The Vatican, Croatia clash over 19th century monastery
The Vatican and Croatia, long a Catholic stronghold in the Balkans, are at odds because of a dispute over a monastery.
Croatia’s justice minister, Drazen Bosnjakovic, obstructed a recent decision by the Vatican to sequester a monastery in Dajla city, Croatia, which falls under the Croatian Diocese of Porec and Pula.
The Vatican has expressed “astonishment” at the refusal by Croatian authorities to recognize the decision of Pope Benedict XVI. Rev. Federico Lombardi said a review of the dispute is “important to both Croatia and the Holy See,” the AP reported.
An unusual step
The Vatican and Croatia have been arguing over the monastery for two and one half years. The Benedictines of Italy were initially seeking $30 million in compensation for the property.
When negotiations faltered, Benedict took an unusual step by appointing Santos Abril y Castello as a special representative. Castello took over as local bishop of the Croatian diocese for just a few minutes — long enough to sign the document of agreement which also authorized payment of up to nine million dollars.
The local bishop, Ivan Milovan, was upset at the move, and expressed concern that such a large compensation could bankrupt the Croatian Diocese. Milovan appealed to the Croatian government to step in.
History of the monastery
The monastery was built in the 19th century in a town on the Adriatic coast, in the region Istria, which at that time formed part of Italy’s empire. The property was given to the Benedictines of Praglia, Italy.
Italy lost the Istria region after World War II, when it was ceded to the communist government of Yugoslaviain 1948. During the 49-year communist rule many church properties, including the monastery, were nationalized. The monastery became a nursing home for the elderly.
After Croatia gained freedom and independence in 1991 the monastery was placed under the Croatian Diocese of Porec and Pula. The Vatican was among the first nations to recognize Croatia as a nation. Benedict also visited the country last May and supported Croatia’s bid to become part of the European Union.
Croatian authorities do not believe they should have to make any payment on the monastery, citing the 1975 Osimo Agreements where compensation had already been paid to Italy for the monastery and several other properties in the Istria region. Further complicating the issue is the fact that a portion of the land connected to the monastery was sold and now hosts a golf course and a hotel.
The Vatican, in order to transfer the monastery back to the Italian Benedictines, annulled all past government decisions in relation to the property.
Croatia’s prime minister, Jadranka Kosor, cited the 1975 Osimo Agreements, and told the Macedonian Intl News Agency, “[For] us, this chapter is absolutely and definitively closed.”
Kosor said international agreements should not be violated, and called the decision of the Holy See an attempt to infringe on international law. Croatia is also concerned that the Vatican decision may pave the way to future, similar requests, concerning other properties in the territory which was once under Italian rule.
While Croatia is a strong Catholic nation, the populace has responded to the issue with strong nationalist sentiment. The country’s general elections will be held in December.
The Vatican has condemned the fact that the issue is gaining political color in what it views as “a strictly ecclesiastical question” that is being “manipulated … to make it look like a threat to Croatia,” MINA reported.
Last year, a similar dispute arose between the Vatican and the Czech government over the landmark St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. An agreement was reached where the property continues to fall under The Czech Republic’s ownership, but the Cathedral is jointly administered by the Vatican and the Czech governments.