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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    FRI, 28 FEB 1997 23:37:09 GMT

    ZAGREB - ASSEMBLY VOTES CONTRARY TO THE CONSTITUTION

    AIM Zagreb, 17 February, 1997

    "Ours is a lay state and it must be neutral to all religions, but this principle is violated by contracts we have signed with the Holy See. Provisions according to which priests would become registrars, in other words state employees, may lead to imposing of a single ideology on all the citizens. What will happen when other religious communities decide to demand signing of similar contracts?"

    "Since in a very bad manner, cannon law is given legal foundation, in view of the implementation of the constitutional principle of equality of religious communities, we will face insurmountable problems. How will you, for example, one of these days deny one of the religious communities to refer to the Alkoranic law?"

    "This contract is not in compliance with our Constitution, that is, it encroaches our sovereignty. And besides, if a similar law is not signed with other religious communities, the right of the citizens to equality will be violated."

    Average connoisseurs of Croatian circumstances, especially those outside Croatia, will tend to believe that these three quotations which refer to the recently ratified contract on legal issues between the Vatican and Croatia quite certainly originate from among the opposition. But, they would be wrong. The first allegation and doubt was expressed by nobody else but the guardian of the state stamp himself, representative of the right faction of the Croat Democratic Community (HDZ), the controversial Ivan Milas. The second one was pronounced by the President of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Croatia Ivica Racan, and the third by the Vice-President of the Social Liberal Party (SLS), former judge of the Constitutional Court, Vladimir Primorac.

    However, Milas was not the only member of the HDZ who opposed the manner in which the said agreement was reached and how this job was completed by the Vice Prime Minister, Dr Jure Radic. He was joined by a number of his colleagues, some publicly and much more in the lobbies, including one of the hard-core so-called "hawks" - Vice Vukojevic.

    All this, like for who knows how many times before, smelled like another serious conflict within the ruling party, so that there were even calculations that the Assembly could refuse to ratify the agreement. As usual however, the already well known party discipline began functioning, so that 75 deputies voted in favour of the agreement. Members of the SDP were against it, as well as the Istrian Democratic Association with a few Liberals, and the others abstained.

    That is how Croatia became the first country in the world which resolved relations with the Vatican in a completely new manner, and not as it had been done so far by concordat which the Holy See concluded with the states in which the Catholic Church ceased to be or never has been the state church.

    There are a few versions of assumptions why the right faction of the HDZ was against the agreement, although the more liberal one was not too enthused about it either, but kept silent about it? According to certain allegations, the right faction of the HDZ, which is connected with the Herzegovina Franciscans, intended to prevent the agreement because according to their interpretation it gives preference to the diocesan clergy. For example, the Republic of Croatia will disregard any request for construction of religious buildings without a previous consent of the bishop, and it is well known that the Franciscans and other church orders have their own generals and are not subject to a bishop's jurisdiction.

    The others think that the problem is that the Church is given too much power, and it is generally known that the Vatican and the Croatian Catholic Church are not inclined towards the right. The third opinion is founded on the announcement that a special contract on property relations will soon be signed with the Vatican, which means that the Catholic Church is not satisfied with the current law on return of property, because pursuant this law just a minor portion of the property will be returned to it. And if this law would be amended, or a new international contract would be signed which is more powerful than the law, many nouveaux riches would be left without their property. Finally, evaluations that such a contract which indeed transforms Croatia into a Catholic state, can do more harm to the HDZ than benefit, so that the sharp reactions from the HDZ should not always be linked only to foul dealings.

    To what extent the conflict is serious, regardless of the fact that the voting went smoothly, is best illustrated by the polemic which took place at the Assembly Committee for the Constitution, rules of procedure and political system, when Milas angrily declared that "the contract is not a holy cow so that it would be forbidden to talk about it", and got the answer from the Vice Prime Minister Ljerka Mintas-Hodak that "this is not the matter of holy cows but of the Holy See".

    But, be that as it may, the contract was ratified in the name of higher interests and in order not to strain relations with the Vatican which are of exceptional importance for Croatia. According to its provisions, distinction between a (catholic) church wedding and a civilian (state) wedding is abolished, catechism officially becomes an optional subject in schools, the Church acquires the status of a legal person, it is given the right to open schools, but with the state assuming the obligation to support them. The Church is entering the Croatian army and police, in which priests will be state employees, and the whole issue even went to the length to have decisions of church courts forwarded to state courts which will implement civil effects of decisions. Or in case of a court investigation in which a member of the clergy is involved, prescribed by Criminal Law, the court is obliged to inform the competent church authorities about it before it takes action.

    Ivica Racan wonders what constitutional provision the agreed division of power in the procedure of contracting marriages is founded on? Why do acts of members of the religious community exceed the limits of performing religious ceremonies and acquire the significance and responsibility of a religious civil servant? Which article of the Constitution does the duty of the state court to act pursuant the decision of church courts result from? This contract - according to Racan's opinion - inflicts great damage both to Croatia and the Holy See.

    Vladimir Primorac explained his allegation about encroachment of sovereignty of Croatia by the example of jurisdiction of church courts and introduction of superficial immunity. Moreover, he says about the obligation of the diocesan bishop to decide about the need to construct church buildings and choose locations for them in agreement with competent state authorities that it is contrary to any logic of town-planning and professionalism.

    Croatian diplomacy has obviously made another enormous blunder, and it should not be surprising for anyone since the author of this contract is a man who is a civil engineer by education, but a cleric according to conviction. Nevertheless, the key question remains: why did the Vatican insist on such solutions which are after all contrary to new trends in the Church and why it had chosen Croatia for this experiment which has shaken even the loose unity of the HDZ?

    Are some new radical winds blowing in Rome, which are the result of a wish to give the Church back what it used to have? Holy Father John Paul the Second will certainly be remembered as the Pope who has given a great contribution to the reform of the Church, to the extent that he has even apologized for the crimes committed by the Church, that he has recognized Darwin's theory, that he has to a certain extent rehabilitated Giordano Bruno, that he dared raise his voice against inhumane capitalism... But that same Pope gladly meddles in politics and will anxiously follow Polish elections and alleged return of communism, warn against the danger of the left, interfere and directly influence the stance towards abortion... Can all that be attributed to his old age and the fact that the conservative faction has triumphed in the Vatican?

    In any case, the contract of Croatia with the Vatican is a precedent for many reasons, but primarily for being profoundly contrary to the Constitution.

    GOJKO MARINKOVIC