Yugoslavia Table of Contents
The Roman Catholic Church was Yugoslavia's most highly organized religious community. About 7.5 million Catholics, mainly Croats, Slovenes, Hungarians, and ethnic Albanians, lived in Yugoslavia. The church had eight archbishoprics, 13 bishoprics, 2,702 parishes, 182 monasteries, 415 convents, two schools of theology, and about 4,100 priests, 1,400 monks, and 6,600 nuns. It also published several dozen newspapers and periodicals whose combined circulation far surpassed that of the rest of the country's religious press.
The Roman Catholic Church had uneasy relations with Yugoslavia's Communist regime throughout the postwar period. This was partly because its hierarchy was loyal to Rome, and partly because the Catholics supported Croatian nationalism in the early 1970s. Many Yugoslavs retained a strong, emotional association between Catholicism and the war crimes, forced conversions, and deportations by the Croatian fascist state in World War II.
Soon after the war, the government's agrarian reform appropriated church land. Catholic schools were closed, and formal religious instruction was discouraged. Between 1945 and 1952, many innocent priests were shot or imprisoned in retribution for wartime atrocities. The arrest and 1946 trial of Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb, led to the low point of Catholic-Yugoslav relations in 1952. At that point, Tito severed relations with the Vatican in response to the elevation of the recently released Stepinac to cardinal. Stepinac, tried for war crimes, had actually been held guilty of refusing to adapt the Vatican's stand on social issues such as divorce and education to conform with the secular requirements of the communist state of Yugoslavia. Stepinac also had enraged Tito by protesting arbitrary postwar punishment of Catholic clergy. After Yugoslavia's break with the Soviet Union in 1948, religious repression gradually decreased as Tito sought the approval of the West. The state-approved funeral and burial of Stepinac in 1961 signaled a new modus vivendi between the Yugoslav government and the Roman Catholic Church of Yugoslavia.
In 1966 Yugoslavia and the Vatican signed a protocol in which Belgrade pledged to recognize freedom of conscience and Rome's jurisdiction over ecclesiastical and spiritual matters for Yugoslav Catholics. In return, the Vatican agreed to honor the separation of church and state in Yugoslavia, including prohibition of political activity by clergy. In 1970 Yugoslavia and the Vatican resumed full diplomatic relations. Nonetheless, opportunities for conflict remained. Franjo Cardinal Kuraric, Primate of Croatia, touched off a major controversy in Serbia in 1981 by proposing rehabilitation of Stepinac; subsequent appeals for canonization of the cardinal met strong Serbian resistance.
Data as of December 1990