Unnerving Unprecedented Path to Canonisation Of Croatia’s Alojzije Stepinac

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac

The fact that in the drawn-out process to the canonisation of Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac (Archbishop of Zagreb during WWII, beatified by the Catholic Church in 1998) Pope Francis is seeking the opinion of Patriarch Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding WWII truth about Stepinac’s deeds during the war is a matter that evokes a great deal of distress worldwide, let alone in Croatia. This makes the process of Stepinac’s canonisation charged with politics that have nothing to do with the factual truth the Church seeks. First of all, Patriarch Irinej cannot possibly be an authority on the truth simply because the truth regarding Stepinac has been consistently misrepresented and falsified by the Serbian Orthodox Church since WWII, as well as by the communist regime. The truth can only be found in researched facts and archives of these had indeed been out of reach up until relatively recently and some, those kept in Serbia, still remain closed, I believe. Patriarch Irinej made no moves ever to encourage research into WWII facts to do with Stepinac; to my knowledge, his stance has always followed the tides of Serbian anti-Croatian politics and propaganda, of Greater Serbia politics and bloody deeds that went with it.

The researched WWII facts presented by, for example, Dr Esther Gitman (both document and verbal testimonies of Holocaust survivors in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) show clearly that Stepinac rescued Jews, Serbs, Roma and others during WWII when such heroic deeds were pursued under the threat of own life. Her published books, “When Courage Prevailed: The Rescue and Survival of Jews in Independent State of Croatia 1941-1945” and “Pillar of Human Rights” are among the sources for truth, which Pope Francis should consult if he has so far failed to do so.

Throughout the long history of the Catholic Church (and other Churches), many saints were made saints because of their extraordinary courage, even when faced with the most dangerous tasks. These holy men and women showed courage through their vocations and duties from God. Saints Joan of Arc, Edmund Campion, and Isaac Jogues all lived their faith by showing courage in the face of danger or death.

Alojzije Stepinac was not different to these saints in human history.

In June 2011 Pope Benedict XVI praised Cardinal Stepinac as a courageous defender of those oppressed by the Ustashe, including Serbs, Jews and gypsies.

He said the cardinal stood against “the dictatorship of communism, where he again fought for the faith, for the presence of God in the world, the true humanity that is dependent on the presence of God.”

Pope Francis
Photo: AFP

Pope Francis, who this week visited Bulgaria and North Macedonia, gave a statement regarding the stage that the canonisation of Stepinac is at. Pope Francis said that the canonisation depends on the report of a mixed commission set up together with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC).

“Stepinac was a soulful man, that is why the (Catholic) Church beatified him. But at a certain moment in the process of his canonisation, there were some unclear points, historical points,” the Pope said, and added:

“I prayed, I considered, I sought advice and I saw that I need to seek help from (Serbian Patriarch) Irinej. He is a great patriarch. Irinej helped, we created a joint historic commission, and we cooperated.”

“The truth is both mine and Irinej’s only interest. And not to make a mistake. What purpose would declaring (Stepinac) a saint serve, if the truth was not clear? That would serve no one,” Pope Francis concluded.

The grave problem arises here! How can Irinej’s view of the truth help when that “truth” has more likely than not been shaped by untruths and innuendoes than by factual truth! The Serbian propaganda against Stepinac has been relentless since WWII and Patriarch Irinej never stepped aside nor insisted on factual representation of the truth!

Blessed Stepinac, who is hailed as a hero in Croatia, has been a target of decades-long communist smears and disinformation. Despite this, Pope St. John Paul II beatified him as a martyr in October 1998. The Serbian Orthodox community continuously peddle scepticism about Stepinac’s wartime record.

But researchers, including Gitman, particularly in the past three decades have shown that the facts about Stepinac counter false claims about his record.

“What you have is a false narrative created by Soviet agents,” Prof. Ronald J. Rychlak of the University of Mississippi told CNA/EWTN News in 2016.

In 1946, Stepinac was put on trial by Yugoslav communists (Belgrade, Serbia, headquartered) for allegedly collaborating with the Ustashe’s crimes. The trial drew critical coverage from Western media like Time and Newsweek and protests from those who saw it as a show trial. Archbishop Stepinac was denied effective representation and only met with his attorney for an hour before the trial.

The government’s witnesses were told what to say, and the archbishop was not allowed to cross-examine them. In 1953, Pope Pius XII made him a cardinal, although he was never allowed travel to the Holy See to be officially elevated. He died in 1960 of an alleged blood disorder, which was said to have been caused by the conditions he endured in jail. Relatively recent tests of his remains by Vatican investigators show evidence he was also poisoned.

It was in late 2015 Patriarch Irinej wrote to Pope Francis asking the Pope to “remove the question of the canonisation of Cardinal Stepinac from the agenda, and to leave it to the infallible judgment of God.” Irinej knows only too well that God does not canonise! Of course, Irinej in his letter falsely accused Stepinac of collaboration with pro-Nazi movements and regimes just as communists did seventy years before! Irinej went even further and threatened of consequences of Stepinac’s canonisation:

“His canonisation, to our great regret, would return the relations between Serbs and Croats, as well as between Catholics and Orthodox faithful, back to their tragic history.”

Archbishop Zelimir Puljic

It has become blatantly clear that by establishing the Commission with Serbian Orthodox Church on Stepinac’s canonisation Pope Francis’ main concern may indeed be that of avoiding the understanding of canonisation of Stepinac as an act against the Serbian people or causing divisions between Catholic and Orthodox faithful. But I would like to know when did the Orthodox faithful ask the Catholic faithful about canonisation of any of their saints? I am struggling to find such a case.

While Pope Francis’ steps taken with the Serbian Orthodox Church during this canonisation phase of the Stepinac Sainthood path may be seen as a good gesture this does not take away the fact that such acts are disturbing and distressing to Catholic faithfuls who have the ultimate right to their own saints. Certainly, the beatification of Stepinac sealed his worthiness of sainthood in proof required by the Catholic Church and in the eyes of multitudes across the world. One cannot, though, shake off the unpalatable sense that political agenda has crept, with nasty intentions, into the path of Stepinac’s canonisation just as it did in 1946, when he was false accused as collaborator of Nazi regimes. Clear and proven facts speak louder than opinion and when it comes to canonisation that is the only consideration Pope Francis should be keeping close to his chest.

In an interview with the Croatian Catholic Network, on 9 May 2019, Archbishop of Zadar, Zelimir Puljic, called on the faithful to be patient and calm. “The Pope said he cared about the truth and that, together with the Patriarch, he wants to arrive at the truth… However, regarding Stepinac and what the Congregation has already done and concluded, there is nothing contentious that would… bring into question his sainthood and canonisation.”

Archbishop Puljic said the pope’s decision to consult the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding Stepinac was a precedent and that the Serbian Orthodox Church wanted to use this precedent to block the canonisation.

“I would like to say something unusual, which is the interference of the Serbian Orthodox Church, another Church, or Patriarch itself, in the canonisation process of the Catholic Church. That is inappropriate – I have to say. And that’s not commonplace. I dare say, that is politics. So, Stepinac is put in a position he does not belong to. Stepinac was a believer, bishop, cardinal, he was a clerk of the Catholic Church and as such he deserved, first the title of the Blessed One, and is now in the process of being holy,” said Archbishop Puljic.

The Catholic faithfuls have been dealt a cruel blow in all this and Croatian Catholics particularly so! As we wait, laden with distress, for the outcome from this unprecedented path to canonisation in the Catholic Church, we must trust that Croats and their faith will endure. The alternative is unthinkable. The alternative where a deserved sainthood of the Catholic Church becomes the sacrificial lamb of Pope’s ambitions to do with another Church, Serbian Orthodox Church in this instance. There can be no common good when the good is sacrificed. Ina Vukic

Comments

  1. (The Right Reverand) David Byler says:

    I am Lutheran and wait anxiously upon the proper cannonisation of Stepinac. Phtttt upon “Patriarch Irinej.” This matter is outside any proper sphere of of Irinej’s duties that there might be.

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  2. He is a great patriarch of Church: the moment is arrived for his canonisation.!

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  3. So why doesn’t the Pope and his new ‘bestie’ demand all archival records to be opened, research, investigated including those in Serbian/Yugo archives and state records as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church archives – no restrictions, completely opened, made available to legitimate research? As a courageous seeker of truth, the Pope is in an ideal situation to seek his ‘bestie’s’ explanation of his words and deeds during the Homeland War, and his statements and his facts and figures on the Jasenovac…at least so we lay people can appreciate the Patriarch’s holy (shit) truth? Reconciliation based on appeasement is unholy.

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    • Let’s hope the Pope uses the opportunity to stop Serbian propaganda and vilification, Sunman. Wouldn’t that be great. But, am waiting to see what will come out of this truly dark sequence we are enduring

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  4. there are many who have passed and deserve our thanks, but are we forgetting the words of Jesus, no idols, just worship the Father in Heaven, i often think we have forgotten that point, as Jesus says, only God is Great, and He, Jesus, gave all credit to the Father, amen

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  5. EVEN CANONIZATION IS COMPLICATED IN THIS WORLD OF OURS. 😦

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  6. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    YET PAIN CAN BE LIVED THROUGH…FOR A GOOD PURPOSE!

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  7. I was on vacation in the UK so I’m only now reading this.

    Two things came to mind as I read this blog post:
    Sadly Pius XII would find himself a target of doing nothing (or not enough) to rescue Jews.
    Lately the Orthodox Church at large has been experiencing in-fighting following the Patriarch of Constantinople’s decree about Ukraine. That’s something only the Orthodox sort out themselves.

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    • Stepinac cannot be compared to Pius XII, Elisa, for he went through life-threatening measures in order to rescue Jews! That fact is a fact based on research of WWII archives that the communists kept out of reach.

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      • My deepest apologies for my earlier post.
        What I should’ve included was: Pius XII had done a lot to assist Jews at great risk. He earned praise for his work in the years following WWII. Yet for everything he did, the Pope was smeared. The common element that stands for me in both of their situations is the damage of false accusations despite evidence to the contrary.

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      • Yes, you are right Elisa…Stepinac though was convicted as criminal and yet innocent. Communists had no boundaries nor decency…It was so great when a few years back a Croatian court overturned those criminal convictions dating back to just after WWII. Yet again, there are those who still choose to turn aa blind eye.

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