|Last Updated 09/06/2015||Visit Our Youtube Channel|
The Herzegovinian Affair Explained
In view of critics, who seem to want to portray the Bosnian Franciscans as "renegades", we hope that this page will provide a more accurate historical context to what has been termed the "Herzegovinian Affair". We feel we should remind our readers, however, to try to maintain a spirit of charity, that is; to avoid casting blame on one person or another, especially if that person is a shepard of the Catholic Church. It is enough to allow history to speak for itself, giving due respect and understanding to those involved.
Those who are familiar with the history of the Franciscan order will no doubt be aware that, since the time of Saint Francis, there have been occasions of conflict between Franciscans and their bishops. Such is the course of history whenever a great renewal sweeps the Church, and Saint Francis was no exception. The simplicity, poverty, and austerity of the Franciscans was such a fresh change from the embellished lives of the secular clergy of the time, that people were drawn to them. Most flocked to the Franciscans wherever they went, and even abandoned their local parishes to be near Franciscan friaries. This caused an added burden for the local bishops, who had to hear the complaints from their secular clergy regarding their empty parishes and loss of financial support. Though most bishops welcomed the spiritual renewal brought about by the Franciscans, some bishops resisted them, and even pressured them to leave their dioceses.
Timeline - Franciscans in Bosnia
ca. 1350 A.D. Prior to the 14th century, the region of Bosnia was mostly inhabited by pagans and Bogomilists (heretics with Dualistic tenets). In 1339, charged with the edict of suppressing the Bogomil heresy, Franciscan missionaries entered Bosnia on fresh soil, hoping to establish Christianity in the region. 1 The Franciscans were immediately successful in their endeavors, and in a matter of four years, had already converted king Bogmil himself, established thirty-six friaries throughout the region, and won great favor among the people. 
 The Franciscans earned such a reputation for their perseverance, that it caused Bishop Stadler to state; "There probably is not a country in the world, which has so much to thank the Franciscans for, as does Bosnia-Herzegovina. The sons of St. Francis faced with the greatest suffering, victims and banishment managed to maintain the Catholic faith in Bosnia. They lived for Bosnia and died for it until finally better days once again came to these lands, once again thanks to them". 2
ca. 1400-1800: The success of the Franciscans was soon overshadowed by Muslim invaders, however, who captured Bosnia for the first time in 1398. Now under Muslim rule, the Christians in the region were now subjected to the oppression and persecution of the Islamic state, sometimes even resulting in martyrdom. As a result, many of the faithful fled to neighboring regions. However, pockets of Christians remained, and, united with their Franciscan fathers in an ever greater bond, succeeded in preserving the faith in the region. 
1881: Muslim control of the region eventually disintegrated, and Bosnia then came under control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austrians realized that in order to gain control over Catholicism in Herzegovinia, they must first marginalize the power of the Franciscans (until this time, the Franciscans were the only priests in the region). Their endeavors did not bear fruit, however, since the people were so attached to the Franciscans. And so, the Autstrians developed a new tactic. They would then turn to Rome, to encourage the Vatican to create a diocese in the region. By doing so, they would effectively reduce the influence of the Franciscans by dividing their power with the diocese. 3a Their efforts succeeded.
Now, for the first time in modern history, the Vatican established a diocese in Bosnia.  This victory was met with an additional compromise, however. As a condition for the establishment of an ecclesial hierarchy, the Holy See permited the Austrian Emperor influence in the nomination of the Archbishop an bishops of the region.3
 Regarding the establishment of a diocese, Pope Leo XIII issued a papal bull in which he explicitly credits the friars for their success in preserving the faith in Bosnia, stating; “In this matter the perseverance and virtues of the Franciscans shine out with glory when, in the course of propagating the Faith in these provinces, they at times even shed their blood to bring forth outstanding fruits in the service of salvation and true religion. [...] [They] can claim for themselves a large share of the glory of this happy state of affairs (a return to the yoke of the Gospel) of whom not a few, slain by the heretics, died a glorious death for the Name of Christ.” 4
1881: Up until this time, the Franciscans had been the sole clerical presence in Bosnia. They had owned and operated all parishes in the region (many of which they built with their own hands), whereas the newly established diocese had no parishes, and only a handful of secular priests. In a gesture of good will, the Franciscans decided to hand over twenty-four of their parishes to the new Archbishop. However, the bishop thought this number was too low, and instead insisted forty-four parishes to be handed over to his care. 5 The Franciscans then petitioned Rome on the matter, which intervened by settling on a compromised 35 parishes. However, for reasons unknown, the bishop further demanded that all the parishes be handed over to the diocese, not just 35. At the time, the bishop only had 11 secular priests under him, which was not enough to populate all the parishes. And so, in an unprecedented move, the bishop turned to the Franciscans to encourage them to renounce their Order and join the secular clergy, issuing a public proclamation to that effect. 
 This proclamation was published in the official newsletter Vrhbosna. It is evidently a well-known fact of history that not even bishop Peric himself challenges (the current bishop of Mostar). 6
1943-1980: Bishop Petar Ule and later bishop Zanic, took up the cause of the previous bishop by further pressuring the Holy See to compel the Franciscans to hand over more parishes. Immediately after his inauguration as bishop of Mostar, he announced that he was going to "carve up" the Franciscan monastic parish, giving four-fifths to his cathedral parish and one-fifth to the Franciscan monastic parish. After already handing over nearly half of the parishes in their possession, the Franciscans felt it unjust to demand still more parishes from them, and thus resisted the bishops efforts.
1968-1980: After continual pressure and over 75 visits to the Holy See, the bishop of Mostar successfully squeezed another handful of parishes from the Franciscans. When the Franciscans departed from these parishes, the local townspeople, being so attached to the Franciscans (due to their longstanding history together), prevented the secular priests from entering, even boarding up the entrance to the church. Other townspeople organized demonstrations to protest the bishops actions. On one occasion in 1996, the locals even bricked in the door of a church, with a sign posted, reading; "wall will be taken down when they who built the church return, that is, the Friars".
A short clip from the movie "The Madonna of Medjugorje"
The Herzegovinian Affair Begins...
The early 20th century marks the beginning of what is known as the "Herzegovinian Affair", that is; ongoing tension between the bishops of Mostar and the Franciscans over the redistribution of Franciscan parishes. Critics of Medjugorje seem to want to defame the Franciscans with terms such as "renegades", or "rebels". However, given the historical context, it is evident these statements do not tell the whole truth. While it is true that some Franciscans did rebel against the bishop, we must also admit that it was no without provocation. Furthermore, it is also necessary to acknowledge the fact that a few nationalists had infiltrated the Franciscans, taking vows under a false pretext toward political ends. The Communist regime had even admitted to planting informants and spies throughout Medjugorje, as well as inciting conflicts, and banning religious demonstrations. Thus, one cannot necessarily blame the whole Franciscan order for what a few had done while wearing a Franciscan habit.
And so, in the midst of this turbulent time, the Mother of God appears bringing a message of peace and reconciliation.
1981: The apparitions begin (continuation of this timeline at; "History of Events")...
2. Viktor Nuiae, OFM, Dr., The Truth About The 'Herzegovinian Affair', K. Kresimir, Zagreb, 1998, sec 1. [link]
3a. Randall Sullivan, The Miracle Detective, Grove Press 2004, p.144 (impartial journalist for Rolling Stone)
3. Pope Leon XIII, Ex hac augusta, Papal Bull, 1881
4. Pope Leon, op. cit.
5. Viktor Nuiae, op. cit., sec. 3a. [link]
6. Viktor Nuiae, op. cit. (See correspondence between Dr. Viktor Nuiae OFM and bishop Peric, appended to end of document). [link]
© 2011 Medjugorje-Apologia.comAll rights reserved.