In December 2010, the Vatican announced Pope Benedict XVI would visit Croatia June 4-5, 2011, following his meeting with Croatian President Ivo Josipovic in October. The Vatican said the two leaders discussed the country’s Catholic roots – particularly “the importance of maintaining its specific Christian identity” – and its negotiations to enter the European Union. The statement also said they discussed the status of Croats living in Bosnia-Herzegovina. 
Josipovic succeeded the popular Stipe Mesic as president earlier in 2010. Mesic had served the maximum two five-year terms and was credited with helping to transform the country from Franjo Tudjman’s nationalist autocracy into a parliamentary democracy. Josipovic ran on the slogan “Justice for Croatia” and the need to fight the corruption both in and out of government for which the country is noted. 
Although Mesic had succeeded in gaining Croatia’s participation in NATO and the World Trade Organization before leaving office, entry into the European Union is a yet unfulfilled goal. Croatia first applied for EU membership in 2003 and was granted official candidate status in early 2004. The process has been delayed by, among other issues, the country’s failure to detain Gen. Ante Gotovina wanted by the International War Crimes tribunal in The Hague, efforts to show it is serious about curbing organized crime and mafia-linked violence and Slovenia demands that the two countries’ border dispute be settled before Croatia is granted entry. 
According to several international reports of the pope’s upcoming trip, both the Vatican and Benedict’s visit can be of assistance to Croatia’s final acceptance. John Paul II’s last visit to Croatia was also seen as helping Croatia’s cause in the EU. 
John Paul II’s first trip to Croatia was in September 1994 during the war. Although he asked the Croatian people to reject the “exasperations and exclusions of nationalism” and seek a “culture of peace,” the pope shook hands with President Tudjman, omitting any acts or words which could be construed as a censure for Tudjman’s bloody “ethnic-cleansing” campaigns. 
It had previously been announced that the pope would go to Zagreb, Sarajevo and Belgrade. The visit to Sarajevo was cancelled when U.N. officials informed the Vatican they could not guarantee the pope’s safety.  Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church rejected the pope’s visit to Belgrade “because it would revive bitter memories of the Catholic Church’s support for the Ustasha.” In addition, the Serbs were enraged about John Paul II’s appeal to “disarm the aggressor” in Bosnia which they interpreted as Vatican justification for military action against them; also the fact that the Vatican, which did not establish diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia until 1966, recognized Croatian independence in 1992 ahead of the European Union. 
Pope John Paul II went to Sarajevo in April 1997. “Thousands of pilgrims arrived at Kosevo Stadium by bus and on foot, along roads and through tunnels closed off during the war. On his way to the stadium, the pontiff passed by Sarajevo’s cemeteries and soccer fields full of graves.”  The BBC reported:
The visit aims to ease tensions between Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic Croats and Muslims, living together in a federation created by the Dayton Peace Accord two years ago.
He preached reconciliation in Serbo-Croat, saying: “Never again war. Never again hatred and intolerance.”
Momlico Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the presidency, refused to attend the welcoming ceremony because, as an Orthodox Christian, he does not recognize the pope.
But the Muslim member and chairman of the presidency, Alija Izetbegovic, was there to greet the Pope in “this martyr city”.
He praised the pontiff for speaking out about Bosnia’s suffering during the Balkan War that lasted 43 months. 
But John Paul II disappointed members of the Medjugorje cult by not visiting the town while he was in Bosnia-Herzegovina, although it was reported by their websites that the pontiff was seen mouthing the word “Medjugorje” several times and smiling. In addition, at the Sarajevo cathedral, he referred to Mary as the “Queen of Peace” – the popular title given to the alleged Medjugorje apparitions. 
John Paul II’s trip to Croatia in October 1998 was more controversial since he went to announce the beatification of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac hailing him as, “One of the outstanding figures of the Catholic Church, having endured in his own body and his own spirit the atrocities of the Communist system, [and] is now entrusted to the memory of his fellow countrymen with the radiant badge of martyrdom,” even though the cardinal had died at home from a rare blood disorder in 1960. 
The beatification exacerbated animosities between Serbs, Roma and Jews and the Croats which also seems to be of little concern to Pope Benedict XVI since he is scheduled to pray at Stepinac’s grave during his visit this June.  Rather, Benedict is treading in the footsteps of his predecessors by encouraging Croatia to remain a bastion of Catholicism in southeastern Europe – an understandable position since there are so few “Catholic” countries left in Europe.
Croatia is still 87.8 percent Roman Catholic according to the 2001 census and the Church still wields political power. When the Croatian bishops tried to prevent the signing of arbitration regarding the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia in November 2009, Doris Pack, a prominent German Member of the European Parliament stated, “Although I am myself Catholic, I can only call the involvement of the Catholic bishops here indecent.”
Slovenian MEP Jelko Kacin also pointed out that it was not just one or several bishops involved in the episode, as in his words the entire Catholic Church of Croatia was against the agreement, something which he found alarming….
The Croatian Catholic Church is also reportedly playing an increased role in the context of presidential elections due on 27 December. 
Pope Benedict XVI began the year 2011 with a homily during morning Mass on January 1 stating that religious freedom is the best path for building peace because wherever religious freedom is guaranteed, human dignity is also respected. At his noon blessing the same day, the pope said that he planned on inviting religious leaders from the world’s major faiths to meet in Assisi in order to “solemnly renew the commitment by believers of every religion to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.” 
In his January 10, 2011, speech to members of the world diplomatic corps assigned to the Vatican, Benedict also addressed the subject of religious freedom. He told the assembly that the establishment of democratic societies and respect for human rights is the result of the “sincere search for God.” Religious freedom is not in conflict with the common good, he argued, but an inseparable component of it and is the “fundamental path to peace.” He asked those assembled “to ensure that Christians feel fully a part of the life of their country.” 
In fact, Vatican reporter, John L. Allen Jr., declared: “Religious freedom is destined to be the towering diplomatic and political priority of the Vatican and the global Church in the 21st century. “ 
Religious freedom was the subject of an address given March 1, 2011, by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., who had been appointed by President George W. Bush to serve from 2003-2006 on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom:
In his World Day of Peace message earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI voiced his concern over the worldwide prevalence of “persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance.” In reality, we now face a global crisis in religious liberty. As a Catholic bishop, I have a natural concern that Christian minorities in Africa and Asia bear the brunt of today’s religious discrimination and violence. Benedict noted this same fact in his own remarks.
But Christians are not the only victims. Data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life are sobering. Nearly 70 percent of the world’s people now live in nations – regrettably, many of them Muslim-majority countries, as well as China and North Korea – where religious freedom is gravely restricted….
In government, media, academia, in the business community and in the wider culture, many of our leaders no longer seem to regard religious faith as a healthy or a positive social factor. We can sense this in the current administration’s ambivalence toward the widespread violations of religious liberty across the globe….
Dropping this model [of American religious freedom] on non-Christian cultures – as our country learned from bitter experience in Iraq – becomes a very dangerous exercise. One of the gravest mistakes of American policy in Iraq was to overestimate the appeal of Washington-style secularity, and to underestimate the power of religious faith in shaping culture and politics….
We urgently need an honest discussion on the relationship between Islam and the assumptions of the modern democratic state. In diplomacy and in interreligious dialogue we need to encourage an Islamic public theology that is both faithful to Muslim traditions and also open to liberal norms. Shari’a law is not a solution. Christians living under shari’a uniformly experience it as offensive, discriminatory and a grave violation of their human dignity. 
Given Chaput’s ideology, it is safe to say that the archbishop would be in favor of the hearings now being conducted by Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY) head of the House Homeland Security Committee to investigate the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim Community. As columnist Eugene Robinson noted, “The purpose of these hearings isn’t to gather information. If it were, officials of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security would have been asked to testify.”  What an official of the FBI would testify to, and what Chaput or any U.S. Catholic prelate will not refer to, is the record of violence by some Americans who would identify themselves as Christians. As of a report dated February 23, 2011:
In an 11-day period this January, a neo-Nazi was arrested as he headed for the Arizona border with a dozen homemade grenades; a terrorist bomb attack on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash., was averted when police dismantled a sophisticated bomb; and a man who officials said had a long history of antigovernment activities was arrested in a car filled with explosives outside a packed mosque in Dearborn, Mich.
That’s in addition to the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, an attack that left six dead that same month. The assailant appeared to be severely mentally ill, but he also seemed to have absorbed certain ideas from the radical right, including the notion that the federal government is evil.
Last May, two police officers in West Memphis, Ark., were murdered when they stopped a van driven by a father-son team from the “sovereign citizens” movement, part of the larger Patriot movement. Eight law enforcement officers have been killed by radical-right extremists since President Obama was elected. 
Neither is Pope Benedict XVI likely to dwell on the subject of religious freedom while he is in Croatia. At the very least he won’t recall when he asked the ambassadors of other countries “to ensure that Christians feel fully a part of the life of their country.”
According to a Human Rights Watch report on events taking place in Croatia in 2010:
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 10,000-15,000 of the approximately 70,000 registered Croatian Serb refugees might consider returning to Croatia if problems with housing and pensions are addressed….
During a visit to Croatia in April, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights Thomas Hammarberg identified the importance of…the need to tackle access to housing, employment, education, and statelessness of Roma….
The European Commission progress report released in November identified domestic war crimes accountability, freedom of expression, deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities, and treatment of the Serb and Roma minorities as ongoing areas of concern….
The following are excerpts from the United States Department of State, 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom – Croatia, 17 November 2010:
Serbian Orthodox Christian (SPC) officials reported that they had access to hospitals and prisons to provide pastoral care but continued to complain of difficulties assessing the level of need for Serbian Orthodox religious care in both the military and the police structures.
The government requires that religious training be provided in public schools, although attendance is optional. The Roman Catholic catechism is the predominant religious teaching offered in public schools. In April 2010 the Constitutional Court refused to rule on the constitutionality of an agreement between the government and the Vatican related to the provision of catechism in elementary and high schools. The court stated that it lacked jurisdiction in the matter since it was unable to rule on the merits of international treaties. The decision was in response to a suit filed in 2000 claiming that the agreement violated the equal rights of all citizens. The suit claimed that those who did not attend catechism were not provided with classes in either their own faith or on ethics.
The Islamic Community reported that some women continued to face obstacles when attempting to obtain identity cards with photographs in which they were wearing a headscarf. The law allows local police to determine their own policies on details related to identity card issuance.
In March 2010 the media reported that candidates applying for a position in the Karlovac city administration were asked their opinion on the possibility of a mosque being built there. City officials confirmed that they intended to test how respondents reacted to “shock questions.” The head of the Muslim “Party of Democratic Action,” Semso Tankovic, commented that structures still existed in state administration that were intolerant towards minorities, and in this case towards the Bosniak minority.
There continued to be no national agreement or unified policy regarding an interim arrangement for maintenance of Jewish graves in Zagreb. No change to the practice whereby heirless graves can be disinterred after 30 years had been made. The Jewish community had an interim agreement with the Zagreb cemetery wherein the cemetery will not sell or exhume bodies from the grave plots. Similar agreements were in force in Varazdin and Cakovec, in the northern part of the country. In Virovitica local authorities secured funds to repair the Jewish cemetery located there. The Jewish community also reported that the Karlovac cemetery had leveled approximately 50 old graves over the past eight years, violating an agreement with the Jewish community from 1990 that obliged it to preserve Jewish graves in exchange for land at the cemetery owned by the Jewish community.
Restitution of property nationalized or confiscated by the Yugoslav communist regime remained a problem. Many religious communities identified property return as their top priority and complained of the lack of progress. Restitution of all nationalized or confiscated property is regulated under a 1996 law, amended in 2002.
The SPC noted that the pace of property restitution continued for the past decade to be minimal at best. The SPC continued to press for changes to the 1996 law, which the SPC alleged opened the possibility for the government to resell previously nationalized property to new private owners, making restitution more difficult.
The SPC continued legal action initiated in 2004 against the owners of 40 previously SPC-owned (and later nationalized) apartments in Zagreb to prevent further sale of the units. The SPC also claimed land in the north of Zagreb. No progress was made on these claims or on the return of properties that belonged to monasteries, such as arable land and forests. In early 2008 the SPC discovered that the state allegedly erroneously registered several church properties in the land registry books during the mid-1990s as its own. The SPC filed lawsuits to reclaim 10 properties located near Koprivnica and in Graberje near Zagreb. No progress was made on the 10 cases during the reporting period.
The Catholic Church was able to regain most of its major properties, apart from significant amounts of land in the southern part of Zagreb, where large residential settlements were built, and a Jesuit monastery in Varazdin…On December 3, 2009, the Catholic Church and the government signed an agreement whereby the Church agreed to renounce claims on some land in Zagreb that was not able to be restituted in exchange for a building in the center of Bjelovar to serve as a seat for the newly established Bjelovar-Krizevci diocese. The state paid an additional $1.1 million (5.5 million kuna) for the difference in the properties’ value.
Several Jewish property claims, including some buildings in Zagreb, remained pending; the Jewish community complained that restitution had been at a standstill for years. Additionally, the Jewish community complained about a Ministry of Justice decision in March 2010 that denied the community the right to the title to property that had been previously restituted.
In March 2010 construction of a mosque in Rijeka, the third mosque in the country, began after two years of administrative delays. Community representatives reported that no progress was made during the reporting period in the allocation of space at city cemeteries in Rijeka and the wider area of Istria for Muslim graves. In the city of Umag, local authorities stalled issuance of a building permit for an Islamic community center on a plot of land allocated six years ago, citing the lack of a zoning plan as the reason for postponement.
With respect to the restitution of private property, only persons who obtained citizenship by October 1996 may file claims under the law. With regard to the period covered by the law, government officials stated that a 1999 Constitutional Court decision has the effect of allowing claims relating to confiscations during the previously excluded period of World War II to be considered under the law’s provisions. Noncitizens, including those who fled the country and lost their citizenship, are not allowed to file claims under the law and related regulations. Efforts to amend the law were not successful.
SPC officials from the Dalmatian eparchy reported the continuation of verbal abuse against Orthodox clergy and theological school students, particularly in the Knin area, and reported that offensive graffiti was sprayed on an Orthodox church in Zadar. Church officials criticized the police for inefficiency, as their investigations were rarely successful and culprits were seldom brought to justice.
On May 24, 2010, the exterior of the Stefan Decanski Orthodox Church in Vukovar was defaced, only weeks after the completion of the city-funded construction of the church and priest’s quarters. On two occasions in early May 2010, unidentified persons broke into the St. George Church in Knin, both times vandalizing the interior. The Orthodox priests believed these incidents were aimed at intimidating ethnic Serbs from attending religious services and discouraging Serb refugees from returning to the area. On April 17, 2010, pro-fascist graffiti appeared on St. Peter and Paul Church in Sinj, in the Dalmatian hinterland. In November 2009 and again on February 14, 2010, similar graffiti appeared at the entrance of St. Elias Church in Zadar. Police investigated but did not find culprits in any of the incidents.
Acts of anti-Semitism were rare, but acts with anti-Semitic overtones occurred. On April 27, 2010, unknown persons damaged 12 tombstones at the Jewish cemetery in Osijek. The head of the Jewish community in Osijek attributed the act to young delinquents who probably acted out of mischief. Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor condemned the act and called for an urgent investigation, which continued at the end of the reporting period.
On September 24, 2009, Cardinal Josip Bozanic, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Croatia, visited Jasenovac, site of the largest concentration camp in the country during WWII, where thousands of Serbs, Roma, and Jews were killed. Bozanic, the highest church official to visit the site, acknowledged that some members of the Church were involved in the crimes of Jasenovac but denied the involvement of the Church as an organization. While some saw his visit as an overdue gesture toward reconciliation, Serb and Jewish leaders criticized Bozanic for failing to offer a direct apology to victims and for using the occasion to equate the victims of communism with those of the Holocaust. 
POPE BENEDICT XVI AND MEDJUGORJE
Nor can we expect the latest Vatican “study” to declare the Medjugorje cult to be a fraud during Benedict’s visit to Croatia or the remainder of his pontificate for that matter.
Any final decision regarding the thirty-year deception is sure to bring unwelcome analysis as to why the Vatican dragged its feet for so long. Can Benedict admit that preventing an examination of Croatian nationalism has stilled the Vatican’s hand?
Christopher Hitchens condemned Medjugorje as “stunningly politicized,”  and E. Michael Jones called it an expression of the “collective guilt” of the Croatian people for Ustasha barbarity.  Jones concluded that the Church’s difficulty in dealing with the Franciscans is that the rabid nationalism which propelled the friars to participate in Ustasha atrocities is the same driving force behind the Medjugorje “apparitions.” 
As a factor in more recent history, the Croatian holocaust survivors and heirs assert in their lawsuit against the Franciscan Order that funds from the “nationalistic shrine of Medjugorje” supported “the Croatian nationalist cause through the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.” 
Jones likewise states:
Medjugorje was a crucial element in the resurgence of Croatian nationalism which led to the break-up of Yugoslavia. After the break-up the late Franjo Tudjman went to Medjugorje. From a nationalist point of view, it didn’t matter whether the apparitions were genuine or not. What mattered was whether they could be mobilized politically. I do not know how the current Croatian government feels about Medjugorje or the still significant tourist revenues which it brings in….
Per the Catholic News Service: “As the 30th anniversary of the alleged apparitions approaches, the town is experiencing a building boom with new hostels, restaurants and shops that cater to pilgrims.” In order to serve the 1.5 million visitors who visited last year, “A few hotels and dozens and dozens of family-run hostels offer more than 10,000 beds for pilgrims.” 
Medjugorje brings a lot of money into the Church but probably little if any goes into Vatican coffers, so I think we can discount its financial success as a motivation for Rome’s failure to act. Rather, I think the following is the more compelling reason:
If Benedict declares Medjugorje a hoax, it will certainly create worldwide news. Any in-depth analysis of the reason for the delay, such as this one, would include the shrine’s connection to Croatian history. Can the pope risk the exposure of a national Catholicism’s comparatively recent genocide and ethnic cleansing while leading a campaign to point Western fingers at violence against Christians? Not while Islamophobia couched as religious freedom by his supporters “is destined to be the towering diplomatic and political priority of the Vatican and the global Church in the 21st century.”
(Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.)
- “Pope Benedict XVI might visit Croatia in 2011” As reported by the AFP http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2010/10/pope-benedict-xvi-might-visit-croatia.html
- “Social Democrat Josipovic to face mayor of Zagreb presidential run-off” January 11, 2010 http://www.france24.com/en/20091228-social-democrat-josipovic-face-major-zagreb-presidential-run-off
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accession_of_Croatia_to_the_European_Union and “Croatia country profile” BBC News November 4, 2010 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1097128.stm
- Dr.Clive Gillis “Croatia, Rome’s Anvil in the Balkans” http://www.ianpaisley.org/article.asp?ArtKey=serbia2
- Roger Cohen “In Croatia, a Frail Pope John Paul II Urges a “Culture of Peace” New York Times September 11, 1994 http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/11/world/in-croatia-a-frail-pope-john-paul-ii-urges-a-culture-of-peace.html
- Robert J. Donia, Sarajevo: a biography (University of Michigan Press, 2006) p 305 Google Books
- Roger Cohen, “Serbian Church Blocking Pope’s Visit to Belgrade” New York Times September 6, 1994 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9406E2D81338F935A3575AC0A962958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
- “Pope urges Bosnian rivals to forgive” CNN April 13, 1997 http://articles.cnn.com/1997-04-13/world/9704_13_pope_1_roman-catholic-croats-sarajevo-bosnias?_s=PM:WORLD
- “Bosnian bomb plot fails to stop Pope” BBC News April 12, 1997 http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/12/newsid_4022000/4022841.stm
10. “Pope John Paul II’s Visit to Sarajevo” http://www.medjugorje.org/pope3.htm
12. “Pope Benedict to meet top Croatia’s officials and believers next June” AFP December 23, 2010 http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101223/world-news/pope-benedict-to-meet-top-croatia-s-officials-and-believers-next-june
13. “MEPs blast Croatia Catholic Church meddling” November 5, 2009 http://www.euractiv.com/en/enlargement/meps-blast-croatia-catholic-church-meddling/article-187084
14. Carol Glatz, “Pope calls for religious freedom, end to violence” Catholic News Service January 3, 2011 http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/pope-calls-religious-freedom-end-violence
15. George Neumayr “The Fundamental Path to Peace” Editorial Catholic World Report February 2011 http://www.catholicworldreport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=238&Itemid=71
16. John L. Allen Jr. “Inductions on money, religious freedom, and polarization” National Catholic Reporter, January 28, 2011 http://www.ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/inductions-money-religious-freedom-and-polarization
17. “Subject to the Governor of the Universe: The American Experience and Global Religious Liberty” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=1000
18. Eugene Robinson, “Peter King’s modern-day witch hunt” Washington Post March 10, 2011 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/10/AR2011031004680.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions
19. “U.S. Hate Groups Top 1,000” Southern Poverty Law Center February 23, 2011 http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/us-hate-groups-top-1000
21. United States Department of State, 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom – Croatia, 17 November 2010, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4cf2d0a47e.html %5Baccessed 21 February 2011]
22. Christopher Hitches “Our lady of lies” Salon.com October 4, 1999 http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/10/04/medjugorje/index.html
23. Interview originally appeared in several Serbian journals. It is reprinted by Matt C. Abbott “Pope Benedict, John Pau II, and Medjugorje” Renew America August 21, 2009 http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/090821
24. E. Michael Jones “The Ghosts of Surmanci: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives” http://www.culturewars.com/CultureWars/Archives/cw_feb98/surmanci.html
26. Interview reprinted by Matt C. Abbott
27. Cindy Wooden “Pilgrims flock to Medjugorje while Vatican studies alleged apparitions” Catholic News Service February 28, 2011 http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1100812.htm
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