Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The 1975 Decree - Romanis Pontificibus (Herzegovina Case)

In many books, websites, and other media on the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje, there is discussion of something referred to as the "Herzegovina Case".  It has also been referred to as the "Herzegovina Affair","Herzegovina Question" and "Herzegovina Conflict". It is more loosely expressed in blogs, forums, and comment boxes as "the rift between the local bishop and the franciscans" (not an accurate expression by any means).

It concerns the distribution of parishes between Franciscans of the Herzegovina Province, and diocesan clergy of Mostar-Duvno as laid out in the 1975 decree, Romanis Pontificibus.  The name of the decree has been discussed, but in the English speaking world we have not seen the actual document, until today. This is not so much a conflict between those local franciscans and the local bishop, but a matter between members of that province of franciscans and the Holy See itself.

It should be noted, that most franciscans have been cooperating.  Others, however, resisted unto usurping - quite forcibly - several parishes in the late 1990's, ultimately leading to their removal from the Order of Friars Minor, and "a divinis" suspensions.   On February 20, 1999, Romanis Pontificibus was definitively implemented by the then Vicar General of the OFM, Br. Stefano Ottenbreit and Msgr. Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno. The Papal Nuncio at the time, Msgr. Mario Cassari, represented the Holy See.

Still, a number of Franciscans of the Herzegovina Province refused to sign a declaration of obedience, incurring other penalties.  If you scroll down in this page dedicated to the "Herzegovina Case" at the diocesan website, you will see the nine who were removed from the Order of Friars Minor and suspended, and another 21 names suffering other penalties (toggle to Croatian in the upper right hand corner to see untranslated names).  Jozo Zovko, OFM, well known in Medjugorje circles, is mentioned after the list.  You might want to put that URL into a translation tool from Croatian to your native language and you'll get an idea of what it says.

Parish Breakdown in Mostar-Duvno

It is helpful to see these numbers today, as you read what is below.  Using data from pages at the diocesan website, I know in Mostar-Duvno, the Franciscans of the Herzegovina Province are responsible for 30 of the 66 parishes, with the rest in the hands of diocesan priests.

Bishop Peric is also the apostolic administrator for the ancient diocese of Trebinje-Mrkan, which has 16 parishes run by 32 diocesan priests (the franciscan custody does not reach into Trebinje-Mrkan).

The 1975 Decree Romanis Pontificibus

The 1975 Decree Romanis Pontificibus is now available in two translations at the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno:  [English] [Croatian].  (For your convenience, the full decree is also available at the bottom of this post, so just scroll down.)

I would like to suggest that this document could be of interest to anyone who is not famliar with the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The first half of the decree goes through a kind of catechesis - drawing heavily from documents like Lumen Gentium and Christus Dominus on the role of the bishop.  It gives us a view into how areas transition into the form of functioning dioceses most of us live in today.  This part of it, I found very informative. We take for granted the governance of our dioceses and how they grow over time. 

Here, you learn about the powers of the bishop, and the wishes of the Holy See with regards to settling diocesan clergy into parishes once an area begins to emerge from missionary status.  This decree doesn't neglect to speak about the great good the Franciscans have done for centuries in that region, but it is not the norm for a religious order to have administrative control of most parishes in a diocese.   In fact, the decree generously allows the Franciscans to retain half of the parishes - something which probably does not exist in any other part of the world.

It has been noted by Bishop Ratko Peric in an interview with "Crkva na Kamenu" (Church on the Rock), the difficulty some have in accepting diocesan clergy.  Here is Bishop Peric discussing what he told the Holy Father in his 2006 ad limina visit:

The third category corresponds to nine members who are not only disobedient, but who have also been expelled from the Franciscan Order and suspended from all liturgical activities, through their own fault and responsibility. They behave though, as if nothing has happened and have usurped five parishes and continue to create havoc and ecclesiastical chaos in some other parishes as well. Along with the adherents they have gathered for themselves, they have created a schism, a division, which is not so much a schism of intellectual as it is of an affective nature.
These faithful for instance, do not accept “Don (father) Luke” but only “Fra Luke”, no matter how much the General of the Franciscan Order declares that this Fra Luke is no longer a Catholic Franciscan and despite the fact that he has been expelled from the Order due to his obstinate disobedience and schismatic attitude towards the Pope, the General Curia of the Order and the local Church. Whatever these nine do is done illegally or against the Church, and therefore the sacraments of confession, confirmation and marriage they administer are invalid. All the Church documents they issue are illegal and invalid, since they are not authorized to do so. They have even established their own association, through which they aim to pressure those responsible in the Church to act according to their disobedience and schism.

Recent Homily of BiH Papal Nuncio

After you are famliar with the 1975 decree, it is also worth reading a homily delivered some months ago by the papal nuncio in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Archbishop Alessandro D'Errico.  It was on the occasion of the naming of Marko Semren, OFM, of the Bosnia Province of Franciscans, to the rank of auxiliary bishop in Banja Luka [bah-nya loo-kah] - the first Franciscan to hold the rank of bishop in decades in Bosnia-Herzegovina.   In Archbishop D'Errico's homily, given on the feast of St. Bonaventure,  he articulates clearly the Holy See's desire for unity among diocesan priests and those in religious orders.  He does this first by speaking about the need to be united with the institution of the Church through the diocesan bishop.  The first two-thirds of the homily deals with St. Bonaventure which was an awesome read on it's own.  That first part of the homily also gives us context for what he says near the end.  I can't say with certainty that this is related to Romanis Pontificibus because he does not mention it specifically.  But the language used over several paragraphs seems to point in this direction.

Medjugorje Angle

What does this all have to do with Medjugorje?  Let's look closer again at the words of Bishop Ratko Peric, this time from a position he updated in 2007: Međugorje: Secrets, messages, vocations, prayers, confessions, commissions.

Rebellious ex-Franciscan at usurped Grude Parish

In the diocese of Mostar-Duvno there exists a problem which in recent years has practically become a schism. At least nine Franciscan priests, who have been expelled from the Franciscan OFM Order and suspended a divinis, have rebelled against the decision of the Holy See and have not allowed the transfer of some of the parishes from Franciscan to Diocesan administration. They forcefully occupy at least five parishes, all the while continuing with all priestly functions. They invalidly perform marriages, hear confessions without canonical faculties, some of them invalidly confirm youngsters, and in 2001 they invited an old-Catholic deacon who falsely presented himself as a bishop to “confirm” about eight hundred young people in three parishes. Two of these expelled Franciscans even went as far as asking the Swiss old-Catholic bishop, Hans Gerny, to ordain them as bishops, yet they did not succeed. So many invalid sacraments, so much disobedience, violence, sacrilege, disorder and irregularities and not even a single “message” amongst the tens of thousands of “apparitions” has been sent to alleviate these scandals. A very strange thing indeed!

That is a good point Bishop Peric makes in the end: Why doesn't the "gospa" of Medjugorje seem to care about all of the invalid sacraments taking place a stone's throw away by a number of ex-franciscans without faculties?  As an aside, Bishop Peric had to inform those 800 young people, and their parents, that their confirmations were invalid.  He then administered the Sacrament to them.

The length to which the "sacramental" chaos ensued, is described in greater depth in a 2004 document by Bishop Peric entitled, "The Truth Both Frees and Binds Us".

Considering that St. Francis would have given the cloak off his back if someone had asked for it, and had reverence for ecclesiastical authority, I cannot reconcile this behavior with authentic Franciscan spirituality.  St. Francis would not only have handed over the parishes to the diocesan clergy, he would have done so in such a fashion as to exhort the faithful to accept those priests as their shepherds.  From the "gospa", not a word of disappointment.

CEP, 1975-06-06

Prot. N. 2021/75
by which the question pending in the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno is decided.

Roman Pontiffs, ever solicitous for the good of souls, have always taken care, whenever local Churches sufficiently developed their own structures and the conditions of circumstances and times permitted, not only to establish everywhere the sacred ordinary hierarchy, but also, as the usual order of canon law directs, to entrust the same Churches to diocesan clergy.

Thus in the previous century in Europe, Pope Pius IX restored the episcopates in England, Wales, and Holland, while Pope Leo XIII established local Churches in Bosnia-Herzegovina and entrusted them to residential bishops. This same Pope, by the apostolic constitution Ex hac augusta of [5 July] 1881, erected the ecclesiastical province of Vrhbosna, which also contained Herzegovina, and appointed a residential bishop for the diocese of Mostar, to which he joined the ancient title of Duvno.

In these regions, which are the witnesses of so great a faith, that fire which Christ came to set upon the earth, although there were great dangers, remained always kindled, which accomplishment came about especially from the praiseworthy zeal and apostolic spirit of the Friars Minor, who for so many years, while bearing many hardships, brought about the expansion and strengthening of the Kingdom of Christ among the local people.

Through the Constitution we mentioned above, the same Vicar of Christ, fully aware of the particular situation in Herzegovina, and wanting to provide for the further devolvement of that Church, the care of which was entrusted at that time to the Friars Minor, advised the bishop of Mostar of his responsibility to establish a substantial and suitable diocesan clergy to whom would be entrusted the care of souls as is customarily done in all places wherein the sacred hierarchy has been established. Thus, from the advice of Pope Leo XIII of venerable memory, the diocesan clergy of the Church of Mostar-Duvno began to be developed and has been blessed with a providential increase in vocations especially in these more recent years.

Nevertheless, in the ecclesiastical province of Vrhbosna it seems that a certain doubt remains concerning mutual relations between the diocesan and the religious clergy and indeed great difficulties have arisen, especially in the Diocese of Mostar.

On account of these difficulties, which had also arisen elsewhere, the Holy See issued important norms, such as the apostolic constitution Romanos Pontifices, given by the same Pope Leo XIII to England in 1881, which was later, in the wake of clear and generous fruits, extended to several other regions. The teaching expounded in this Constitution and the norms contained in it, as well as others, rely on other pontifical prescripts laid down after the Council of Trent as promulgated by Pope Benedict XIV in 1744 in the apostolic constitutions Firmandis and Cum nuper charissimus, now belong to the common law of the universal Church.

These rules therefore apply to the ecclesiastical province of Vrhbosna, even more so because time has proven them to be of the greatest benefit to souls and they among others, were either directly or indirectly received by Vatican Council II.

As for what expressly applies to the diocese of Mostar-Duvno, the agreement which in 1899 the local Ordinary and the religious Order of Friars Minor entered into and which in the same year the Holy See confirmed, remains in full effect, unless this decree establishes otherwise and always with due regard for the right of the Holy See to make other provision. Furthermore the decision of the Sacred Congregation “for the Propagation of the Faith” issued 26 March 1965, by which the rescript concerning the assignment of parishes “freely by the Holy See” granted by the Congregation of the Council in 1923 was declared entirely extinct, abrogated and devoid of all authority, and remains in force, as does the decree which the Pontifical legate in Yugoslavia, at the mandate of the same Sacred Congregation “for the Propagation of the Faith”, issued on 13 November 1967.

No one can in the future invoke any privilege concerning pastoral ministry, acquired in any manner, unless it will have been obviously provided for in this decree and thus indeed will be plainly consistent with this document and the particulars established in it.

The theological rationale for the norms of which we have made mention up to this point are contained in the general ecclesiological teaching of Vatican Council II, which indeed teaches that “bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church,” (LG 20, cit. om.). This too refers to them: “from the Lord, to whom was given all power in heaven and on earth, [bishops receive] the mission to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every creature” (LG 24). And likewise “individual bishops, who are placed in charge of particular Churches, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care” (LG 23b).

Moreover, “It is the bishop's role, as the ruler and center of unity in the diocesan apostolate, to promote missionary activity, to direct it and to coordinate it but always in such a way that the zeal and spontaneity of those who share in the work may be preserved and fostered. All missionaries, even exempt Religious, are subject to his power in the various works which refer to the exercise of the sacred apostolate” (AG 30b).

Because the pastoral task of the Church is ordinarily conducted through the institute of parishes, for this reason the second Vatican Council set forth a general principle that applies to their overall governance. Thus in the decree Christus Dominus 32 it states that “the same concern for souls should be the basis for determining or reconsidering the erection or suppression of parishes and any other changes of this kind which the bishop is empowered to undertake on his own authority.”

It belongs to the Ordinary of the place to provide for the governance of parishes. Yet the aforesaid decree (CD 35, 1b) exhorts the moderators of religious institutes to offer their assistance to bishops, even by taking up, for a time, the care of parishes.

About the care of parishes entrusted to religious even exempt, the following points from the same decree should be recalled: “All Religious, exempt and non-exempt, are subject to the authority of the local Ordinaries in those things which pertain to the public exercise of divine worship-except where differences in rites are concerned-the care of souls, the sacred preaching intended for the people, the religious and moral education of the Christian faithful, especially of the children, catechetical instruction and liturgical formation. They are subject to the local Ordinary also in what pertains to the decorum proper to the clerical state as well as in the various works which concern the exercise of the sacred apostolate” (CD 35, 4).

To this same end, the general principle is confirmed in the aforesaid decree of the Council by which a bishop must be led in ordering parish activity, in that “the parish exists solely for the good of souls” (CD 31b). In the light of this outstanding principle the bishop brings about necessary modifications by his own authority, as is confirmed in the Motu proprio [of Pope Paul VI] Ecclesiae Sanctae (cf. I, 21, 3): “The bishop of the diocese on his own authority can establish or suppress parishes or change them in any way after consultation with the council of priests”, so that even if some rights are perhaps acquired by others, they should be suitably comported to these points.

It follows from what has been said before that it seems most opportune for the same decree to say (in CD 35, I): “All Religious should always look upon the bishops, as upon successors of the Apostles, with devoted respect and reverence. Whenever they are legitimately called upon to undertake works of the apostolate, they are obliged to discharge their duties as active and obedient helpers of the bishops”. This norm, as is obvious, indeed applies even more to those religious to whom the care of parishes is entrusted.
In other respects, it is proper that one be mindful of the exemption, “by which Religious are called to the service of the Supreme Pontiff or other ecclesiastical authority and [are] withdrawn from the jurisdiction of bishops”, not in such a way, obviously, as to interfere with the Supreme Pontiff making dispositions concerning religious “for the good of the universal Church”…, and neither taking away from the fact that “[t]his exemption, however, does not exclude Religious in individual dioceses from the jurisdiction of bishops in accordance with the norm of law, insofar as the performance of their pastoral office and the right ordering of the care of souls requires.”

Such an exemption “refers chiefly to the internal order of their communities so that in them all things may be properly coordinated and the growth and perfection of the Religious common life promoted” (CD 35, 3).
Thus, “[f]or a grave reason any member of a Religious institute can be removed from the position assigned to him either at the will of the authority who made the appointment, after he has advised the Religious superior, or at the will of the superior after he has advised the one who made the appointment. In this matter the superior and the authority are legally equal and the action of the one does not require the consent of the other, nor is the one bound to make known to the other the reason for his judgment, much less prove it, though recourse to the Apostolic See, in devolution, remains open” (Ecclesiae Sanctae, I, 32).
But the juridical observations which we have set-out up till now are informed by pastoral solicitude also; for the good of souls requires that between religious members and diocesan clergy “[a] well-ordered cooperation is to be encouraged between various religious communities and between them and the diocesan clergy. There should also be a very close coordination of all apostolic works and activities which especially depend upon a supernatural attitude of hearts and minds, rooted in and founded upon charity. The Apostolic See is competent to supervise this coordination for the universal Church; sacred pastors are competent in their own respective dioceses” (CD 35, 5).

The desired cooperation and coordination of this sort will be well advanced if, canonical rules having been observed, there are included priests from both clergies among the members of the various groups that are in the diocese, in the way suggested for presbyteral and pastoral councils in Ecclesiae Sanctae /I, 15-16/.
The end therefore, for which reason this decree was issued, is connected with that task of sanctifying proper to the Church, and it can in no way be attained except in virtue of that supernatural attitude of hearts and minds, which is rooted in and founded upon charity (CD 35, 5). The call to fraternal conversion and reconciliation most insistently propels [one] toward this. In it, according to the words of the Supreme Pontiff there is posited one of the outstanding propositions of the Holy Year (cf. bulla Apostolorum Limina): The grace of conversion and reconciliation which is proper to the sacred celebrations of the Jubilee provides the most crucial foundation of juridical norms and confirms that apostolic efficacy which is expected from their performance. By the hope of this grace the diocese of Mostar-Duvno will, beyond any doubt, proceed by great strides towards its own ecclesial renewal, and the full cooperation of diocesan and religious priests, participants in the one priesthood of Christ will be formed into a whole along with all the Christian faithful [united] with their holy Pastor.

Therefore this Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or Propagation of Faith, attentive to documents either issued by the Ecumenical Council Vatican II or promulgated by the Apostolic See for their execution, and all things being maturely weighed, having heard all those with an interest in them, and also with the consent of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church and of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, decides and establishes this which follows concerning the assigning, distribution, and division of parishes, always with due regard of the Holy See to make other arrangements on the account of changes in circumstances, which might happen:

1. Attentive to the mutual agreement between the two parties with an interest here, and in consideration of the merits which the Friars Minor of the Province of Herzegovina have secured for themselves, the Holy See accepts that it be taken as a general rule that half of the faithful of the diocese of Mostar-Duvno remain entrusted to the pastoral care of the same religious, while the other half entrusted to diocesan clergy.
This apportionment - once there will be an equal number of the faithful entrusted to each party, according to this generally set-out plan - will remain legitimate in the future.

2. After the execution of this decree and until other norms are established, before the local Ordinary proceeds, for the good of souls and while respecting the laws to be observed, with regard to new dismemberments or divisions of parishes entrusted to the care of the Franciscan Fathers, he must consult the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or Propagation of Faith.

3. With the derogation from the decision given in 1965 by the [Sacred] Congregation for the Propagation of Faith having been made, and with due consideration of the mutual agreement concerning this matter between the two parties, the pastoral care of the parishes in Izbično, Klobuk, and Kongora, is entrusted to the Friars Minor of the Province of Herzegovina.

4. The Franciscan Fathers, within one year from the day of the promulgation of this decree, must hand over to the diocesan clergy the parishes of Blagaj, Jablanica, Ploče, and Nevesinje.

5. Likewise with the decision given by the [Sacred] Congregation for the Propagation of Faith in 1965 having been derogated, the parish of Čitluk is entrusted to the pastoral care of the Friars Minor of Herzegovina.
But, according to this same decision of the [Sacred] Congregation, the entire pastoral care of the parish of Čapljina, with no part of its territory being taken away, must be transferred within a year from the Franciscan Fathers to the diocesan clergy. The Ordinary of Mostar-Duvno will reimburse the Province of the Friars Minor of Herzegovina the costs undertaken by the Franciscan Fathers for the building of their religious residence, but not the costs for constructing the church of the parish.

6. The Parish of Mostar, up to this point wholly entrusted to the pastoral care of the Friars Minor, according to the mutual agreement of the two parties concerning this, will be divided within one year and in the territory taken, in the meantime, there will be constituted a cathedral parish which will be entrusted to the diocesan clergy.

7. Likewise from the parish of Humac, which up to now has been wholly entrusted to the pastoral care of the Friars Minor, territory will be separated in which, in the meantime, there will be erected, within one year, according to the agreement of the two parties concerning this, parishes Crveni Grm-Prolog and Zvirić-Bijača, to be entrusted to the diocesan clergy.

As for what applies to the parishes in Crnač, Grude, and Mostarski Gradac, there still applies the decree issued by the apostolic delegation in Yugoslavia on 13 November 1967, which still retains its obligatory force according to the norms concerning this issued by the [Sacred] Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. As for the full execution of the decree, the Holy See permits that the manners and rationales be preserved which are contained in the documents which are separately redacted.

To bring about all these things, the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or Propagation of the Faith establishes [the following] executors. From one side, His Excellency Peter Čule, bishop of Mostar-Duvno, together with his coadjutor [bishop with right of succession], His Excellency Pavao Žanić, titular bishop of Edistiana; and from the other side, the Reverend Father Constantine Koser, minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, granting to them the necessary and opportune faculties, with the obligation on their part of transmitting to the same Sacred Congregation as soon as possible a copy of the act of the completed execution.

The same Sacred Congregation confirms His Excellency Stephan László, bishop of Eisenstadt, as Apostolic visitor to Herzegovina for referral and, if there is need, for providing, while it associates with him in the same task the Reverend Father Vladimir Vlašić, S.J., rector of the interdiocesan minor seminary of Zagreb.

Our most holy father Pope Paul VI, in an audience granted on 5 June 1975 to the undersigned cardinal prefect, held the present decree ratified in all respects and confirmed it and ordered it to be given public effect not withstanding anything to the contrary even if worthy of special mention.

Given in Rome, from the halls of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or Propagation of Faith, on 6 June 1975.

Agnellus Cardinal Rossi,

[Duraisamy Simon] Lourdusamy,

The official translation in Croatian published in: Glas Koncila, 14/1975, p. 4.
The original Latin published in: Acta Ordinis Fratrum Minorum, Roma, II/1989, pp. 85-89.

English translation: Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD

I want to thank  Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD, who is an instructor of Latin (among other things) at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.  It is his translation work from the Latin, which appears on the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno site

Opinions and thoughts expressed in this blogpost are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Dr. Peters.

Further reading:

  • (2004) The Truth both Frees and Binds Us (Bishop Peric goes into greater detail about the scandalous activities of the ex-Franciscans and how this plays into Medjugorje)

***Home Page***