and the right to own their parishes in the following ways:

  1. Franciscan monks founded the parishes where there had not been one until then

  2. Grants were obtained for the construction of the parishes

  3. Franciscan monks administered the parishes for a period of 30-40 years

  4. Ownership and care of the parishes were granted by the appropriate Church authorities or the Holy See.

Despite having valid claims, the Franciscans, in a spirit of co-operation, nevertheless expressed their readiness to withdraw from twenty-four parishes - sixteen parishes in the Vrhbosna and eight in the Banja Luka dioceses.

Archbishop Stadler, however, thought this number too low and also rejected a successive offer of an additional eight parishes, making a total of thirty-two parishes. Rather, he demanded that an additional twenty parishes to the original offer of twenty-four be handed over, a total of forty-four parishes.

Following this demand, the Franciscans sent an envoy to Rome to explain the situation. At the same time, Archbishop Stadler went to Rome to discuss his own requirements. As a result, Pope Leon XIII ordered an investigation by the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastic Business. The investigation was concluded with a decree issued by approval of the Pope on 14 March 1883. The Decree passed an order that the Franciscans hand over thirty-five parishes to the Archbishop while the remainder were to remain as monastic parishes in the ownership of the Franciscans.

All seemed settled. Archbishop Stadler initially accepted the Decree of 1883 as final. However, he later attempted and continued to deny the validity of that Decree.

As we shall see, this was an ongoing theme of a very long and painful period for the Franciscans - ever ready to compromise, but meeting determined, single-minded and uncompromising opposition at every turn.

The Secularisation of the Franciscans

"Secularisation", in this context, means movement from a monastic to a secular, or worldy, clergy.

Before he arrived in Bosnia, Stadler had already cultivated a negative opinion of the Franciscan clergy, often reiterating in his sermons that the secular clergy would be more successful in pastoral care than the Franciscans had been and "If the Franciscans become secular clergy, then they will be good priests!"

In 1883, in a bold and rather thoughtless move, he approached the Franciscan Provincial, recommending they come to an agreement regarding the secularisation of the Franciscans (as one might approach a father to suggest a discussion on how to break up his own family!) These attempts were repeated in 1896 and 1898 when he finally sent his proclamation to the Franciscan clergy, via the Franciscan Provincial himself, to join the secular clergy. At that time, there were only eleven secular priests. This was not going to be enough for Stadler to claim ALL the parishes!

Stadler, himself, went through the ranks of the Franciscans attempting to convince them to join the secular clergy. He may have felt these efforts were successful, or was possibly bluffing, because around February 1898 he sent a letter to the Holy Father requesting that he be assigned ALL the Bosnian parishes, justified by his claim that the majority of Franciscans desired this securalisation. He further requested that the Holy See furnish this authority to accept these Franciscans without the necessary papal approval.

As it turned out, despite the claims of the Archbishop, few Franciscans actually proceeded to be secularised. Consequently, on the 25 March 1898, Stadler issued Proclamation number: 322, which openly and publicly called on the Franciscans to renounce the Order and to join the secular clergy.

Squeezing the Franciscans out of Public Life

This activity was most prominent during Stadler's reign and took the following forms:

  • The diminishment of Franciscan reputation and position in society before government authorities.

  • The attempted exclusion from reputable and lucrative services, such as positions of catechists in large towns.

  • Prevention from participating in political life. During elections for the Bosnian Parliament, opponents of the Franciscans managed to convince Rome that the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Franciscans should lose their right to passive voting.

This final act was all too much for one Herzegovinian Franciscan, Friar Didak Bunti who was quite harsh in his reaction and he sent a letter to the Provincial of Bosnian Franciscans and later the Bishop of Mostar, Friar Alojzije Miši, "Thanks to this ban, we are certainly being thrown out like garbage. It is almost as if they are saying, 'Off with you Friar! Out of our parish! Away from public life Friar! Back to your monastery, Friar!' that is, 'Move out of this world, Friar!'"

Because of the Archbishop's attitudes and efforts, even the most humble of Franciscans rebelled against him. There was deep disappointment with such actions of a Church leader, and there was a concensus that Stadler's actions did not so much harm to them as Franciscans as it harmed Catholicism itself in Bosnia. And all in the name of an overriding concept of the power of the Bishop, which developed in the psyche of the secular clergy under a feudal Austria.

Despite all the hardship caused by Archbishop Stadler's administration, the Franciscans continued on with what they always did best - the development of their province with much construction activity:

  • 5 completely new monasteries: Kraljeva Sutjeska, Petrievac, Sarajevo and Rama

  • 26 Franciscan parish churches

  • A significant number of churches in diocesan parishes

  • 31 parish presbyteries of which 17 were located in diocesan parishes

In these endeavours, the Franciscans were exclusively financed by themselves and their communities, not by any government assistance. And the Franciscans didn't see much, if any, of the money collected by the Christian world for the poor Catholics in Bosnia. Ironically, they were better off during the Turkish rule, when aid was sent from France and Germany to support the construction of churches and supply of church vestments. Now, wherever they knocked for financial support, people believed they were being supported by the Austrians and should no longer require their support.

Stadler's Administration Ends - Šari's Begins

Stadler's long and painful reign ended after 37 years, but the situation did not improve with his successor, Ivan Šari, whose reign lasted 20 years between the two major world wars (1919 - 1945), in what was now the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Šari sent at least three separated requests to Rome that the Franciscans be dispossessed of their parishes: in 1928, 1931 and 1936.

Šari's novel angle was that the Franciscan parishes could not be "Franciscan" because the presbyteries and churches did not belong to them but were rather built by the people!

However, Cannon Law never demanded that a monastic church and presbytery be required to be in the ownership of the monastic community to which the parish belonged. Thus, the Archbishop's claims were groundless. The monks had earned a great deal of money through their own toil and used these earning to construct or buy these houses. Legal documents exist to prove this. Certainly, the people assisted in their construction, often voluntarily, but the construction of these churches was to serve the "people".

However, Archbishop Šari held that the Franciscans came to Bosnia with nothing and received all they had from benefactors, and as such nothing actually belonged to them. Such reasoning was indeed hard to defend, try as he might.

This was unfortunately a very tiny proportion of the troubles caused the Franciscans during the reign of Archbishop Šari.

The Decision of the Holy See of 1923.

The first half of the 20th Century saw visible advancements in the Herzegovinian Franciscan province, including numerous vocations and a well-organised study programme.

In the Mostar-Duvno diocese, the Franciscans were responsible for 40 of the 43 parishes in existence, including 15 which were at the free disposal of the local Bishop.

In the interests of best conducting and preparing their priests for pastoral care, the Province's administration came to an agreement with the bishops, Friar Alojzije Miši, a Bosnian Franciscan who had in the meantime become the Bishop of Mostar-Duvno, to grant them by Cannon the 15 parishes which were already established and which they served in addition to a further 12 parishes which were to be established in the near future. The agreement was ratified by the Council of the Holy Congregation on 22 June 1923.

Franciscan Calamities During World War II

The Herzegovinian Franciscan province was almost but completely destroyed during the Second World War (1941 - 1945), during which time the communists had murdered 67 Herzegovinian Franciscans, with many fleeing for their bare lives. Following the War, some 70 Franciscans were detained and imprisoned in Communist dungeons.

Nevertheless, the Province once again revived itself, developed and strengthened from the blood of its martyrs.

The Decision of the Holy See of 1923 is Revoked.

Dr. Petar Cule, the new non-Franciscan Bishop of Mostar, nominated by Archbishop Šari, arrived on the scene in 1942. He immediately began to impose Archbishop Stadler's agenda on the Herzegovinian Franciscans and their parishes. In 1943, he instigated an official investigation regarding the issue of parishes.

Bishop Cule's goal was to invalidate the agreement between the Province and Bishop Miši on the grounds of "ob vitium subriptionis et obreptionis" (because of the disclosure of the truth and exposure of lies). He did not get the result he desired and visited Rome again in 1958 to instigate the same issue. Then, in 1962, he again initiated the issue regarding the parishes, complaining that he did not have anywhere to place his priests, even though there were nowhere near enough secular priests to cover the parishes he had already been granted and which were then being staffed by Franciscans!

The Franciscans initially knew nothing of these goings-on, which were done behind their backs. But everything came out in the open in autumn 1964 when the Holy See sent its Apostolic Visitator - the Archbishop Bukata (Archbishop of Belgrade) to Herzegovina to investigate the validity of Bishop Cule's request. Franciscan faith in Bishop Cule was immediately destroyed.

Bukata stayed a few days with bishop Cule, visited some parishes and conducted a brief visit to the Provincial of the Herzegovinian Franciscans. We have no records of what Bukata's report and recommendations consisted of, but the result was a Decree by the Holy Congregation for Spreading the Faith dated 18 March 1965, which revoked the Agreement signed in 1923, and contained a directive for Bishop Cule and the Franciscan Provincial come to Rome in autumn that same year and, before the Congregation, decide upon a new division of parishes.

Agreement was not reached regarding a new division of parishes, either during this meeting or during continued negotiations in Herzegovina. It indeed seemed impossible to come to an agreement given Cule's assertion that the revocation of the Agreement of 1923 meant, ipso facto, that all the parishes subject to the revocation automatically went to him, in addition to the 25 which, by the Decision by the Holy See of 1899, remained with the Franciscans. The Franciscans, on the other hand, claimed that the revocation of the 1923 decision simply meant that a new division was required (which after all stood written in the Decree itself), not an automatic placement of all parishes at the disposal of the bishop.

At this stage, people reading this are undoubtedly wondering what possible machinations are in existence that even entertain the types of goings on we are witnessing here. These questions may be somewhat answered later in this article.

The Franciscans put forward their suggestions for a new division of parishes, but Bishop Cule rejected them, counting on the Holy See to finally make the decision he was waiting for. On 21 April 1967, the Holy Congregation for Spreading the Faith issued a Decree which requested the Franciscans to consign five parishes to the disposal of the Bishop, as a sign of good will and prior to a final decision being reached. These parishes were Crna, Gradac-Blizanci, Grljevii, Grude and Mostarski Gradac.

The Franciscans submitted an appeal, requesting that a final agreement on parish distribution be reached before any parishes whatsoever were consigned. Nevertheless, the Apostolic emissary for the then Yugoslavia, Cagna issued a Decree dated 13 November 1967, which ordered that the handover of the said parishes be conducted within six months, that is, no later than 13 May 1968.

This decision was the cause of immense dissatisfaction amongst the Franciscans and their faithful who had now come to know about the agreement.

Aware of the unpredictable reaction of the Franciscans and their people, the Franciscan Provincial, Dr. Rufin Šili, commenced negotiations with Bishop Cule, seeking to reach a final parish re-distribution agreement which would be acceptable to the Franciscans prior to the deadline of 13 May 1968. Having reached agreement, he would then count on being able to calm down his friars and would then ask for a postponement of the execution of the agreement until the Franciscans had time to prepare their faithful for the handover/takeover.

However, Bishop Cule, sensing he was in a better position, dictated terms. He put the 25 parishes, which were guaranteed to the Franciscans by the Decision of the Holy See of 1899, together with the parishes which were to be redistributed according to the 1965 Decree, into the draft agreement, seeking to call their ownership into question, but under the guise of not wanting to presume the ownership of any parish, but rather leaving it to the Holy See to decide on ownership. Naturally, he counted on the Holy See deciding in his favour.

But, it appeared that danger for the Franciscans had been avoided after Provincial Šili, wishing to avoid what he perceived as a greater evil, accepted this condition and after secret negotiations, Šili and Cule came to a decision about the distribution of all the parishes in Herzegovina.

However, the plot thickened when Bishop Cule's secretary delivered the final text of the draft agreement one evening for signing. Provincial Šili asked if it was the same previously agreed in writing with Bishop Cule. When he received a positive response, he signed the document without even reading it. However, his own secretary read the document later that evening and realised that Bishop Cule had, at the last moment, thrown in a clause by which the Provincial could lose his own residency and parish in Čapljina. Šili revoked his signature in writing that same night because the Decision of the Holy See of 1965 had excepted the Čapljina and Itluk parishes (which were adjoined to Franciscan residencies) from the redistribution.

Provincial Šili was deeply disappointed and concerned. This event occurred at the 11th hour of the deadline to hand over the five parishes as a sign of good will. Out of time and options, he initiated the handover/takeover of the five parishes.

The Outbreak of the Herzegovinian Affair

At three of the five parishes which were the subject of the handover just described (Crna, Grude and Mostarski Gradac), the parishioners prevented the secular priests from taking over the church and presbytery. This was the birth of the Herzegovinian Affair, which would smoulder for another 30+ years during which time, among other things, church entrances were bricked up, secular priests driven out and massive public protests were held by the faithful. The Communist police were often called in to protect the Bishop from the parishioners. In 1995, a protest organised in Mostar resulted in violent incidents including against the Bishop. It would have been difficult to find any casual observer not torn between the repulsion of violence and sympathy for the Franciscans and their parishioners over the sorely apparent injustices they, and their parishioners, were being asked to endure.

Despite these events, negotiations continued, but agreement was still not forthcoming even after several years due to the uncompromising attitudes on both sides. The Franciscans continued to assert that it was necessary first to come to a general agreement about the parishes, which would be acceptable to them, such that the Franciscans would be given an opportunity to prepare their faithful for the transition to secular priests. The diocesan side placed a pre-condition to any further negotiations demanding that the Franciscans immediately enable the three parishes which were vacated, but were blockaded by the parishioners. And as for the remaining parishes which were to be redistributed according to the Decree by the Holy See of 1965, the diocesan side remained unbending in their view that these automatically defaulted to the Bishop by the very fact that the Decree was issued, and that the only issue remaining was the logistics of handing over these parishes. They also considered themselves very "generous" in considering to leave one or two parishes to the Franciscans.

The Arrival of Bishop Žanić as Negotiator

Bishop Žanić was assigned to negotiate with the Franciscans on behalf of the diocesan authorities, and from the very beginning demonstrated the hard core attitudes of the Bishop of Mostar. During the very first meeting he attended, he demanded that the Franciscans sign the following statement,

"Seeing that we were not able to come to an agreement, we have decided to let the Holy See decide and we will accept such a decision no matter what that decision may be."

This was not accepted by the Franciscans. Nevertheless, all the following meetings of the negotiation team which were attended by Bishop Žanić ended in the same manner. Naturally, he counted on the fact that the Holy See would decide in his favour. Later he bragged that this was the purpose for him to visit Rome on more than 70 occasions!

The Holy See's Decree "Romanis Pontificibus" of 1975

It was evident that the Holy See wanted a conclusion to this matter and accordingly in 1972 sent its Apostolic Visitator, Msgr. Stefan Laszlo, to Herzegovina to head further negotiations. While demonstrating more understanding towards the Franciscans, he was overly concerned with the diocesan side's inflexible attitude. This focus eventually resulted in the decree Romanis Pontificibus, dated 6 June 1975. The Decree satisfied all of the demands of the diocesan side presented during negotiations with the Congregation for Evangelisation of the People, except the demand that the Bishop, without prior approval of the Holy See, can establish a parish in Ljubuški and Radišii. The satisfaction of the latter would surely have resulted in the annihilation of the now largest Franciscan parish in Herzegovina - the monastery parish in Humac at the very edge of Ljubuški.

Dissatisfaction would be an extreme understatement in describing the Franciscans' reaction to this Decree. The pervading feeling was that this Decree had been founded on untruths and injustice. The Franciscans could scarcely be calmed down.

Franciscans Had Enough! Refuse to Actively Participate in the Implementation of the Decree.

After holding a survey amongst the members of the Province, the Provincial administration on 10 May 1976, forwarded a letter directly to Pope Paul VI in which, among other things, they stated their reasons for their inability to comply with the Decree.

This resulted in the harshest sanctions being imposed on the Franciscans: The Provincial administration was stepped down, while the Supreme General of the Order in Rome was given authority to administer the Province. Prohibitions were put in place from accepting new recruits to the noviciate, or to order new Franciscans and the taking of their final vows.

Bishop Cule issued his own sanctions: He did not issue any Cannon missions to the jurisdiction of Franciscans who did not apply for them to him personally. At the same time, he withdrew jurisdiction from all Franciscans within the diocese if indeed they had any, including the Deputy of the Delegate-General who was the administrator of the Province. He stated that he was not sure that any Franciscan whatsoever could be given jurisdiction from him or be assigned a Cannon mission.

That same year, 1976, the new Apostolic Visitator, Father Vladimir Vlaši, found no Franciscans remaining in the Province who were willing to accept the Decree and become part of its implementation.

Bishop Žanić Becomes New Ordinary of Mostar

Žanić arrived in September 1980, and immediately after his inauguration in the Franciscan monastic church in Mostar, announced that he was going to establish a cathedral parish in Mostar and that he was going to carve up the Franciscan monastic parish so that four-fifths of the faithful would belong to the cathedral parish and one-fifth to the Franciscan monastic parish.

His explanation for this decision was that the Franciscans had agreed to it. This immediately caused a negative reaction amongst the faithful in the church. While still in the church, the parish priest cautioned the Bishop that his statement (that the Franciscans had agreed to this) was not true. The Bishop's petulent response was to withdraw any jurisdiction and Cannon mission away from the parish priest, with effect throughout the entire diocese.

What happened here? All throughout the preceding negotiations, the Franciscans had always clearly cited the names of parishes which they had founded, served and had claims to, but were prepared to give up with the condition that they be left with the remaining parishes. In this context, there was often mention of parishes that were yet to be founded. The Franciscans believed that it would be simpler if the Bishop were to set up new parishes rather than confiscate already existing Franciscan parishes. This led the diocesan side to begin a habit of asserting that the Franciscans had agreed to give up some parishes and that these be founded as new diocesan parishes, while neglecting to refer to the established pre-condition that the remaining parishes rest with the Franciscans permanently.

This presentation of the argument was also used to dupe the Holy See in 1975 into adopting it. This is evident in the Decree Romanis Pontificibus, where on four separate occasions we read references to the "mutual agreement of both sides". But, there never was any such agreement. Nothing more than a proposal was put forward by the Franciscans which contained a specific pre-condition or consideration aspect. But, as mentioned, this was presented to the Holy See in the light of a gift with no consideration. The Holy See accepted this argument and ordered that the Franciscans hand over these parishes without the diocesan side being obliged to fulfil any pre-conditions. This was therefore the grounds for the letter of the Provincial administration sent to the Pope in 1976, noting that the Decree Romanis Pontificibus was contradictory to the truth.

The same thing occurred when the cathedral parish was founded in Mostar. The Franciscans at one time proposed that the Bishop take over the greater part of their parish under the condition that they be left the majority of their existing parishes. The diocesan side did not accept this proposal. Bishop Žanić nevertheless took over four-fifths of their parish with the explanation that they agreed to this, without once mentioning the pre-condition of the parishes that were to remain in Franciscan hands.

The people of Mostar and the Franciscans did not accept this division of the Franciscan parish in Mostar and Bishop Žanić did not succeed in implementing this division not even until the end of his mandate as bishop. This was the beginning of the Mostar Affair, which is continuing even now.

The Arrival of Bishop Ratko Peric

Dr. Ratko Peric inherited this unresolved state in Mostar when he took over the diocese in 1993. During the war of survival of the Croats in Mostar, he established four secular parishes within the intended cathedral parish.

The Franciscan monastery was destroyed during the fiercest battles and became almost impossible to reach. This led several Franciscans to seek refuge in an outer suburb, Cim, so that they could be available to serve their people. Bishop Peric however, prohibited them from living there because it was located within the area of a secular parish. After being threatened with the harshest of sanctions via Rome, and when in 1995 the situation had calmed down somewhat in Mostar, the Franciscans moved back to the demolished monastery.

But the people of Mostar reacted harshly against the Bishop and on occasion exuded violence against him. A great deal of Mostar was left without any regular pastoral care. This situation was reflected in the recent elections held in Mostar when in the most Croatian section of the Mostar suburbs of Ilii and Cim, as a sign of protest, the people only participated in the elections at a rate of less than 40%.

The Čapljina Affair

The Franciscans were eventually forced back to the very outskirts of Mostar. But, Bishop Pericc did not stop there, demanding the immediate retreat of the Franciscans out of Čapljina completely. He threatened the Franciscans with the harshest sanctions via Rome (in the same way as one might threaten sanctions on North Korea to achieve nuclear disarmament). Finally, the General of the Franciscan Order in April 1996, formally and legally handed the parish to Bishop Peric.

The Franciscans were ordered to hand over their residency and church to the newly-nominated secular parish priest on 12 May 1996, and to leave Čapljina. That day, the faithful parishioners blocked the path to the church and the Franciscan's residency and did not allow the new priest nor the Bishop's Vicar-General from Mostar, nor the Franciscan's Delegate-General from Rome nor representatives of the Franciscan Province in Mostar to enter nor the Čapljina Franciscans to leave.

After serious pressure and threats of the harshest penalties from Rome, on Sunday 14 July 1996, the Franciscans said their goodbyes to the faithful and six days later, on the Feast of St. Elijah, they left Čapljina. They were accompanied by several thousand of their faithful flock.

Since then the church bells have been quiet, the church door is bricked in and a sign above the main entrance to the church reads:

"The wall will be taken down when they who built the church return, that is, the Friars"

And the faithful gather in the church yard when mass is scheduled and only pray the Rosary.

The "Alleviated" Implementation of the Decree of 1975.

The Mostar and Čapljina incidents were to play a positive role in driving the factions to a solution over the redistribution of parishes in Herzegovina.

Even after the Decree Romanis Pontificibus was issued in 1975, the Franciscans never ceased with negotiations and discussions. Apostolic visitators continued to visit Herzegovina, as did delegates of the Franciscan's General in Rome. All tried to convince the Franciscans that it was unrealistic to expect that the Holy See would revoke its Decree. Nevertheless, they were, during the implementaiton of the Decree, prepared to alleviate some points of the Decree in favour of the Franciscans. Skeptical, the Franciscans waited to see how this "alleviation" would be felt upon the first partial implementation of the Decree.

The first phase of the partial implementation of the Decree was the division of the Monastic parish in Mostar of which the Bishop had seceded four-fifths as well as founding four new secular parishes. The "alleviation" in this phase would take flesh in that, for example, the Bishop would hand over one or two fifths back to the Franciscans. However, the Bishop did not even wish to consider this possibility!

The second phase of the partial implementation of the Decree was the handover of the Čapljina parish to the Bishop for his free disposal. In all the negotiations ever held, Čapljina was the hardest apple. Bishop Cule had insisted on Čapljina because (in his own words) "All the surrounding parishes are mine and so it would be handy for my parish priests to be able to gather in Čapljina at the regular meetings of the Deanery." The Franciscan Provincial's view on Čapljina was "With the loss of Čapljina, the already minute area of our province would be significantly decreased. The eastern border of the Province is being moved in the south to the Ljubuški - Veljaci line".

There were several opportunities to actually implement the Decree in alleviated form in this second phase regarding Čapljina. One possibility was that the Bishop found a second secular parish in Čapljina as it was large enough to support at least two parishes. At one time in 1968, Bishop Cule actually agreed to this proposal but then he feared that the Communist authorities would not allow the construction of a new parish (a church and presbytery) so at the last moment, as mentioned earlier, he threw in an extra clause in the draft agreement, i.e. that if he was not able to establish a new parish within five years in Čapljina then he would automatically be handed over the existing Franciscan parish. According to the draft then, the Franciscans still stood to lose Čapljina. For this reason this agreement, as was mentioned earlier, fell through.

As new circumstances had eliminated the danger that the civil authorities would not allow the establishment of a new parish, the Franciscans suggested to both Bishop Žanić and Bishop Peric that they found a new, second parish in Čapljina and with that leave the existing parish to the Franciscans. This was refused. A second proposal was put forward that the Franciscans remain in their residency as a monastic community without a parish in Čapljina and that the Bishop take over the entire parish and build a new parish church and presbytery. This was also rejected. The third proposal was that the Franciscans be allowed to remain in Čapljina as a monastic community without a parish in some other house which they would build and their current residency and church would be handed over to the Bishop as the centre of the new parish. However, Bishop Peric would not hear of this. He ardently demanded that the Franciscans not only leave their residency and church but to completely leave the territory of Čapljina. This displayed a complete lack of interest in implementing the alleviated Decree with regard to Čapljina but, worse still, was even harsher that the Decree itself in that Peric was demanding of the Franciscans that which was nowhere in the Decree, which ordered the Franciscans to hand over their parish at the liberty of the Bishop, but did not make any mention of the monastic Order leaving the territory of Čapljina!

And so, the Franciscan skeptism of the alleviated implementation of the Decree appeared justified. It was another wasted opportunity to resolve the "Herzegovinian Affair" or at least to move from a stale point towards a positive direction.

Who is Behind the Holy See's Decree of 1975?

The diocesan side continually asserts and repeats, even today, "That is how the Holy See determined!" Meaning, that no matter how the determination was obtained (or who wrote it), it should be implemented without criticism because it bears the seal of the Holy See. If that were the case, then anyone with the same sleight-of-hand used by the new breed of Bishops should surely be able to accomplish whatever they desired, by pulling the wool over the eyes of Rome, wherever and whenever possible.

So, who was behind this decree and who drafted it? It is evident that since 1943 until 1965 and in 1975, Bishop Cule, in his single-minded determination to get what he wanted from the Holy See, employed a variety of tactics, including placing a great deal of pressure on the Holy See, for example via threats to take "his" secular priests out of Herzegovina to the Zagreb Archdiocese! He often repeated this threat during negotiation sessions with the Franciscans. In a letter to Friar Dominik Mandi written on St. George's 1965, he admitted that he had made this "proposal" to the Holy See!

As mentioned before, Bishop Žanić had boasted that he had made over 70 visits to Rome regarding this issue. It begins to become clear who convinced the Holy See to adopt such a decision. How else would the Holy See even know where Crna, Grude, Čapljina and other small towns were, if they had not been receiving any information from Herzegovina itself? These towns are just as foreign to the Holy See as would be some remote African or Irish towns. The Decree was more than likely composed largely in Mostar and after much effort and pressure on the Holy See, finally obtained its signature to the Decree.

As such, this decision appeared to be masterminded by the Mostar bishops, Cule, Žanić and Peric. Naturally the Holy See is also responsible but this responsibility does not diminish the primary responsibility of the Mostar bishops. Let us call to mind how St. Augustine responded to the Jews who were stating that they had not killed Jesus but rather that Pilot was guilty, "He is guilty because he condemned him, but are you innocent, you who compelled him to do so?"

The Unquestionable Obedience of the Mostar Bishops Towards the Holy See?

The Herzegovinian bishops often stressed obedience as the supreme principle of conduct within the Church. Today, every anti-Medjugorje conspiracy theorist has adopted this same slogan. In practise however, the Mostar bishops themselves, at times, were not averse to foresaking this principle as it suited them. For example, when Bishop Žanić came to Mostar as the Assistant Bishop, he immediately tried to convince the Herzegovinian Franciscans to disobey their lawful Provincial Šili, hoping to better achieving his own aims. He was not successfuly in this, by the way. And when he took over the diocese in 1988, a group of Franciscans rejected transfers assigned them by the Provincial administration. Bishop Žanić backed them up in their refusal, even forbidding in writing that they be transferred! Those who were disobedient were allowed to keep their jurisdiction and Cannon mission yet he refused to issue these to those who were their lawful successors. This same practise was continued by the bishop's successor, Bishop Ratko Peric.

The Herzegovinian bishops demanded that the Franciscans hand over parishes which belonged to them in accordance with the Decrees of 1967 and 1975, yet he continually refused to take over the parishes of Glavatievo and Nevesinje, which were assigned to him in the Decree of 1923, and which the Franciscans had been offering for quite a while. The bishops were not prepared to implement the Decree of 1975 in its literal sense. The Franciscans offered Bishop Žanić that upon carving up the monastic Franciscan parish in Humac he found new secular parishes in Zvirii-Bijaa and Crveni Grm as determined in the Decree of 1975. Nevertheless he refused this and demanded that the heart of this same parish - Ljubuški and Radišii and that he be allowed to found a new secular parish in these towns even though this is the one thing that was explicitly forbidden in the 1975 Decree! Bishop Peric at all costs demanded that he be given Mostar and Čapljina yet he refused to take over the parishes in Jablanica and Blagaj which had been virtually completely ethnically cleansed by the Muslims but which nevertheless were to belong to him in accordance to the same Decree of 1975!

These few examples clearly show that the Herzegovinian bishops are not exactly marked by uncompromising obedience to decisions adopted by the Holy See even though they demand this same obedience of the Franciscans.

The following passages are quoted directly from the original document.

The "Goodness" of the Decision by the Holy See of 1975.

Nevertheless, if the Holy See did actually make a decision as is noted in the Decree is this necessarily good and just? Even though we are obliged to adhere to decisions made by the Holy See, they need not always necessarily be right and just.

There are a few examples in the history of the Church, which shall easily convince us that these decisions are not always necessarily right. In 1415, the Church Synod in Constanza decided to have Jan Hus burned at the stake. Today the Church is ashamed of this decision and rightly so, because this was an atrocious crime. A similar decision was made to burn Savonarole or the condemnation of Galileo's findings. The Church has in modern times, repented for its actions.

The supreme criteria to evaluate the ultimate goodness or ultimate evil in behaviour including decisions made by the Church according to the unanimous opinion of Church teachers, "the good of the faithful" or the "salvation of souls", as is noted in the codex of Cannon Law (salus animarum suprema lex in Ecclesia esto). Anything that is opposed to this must be denounced, as should anything that cannot be incorporated in this supreme law of the Church.

In principle, everyone accepts this rule. Whoever would bring it into question would immediately show that they were a "mercenary" and that they were not "interested in their own flock". It is not enough however, to just accept this rule for the sake of it. It contains something holy, something exclusive. It cannot tolerate other Gods around it. These other Gods are by the way wishes, which often oppose that "supreme law". Is not one of these wishes for example, the desire to expel the Franciscans from those regions where they are now? Can this desire be placed above the need to "save souls" and can both these issues be referred to in the same breath and same tone?

Everyone needs to decide towards his or her own conscience - does one's behaviour serve towards that supreme goal. While trying to evaluate this response one needs to keep in mind one's "spite" and "uncompromising attitude at whatever cost" and then to admit one's own pride, selfishness, self-confirmation, desires and power. Everyone in Herzegovina is bound to ask themselves this question; the bishops, secular priests and the Franciscans.

The "Justice" of the Decision by the Holy See of 1975?

The question still remains - are matters to be left only to paragraphs on paper or should justice be involved. As followers of Christ, being decisively in opposition to legality, should not be considered a minor matter. If the diocesan side is in the right, if Church regulations support this, does this mean that everything has been resolved? We are aware namely, that law and justice do not always go hand in hand. The Romans expressed this by saying, "The highest law is sometimes the greatest injustice" (summum ius summa iniuria). This "Herzegovinian Affair" should be investigated to see if this is perhaps not the same case.

We are not referring to the violation of the paragraphs because they themselves leave provision for this, but rather the violation of justice and the violation of goodness. If this is the case, where is the violation?

When the Herzegovinian Franciscans in 1844, seceded from the Bosnian Province, they virtually came on bare ground. They did not have any houses, nor churches, nor any inventory what so ever. They found themselves in a new homeland and were almost like survivors after a shipwreck; they virtually owned nothing but the shirts on their backs. Also there was only a small number of them then in 1844, eighteen in all. When we look now and see what this small community has achieved in the past one hundred and fifty years, with its efforts, denouncement, art, love and apostolic ardour, we can be nothing but awed. If we look at the Schematism of the Province in 1977, we can see that the number of priests had grown to 200 as well as another 54 clergymen and 11 recruits and 5 holy brothers. This is all so despite all the calamities faced during the Communist rule. In Herzegovina alone these people have built a huge number of monasteries as part of parishes or subsidiary churches. During the period of 13 years (between the publication of two Schematisms - 1964 and 1977), they built 40 new churches and refurbished virtually all the old churches. They built several monasteries adjoining some churches, numerous presbyteries, schoolrooms for religious instructions and support buildings. They had their own Classical High School and Theology School, a printing house and several collections. The most renown is the museum in Humac, which is oldest known museum in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Another of these is their library in Mostar). Outside Herzegovina, the Province has two monasteries in Croatia (a wooden monastery in Slano and the newly built monumental monastery and church in Zagreb). There are monasteries located in Austria and Germany where they serve six German parishes and two Croatian missions. In Switzerland there are two Croatian missions with 12 friars. Especially significant is the Custody in America with one monastery, a residency and fifteen parishes and missions in the USA and Canada. And finally, the Province has five missionaries in Africa and two in Albania.

Has not the mustard seed grown into a large tree? Anyone who knows what it means to build just one house or church - especially during those times when our people had not gone to work abroad and when a peasants toil was frugally paid - they will understand the scope of what has been achieved. Many a builder while building a church built himself in it. The diocesan side has a habit of commenting (in typical Communist style), that these massive and numerous buildings were built by the people and not the friars and that these buildings were built for the use of the Church and not the friars. This is not entirely true, but even if it were true that the friars built these buildings together with their faithful. The huge efforts made by the friars however, is undoubted. The truth is that the people helped build the said buildings for the use of the "Church" but ask these same people did they give their donations and money so that they could be evicted from these same buildings and their gifts confiscated from those they were intended? It appears that the diocesan side is asserting that "we are the Church, the friars are not nor are the people!"

The Herzegovinian Franciscans were - and still are - valid pastoral workers expressed in their efforts and the quality of their work. It is enough to note just one detail from the Schematism of 1977, that the Franciscans held religious instructions in Široki Brijeg in 108 sections and in Mostar in 110 sections. Try and find a similarly large town served by whichever Croatian diocese where during the Communist regime, Religious Instructions was taught in so many sections! The same situation existed in smaller towns where the absolute number was not so high but was, if looked at relatively. This work was not rewarded in anyway. They did however receive an "award" to be prohibited from working in many towns, an award issued by the official Church.

In the past fifteen years, the Franciscans have been taking care of the pilgrimage in Meugorje. We are not concerned here with the issue of the validity of the visitations which are claimed to exist there. All we want to do is highlight the heroic efforts lodged in spiritually serving the masses of pilgrims, a number - which by some accounts - has far surpassed 10 or even 20 million. Can we turn a blind eye to all this work? Does this not have any weight as far as the Bishop is concerned?

Along their basic pastoral work, the Herzegovinian Franciscans have assigned themselves to their people in a multitude of ways. If we just look back a little in the past, we will see that during the Turkish rule, the Herzegovinian Franciscans educated the people and naturally all this without any payment. They saw to make premises for schools available as well as alphabet boards. We all know the wonders that Friar Didak Bunti conjured up in teaching peasant children to read and write when at the same time at the turn of the century, despite all its financial and other resources the State left most of the population of Herzegovina to be illiterate. It is a well-known fact but probably worth mentioning, because too often we forget Fr. Didak Bunti and his brothers saved thousands of Herzegovinian children from death during the First World War. Did he not along with his brothers try and economically advance their faithful? We have only noted a few of his efforts. The list goes on and on.

Is it right and just that a well-built and furnished building should be demolished when we are not even sure what the new building will even look like? In whose interest can it be to see that the Herzegovinian Franciscans be left to die out? This is surely not in the interest of the Croatian and Catholic being. The Province which produced Friar Petar Bakula, Friar Paškal Buconji, Friar Didak Bunti, Friar Dominik Mandi, Friar Rufin Šili, Friar Ferdo Vlaši (who are just a few of the most renowned), is the fertile mother of the greats within the Croatian people and Catholic faith. If it were not for them or the huge number of their brothers, the Catholic Church and Croatian people would surely to a large measure be poorer?


  1. It's time to update or repost a lot of this material, I think.

    1. How so? Do you have updated material to share?

  2. Interesting article, but why do you tarnish it by writing about the Croatian "war of survival" in 1993?
    The evil Croatian Defence Council destroyed East Mostar and drove out the non-Croats.
    Not much better than Serbian propaganda...

    1. The article is certainly open to correction. The intention is simply to summarise the history of the issues between the seculars and Franciscans.


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