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Dispute over monastery causing rift between Vatican and Catholic Croatia
VATICAN CITY (AP) ' A dispute over ownership of a monastery in Croatia has led to unusual strains between the Vatican and Croatia, a staunchly Catholic bastion in the Balkans.
The Vatican expressed "astonishment" Thursday that Croatian authorities have refused to go along with a decision by Pope Benedict XVI that Croatia's Catholic church return the monastery to a Benedictine community in Italy and pay euro6 million (nearly $9 million) in compensation.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters he expected the various parties to come together and review a dispute "that is important to both Croatia and the Holy See."
The Vatican said the pope acted after futile efforts over 2 1/2 years by both sides to reach an agreement. Benedict took the unusual step of appointing a special representative to step in for the local bishop, who took over his powers for just a few minutes to sign the agreement.
Croatians fear the pope's decision could open the way to similar requests by Italians, who before and during World War II ruled over the territory.
Such disputes have not been uncommon in Europe following World War II and the seizure of church property in lands in eastern Europe that came under communist control. Just last year, the church and the Czech government agreed to jointly administer the famed St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague although the property remains under government ownership.
But that a property dispute would trigger tensions between Croatia and the Vatican was surprising given their close relations.
The Vatican was one of the first countries to recognize Croatia's independence in 1991 when it broke from the former Yugoslavia. In May, Benedict pleased the government in Zagreb during a visit to the country when he supported Croatia's bid to join the European Union.
The Benedictine monks of Praglia, Italy, were given the property in the mid-1800s in the town on the Adriatic coast. The communist government in Yugoslavia nationalized church property in 1948. The monks, part of the worldwide Benedictine Order, have run a monastery in Praglia, near Padua in northeastern Italy, since the 11th century.
Croatia contends that payment of compensation would violate a postwar agreement with Italy.