ZAGREB, March 11, 2019 – The Catholic Church in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia has no intention of getting into a debate with the Croatian Bishops Conference over the denial of permission for this year’s Mass in Loibach near Bleiburg, the Gurk-Klagenfurt Dioecese said on Monday.
“We will not react to the reaction and will not get into a ping pong with statements. We will not react to the reaction of the Croatian Bishops Conference to the denial of permission to celebrate a Holy Mass as part of the commemoration at Bleiburg,” spokesman for the Gurk-Klagenfurt Diocese Matthias Kapeller told Hina.
He said that the Catholic Church of Carinthia had nothing more to add to its statement of last week, noting that they were surprised by the tone of the statement by the Croatian Bishops’ Conference (HBK).
“There were also different reactions from the HBK’s. I would not describe them as positive, but they were certainly different,” Kapeller said.
Asked if despite the ban a memorial service could still be held in the Loibach field, Kapeller said: “It is a private property and in Austria anyone can invite a priest to say a Mass on their private property.”
Austrian news agency APA said that the Mass ban concerned only senior clergy such as bishops while a private liturgy could not be banned.
The Catholic Church of Carinthia, or rather the Gurk-Klagenfurt Diocese, on Friday denied permission for this year’s Mass in the Loibach field near Bleiburg as part of a ceremony commemorating members of Nazi-allied Croatian forces killed there at the end of World War II.
“If permission for Mass were granted, the overall perception of the event could rightfully be used as a basis to accuse the Catholic Church of Carinthia of instrumentalising a religious service for political purposes and not distancing itself from the Fascist worldview,” the diocese said in a statement on Friday.
The Bleiburg commemorations are held in tribute to tens of thousands of Croatian civilians and soldiers of the defeated pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia (NDH) who surrendered to allied forces there in May 1945, but were handed over by British troops to Yugoslav forces. Many were executed on the spot, while many perished during so-called death marches back to Yugoslavia.
Asked by reporters in Zagreb to comment on the Mass ban, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said that the matter was on the agenda of the Croatian Bishops Conference, the Gurk-Klagenfurt Dioece and the Austrian Bishops’ Conference. “This is a matter for the two churches. If there’s anything we can do to help, we are willing to do so,” Plenković said. He added that the idea floated by “far-right circles” that the Croatian government and he himself had lobbied for the ban was malicious. He declined to say whether the Croatian Embassy in Austria had done enough to prevent such a development.
More news on the Bleiburg ban can be found in the Politics section.