Open Letter To Pope Francis On Canonisation Of Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije Stepinac

25 September 2020

Dear Pope Francis, Servant of the Servants of God,

It is with a heavy heart that I must write to Your Holiness that your ongoing pursuit of dialogue regarding the canonisation of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac with the Serbian Orthodox Church and former communists of former Yugoslavia is causing moral chaos within the Croatian congregation of the Roman Catholic Church and wider.

From Australia, I learn from various media sources across the world that you have placed the canonisation of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac on hold because, according to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Holy See State Secretary, your trusted and close associate who visited Croatia last week,  you claim that “the canonisation of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac must be a moment of togetherness for the entire Church, and not a reason for conflict or opposition…”. Furthermore, Cardinal Parolin said that in the matter of Stepinac canonisation you have chosen a methodology of trying to get closer to the Serbian Orthodox Church’s point of view on the matter, that dialogue with that Church is crucial for Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac to be canonised.  

The fact remains that you have completed one phase of that dialogue and did not achieve any particular result because the views did not converge between the Catholic and the Serbian Orthodox churches. This, of course is not surprising when it comes to the views of Serbian Orthodox Church, which I believe will never ever back down from its persistent lies and historical fabrications against WWII Croatia and Blessed Alojzije Stepinac. It is without any doubt in my mind that the Serbian Orthodox Church had armed itself with input of people like Predrag Ilic, who wrote the book of historical discussions (Stepinac and the Holocaust in NDH/WWII Croatia), a book of utter historical tripe and cosmetically filtered or adjusted interpretations of historic documentation. I also have no doubt that, should misfortune continue and a second round of talks with the Orthodox Church is held on Stepinac, the Serbian Church will arm itself with the likes of Gideon Greif, a historian evidently on Serbia’s payroll who also wrote books on WWII Croatia (e.g. Jasenovac – Auschwitz of the Balkans) filled with twisting the history against Croats by overwhelmingly avoiding pursuit of facts as they actually were and obviously giving a credence to politically fabricated numbers of victims since WWII.

I would like to think that among other factual historical evidence on Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, you have made yourself aware of the independent research of WWII Croatia conducted by Esther Gitman and her books that have been published in the past two decades (e.g. “When Courage Prevailed – the Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia 1941 – 1945” or “Alojzije Stepinac – Pillar of Human Rights”). Esther Gitman’s findings on Cardinal Stepinac require no historical discussions, they require no interpretations because they are represented as facts found; as the truth. Esther Gitman’s factual discoveries about Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac’s work during WWII are indeed an ample demonstration of the Servant of God that he was. Same may be said for Robin Harris’s book “Stepinac – His Life and Times”. Our Catholic Church needs nothing more and nothing else to take a look at the Servant of God that Stepinac was, although there are ample other books and research papers that corroborate Stepinac’s existence, sacrifice and courage of a true Servant of God that our Catholic Church has for centuries listed among its saints.

I strongly believe that I am not the only person in the world, far from it, who considers that your pursuit of dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding the canonisation is fundamentally wrong on many fronts as far as the Roman Catholic congregation is concerned and as far as justice is concerned, including:

Firstly, it is wrong to place Pope John Paul II beatification in 1998 of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac on such degraded ground. Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul II, did not need to justify to any other than the Catholic Church his and Roman Catholic Church’s convictions at the time as to deserved merits for Cardinal Stepinac within his and our Church and faith! The “history”  Your Holiness pointed out existed at times of John Paul II only he was not as wealthy in the knowledge of facts as you are today; Pope John Paul II did not have the benefit of facts discovered about Blessed Alojzije Stepinac only after the communist Yugoslavia ceased to be and historical archives opened up and still knew the fact that Stepinac was truly a Servant of God.

Secondly, it is utterly wrong and cruel towards the Croatian people who fought for freedom and independence from the scourge of and aggression by Greater Serbia politics, always deeply rooted within the Serbian Orthdox Church, to decide upon the Sainthood of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac under a condition that Serbs might agree with that decision. No, Your Holiness, Croatians did not exchange moral or cultural values with the Serbian Orthodox Church – ever. Whenever Serbs invaded or attacked Croatia (whether by military or politically diplomatic manoeuvres) they destroyed parts of our culture, shook our faith in God, falsified our history, stole our lands…and the Serbian Orthodox Church stood right behind them, encouraging their aggression. It is far from even an inkling of possibility that a dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church will result in any consensus on matters where a member of the Croatian people, such as Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, will result in pointing a shining light upon Croats and to the benefit of Croatian people.

Thirdly, in May of 2019 Your Holiness stated that “the canonisation of Stepinac is a historic case. He is a virtuous man for this Church, which has proclaimed him Blessed. But at a certain moment of the canonisation process there are unclear points, historic points, and I should sign the canonisation, it is my responsibility, I prayed, I reflected, I asked advice, and I saw that I should ask Irinej, a great patriarch (of Serbian Orthodox Church), for help…” and I would like to remind you, if you already are not aware that this “great” patriarch, like all of his predecessors in living memory, is a politician as much as he is a priest, most likely a politician more than a priest. Known for his nationalist statements justifying Serbian imperialism—a transgenerational project which underlies every 20th-century war on the territory of former Yugoslavia – Irinej’s wicked observations about Stepinac, that he “did not want to hear the children’s cry” in concentration camps, are a first-class manipulation and evil fabrication directed at the Croatian Roman Catholic congregation.

Fourthly, it may be a prudent pursuit by Your Holiness to pursue dialogue with non-Catholic Christian communities, to pursue and invigorate relations with the Russian Orthodox Church via the Serbian Orthodox Church as a link, but it is far from acceptable to judge the life of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, as a prerequisite for canonisation, with the information supplied by the Serbian Orthodox Church headed by Irinej, or any other Greater Serbia bandit.  

Fifthly, regarding any talks held with those that since year 2000 may have held or currently hold government power in Croatia or Serbia regarding the canonisation of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, please know this: you have more likely than not spoken with former communist party of Yugoslavia members (or their children) who persecuted Croatian practicing Catholics during the life of Former Yugoslavia either by degrading their value to society or taking away their human right to religion, they mass murdered Croatian Catholic priests during and after WWII as well as hundreds of thousands of innocent freedom loving civilians and disarmed soldiers … In short, know this please Your Holiness: these former communists or their offspring, brought up in the communist mindset, are of no value whatsoever when it comes to presenting the truth of Stepinac’s life and deeds, especially those of extraordinary courage and sacrifice in saving thousands of persecuted people of different races and ethnicity during WWII.

Sixthly, if it is true that you are seeking a moment of “togetherness” within the Catholic Church regarding the canonisation of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac and in that togetherness you count on those who have started attending Holy Mass after Croatia was victorious in its secession from Communist Yugoslavia, for personal gain in political careers, please abandon that trail to Stepinac’s Sainthood. These men and women will abandon the Church at a drop of a hat should political winds in their country so dictate, just like they did during the life of Former Yugoslavia, just like their fathers and mothers had as followers of the Communist Party. Your Holiness, these people or their parents persecuted Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in 1946 with trumped up charges, not alleging but stamping him falsely as a Nazi collaborator, when the truth was that at the threat to his own life he saved thousands. Do you truly believe that these people will now confess this horrid sin of theirs?

And so, it is with a Christian fortitude and knowledge of forces, particularly those belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church congregation, which have purposefully pursued the destruction of Blessed Stepinac’s good reputation that I write this Open Letter to Your Holiness today, 25th September, on St. Sergius of Radonezh’s Feast Day, the Patron Saint of Russia who worked not only to spread monasticism and the sanctity of monastic life, but also to become a messenger of Christian values in a country then threatened by various internal divisions and external tensions.

God’s commandments are a most welcome help for conscience to get to know the truth and hence to judge verily. God’s commandments are the expression of the truth about our good, about our very being, disclosing something crucial about how to live life well and to bear false witness against our neighbour is a grave sin committed against Blessed Alojzije Stepinac by the Serbian Orthodox Church including Patriarch Irinej.

Your Holiness, Blessed Alojzije Stepinac deserves to bask in the glory of the truth and his name to not endure false witness for a moment longer.

Please announce his canonisation!

So please, Your Holiness, find the courage to stop this impasse in faith and this moral chaos your pursuit of dialogue on the canonisation of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac is causing. As the supreme authority of the Catholic Church, it would be one of most important, courageous and Christian act of your entire mandate because it would represent standing firmly on truth and rejecting historical fabrications and falsehoods that have been devastatingly promoted for decades. While we all are desirous of and pray for peace and unity, the Croatian and multitudes of other Roman Catholics will thank you and so would the great soul of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac who perished from torture and false witness against him, saying: “When they take everything from you, you will be left with two hands; put them together in prayer and then you will be the strongest.”

Ina Vukic, Prof. Psych. (ZGB); B.A., M.A.Ps, (SYD)

Open letter to Pope Francis in the Croatian language/Please click the picture below.

Otvoreno pismo papi Franji na hrvatskom jeziku/ Molim pritisnite na sliku dolje.

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

Disclaimer, Terms and Conditions:

All content on “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is for informational purposes only. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is not responsible for and expressly disclaims all liability for the interpretations and subsequent reactions of visitors or commenters either to this site or its associate Twitter account, @IVukic or its Facebook account. Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writer will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The nature of information provided on this website may be transitional and, therefore, accuracy, completeness, veracity, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed. This blog may contain hypertext links to other websites or webpages. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of information on any other website or webpage. We do not endorse or accept any responsibility for any views expressed or products or services offered on outside sites, or the organisations sponsoring those sites, or the safety of linking to those sites. Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with the subject in posts or other commentators. Personal or other criticism is acceptable as long as it is justified by facts, arguments or discussions of key issues. Comments that include profanity, offensive language and insults will be moderated.
%d bloggers like this: