Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Holy See's Eastern Policy-The Yugoslav Example

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Holy See's Eastern Policy-The Yugoslav Example

Article excerpt

Introduction

Diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Yugoslavia were severed on December 17, 1952, after a period of very strained diplomatic relations between the Catholic Church and the communist regime in Yugoslavia. Following the end of the Second World War, the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia could hardly be expected to accept the new communist government, whose program was among other things based on atheist ideology, which in its own right is unacceptable to the Church's teachings, but also because it was aware of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia's official position on the Church's standing in society. Moreover, the Church was aware that the Yugoslav government was under direct influence of the USSR's communist regime, which had been ruthlessly persecuting religious communities since the first day of coming to power. As early as 1936, the Yugoslav bishops warned about communism and stated a desire to protect the faithful from "this terrible danger for faith and civilisation."1 In his Easter sermon on April 13, 1941, the Archbishop of Zagreb Alojzije Stepinac stated that communism was a negation of all truth and justice, and as such was the biggest obstacle to peace.2 Early in 1943, his circular letter to the clergy called for the Church to stand at the forefront of the fight against communism, which "had threatened not only Christianity but also humanity's positive values in their entirety."3

Stated attitudes were not characteristic only of the situation in Yugoslavia, but were in line with the standard views on communism expressed by the representatives of the Holy See and bishops in countries facing the greatest threat of communist activity against the Church.4

Prior to terminating diplomatic relations between Yugoslavia and the Holy See, the communist regime battled the Catholic Church openly, striving to undermine its power and influence and to form a governmentcontrolled "people's church" that would not rely so heavily on the Holy See in its activities. When this plan failed in spite of many repressive measures launched by the communist regime to support it (priests imprisoned and murdered, Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac convicted and imprisoned, religious education thrown out of state schools, church press banned, church properties confiscated etc.), the regime tried to disunite the Catholic Church by establishing class associations for priests with the help of its supporters among the clergy and the priests who succumbed to political pressures or were bribed with various privileges. Following the communist regime's establishment of priests' associations, the clergy in Bosnia and Herzegovina responded most positively. There almost one hundred percent of members came from the Franciscan order. In Slovenia, bishops were more inclined towards cooperation with the communist government. On the other hand, a very modest positive response was achieved in Croatia, due to strong opposition from the majority of bishops and especially the imprisoned Archbishop Stepinac.5

When the bishops supported by the Holy See forbade priests to establish or join such associations, the Yugoslav government accused the Holy See of meddling in Yugoslavia's internal affairs and using the elevation of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac to cardinal as an excuse to sever diplomatic ties.

When diplomatic relations with the Holy See ended, the communist regime changed its policy toward the Catholic Church and abandoned open repressive methods, but efforts to weaken the Church and sow discord within its ranks continued. No serious efforts at reconciliation of the Church and the government were attempted until Cardinal Stepinac's death on February 10, 1960, when a new period in the relations between the Catholic Church and the communist regime in Yugoslavia as well as in the relations between Yugoslavia and the Holy See began. The Holy See's Eastern Policy gradually took shape in this period, resulting in the signing of the Protocol on the Normalization of Relations between Yugoslavia and the Hoy See in 1966 and the restoration of diplomatic relations in 1970. …

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