19th Sep 2018

Croatian Catholic church clarifes pro-EU position

  • Archbishop Marin Srakic and President Ivo Josipovic - The Catholic church is important to boost public support for EU membership (Photo: Cropix)

The top echelons of Croatia's influential Catholic church have made a show of public support for EU membership, a move that also influence the country's eurosceptics.

Archbishop Marin Srakic, president of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, presented president Ivo Josipovic the content of the "Letter of Croatian Bishops regarding accession negotiations of The Republic of Croatia in the European Union."

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They both agree that "membership of the EU is of strategic importance for the country and that special attention should be given to preserving and nourishing our own identity so that we could enrich with our heritage the union of the countries which we would like to join."

Croatian bishops, 19 of them, signu proprio (by their own hand) last week signed a document that very strongly supports the Croatian government in its efforts to conclude accession negotiations with the EU as soon as possible.

The basic significance of the lengthy letter is that it ends fears that some parts of the Catholic church would campaign against EU membership.

The Catholic church in Croatia played a crucial role during the communist regime by being the only open opposition to the regime. It enjoyed the sympathy of almost all of Croatian public opinion (even of many Communist Party members). After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the church openly advocated the building of a democratic society and multiparty system and encouraged people to vote for Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

During the aggression of the former Yugoslav army in Croatia, the late Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, archbishop of Zagreb, demanded that Croatian soldiers respect international law and that citizens be good Christians and love their neighbours. This was related to neighbors of Serbian ethnicity, who were intimidated and molested in some parts of the country.

However, during those stormy years, some parts of the church started dreaming of a "greater Croatia" that would include some parts of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Archbishop Kuharic sent an open letter to president Franjo Tudjman warning against such tendencies.

After the retirement of Archbishop Kuharic, Josip Bozanic, a young bishop from the island of Krk and educated in the Vatican was named by the Pope as new leader of the Catholic church. His famous words that in Croatia in the second half of the 1990s one could see "sin inside state structures" - understood as a strong criticism of corruption - helped opposition victory in the 2000 elections eventually paving the way to Croatia's path towards the EU.

But new problems for the government and the church started with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia indictments against some Croatian generals. Part of the Catholic church preached against cooperation with the Hague Tribunal regardless of the serious consequences of that decision for the future of the country.

There were strong voices inside the church in Croatia in recent years against the EU because, they argued, membership would undermine the country's nationhood, traditions, culture and language. However, last week's letter appears to have drawn a line under such suspicions.

The bishops, after referring to the founding fathers of the EU and statements by popes ranging from Pio XII to Benedict XVI. regarding Europe, stated in the letter that the EU is the future for Croatia and that the Catholic church respects the decision of the government in the accession process and will respect the decision of the Croatian people in a referendum on EU membership.

But the bishops are also critical of the EU and outline problems they believe the EU faces, including some issues that particularly concern catholic doctrine, including marriage issue and some areas of scientific research

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