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

Croatia: Guise Of Secular Pursuits

 

One wonders how much of the current uproar and hullabaloo from the former Yugoslav communist party political heirs (Social Democratic Party/SDP, GLAS party…), now in government opposition, pressuring the review of the so-called Vatican Agreements (signed in late 1990’s, these represent a legal framework of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the state of Croatia, and not with the Vatican state), has to do with the continuance of trying to destroy the fundamental spiritual values and identity of the Croatian nation. Communist Yugoslavia was anti-religion, anti-church and while hordes of former communists suddenly, after secession from Yugoslavia, turned into churchgoers, engaged and participated in Holy Easter and Christmas Day festivities… it is painfully clear that this was in majority of cases an act to win people support which would assist former communists in retaining power and thus thwart the country’s transition from communism into democracy.

The protagonists of the push for Vatican Agreements review are painfully loud with their arguments that religious studies, catechism and the like must be driven out of schools, out of school curriculum. That this push comes at a time when Croatia is reviewing its school curriculum is no accident.

Secularism or the obligation to achieve it, separation of church from the state, are brought into play here; omitting dismally to acknowledge the fact that even the most secular democracies of the world see supports to the church, through various government grants, just as they see supports to NGO’s or other civil society projects.

The time has come for catechism to be removed from schools and given back to the church,” claimed ferociously Anka Mrak-Taritas, GLAS Member of Croatian Parliament while SDP and other GLAS politicians claim that due to the Vatican Agreements the state gives too much money to the Catholic Church, which makes the Church an unacceptably potent political influencer. They keep schtum about the greater amounts of funds the state hands out to NGO’s who travel the active political path in destroying Croatian identity and traditional values of Croatian being!

We need to be reminded here that, after WWII, the president of communist Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito tried hard to break the relationship between the Croatian people and the Holy See, by offering Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac to create a “Croatian National Church”! Stepinac rejected this offer, saying that the Catholic faith is universal and does not discriminate among people on basis of their nationality. In 1952, because of Stepinac’s rejection to form a “Croatian National Church”, horrible attacks and terror against Croatian bishops followed. Pope Pius XII named Stepinac a Cardinal at the time and this communist angered dictator Tito. Tito then severed diplomatic ties with Holy See and accused the Catholic church of interfering in Yugoslavia’s internal affairs, while attempting to completely isolate Croatia from the Holy See and the Catholic Church worldwide. It was only in August of 1970 when some diplomatic relations were reinstated with the Holy See.

Surely, since religion is amongst the high markers of the Croatian identity then the state must ensure that religious teachings (whether they go under the term of catechism or another term) are among the choices in education that the state must fund. Whether religious teachings are driven through government funding of the church or are part of state-run school program is, at the end of the day, not as important as maintaining the choice for religious education is. Driving the teaching of catechism solely to church’s responsibility is irresponsible and truly mean-spirited of any government, whose responsibility is to ensure overall well being of its people, including spiritual.

Catechism or religious teachings are part of school curriculum, whether obligatory (as in private schools for example) or optional/extra-curricular (as in public schools), in most Western democracies. Education breeds understanding, compassion, and moulds morality that defines a nation.

Religion is a big part of the Croatian society, of any society for that matter. So why make it so difficult if not to destroy it!

Since antiquity, religious traditions have shaped individual and collective self-understandings, cultures of knowledge and the realm of politics founded on nation’s moral values. Religion, faith, still to this day has a paramount role in the most fundamental level of culture, of co-creating conceptions of what it is to be human and without teaching it in schools (as well as elsewhere) cultural foundations of a nation, as we know them, are on shaky grounds, if not in quicksand.

I am not referring to prayer here. I am advocating for religious literacy and the best way to achieve this is by teaching children in the home and in the schools beginning at an early age about faith and spiritual traditions. Freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of a State do give those who are not religious the freedom to exercise their rights but democracy, after all, is much about majority when it comes to government tax revenue and the government has the obligation to ensure everyone’s rights and due privileges are supported.

In Constitutions of democratic countries all religious communities are equal before the law and separate from State. Such is the case for Croatia also. There are several definitions of secularism and the emphasis on “separate” is the weakest one, especially when you get people in an uproar because churches get “… support from State”.

The cited 85% of population being of Catholic conviction is said to have been the argument for signing the treaty in 1996 between the Republic of Croatia and the Holy See, known as the Vatican Treaty/Vatican Agreements, which regulates relations between the State and Catholic Church in Croatia. The treaty covers state funding to the Church as well as access to religious teaching in schools.

Among its elements the Vatican Treaty pays attention to the religious education of children from the early age (preschool) till the end of elementary school, the age of 14. The Vatican Treaty is implemented in the state elementary schools by offering children the subject of religion 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 – blame the government, not the church for this!

The push from former communists in Croatia for a review of the Vatican Agreements has a nasty by-product, which I believe, is deliberate: for religion to be treated in society as taboo even though they’re banging on that it’s all about ensuring secularism.

Religion here is being used as a way to separate people and fire up more division and unrest. Religion should be treated as something to be shared and celebrated.

And on that note I do like the June 2017 US Supreme Court decisive ruling that religious institutions should be eligible to receive public funds for secular purposes. This opens up a wonderful window for humanity in a world where secularism has almost banished the idea that faith and religion have a role to play in secularism. Ina Vukic.

From Croatian Diaspora – Meet the New Archbishop Of Chicago, Blase Cupich

 

 

New Archbishop of Chicago  Blase J. Cupich

New Archbishop of Chicago
Blase J. Cupich

Pope Francis will on Saturday 19 September 2014 name Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, a prelate closely identified with the Catholic Church’s progressive wing, to be the next archbishop of Chicago.

Cupich was ordained a priest in 1975 and has experience as both a Catholic schoolteacher and pastor. In 1998, Pope John Paul II named him bishop of Rapid City, S.D., and Pope Benedict XVI moved him to Spokane in 2010. His family heritage is Croatian, on both maternal and paternal sides – his grandparents were the ones to make the US a home in the early part of the Twentieth century, never losing their Croatian identity and roots as the family grew, multiplied and blended into the “American” life.

Blase Cupich visited Croatia in March of this year, not missing to visit the house in the village of Ladanje Donje, Parish of Vinica, near Varazdin, where his grandmother was born and lived and from where in 1917 as a 17-year old girl seeking a better life she headed to America (United States). In Nabraska Barbara Bahun married Ivan Majhen (who came from Karlovac, Croatia) and they had four children, including the daughter Maria who married Blaz (Blase) Cupich, and they had nine children, including Blase Joseph, the new Archbishop of Chicago.

Bishop Blase Cupich  in Varazdin, Croatia March 2014

Bishop Blase Cupich in Croatia
March 2014

Via this link you can access the video from Archbishop Blase Cupich’s visit to Croatia this year in which he talks, among other things, about his Croatian heritage (video in English and Croatian).
When Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was elected president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2012, then Spokane’s Bishop Blase Cupich said that the decision reflected the pope’s desire for pastoral leaders.

 

Pope Francis doesn’t want cultural warriors, he doesn’t want ideologues. That’s the new paradigm for us, and it’s making many of us think,” he said to the New York Times.

 

 
In the run up to the 2008 US presidential election, Cupich, who was then bishop of Rapid City, S.D., wrote an essay for the America magazine in which he reminded Catholics of church teaching that deems racism a “sin.” “To allow racism to reign in our hearts and to determine our choice in this solemn moment for our nation is to cooperate with one of the great evils that has afflicted our society. In the words of Brothers and Sisters to Us, “It mocks the words of Jesus, ‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you.’”
Prior to the Washington State voting on same-sex marriage in November 2012, in August, Cupich wrote a letter to be read at Masses which was remarkable for its comparatively affirming language even though the line that was to be taken by all bishops was to vote against the referendum on same sex marriage. He praised those who are ”motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation.
Also in line with the pope’s focus on the poor, Cupich spoke at a Washington, D.C. conference in June this year against economic libertarianism, calling inequality, “a powder keg that is as dangerous as the environmental crisis the world is facing today.” (The Washington Post article, 3 June 2014)

Cupich gained a national platform in the US when he was tapped to lead the bishops’ efforts in implementing new policies to protect children from sex abuse, even criticising the bishops themselves.

Catholics have been hurt by the moral failings of some priests, but they have been hurt and angered even more by bishops who failed to put children first. People expect religious leaders above all to be immediate and forthright in taking a strong stand in the face of evil, such as the harm done to children and young people by sexual abuse,” he wrote in 2010.

 

Such snippets from Archbishop Blase Cupich’s public appearances bring him forth as a prelate of the Catholic Church’s progressive path into the life that we call modern, but never to abandon the spiritual and moral grounds that make us human and compassionate as citizens of the world and particularly Christianity. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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