Benedict XVI has laicized a Franciscan priest

LONDON, July 30, 2009 - Pope Benedict XVI has laicized a Franciscan priest who served as the spiritual adviser to the Marian visionaries in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The pontiff, in a document issued "motu proprio" (on his own initiative), returned Father Tomislav Vlasic to the lay state and dispensed him from his religious vows as a member of the Order of Friars Minor.

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.

He also was being investigated for "the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspected mysticism, disobedience towards legitimately issued orders and charges contra sextum (against the Sixth Commandment not to commit adultery)," as stated in the interdict signed by Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

According to the congregation, all the charges against Vlasic were "in the context of the Medjugorje phenomenon."

Vlasic was placed under an interdict threatening "severe cautionary and disciplinary measures" if he violated a range of prohibitions that included making any public appearances.

However, his laicization was the result of a request from Vlasic himself, according to a letter sent by Franciscan Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, the order's minister general, to Franciscan provincials in the Adriatic region.

In the letter dated March 10 and made public July 24, Father Rodriguez said Vlasic was "responsible for conduct harmful to ecclesial communion both in the spheres of doctrine and discipline."

Pope Benedict has imposed conditions on Vlasic "under pain of excommunication ... and if necessary without prior canonical warning," among them the "absolute prohibition from exercising any form of apostolate," the letter said.

There is an "absolute prohibition from releasing declarations on religious matters, especially regarding the phenomenon of Medjugorje," and Vlasic is banned from residing in Franciscan houses, the letter said.

Father Rodriguez told the provincials to "instruct the guardians and superiors of friaries about full compliance, by Tomislav Vlasic, with the pontifical measures regarding him, in particular relative to the prohibition of residing in any houses belonging to the Order of Friars Minor, under pain of removal from office."

Father Rodriguez's letter was leaked to Marco Corvaglia, who posted it on his blog in the online version of La Stampa, an Italian newspaper.

Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, the diocese in which Medjugorje is located, confirmed in a July 26 e-mail to Catholic News Service that the letter was authentic.

It is unclear from the letter precisely when Pope Benedict authorized the laicization.

Vlasic was a central figure in the early days of the apparitions, which began in 1981 when Mirjana Dragicevic, Marija Pavlovic, Vicka Ivankovic, Ivan Dragicevic, Ivanka Ivankovic and Jakov Colo said they had seen Mary on a hillside near their town.

In 1984 Vlasic wrote to Pope John Paul II to say that he was the one "who through divine providence guides the seers of Medjugorje."

But retired Bishop Pavao Zanic of Mostar-Duvno did not believe the claims of the visionaries and accused Vlasic of creating the phenomenon.

Vlasic left Medjugorje in the mid-1980s to establish the Queen of Peace community in Parma, Italy, for both men and women after it was publicly revealed that he had fathered a child with a Franciscan nun and then tried to cover up their affair.

The visionaries say they are still seeing apparitions and that they have received more than 40,000 visits from Mary.

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

In 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the doctrinal congregation and now Pope Benedict , banned official, diocesan or parish-sponsored pilgrimages to the shrine. However, individual Catholics are still free to visit and have a priest with them.

-CNS

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