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Press Conference at the End of the Sixty-Sixth Plenary Session of the Assembly of the Croatian Conference of Bishops

Zagreb (IKA)

At the end of the Sixty-Sixth Regular Plenary Session of the Assembly of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, a press conference was held, at which topics and conclusions were presented by Archbishop Mate Uzinić of Rijeka, Auxiliary Bishop Mijo Gorski of Zagreb and the Head of the Center for the Promotion of the Social Doctrine of the church, Msgr. Stjepan Baloban.

At the beginning of the press conference, the Chairman of the Committee of the CCB for Social Communications, Msgr. Gorski, reported on the topics discussed at the session, which began on Tuesday, April 18, and are “important for the life of the Church in Croatia.”

Among other things, a document was presented to the bishops that had been issued by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, Catechumenal Itineraries for Married Life, Pastoral Guidelines for Particular Churches, written at the behest of Pope Francis. According to these guidelines, each diocese is supposed to prepare its own regulations and develop its own methods for preparing engaged couples for marriage, as well as helping young married couples live in holy matrimony according to evangelical principles and providing support when they encounter difficulties. Marriage is a crucial institution for the human race and the Church, which requires profound consideration, added Bishop Gorski.

The agenda also included a discussion about the protection of minors and vulnerable persons, as well as the coordination of the activities of the respective diocesan commissions. In this evolving process, the bishops are attempting to adapt to the guidelines issued by the Holy See.

Msgr. Gorski noted that on the first day of the session, the bishops participated in a commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first broadcast by Croatian Catholic Radio (HKR) and the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of IKA Zagreb—The Croatian Catholic Press Agency.

The bishops also discussed the Center of the Croatian Conference of Bishops for the Promotion of the Social Doctrine of the Church and how to implement said doctrine in the lives of the faithful.

For twenty years, the Croatian Bible Society has organized work on a new ecumenical translation of the Bible into the standard Croatian language, noted Msgr. Gorski, adding that the translation has been completed but the text still requires editing, proofreading and commentaries.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Science and Education, religious education curricula have been developed for children with developmental difficulties who suffer for autism, as well as for three years of secondary school. Since both curricula have already been debated publicly, the bishops approved their implementation.

Bishop Gorski noted that in response to multiple requests from Croatian veterans and their families, there was a discussion on how to provide them with greater assistance. “Apart from medical care and psychological assistance, we see that they also require spiritual assistance and have deliberated this matter. No final conclusions have been reached but we are on the path toward the adoption of several provisions,” he concluded.

Msgr. Mate Uzinić, who is the President of the CCB Council for Life and the Family, the President of the CCB Council for Marriage and Family Counseling Centers, and the President of the CCB Commission for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons, presented topics related to the activities of the bodies of the CCB that he heads.

He pointed out that two important meetings have been held, the colloquium Guided by Love, intended for personnel engaged in pastoral preparation for marriage and assistance in the first years of married life, and the National Study Days, intended for personnel engaged in pastoral ministry to families and persons with disabilities, which were held in March at the rehabilitation center in Topusko.

Archbishop Uzinić presented the conclusions reached during the National Study Days, “to adopt the correct terminology when speaking about persons with disabilities and their families, and to start from the correct positions, as elaborated by the theology of disability, for the purpose of including those with disabilities in the pastoral ministry of the parish communities; to find persons with disabilities and children with difficulties, to find out about the types of impairment involved in order to be able to help them actively participate in the life of the parish community; to get to know  persons with disabilities and their families, to seek ways for providing them with support  so that, together with them, we can plan how to improve interventions, with the goal of their more complete inclusion in parish communities and participation in the mission of the Church; to connect and coordinate different pastoral systems, relying on existing examples of good practice, to exchange experiences with the involvement of associations and foundations, whose activities should be coordinated at the diocesan and national levels.”

Of particular importance to the bishops was a discussion on the appointment of competent commissioners, the establishment of commissions in dioceses where none exist, and the training of pastoral personnel and associates, especially parish animators who work with the disabled.

It was decided at the session that the Eleventh Colloquium of the Council of the CCB for Catechization and the New Evangelization, together with the Council of the CCB for the Clergy, in cooperation with the Council of the CCB for Life and the Family, the Council of the CCB for the Laity and the Subcommittee for Persons with Disabilities, will deal with this topic in March 2024, so that priests will be able to “make more room in their communities to include persons with disabilities.”

The Archbishop also spoke about the role of the recently established Committee of the CCB for Marriage and Family Counseling, adding that diocesan family and marriage counseling centers have an increasing workload, due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Therefore, we have emphasized the need to invest in professional personnel, maintain and improve the quality of the work, and coordinate it with the civil regulations and Church norms for Church marriages and the family counseling centers in our dioceses.”

He also noted that next year a specialized postgraduate study program of propaedeutics, psychotherapy and theotherapy will be inaugurated at the Catholic Faculty of Theology in Đakovo, of the J. J. Strossmayer University in Osijek.

Msgr. Uzinić then spoke on the topic of the protection of minors and vulnerable persons in the Church.

Among other things, he reported that work is progressing on new guidelines for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, which still need to be finalized before they are adopted. He also mentioned that new documents from the Holy See will soon be accessible on the CCB website, including relevant documents on this matter.

The bishops were encouraged to organize training for priests and other personnel in their dioceses, religious teachers and all others involved in any way in the pastoral ministry and mission of the Church, in cooperation with the Center for the Promotion of the Welfare of Vulnerable Persons at the Catholic University of Croatia.

Archbishop Uzinić announced that the Commission for November 20, 2023, is planning a meeting, with the goal of educating those who are engaged in this matter. It is designed to support the metropolitan offices, diocesan commissions and members of the Commission of the CCB for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons.

At the session, the bishops were also introduced to the Network for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Memorare Movement, which has a mandate from the Holy Father to assist, monitor and encourage the effective protection of children throughout the Church.

In reference to the problem of abuse in the Church, Msgr. Uzinić emphasized that the bishops are aware of it. “We are still not capable enough to say how much there is in the Church. There is a desire, at least for now, for the Commission to try to establish accurate data on how many cases have occurred in Croatia, at least during the past thirty years, how many investigations have been initiated and what were the results.  We want the Commission to obtain data that we do not presently have. There is the impression that there is much more than we can conclude from the conversations we bishops have had among ourselves on this matter,” he said.

“However, we are aware that they exist. It probably happened that some were treated inadequately. I express regret on behalf of us all,” he added, noting that it nevertheless involves a minority of priests.

“Every victim is our priority. We must make the effort to listen to every victim and do whatever we can to help each one of them. The traumas resulting from what I have learned from the conversations I have personally engaged in are truly tragic. Whole lives and even whole families have been destroyed. Nevertheless, we must not neglect the fact that hundreds and hundreds of priests faithfully and conscientiously do their work every day out of love and serve by giving of themselves. It would not be good if, because of individuals, and this truly involves individuals, we fail to recognize the great effort and love with which many priests serve in the missions to which they have given their lives, and to which God has called them.  Our objective and intention is to do everything possible to prevent new cases from occurring  in the future but, if any do occur, to handle them correctly in order to send the right message, both to the victims and possible abusers, as well as to the general public,” said Archbishop Uzinić.

The head of the CCB Center for the Promotion of the Social Doctrine of the Faith, Msgr. Stjepan Baloban, announced that there will be a celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Center, which was founded on March 5, 1998. The anniversary will be marked by a symposium, The Promotion and Revitalization of the Social Doctrine of the Church in Croatia, November 23 and 24. A formal commemoration will be held on the first day.

The symposium will provide a look at the future, which means a look at “what can be done and proposed, based on the valuable content of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church and public life in Croatia,” said Msgr. Baloban.

The Administrative Council of the Center has proposed that commissioners for the social doctrine of the Church should be appointed in each diocese, through whom the social doctrine of the Church could be maximally implemented at the lower levels.

It was also proposed that a person should be appointed to be responsible for the promotion of environmental protection, whose activity would be connected with the Center.

Msgr. Baloban announced that the Proceedings of the Sixth Croatian Social Week—Demography, Emigration and Migration, will be published in May and formally presented in June.

He also announced that the theme of the Religious Education Olympiad for the next academic year will be the social doctrine of the Church and that the Center will prepare the materials for the competition.