The Not-So-Franciscans: Medjugorje, the Hercegovačka Bank and Rebellion
by Marco Corvaglia
Franciscan Bankers (Thanks to Medjugorje)
In his 2014 doctoral thesis entitled Fenomen Međugorje kao svjetski brend i top destinacija vjerskog turizma ("The phenomenon of Medjugorje as a global brand and a top destination for religious tourism"), Croatian researcher Vencel Čuljak calculated that in the period from 1981 to 2013 the parish church of Medjugorje, held by the Franciscans, achieved a total revenue of 290 million euros [see the interview with Vencel Čuljak published on 16 August 2014 on “24sata.info” website: Vencel Čuljak: Međugorju se ne piše dobro].
These huge numbers explain the fact that at the beginning of the '90s the Franciscan Province of Herzegovina was a shareolder and had some representatives in the management boards of two banks (Hrvatska banka and Dubrovačka banka) [cf. Tobias Greiff, Violent Places: Everyday Politics and Public Lives in Post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nomos Verlagsgesgellschaft, 2018, p. 123] and, in 1997, was even among the founding members of another bank: the Hercegovačka banka.
The Croatian tricolor hanging from one of the two bell towers of the church in Medjugorje
Medjugorje is located in Bosnia-Herzegovina (sometimes referred to simply as Bosnia), a country which includes both Bosnia, which is mainly Muslim, and Herzegovina, which has a Catholic majority of Croatian origin (the inhabitants are also called Bosnian Croats). Between 1991 and 1995, in the former Yugoslavia, a bloody war opposed Croats, Bosnians, and Serbs (the latter traditionally being Orthodox).
It is well-known that the Franciscans of Herzegovina, for historical-religious reasons dating back to the Second World War, are close to Croatian nationalism.
Well, an article in the British newspaper The Guardian, on 6 April 2001, entitled "Authorities seize 'corrupt' Bosnian bank", states:
Masked police, backed by soldiers from the Nato-led Stabilisation Force (S-For), today seized control of a bank in Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina [...].
The bank is believed to be the financial base of the Bosnian wing of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which announced plans last month to break away from the Muslim-Croat Federation and establish a separate Croat state in south-western Bosnia. [...]
Troops and police also took over branches of the bank in the towns of Siroki Brijeg, Grude, Orasje, Tomislavgrad, Posusje and Medjugorje. [...]
Records show the Hercegovacka Banka was founded in 1997 by several private companies and the Franciscan order, which controls the religious shrine in Medjugorje, a major source of income, both from pilgrims and from donations by Croats living abroad.
[Authorities seize 'corrupt' Bosnian bank, "The Guardian", 6 April 2001]
A few days later, there are further developments:
During the weekend, SFOR peacekeepers seized weapons from several military storage sites in a bid to keep them from falling into the hands of mutinous Bosnian Croat soldiers. [...]SFOR spokesman Major Andrew Coxhead said the military hardware is being gathered at a central location in Bosnia so that it can be guarded by both SFOR troops and soldiers that remain loyal to Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation. [...] There have been reports of some deserters returning to the HVO -- the Croat component of the Bosnian federation army. [...]In Mostar, a bank that was seized by SFOR troops 11 days ago remains closed. The seizure of Hercegovacka Banka was ordered by the international community's top official in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, on grounds that it was illegally channeling funds to the Croat separatist leaders.
[Ron Synovitz, Bosnia-Herzegovina: SFOR Seizes Croat Deserters' Weapons, RFE/RL, 17 April 2001]
Hannes Grandits, Professor of History of South-Eastern Europe at the Humboldt University of Berlin, writes in an academic essay:
Fra Tomislav Pervan, later the head of the Herzegovina Franciscans, and Fra Ivan Ševan, another influential clergyman, were members of the supervisory board of the bank, together with [HVO] generals Ante Jelavić, Ljubo Ćesić-Rojs and Ivan Medić.
[Hannes Grandits, The Power of “Armchair” Politicians: Ethnic Loyalty and Political Factionalism among Herzegovinian Croats, in X. Bougarel, G. Duijzings, E. Helms (edited by), The New Bosnian Mosaic. Identities, Memories and Moral Claims, Routledge, London and New York, 2016, p. 113]
The aforementioned Friar Tomislav Pervan was parish priest of Medjugorje from 1982 to 1988, then he became Provincial of the Franciscans of Herzegovina from 1994 to 2001, after which he returned to Medjugorje as vice-parish priest from 2003 until 2013.
In May 2002, Wolfgang Petritsch, High Representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, declared to the Croatian weekly "Globus":
We are reconstructing thousands of documents step by step in order to get the data about all transactions. That goes very slowly because the databases have been destroyed. Employees of the Hercegovačka Banka tried to delete all the data, however, as you know, the modern technology of computer hard discs is such that the data cannot be irreversibly deleted.
The bank never reopened and in 2012 it was put into liquidation.
The liquidation procedures actually started in 2014.
Rebel Franciscans: the "Herzegovinian Affair"
Various Herzegovinian Franciscans have always opposed the implementation of the Vatican decree Romanis Pontificibus. This, in 1975, stated that half of the faithful of the diocese of Mostar will remain entrusted to the pastoral care of the Franciscans, while the other half will be entrusted to the diocesan clergy.
Many Franciscans of the diocese have been punished in the most severe way, by the Vatican and the General Curia of the Franciscan Order, for their disobedience on this matter.
Without going back to origins, we can note that on 14 December 1998 the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, Father Giacomo Bini, and the Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Archbishop Marcello Zago, along with Msgr. Ratko Perić, Bishop of Mostar, signed a joint communiqué in which they stressed the status of serious irregularity in which disobedient Franciscans of the Mostar-Duvno diocese lived, being guilty of unlawfully and forcibly holding various parishes.
Let us see a list of some Franciscans of the diocese who have been expelled from the Order of Friars Minor and suspended a divinis:
Father Mile Vlašić (parish of Čapljina)
Father Luka Marić (Mostar)
Father Stanko Pavlović (parish of Grude)
Father Leonard Hrkać (parish of Crnač)
Father Petar (ex-Bonifacije) Barbarić and Father Bože Radoš (parish of Čapljina).
Some Franciscans, after the action, tried to appeal to the Signatura Apostolica, Vatican supreme court, and lost. They are:
These nine Franciscans, even after their conviction and expulsion from the Order and suspension a divinis, have been continuing to unlawfully administer the sacraments for many years.
Here are the words of Bishop Ratko Perić in a public statement on 2 January 2010:
We now have in the Diocese nine former Franciscans, expelled from the Order of Friars Minor by the Superior General, and the Holy See has confirmed the expulsions. Although suspended a divinis, they act as lawful priests in the usurped parishes. While the supposed apparition of Medjugorje gives answers to the most trivial questions of curious people, not a word has been heard from the same on the serious abuses that strike at the unity of this local Church.
The situation remains unchanged.
It is worth saying that even if the parish of Medjugorje is legitimately held by Franciscans (it isn’t in the number of those that have to be entrusted to the diocesan clergy), the "Herzegovinian affair" directly concerned the phenomenon at issue when, in 1981-1982, the Medjugorje Madonna urged two rebel friars from Mostar, Ivan Prusina and Ivica Vego, to persevere in their disobedience (see the website of the diocese of Mostar: The Attacks of the Medjugorje "Apparition" Against the Diocesan Bishop Pavao Žanić)
Published on 15 June 2009. Updated on 9 August 2018
Copyright © Marco Corvaglia. All rights reserved