Ten years ago, something like this was utterly unthinkable. Croatia, as can be expected from a country in which 87 per cent of citizens declare themselves to be Catholics, was dominated by the church marriage. The bride and the groom would go to the altar and marry in the presence of parents, godparents, relatives, friends and a priest. Just like in movies, reports Slobodna Dalmacija on May 4, 2019.
At the time, two-thirds of marriages were concluded in churches, while a third of couples opted for a civil ceremony in town or municipal halls, where a registrar married them for 210 kuna.
But now the situation has changed completely. The number of church and civil marriages is practically the same. According to official records by the Ministry of Administration, in 2018, 10,230 couples married in a church, while 9,993 did in at a registrar office. Out of the total number of 20,223 marriages, church marriages represented just 50.59 per cent. The difference of only 237 marriages suggests that the current ranking of church and civil unions could soon change and that this year civil marriages could win over the ones concluded in a church.
According to Ivan Markešić, a sociologist of religion from the Ivo Pilar Institute, the reasons are mostly practical. “When a church marriage is concluded, if there is a split between the husband and the wife, the married person loses the right to receive sacraments, go to confession and enter into another marriage. They are completely excluded from the church life,” says Markešić. With civil marriages, the situation is entirely different. If the marriage breaks down and the spouses divorce, they can still go to the communion and receive other sacraments. And they can enter into a new civil marriage.
“Today, it is not a sin not to marry in the church or to have a divorce. So, why would people enter into a more complicated church marriage, when it is socially acceptable to be in a civil marriage and get a divorce. This is the logic that has obviously won. Marriages nowadays have something like a trial period, and civil marriages are more practical,” says Markešić.
He also points out another important element, which is part of the equation when the bride and the groom are persons of two different religions. “At the registrar, no one will ask you whether you are a Catholic, a Muslim or a Jew. But, when the church wedding is conducted in a Catholic church, the husband or the wife of another faith or atheist must sign a personal statement that the children will be brought up in the Catholic spirit. That is not the case with a registrar. Nobody demands that children must go to religion lessons or be baptised, and that certainly contributes to such a large share of civil marriages,” concludes Markešić.
There are substantial differences if we take a look at data by individual counties. Split-Dalmatia County is one of those in which church marriages still lead convincingly. Out of a total of 2,383 marriages in 2018, 1,394 were church marriages and 989 were civil. In this sense, the county is one of the fortresses of tradition.
In Zadar County, the number of civil marriages is very close to the number of church marriages. Out of a total of 738 weddings, 397 were done in churches, while 341 were civil. In Šibenik-Knin County, out of 475 marriages, church marriages lead by 270 to 205. In Dubrovnik-Neretva County, there were more civil marriages in 2018. Of the 812 weddings, 356 were church and 456 were civil.
Civil marriages also lead in Zagreb (2,007 vs 1,753), Istria County (557 vs 319) and Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (799 vs 460). Similar trends are also present in Sisak-Moslavina and Bjelovar-Bilogora counties.
Interestingly, the same is true for one of the most conservative parts of Croatia. In 2018, church marriages lost their battle against civil marriages in Lika-Senj County. Out of a total of 173 marriages, there were 86 church marriages and 87 civil marriages.
Translated from Slobodna Dalmacija (reported by Marina Karlović Sabolić).
More news about the Catholic Church can be found in the Politics section.