by Christopher Howse THE BISHOPS of Yugoslavia have made a bold public defence of Church activities in Croatia. the scene of increasing friction between Catholics and the state.
Their statement, reprinted in the avidly-read Croatian Catholic press and broadcast in Croatian by Vatican Radio, rebuts complaints by several government officials. The disagreement centres on the figure of Cardinal Stepinac, a rallying point for Croatian nationalists and Catholics. The cardinal's tomb in Zagreb Cathedral is visited by a constant stream of pilgrims who leave fresh flowers and crowd the Cathedral for memorial Masses.
But the state version of the cardinal's life is that he was a collaborator with the Nazi occupiers in the second world war and an enemy of the communist rulers of united Yugoslavia.
The bishops' statement defended the "spontaneous paying of respect" at the tomb of Cardinal Stepinac and protested the readiness of the Church to co-operate with society in serving men on a basis of equality and respect.
According to Keston College. the English-based centre for the study of religion in Communist lands, the -1 ugoslaa hierarchy declared that no bishop could renounce the right to discharge his religious and moral mission. nor the right to pass moral judgment when this vvas required by fundamental human rights.
They regretted that the carrying out of their religious activity, vvhich included pointing out practical discrimination against believers, should be misinterpreted as political activity, and said they %amid be betraying their mission if' they did not warn their believers against the systematic atheisation of society. They pointed out that the religious freedoms guaranteed ba the consistution were often restricted by the authorities.
They cited as examples the discrimination against believers in public life, the pressure on parents and young people against attendance at religious classes. the exclusion of religion and the Church from the media, the restriction of rights of believers in some hospitals and social community centres and in prisons hy limitation of visits and ministrations of priests, and the difficulties which soldiers had in carrying out their religious duties.
'They also complained of the difficulty of constructing new religious buildings.