Sex, lies and apparitions

Millions travel to Medjugorje each year but, says Simon Caldwell, the world-famous pilgrimage site may soon be exposed as a fraud

1 October 2008

12:00 AM

1 October 2008

12:00 AM

The Medjugorje story begins early in 1976 when a Franciscan monk in the former Yugoslavia, Father Tomislav Vlasic, starts an affair with a nun who becomes pregnant. Frightened he will be exposed as the child’s father, Father Vlasic persuades her to move away to Germany. She hopes he will honour his promise to leave the ministry and marry her. She writes a sequence of increasingly anxious letters when this does not happen, telling her former lover she is so miserable that she is praying she will die in childbirth. But he piously orders her to ‘be like Mary’ and accept her destiny in a foreign land — and never to tell a soul who the father really is.

Unfortunately for him, some of his letters fall into the hands of the woman’s landlord who, scandalised, copies them and sends them to a friend in the Vatican.

Six years later Father Vlasic is ‘spiritual leader’ of six children who say the Virgin Mary appears to them daily in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the local bishop is having none of it. The priest writes to Pope John Paul II to say that Satan is working through the bishop and to request direct intervention against him. But, worse luck, the Vatican official with copies of his love letters takes an interest in the case and sends them to the bishop in question.

Disgraced, the priest then heads for Italy where, with a new mistress, he sets up a mixed-sex religious community devoted to the apparitions and continues to party like a bad dog for the next 17 years until the Vatican official who ruined everything for him becomes Pope Benedict XVI.

Three years into Benedict’s pontificate, Father Vlasic today finds himself severely and publicly disciplined in a way which is rare for a person linked so closely to a movement as popular as Medjugorje, which has attracted 30 million pilgrims in 27 years. He is in big trouble, accused of heresy, schism and sexual immorality ‘aggravated by mystical motivations’, as well as ‘the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders’. He has refused to co-operate with the Vatican and is under an interdict confining him to a monastery on the pain of excommunication.

But this is not simply the settling of a vendetta against a modern-day Rasputin with a taste for sex and séances. By striking at Vlasic, the Pope is aiming a killer blow at the Medjugorje phenomenon itself.


Why would Benedict want to do this? Perhaps because the claims are not true. They have their origin in a de facto schism which occurred when Pope Paul VI tried to transfer a group of parishes from Herzegovinian Franciscans in dire need of reform to the local bishop. Fierce Croatian nationalists who sided with the Nazis during the second world war, one of them, Father Miroslav Filipovic, had earned the sobriquet ‘the Butcher of Jasenovac’ while stationed at the Ustasha concentration camp. Later many joined Tito’s communist state-sanctioned Church, another act which sent the popes apoplectic.

Paul’s papal bull, Romanis Pontificibus, authorised disciplinary measures against the friars resisting the reforms. But on 25 June 1981 Mirjana Dragicevic, Marija Pavlovic, Vicka Ivankovic, Ivan Dragicevic, Ivanka Ivankovic and Jakov Colo told Father Jozo Zovko, a rebel friar and a good friend of Father Vlasic, that they had seen the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje. Significantly, within two months of the first apparitions, Vlasic was the priest closest to the children and remained in that position for three years, boasting to Pope John Paul in a letter of 1984 that he was the one ‘who through divine providence guides the seers of Medjugorje’.

In the early days of the apparitions, Our Lady was not only partisan on the Herzegovina question but preoccupied by it and described the rebels as saints. One of them, Father Iveca Vego, soon made a nun pregnant. Was he having an affair at the time his sanctity was declared? The local bishop, Pavao Zanic, was convinced that Vlasic was puppet-master to the seers and a principal source of the messages imparted by the apparitions. When the future Pope Benedict — then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — informed him of the priest’s earlier infidelities it must have seemed a godsend.

But Vlasic had by then already turned Medjugorje global. He proved a genius at marketing the phenomenon in the West, where it was viewed as part of the wider Catholic struggle against communism. A rising tide of pilgrims saw businesses boom and proliferate. Visitors returned home with instructions to set up Medjugorje prayer groups in their parishes.

However, the families benefiting from the gold rush saw Vlasic as a liability when his affair with Sister Rufina, née Manda Kozul, became public. An exit strategy emerged in the form of Agnes Heupel, a German who claimed she was cured from partial paralysis by a pilgrimage to Medjugorje (she is seen discarding her crutches in a BBC Everyman documentary).

The pair, Vlasic and Heupel, founded their community in Parma in 1987. It was endorsed by Our Lady as ‘God’s plan’ through the seer Marija Pavlovic, who became a member. But Pavlovic left months later and disowned the venture in a written statement. Her change of heart might be explained by the fact that Vlasic and Heupel shared a room together which was locked at night. It is rumoured that Pavlovic caught the couple having sex. In any case, Vlasic was damaged goods, though he continued to have his headquarters in Medjugorje and to write for Medjugorje publications.

By then, however, Bishop Zanic had turned resolutely against the claims. He led two investigations into them and found them unfounded. A third inquiry, involving all the bishops of Yugoslavia, arrived at the same conclusion. Ratzinger banned all pilgrimages to Medjugorje, including individual visits if they presupposed that the Madonna was appearing there.

What has followed in the last 20 years could be described as a propaganda war. Those with a vested interest in the Medjugorje phenomenon have taken every contrary edict, decree or position of the Church and deliberately misinterpreted them so the flow of pilgrims continues unabated. The apparitions continue, oddly enough, with nearly 40,000 in total and no end in sight.

All the evidence indicates that the phenomenon is a calculated and cynical con. Medjugorje has grown wealthy and it is no coincidence that so have the seers. Some own executive houses with immaculate gardens, double garages and security gates, and one has a tennis court. Others drive BMWs and go on frequent foreign trips, and all have married — one of them, Dragicevic, to the former Miss Massachusetts, Loreen Murphy. It must have made Father Vlasic very proud.

It was no surprise then that when the Vatican moved against Vlasic a few weeks ago the Medjugorje spin machine shrieked that the accusations related to the priest’s time at his community in Italy and not at Medjugorje. But this is a lie. All accusations against him pertain exclusively to his time at Medjugorje. We know this because the Vatican decree announcing the interdict explicitly says so, beginning with the words: ‘Within the context of the phenomenon Medjugorje …’

So while those involved in the Medjugorje industry fight a rearguard action, Vlasic stews in a monastic cell pondering whether to confess all or to remain obstinate until the end. It would be best if he confessed. Of course wonderful things happen at Medjugorje and many good people have an incredible time. But if it’s based on a lie, it’s best exposed.

Whatever Vlasic decides, he will not have Miss Heupel at his side. Evidence of a split emerged in 2004 when she entered a debate on
a Dutch online chat-room in which Catholics were discussing an alleged Marian apparition in Amsterdam. She proclaimed that ‘Our Lady of Medjugorje is NOT TRUE …with love from Medjugorje, Agnes Heupel.’

Well, she should know.

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Show comments
  • Drago

    You have no clue about Medjugorje. If you are a Catholic at all and if you have visited medjugorje and confessed there – you would not be saying such a bad things about it. You are discrace !!

  • MB

    This article is entirely biased, and written by a reporter with an obvious and persistent vendetta. The priest he links to Medjugorje left there 24 years ago, and was only there for two years (and not at the beginning of the apparitions). Even those associated with Medjugorje had long distanced themselves from him, for the main part. Meanwhile, the Vatican clearly allows private pilgrimages.

  • Sean

    This is tabloidism at its worst, a ridiculous article full of lies. I would urge readers to do their own investigations into Medjugorje and to not ignore the most important spiritual event in the past 2,000 years.

  • RC

    And to think that this is only about half of the folly of Medjugorje.

    Caldwell doesn’t even mention the charges of immorality against Fr. Zovko, another so-called “saint”; the seers who go on speaking tours and have their “apparitions” conveniently wherever they want; the apparition’s endorsement of condemned pseudo-mystical writings by Maria Valtorta.

  • Rod

    Well done Simon! A neat, factual summary of events. Medjugorje is the pseudo-spiritual equivalent of man-made global warming pseudo-science. A massive con. Last May, a renowned Italian exorcist, Bishop Andrea Gemma, slammed Medj as “a mixture of interests, personal and diabolical”, fuelled by “the lure of easy money”. (Gemma also predicted the Vlasic condemnation, stating that “soon the Vatican will intervene with something explosive to unmask once and for all who is behind this deceit.”)

  • George Weber

    The pope’s beliefs are much more refined than those of the Medjugorje rabble because of the philosophical grinding that has gone on in Rome for the past 2000 years. In fact, both parties operate with unprovable claims.

    • mary hassan

      The visions did occur as told by the visionaries.But theyh did not come from
      Vrigin Mary. She cannot condemn Bishops and support rebelious pastors.

  • Peter Inkley, Johannsburg South Africa

    Archbishop Rowan Williams obviously does not live in cloistered isolation from the real world. He should be a welcome addition to the Board of some of the companies “too big to fail” (Our idolatrous attitudes to markets-Spectator 27th September 2008). It’s pity his stewardship of the Anglican Communion has not endeared him to it’s diehard traditionalists .

  • Kevin

    An excellent report – factual and well written. It’s high time the Vatican reined in this huge fraud. Sadly, those with vested interests will continue to promote it, and the fanatics who defend it will never listen to reason, but this needed to be written. The Vatican needs to do more. A forthright condemnation of the whole phenomenon is needed.

  • waterinckx mark

    I have been 24x in Med. and have 200 arguments against the authenticity of Med.What S.Caldwell describes is only a small part of the TRUTH! Med. is based upon propaganda, manipulation and lies. Read carefully Vlasic’s condemnation by the Vatican :schism, heresy, manipulation of consciences, dubious doctrine, suspected mysticism, disobedience..
    What else can Rome tell us more about that modern Rasputin, the first spiritual leader of the ‘seers’…

  • Jim

    I can only speak from my own personal experience of Medjugorje and for me and many others it is a place of pray, peace and spiritual growth. People openly practice their faith individually and in groups. to me it is a little piece of Heaven here on earth.

  • Josh LeBosh

    I visited Medjugorje in 1993 on business unrelated to the apparition industry. I was sickened to see tacky key chain and fridge magnet souvenirs bearing the image of the Mother of God being sold right next to similar items with swastikas and other nazi iconography. Obscene really – no less so when one wonders how much of the money fleeced from pilgrims must have helped to finance Franjo Tudjman’s atrocities in the region.

  • FL

    Your article well supports what Pavao Zanic (RIP), the first Bishop of Mostar to condemn Medjugorje, had maintained from the beginning and which he published in his 1990 Statement about the ‘visions’, the ‘visionaries’ and their manipulators: that Vlasic is the creator of Medjugorje, and that the ‘visions’ are a staged pantomime. Well done Simon.

  • Edward

    I can not believe that any Medjugorje enthusiast has any authentic respect or reverence for the Mother of God. At best the moral qualities the seers themselves attribute to their vision, whom they claim to be the mother of God, involve a being (or fantasy or hoax) who is emotionally insecure, capricious, ignorant of human history, subservient to the seers, obedient to the seers, snottily dismissive of church authority, snottily dismissive of church doctrine, and venomously uncharitable and threatening towards those exercising their Catholic and moral obligation to be skeptical of any claimed apparition. When our lives are over and we have to give an accounting, do we really think Jesus is going to be thrilled if we in any way gave support, actively or passively, to a phenomenon that depicted his mother as a shrew?

  • Bevvy

    6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

    10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
    Paul Called by God
    11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Galatians 1

  • giogio

    this is a lie, the Vatican suspended father vlasic a LONG time ago! He lost his faith poor devil but as for the apparitions they are TRUE! And they have nothing to do with vlasic.
    Cadwell what do you say of thousands HEALINGS that happen there every year? There are thousands of scientific dossiers waiting to be approved.. and don’t doubt medjugorje will be approved! Wash your mouth after this and ask for forgiveness untill you’re on time..

    • Sharon Newman

      yes there is always evil around everywhere. Satan wouldnt be pleading people to Pray, Turn back to GOD in conversion Fast, do penance, Read the bible everyday, go to Mass and to Love one another. THe messages are clear and consistently asking of these things >>yet you idiots talk about satan when your own president is bringing about the end of America and trying to start a civil war in the USA by bringing in terrorists and training them , just you watch and wake up!! silly people!!!!

  • Tim

    I’m laughing at this article. I’m hoping Simon Caldwell goes to Medjugorje. We will see you has the last laugh. Mary and her son will humble this foolish man named Simon Caldwell.

  • Cibi

    This Simon would do well to spend a week in Medjugorje.
    He ought to read the books written by Michael Brown(e), a worldly journalist like himself.
    Books by Heather Parsons, who was sent to Medjugorje to investigate the visionaries, for Irelands National TV company; RTE. She was chosen because she was NOT CATHOLIC.
    Wayne Weible, a Pastor/Sunday school teacher, of a Protestant church also writes about Medjugorje.
    What more can I say…before ‘knocking’ anything, one must experience it. Common sence, and also fairness dictates that course. But perhaps Simon is one that makes judgements on rumour, rather than on factual investigation. Therefore, there is no reason for anyone to take him seriously. Cibi

  • Joseph

    Well done Simon! “The Truth Shall Set You free” I’m a devout Roman Catholic and I truly believe it to be a fraud, pure and simple. It has nothing in common with true apparitions, and has all the signs of a satanic hoax.

  • EddieL

    One of the seers said she saw and conversed with her dead mother. This cannot be true because in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus said that a barrier has been placed between this world and the next so that no one can cross either way. This should prove that the “apparitions” are a hoax.

  • magician

    One of these days Mirjana will tell us that The Blessed Virgin Mary told her a new receip for an heavenly dish who knows, a mixture of honney and flowers … I am waiting for that day so anxiously !!

  • Sandra Jamieson

    As Our Lady of Medjugorje said, that Satan exists and is ever present, seeking to destroy each one of us.I believe that Satan is responsible for all the doubts that he is putting about

    • Sharon Newman

      Satan wouldnt be pleading people to Pray, Turn back to GOD in conversion Fast, do penance, Read the bible everyday, go to Mass and to Love one another. THe messages are clear and consistently asking of these things >>yet you idiots talk about satan when your own president is bringing about the end of America and trying to start a civil war in the USA by bringing in terrorists and training them , just you watch and wake up!! silly people!!!!

  • Igor Kostelac

    Međugorje is a fraud as all church inventions including Jesus

  • john konnor
  • john konnor
  • FMcGonigal

    The Church’s clearly is in a fix over coming to a decision one way or another over the alleged apparitions – either way many people will be hurt.

    There is one way to resolve this dilemma. Clearly, the onus should be on the visionaries to establish their case. This could be done by obtaining from the apparition a verifiable prediction. This need not (and probably should not) be of theological significance but could be a mundane but unexpected astronomical or scientific event, so long as it was something the visionaries could not otherwise have known.

    To my knowledge the seers of Medjugorje have not in over 30 years revealed anything more than would be reasonably expected from a good Catholic education.

  • ssoldie

    Thirty two years of our Blessed Mother giving the same messages, (32) ridiculous.

  • montana2298

    LMAO you are sooo going to have to write an “I’m sorry , I was wrong again” article soon.

  • Jacob Smith


    Undergirding the theory that it was the cheating money-changers whom Jesus targeted as the culprits in the system of animal sacrifice, is the claim that the whole process had become “too commercial.”

    This is akin to claiming that the institution of slavery had to be dismantled because it had become too commercial. Although both Temple sacrifices and human slavery had a firm economic foundation, it was the inherent immorality of those systems that brought together the historical forces which finally led to their collapse.

    Several hundred years after prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea had
    denounced the sacrificial slaughter of animals, Jesus carried out what is
    euphemistically called the Cleansing of the Temple. It was just before Passover and he disrupted the buying and selling of animals that were being purchased for
    slaughter. And because Christian scholars and religious leaders continue to
    ignore biblical denunciations of that bloody worship, they also try to obscure
    the reason for Jesus’ assault on the system.

    They have done this by focusing on the money-changers, although they were only minor players in the drama that took place. It was the cult of sacrifice that Jesus
    tried to dismantle, not the system of monetary exchange. In all three gospel
    accounts of the event, those who provided the animals for sacrifice are
    mentioned first: they were the primary focus of Jesus’ outrage.

    The Gospel of John gives the most detailed account of the event.

    “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

    In the Temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the Temple, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said: ‘Get out of here.’ (John 2:13-16)

    Matthew’s gospel does not detail the kind of animals that were being sold for slaughter, but it gives the same order of events.

    “Jesus entered the Temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

    ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My House will be called a House of Prayer but you
    are making it a Den of Robbers.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

    The same account is given in the gospel of Mark who, like Matthew, also reports that Jesus accused those at the Temple of making God’s house into a “den of robbers.” And there is universal acknowledgement that in both gospels, when Jesus said this, he was quoting from the prophet Jeremiah (7:11). That prophet had hurled the same accusation at the people of his own time, almost six hundred years earlier. He said it while standing at the Temple entrance, after he had already warned the people “do not shed innocent blood in this place.” And when Jeremiah said God’s House had been turned into a Den of Robbers it could not have had anything to do with money-changers–they did not exist in his time.

    In the time of Jeremiah, as in the time of Jesus, there was a great distinction made
    between “robbers” and “thieves.” In contemporary times that distinction can best be understood by comparing the crime of petty theft with crimes of armed robbery by those who violently attack/kill their victims. But in ancient Israel there was an even greater distinction. A thief could be anyone who succumbed to a momentary impulse to steal something, but a robber was someone for whom violent crime and killing was a lifestyle.

    Both Jesus and Jeremiah were indignant about the violence of sacrificial worship, not the possibility of petty theft by money-changers. When they said God’s House had become a den of “robbers” the Hebrew word that was used (here, transliterated) was “per-eets’” defined as “violent, i.e., a tyrant–destroyer, ravenous, robber.” It was the violence of the system, the killing of innocent victims in the name of God, that they were condemning. The money changers operating in the time of Jesus were driven out of the Temple because they were taking part in the process of sacrificial religion, NOT because they may have been cheating the pilgrims.

    The gospel of Mark correlates Jesus’ attempt to dismantle the sacrificial system with the plot to kill him. Like Matthew’s gospel, Mark’s account of the Temple Cleansing starts by saying that Jesus “began driving out those who were buying and selling there.” It goes on to relate how he explained to the people why he was
    doing this, by quoting Jeremiah’s opposition to animal sacrifice:

    “My House will be called a House of Prayer for ALL Nations. But you have made it a ‘Den of Robbers.’”

    And in the verse of scripture immediately following that statement, Mark reports that “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard about this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him because the whole crowd was amazed at his teachings.”(Mark 11:18)

    It is ridiculous to claim that the religious leaders of Jesus’ time would have plotted his death because he undermined the function of the money-changers. Nor
    would the crowd have been “amazed at his teachings” if Jesus was simply telling
    them to make sure they were not short-changed when they purchased Temple coins. What the people were amazed at was his condemnation of animal sacrifice; it had been hundreds of years since that kind of condemnation had been heard in Jerusalem. And it would not be allowed. A few days after he tried to overthrow the Cult of Animal Sacrifice, Jesus was crucified. The religious leaders of his time were
    determined to preserve the belief that it had been ordained by God, who demanded its continuance.

    That determination is echoed in the teachings of contemporary Christian leaders. In spite of Jesus, and in spite of the many biblical denunciations of animal sacrifice (*see endnote) they continue to maintain the ancient fiction that it was God who demanded His creatures be killed and butchered as an act of worship.

    It is
    understandable that in the time of Jesus the religious leaders were committed
    to upholding the system of Temple sacrifice at all costs: it was the center around which their lives revolved and their livelihood depended. And in biblical times, most people were illiterate and dependent on what their religious leaders taught them concerning the scriptures. But it is not easy to understand why contemporary Christians uphold the validity of the cult of animal sacrifice. In an age of widespread literacy, there is a choice to be made. The bible clearly presents an ongoing conflict between those forces that demanded sacrificial victims in the name of God, and those forces that opposed it as a man-made perversion.

    And because there is a choice to be made, it is deeply disturbing to see Christian leaders joining hands across the centuries with their ancient counterparts, in order to validate a system of worship in which the house of God became a giant
    slaughterhouse, awash in the blood of its victims.

    *Partial list of scriptures opposing animal sacrifice.

    Psalm 40:6




    Amos 5:21-25

    Micah 6:6-8

  • Sharon Newman

    Medjugorje has had millions of people convert back to God , their Faith strengthened,Many healings have taken place. and all they nay sayers can focus on is one non priest that had a banned relationship with a nun????? Whilst your Obama president is letting terrorists into USA to start a civil war to bring down the country and destroy the planet.