Croatia’s President Stepjan Mesic welcomed the visit by Croatia’s top prelate Cardinal Josip Bozanic to the notorious World War II concentration camps this week, but commented that the visit should have come ‘much earlier’.
Bozanic, accompanied by some 400 priests, set out on a historic pilgrimage to visit the sites of Jasenovac, Stara Gradiska, and Petrinja, where he paid homage to the thousands of victims murdered during the Ustasha regime. It was the first such visit by the highest ranking church official in Croatia.
Mesic made his comment while visiting New York for the UN’s annual General Assembly.
But it is not the first time that the Croatian president has been outspoken about the Catholic Church.
Last week, Mesic accused the Catholic church of “meddling” in affairs of the state after a bishop suggested that the next head of state should be a practicing Catholic.
“It would be good if our president was a Catholic, not just a declared one, but one whose life is a testimony of faith,” the daily Jutarnji List quoted bishop Slobodan Stambuk as saying, as reported by DPA.
Mesic told Stambuk that he was violating the constitution, which separates church and state, and suggested that the church introduce its own system of taxes, since it currently receives the equivalent of some 28 million euro from the state every year.
Last month, he suggested religious symbols be removed from state institutions such as army barracks, police precincts and schools.
In response, Cardinal Josip Bozanic harshly criticised Mesic in a sermon.
Earlier in June, Glas Koncila, a Croatian Catholic newspaper, said that the next president should be “a sane and healthy person”, DPA writes.
Local media speculate that the Church is preparing for the presidential elections and does not want another left leaning president in office.