March 15, 1993 Vreme News Digest Agency No 77

The Orthodox Church in Croatia

A Transfer of Souls

by Mirko Mlakar

If the Istanbul Patriarchate did not recognize the Croatian Orthodox Church in 1942, are there any special reasons why it should recognize the one urged by Kolaric?

Juraj Kolaric, dean of the Catholic Faculty of Theology in Zagreb, said that the "Orthodox Church in Croatia should be organized along the Macedonian principle, with its patriarch and break away as far as territory was concerned, from Serbia," as carried by Tanjug news agency. The article dated March 6, said that the Croatian press had reported that Kolaric had underscored that the initiative should come from "Croat Orthodox believers and possible Croatian Orthodox clergy, because then all the conditions for an autocephalous church would be met." In the long run, such an Orthodox Church could be recognized by the Patriarch in Istanbul, as the first among equals, among the Orthodox heads of church. Kolaric believes that in the attempt to found an Orthodox Church in Croatia "all state arbitrage, from any side should be rejected." Kolaric underscored that the "Catholic Church in Croatia did not have anything to do with this project."

On Monday March 8, Zagreb-Ljubljana Metropolitan Jovan (Pavlovic), who is in Belgrade for the third year running, told journalists that he had sent a proposal to the Holy Synod (the Serbian Orthodox Church "government") on Sunday, for lodging an official protest.

"The (religious) public knows that Kolaric was relieved from the Committee for Dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church, and that he has written a pamphlet on the Orthodox faith," said the metropolitan. It is also a fact that under the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), a Croatian Orthodox Church was founded in 1942 with the aim of distancing Serbs from the Serbian Patriarchate and the mother country. This creation of Ante Pavelic was headed, with the title of Metropolitan, by Germogen, a Russian monk (executed after the war). The priests were Russian emigres and Serbs for whom this was the only way of staying alive. Perhaps, Kolaric in urging for some new Croatian Orthodox Church, is bearing in mind the activities of the earlier one. The truth, said Bishop Jovan, is that there are not many Croats of the Orthodox faith to justify a new autocephalous church, along with the existing Serbian Orthodox Church. If the need for this should arise, then it would be in the competency of the Orthodox Church and not the concern of Kolaric. If the creation of a so called Croatian Orthodox Church should be initiated, then the Serbian Orthodox Church will discuss the matter with the other Orthodox Churches, and lodge a protest with the World Council of Churches, and international forums for the protection of human rights and religious freedoms. Should any of the Orthodox clergy take part in the Croatian Orthodox Church caper, they can expect to be punished, defrocked and excommunicated from the Serbian Orthodox Church.

At an ecclesiastical symposium in Vienna on November 18, 1992, Kolaric set out four conditions for a successful Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in Croatia. He underscored that Serbs in Croatia must "respect the new political reality, and that this did not exclude the founding of a Croatian Orthodox Church, i.e., an Orthodox Church in Croatia." Kolaric goes on to say that Archpriest Jovan Nikolic from Zagreb had reacted to this, by saying that "such claims were unnecessary and unfounded," and that they brought to mind "the unfortunate memory of the false (political) founding of the Croatian Orthodox Church during the NDH in 1942."

Concerning "unfortunate memories" under the NDH, Kolaric said that a religious war had not been waged at the time, as is claimed by Greater Serbian and St. Sava related propaganda. Orthodox Serbs were not persecuted because they were Orthodox believers, but for political reasons, because they hated the Croatian state and all that was Croatian. I would dare claim, said Kolaric, that within this context, 1991 is only a repetition of 1941.

Until Kolaric took up the cause, as far as we know, only Croatian radicals, i.e. the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) headed by Dobrosav Paraga talked of a Croatian Orthodox Church in modern Croatia. Kolaric is now Dean of the Catholic Faculty of Theology, which means that he is either institutionally or nominally among the top Croatian Catholic theologians. On the other hand, those better informed of the situation concerning the Catholic Church in Croatia, say that stands similar to Kolaric's have not been voiced by other theologians, and certainly not by the most prominent ones. Kolaric gained a doctor's degree in 1969 in Innsbruck with a thesis on ecumenism in the theology of the Serbian Orthodox Church. He studied ecumenism intensively for years, so that a little more tact was to be expected from him.

However, the matter pertains to the stand of one theologian and not the Church. The Bishops are not opposed to the existence of the Serbian Orthodox structure, and they do not call for the closing of churches, persecution of priests, etc. It has been learned that secret diplomacy is resorted to, i.e., a more or less tacit agreement to preserve, as much as possible, parts of "enemy" eparchies, i.e. dioceses. Reasons for the rejection of the idea for a Croatian Orthodox Church, include attempts at avoiding retortion, or rather, fierce retaliation by the other, the Serbian side, which could befall the Catholics of the Banja Luka diocese, or the Belgrade metropolitan.

If the Istanbul Patriarchate did not recognize the Croatian Orthodox Church in 1942, are there any special reasons why it should recognize the one urged by Kolaric?

Religious freedom implies the freedom to enter and leave a religious community. This is happening all the time. For example, some Spaniards come under the competency of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In protest at the possibility of women taking the cloth, it is not rare to find Anglicans and other Protestants "turning back" to Catholicism or the Orthodox Church. But, it is a different story when churches are changed en masse and by force. The idea of a Croatian Orthodox Church, i.e. an Orthodox Church in Croatia, if the matter does not pertain to a fashionable sect, would have to be based on forced changes, primarily of Serbs, the most numerous Orthodox believers in Croatia.