Pope Benedict XVI urges Croatia to join the EU
According to Professor Anton Tamarut of the Zagreb Catholic Faculty of Theology, ‘Some Catholics fear that by entering a big family of European people a part of our spiritual legacy, of everything that formed us throughout history ... will be lost’. For Drina Cavar, who heads the Catholic association Kristol Stol (Christ's Table), Croatia’s EU membership will sacrifice parts of its ‘independence and authenticity’.
However, Foreign Minister Gordan Jandrokovic said Pope Benedict's visit to Croatia, where 88 percent of the country's 4.4 million people are Roman Catholic, ‘shows a clear support for the Holy See to Coatia's EU entry’. In the defence of Christian Europe, the BBC observes that the Pope ‘has been a supporter of Croatia's bid to join the EU, which would add another devoutly Catholic nation to the bloc’.
It is a curiously blind religio-political fervour, considering how a fanatically secular EU is increasingly antithetical to much of what the Roman Catholic Church purports to stand for.
But the main problem for the Pope is that Croatians are still very angry at the conviction of their hero General Ante Gotovina for war crimes against Orthodox Serbs. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison by The Hague's International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia for his part in the systematic persecution, torture and murder of Serbs in the Krajina border region in 1995. Croatia’s first president Franjo Tudjman described such genocide ‘as a natural phenomenon commanded by the Almighty in defence of the only true faith’ (ie Roman Catholicism).
The BBC notes the ‘special relationship’ Croatia has ‘long had’ with the Vatican. In 1914, the Vatican gave her blessing to Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia which initiated a mass pogrom against Serbs throughout Croatia and Bosnia. One can only wonder at the profound symbolism of the Pope’s decision to pay homage and pray at the tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who was put on the path to sainthood by Pope John Paul II for the suffering he endured under Yugoslavia's communist regime. Stepinac was Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960, leading Croatia's church throughout World War II. He was subsequently accused of collaborating with Croatia's Nazi-allied rulers, for which he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
It is difficult to grasp how a pope with first-hand experience of the evils of the Nazi era cannot see how the fanatical Catholicism of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and the fascist Ustashi under Ante Pavelic does not constitute the same kind of wickedness. Catholic bishops were seen blessing the arms of Croat recruits as they slaughtered Orthodox Serbs. Stepinac stands accused of remaining passively indifferent while 750,000 Serbs, 60,000 Jews and 26,000 gypsies were systematically tortured and murdered in a holocaust which proportionally exceeded that perpetrated by Nazi Germany. For many, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac was complicit in this genocide and fanatically active in the persecution and forced conversion of Orthodox Serbs, often at gun point. He said in his diaries, ‘the (Orthodox) Schism is Europe’s greatest curse, almost greater than Protestantism. It knows no morals, principles, truth, justice or decency’.
There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the history of fascist Croatia and her drive for ethnic and religious purity. Francis X Rocca may well wonder: ‘Given that a fanatical Catholicism was a basic component of the Ustashi ideology, and given the pope's own tangles with Nazism, it might seem odd if he doesn't address this ugly part of the country's history in some way.’
Serbian Orthodox bishops have written to the Pope protesting his visit to Zagreb: to them, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac is every bit as guilty as General Ante Gotovina of crimes against humanity.
One wonders what political outrage and media furore would ensue if, within weeks of the guilty verdict against Ratko Mladić, an Orthodox religious leader visited Serbia and had the audacity to pay homage at the tomb of his genocidal inspiration.