The Education Battle: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Croatian Education System

    By Slobodan Danko Bosanac | 16 October 2016
    Church and State

    The Republic of Croatia is formally not a secular state because in its Law of Constitution it is explicitly stated that “All religious communities are equal before the law and separate from State”. There are several definitions of secularism and the emphasis on “separate” is the weakest one, especially because in continuation of this article it is stated that religious communities get “… support from State”. This addition shows that there is a basic conflict of interest between the independent workings of State and that of religious communities. In Croatia this applies primarily to the Catholic community because according to the census 85% of the population is of that conviction. It is not that all members of that faith are practicing, or even religiously aware of Catholicism, but the Church uses the argument of 85% to seek special benefits. In particular this was the argument for signing the treaty in 1996 between the Republic of Croatia and the Holy See, known as the Vatican Treaty, which regulates relations between the State and Catholic Church in Croatia. By all accounts this treaty is one that gives the most wide ranging privileges to the Church, ranging from financial support to access of religious education in state run schools, of all treaties that the Holy See has signed with other countries. This gives leverage to the Church to extend its influence in politics, urging support from those who abide by the treaty, and the symbiosis between politics and religion is complete.

    The Vatican Treaty pays particular attention to the religious education of children from the early age (preschool) till the end of elementary school, the age of 14. Not without reason, this is the most vulnerable period in development of individuals when the personality of adults are formed, their creativity, interest, social behavior but also prejudice, narrowness of thinking and exclusivity. This is why the Church must get control over the education of children of that age to convey its doctrine that would in adults shape their worldview. The Vatican Treaty is implemented in the state elementary schools by offering children the subject of religion (Catholic doctrine) as one of the choice courses. The subtlety of this arrangement is that those children who do not opt for this course do not have an alternative activity, they are left to roam the school precinct. The Church was adamantly against the possibility that the course is either the last or the first of other obligatory courses, thus silently imposing psychological pressure on children to attend it. The Church in this way goes beyond the Vatican Treaty and with the consent of the Government, thus directly being involved in shaping the education system.

    The manipulation of the course spills over into field that is not a part of the Vatican Treaty, introducing religious, Christian, doctrine into the curricula of obligatory courses, those that have no relevance to religion. For example, in the textbook on biology for the 7th grade elementary school the whole section is devoted to the subject of “Science and Bible”. The whole idea is to urge children to think that evolution is not the sole answer to life and intelligence, that the Bible offers additional interpretation. Likewise the subject of unity of religion and science was also offered in the physics course, subsequently the textbook was withdrawn after an outcry from scientists however nevertheless a few generations of children were exposed to this doctrine. The authors were not obliged by the Vatican Treaty to treat the subject of religion versus the science subject. However, the atmosphere in politics was created that turns a blind eye to the Church when interfering with the working of government. Such an attitude encouraged Church proxies who consider it their duty to spread the word of the Bible in all aspects of life, in particular in education. At their core, however, these actions are intimately connected with promotion in politics, management of science or sheer material benefit. The proxies are from all walks of life, from academics to teachers irrespective of whether it is from the science subjects or philosophy.

    The indoctrination of school textbooks with religious, no tolerance, anti social subjects was investigated by the Croatian society “Protagora” whose report was published and sent to the relevant ministries. The study involved reviewing textbooks and additional relevant literature for the school year 2014/2015, altogether 162 items out of total 1223, for three main publishers. The subjects covered are: biology, English language, music, Croatian language, history, nature, nature and society. It should, however, be noted that out of the total number of published material almost three quarters is irrelevant for reviewing, such as textbooks for the blind, minorities, mathematics etc. The aim of the study was to select religious text that has a profound impact on children at this age when their understanding of the world and society is not yet formed, assesses the long term impact of religious indoctrination of the grown individuals on society in general and to establish compliance with the generally accepted process of education by national and international institutions. Altogether 103 contested textbooks were found, and among them most are in textbooks for English and Croatian language, followed by “nature and society” and “history”. It is also indicative that in the biology course there is a relatively high incidence of religious reinterpretations of what are purely scientifically established results. There is evidence that this interference of the Church with public education is on the increase, and there is little evidence that politics shall change its course.

    Prof. Slobodan Danko Bosanac graduated in Theoretical Physics from the University of Zagreb in 1968 and in 1972 received his Ph.D. from the University of Sussex, UK, in Molecular Sciences. After postdoctoral research at the University of Bristol, UK, in 1974 he obtained a research position at the R. Boskovic Institute, Zagreb, which is his permanent domicile institution. During his research career, he published around 100 papers, four books and was principal investigator in several international science projects. Prof. Bosanac was a visiting professor at a number of universities: University of Florida, University of Kaiserslautern, MPI fur Stromungsforschung in Gottingen, University of Sussex, Harvard University, MIT, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, to mention a few. For his research he received two State prizes in science, in 1997 and 2013.

    His field of research is atomic and molecular physics, electromagnetic interaction with charges, and astrophysics. In 1986 he initiated interdisciplinary conferences under a general title Brijuni Conferences that since then run continuously on a biannual basis. Prof. Bosanac is the president of the Croatian branch of the US based organization Center for Inquiry whose primary aim is the promotion of science. He was also recently appointed head of the Swiss Space Systems branch for Croatia, with a general aim of setting up Space Center Croatia with the central object the Space Port.

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