Esther Gitman – Rebuttal To Serb Accusations Against Blessed Alojzije Stepinac

Blessed Alojzije Stepinac (L) Dr Esther Gitman (R) Darko Tanaskovic (Top C) Porfirije Peric (Bottom C)

The new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Peric, like his predecessors, is not wasting time when it comes to attacking Blessed Alojzije Stepinac by introducing new, evidently maliciously twisted spanners into the canonisation works within the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, it would seem, is, when it comes to the canonisation of Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, pursuing a road that abandons the declarations of the Catholic Church’s Pope John Paull II, now Saint, regarding Alojzije Stepinac and is looking to compromise the will and the truth of Catholics of Croatia in order to achieve some kind of unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church that has for decades persistently and politically used lies and half-truths to blacken Croatia and its Archbishop and Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. A few days ago Darko Tanaskovic, a member of the first mixed commission of Catholic and Orthodox representatives regarding the canonisation of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, said for Sputnik news in Serbia, among other things, that Patriarch Peric has some Stepinac letters for which he says that Stepinac should not be made a saint for Christian community! And this evidently personal interpretation and defilement of historical truth, for obviously political reasons, comes from a head of the church, Serbian Orthodox Church, that still to this day refuse to accept and acknowledge the leading role it played in Serbia becoming one of the first WWII a Judernfrei (Jew free) states in Europe!

New York based Dr Esther Gitman, a reputable historian specialising in Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac and the rescue and survival of Jews and others in the WWII Croatia has sent me her written response and reaction, a rebuttal to the above public statements made by Darko Tanaskovic and Patriarch Peric. Here is what Dr Gitman wrote.(Ina Vukic)  

Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac in the Historical Context by Esther Gitman, April 2021:

In face of one of the vilest attacks against Blessed Stepinac that is taking place only days after the new Serbian Bishop Porfirije Perić was chosen to become the successor to the Patriarch Irinej. To make his presence known, influential, and acknowledged as a true Serbian religious leader, he chose, as his predecessors did, to attack the memory of Dr. Alojzije Viktor Stepinac, the former Archbishop, and Cardinal of Zagreb who had passed away in Krasić, a place of his birth, of his house arrest, on February 10, 1960, 61 years ago. 

The question one may ask: Why Porfirije (Patriarch), so soon after his being promoted to succeed Patriarch Irinej, has elected, as one of his first tasks, to attack the memory of Alojzije Stepinac, with a hope to nullify the elevation of Stepinac to sainthood. The issue of Stepinac’s canonization was raised when Dr. Darko Tanasković, one of the participants, in the joint meeting in the Vatican, between Serbs and Croats re Stepinac’s conduct during the war years. Dr. Darko Tanaskovic, one of the Serbian participants,  reported to Sputnik- news that Stepinac’s chances of being elevated to sainthood are diminishing! Tanasković asserts that Pope Francis will not bring a resolution in favor of the Croatian side which would splinter the Christian world even further.

Tanasković, and I assume other Serbs, argues that it is absolutely clear that Stepinac supported the Ustashe. Tanasković further argues that Stepinac was a problematic figure and thus under no circumstances and under no criteria he can become a saint! He explains that it was important for the Serbian side to prove this point! He goes on to state that it is not clear yet to what measure Stepinac was a criminal and that he must have been aware of all the crimes that were committed against Serbs, Roma, and Jews, and although at some instances he was helpful, he never raised the issue of cleansing the Serbs via conversions to Catholicism.

After the war, Stepinac was indicted under the laws, on crimes against the people and the State, approved on August I5, 1945, and amended July 9, 1946. These laws were entirely the product of the new popular democracy in the process of formation in Yugoslavia. They constituted a complete break from the traditional past and rejected outright the usual procedures and guarantees contained in previous legislation. Moreover, the new laws, conceived along strictly political and communist lines, were drafted and put into effect after the alleged crimes committed by the Archbishop. In this way, the prelate was arrested and tried ex post facto, for offenses that were not criminal in the code in existence at the time of their supposed commission. 

The objective of this response is to rebut the accusations made against by Archbishop Stepinac for more than seven decades. And reached a crescendo with the rise to power of Bishop Porfirije Perić, I will begin with three memorable quotes uttered by Stepinac during his trial. He stated: 

“You accuse me of being an enemy of the government of the state and of the people of Yugoslavia. Please tell me what was my government in the year 1941? Was it that of the instigator Simović in Belgrade – the traitor, as you call him – the one in London, or was it You in the forests or the one in Zagreb? …We were not able to ignore the government here, even if it was a Ustaša regime.  Only since May 8, 1945, have you had the right to interrogate me and to hold me responsible. In summary, he declared…My conscience is clear and I’m not going to say any more about it. You can bring a thousand proofs, but you will never be able to prove a single crime against me! His motto was:  

“Only one race really exists and that is the Divine race. Its birth certificate is found in the book of Genesis. All of them without one exception, whether they belong to the race of Gypsies or to another, whether they Are Negroes or civilized Europeans, whether they are detested Jews or proud Aryans, have the same right to say ‘our Father who Art in Heaven.”   

The second quote: Hundreds of times during the trial I have been called “the defendant Stepinac.“ There is no one so naïve as not to know that with the defendant Stepinac” here on the bench sits the Archbishop of Zagreb, the Metropolitan and the head of the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia. 

The final quote: I was not persona grata to either the Germans or the Ustashe; I was not an Ustasha nor did I take their oath as did some of the officials of this court whom I see here. 

The question posed is one of the most delicate and serious nature, connected not only with modern warfare but with the entire problem of post-war Europe. Collaborationism has been used as a term of reprobation with incredible largesse. In most of the western European countries that knew the tragedy of occupation by Nazi Germany and their collaborators, hundreds of citizens have been accused, indicted, and sometimes imprisoned for collaboration, whose acts were very different from those of out and out collaborators or participants in the governments imposed by the invaders. What really constitutes collaboration in the case of the ordinary inhabitants is not always easily proved. Many post-war lawyers, including Ivo Politeo, Stepinac’s post-war lawyer argued that simply because one was not a resistance hero, does not make him ipso facto a traitor.

In this final segment, by no means all-encompassing, I will discuss briefly, the rules and regulations imposed upon Alojzije Stepinac while serving as an Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II (WWII). Some of these rules were imposed on him by the Roman Catholic Church and by the decisions of the European League of Nations. By understanding what was required of Stepinac during the war, many accusations levelled against him will have to be reconsidered. 

During the war the Archbishop of Zagreb was bound by the Church Constitution, “Solicitude Ecclesiarum; issued by Pope Gregory XVI in l831. This document was consistent with provisions of the 1907 Hague and 1929 Geneva conventions, which affirmed that: 

During a state of war, all legal power passes into the hands of the occupier, who is authorized and obligated to maintain public order and public life by demanding obedience of the inhabitants, with specified exceptions.”  

The Church’s Constitution directed the highest religious authority to enter into discussion with the occupiers commanded that in order to ensure the spiritual welfare and rights of its parishioners, church representatives should enter into relation and a conversation, with those persons who actually exercise power, in other words with the occupiers. These representatives, of the likes of Archbishop Stepinac, also had a duty to defend the rights of the Roman Catholic Church as they existed prior to the occupation. Under these obligations, Stepinac acted as his vows and the Vatican expected of him. He chastised the regime for daily violations of church ordinances, such as forced conversions of Serbs who had already been baptized, although he approved of conversions that were voluntary and undergone in order to save human lives. Stepinac also raised his voice against violations of human rights and insisted on preserving human dignity.

Historians who questioned his visits to Slavko Kvaternik and Ante Pavelic and, in fact, accused him of treason, did it either out of ignorance of what his duties vis-à-vis the occupiers were or wished maliciously to accuse him of cooperating with the enemy. But, in fact, they failed to consider the constraints under which Stepinac was obliged to act in his official role as archbishop.  Stepinac always abided by the Laws of the Church which coincided with his own conscience. 

The Vatican instructed Stepinac to be mindful of his words and conduct, in the interest of saving lives. He also raised his voice against violations of human rights and requested conduct that would preserve human dignity. Historians of the likes of Ivo Goldstein and many other Serbian historians and politicians questioned his visits to Kvaternik and Pavelic accusing him of helping the enemy while in essence, he was acting exactly as he was supposed to act in order to keep law and order and save lives. performing as was requested of him to act in his official role as an archbishop.  

Moreover, the Vatican instructed Stepinac to be mindful of his words and conduct in the interest of saving lives. This was especially of the essence after the Vigorous efforts to defend Jews by the Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlands, when in 1942 the Nazis rounded up all Jews, even long-time converts, including priests and nuns, and ended their lives. The Dutch bishops demonstrated great courage, but 79 percent of the country’s Jews, 110.000 individuals, were murdered. The Nazis were determined to prevent similar attempts of rebellion against them and attempts to rescue Jews elsewhere.

Both Croatian and German officials viewed Stepinac as Judenfreundlich-friendly toward Jews. Stepinac acknowledged that the Ustashe would be a liability to the humanitarian fabric of the Croatian society for years to come, and he detested the Nazis, Ustashe and the communists in equal measure. Stepinac emphasized the Christian principles of justice and freedom of the individual and nations…

With great sorrow, he wrote: The Croatian government would have to bear full responsibility for the growth of the Communist partisan movement. Because of severe and unlawful measures employed against Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies in imitation of German methods! 

I just cannot imagine that Pope Francis will ignore all the goodness Archbishop Stepinac has done during the war years! Yesterday was a Remembrance Day for all the Jews that have perished at the hand of Nazi Germany and their European collaborator. At some point during the memorial, my thoughts drifted to Archbishop Stepinac who, in 1942. prevented a major catastrophe when he heard that the governor of the Italian zones of occupation, Giuseppe Bastianini wished to send all the Jews, around 6000, back to the NDH (WWII Independent State of Croatia). Stepinac, jointly with Abbot Marcone obtained a permit, with the help of the Vatican, for all Jews to remain under the protection of the Italian Second Armata. My mother and I were among thousands of other Jews who survived. I owe gratitude and acknowledgment to Archbishop Stepinac and the Vatican! The documents and the testimonies of survivors demonstrate his unstoppable battle against the perpetrators’ devious plans. Stepinac’s generosity and kindness towards all those who sought his assistance, and received it regardless of religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation is documented in factual history! Thank you! Esther Gitman

Tito’s Pioneers Keep Sharpening Their Axes Of Hate Against Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije Stepinac

A communist narrative in Marie-Janine Calic interview about Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije Stepinac

On 8 December 2020 the widely read Catholic portal from Germany (Katolische.de) published an interview with German historian Marie-Janine Calic, daughter of Croatian-born Eduard Calic (1910-2003) – historian and Yugoslav (read communist) journalist who was a Berlin-based correspondent for a Yugoslav newspaper during WWII, when Croatia itself fought for independence away from Yugoslavia. This fact alone can throw a spotlight on the mental aura Marie-Janine Calic was, more likely than not, brought up with and that would include a profound intolerance and bias against any patriotic feelings away from the failed experiment of Yogoslavia (e.g. of Croatian patriotism). The interview was published under the title “Figure of hate: a historian warns of Cardinal Stepinac’s canonisation” ( Hassfigur: Historikerin warnt vor Heiligsprechung Kardinal Stepinacs” ). Blessed Alojzije Stepinac’s canonisation by the Vatican (Pope Francis) has been thwarted by political twists, lies and biases of the Serbian Orthodox Church and former communists. My recent open letter to Pope Francis delves into some of the issues pertaining to this.

This is the same Marie-Janine Calic who in her 2014 book “A History of Yugoslavia” strongly rejects the fact that Yugoslavia was an artificial state and still attempts to present the ludicrous idea that a common Yugoslavia made of the states was conceived in the mid-19th century as an attempt by elites to overcome underdevelopment in that region, secure progress and assert the right to self-determination for their people! Facts of history have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Serb domination and oppression, whether in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (that disintegrated at dawn of WWII) or the post-WWII Yugoslavia (that disintegrated in 1990/1991), suffocated the self-determination of their peoples Calic is shamelessly bandying around in this interview. The only self-determination right during the hundred years Calic is talking about was usurped by Serbs and Serbs alone, oppressing all other nations (Croat, Slovene, Bosnian, Macedonian) within that forced concoction of united Yugoslavia, which saw or represented not even the “u” in the true meaning unity; it was a forced union maintained either by the Serb Monarchy’s dictatorship or the Tito communist one.  

It seems to me that with this interview for the Catholics of Germany portal Calic is working in concert with those from the Serbian Orthodox Church and with former communist “dignitaries” to hammer in yet another nail into Blessed Alojzije Stepinac (who died at the brutal hands of Yugoslav communist regime) canonisation coffin. Why else would she in the interview call him a “figure of hate” and call his beatification by Pope John Paull II in 1998 controversial! It seems to me that if she has never been a Communist Party operative, a Yugoslav thug, she certainly demonstrates its modus operandi on quests of assassinating characters of decent people, with omitted and/or twisted details and half-truths. She fails to clarify in her interview that the only people who “hate” Stepinac are and were the former Yugoslav communists and the Serbian Orthodox Church, to multitudes of others he was a figure of human compassion and love, a saviour and rescuer to the endangered in WWII. We have the historical facts on that presented in research of New York based dr Esther Gitman and the writings of British dr Robin Harris, among others, as irrefutable evidence of that, not the claptrap promulgated by Calic, an evident stalwart of Serbia’s eternal lies and fabrications against Blessed Stepinac and WWII Croatia.

In the above interview Calic is asked: “In a biography published in 2017, lawyer Claudia Stahl writes that Stepinac supported those in need and persecuted?” Calic responded: “He occasionally led a campaign to save Jews, baptised as Catholics, especially children. But he never raised his voice against the planned extermination of Jews and other ethnic groups. He also never publicly distanced himself from the Ustasha regime.”

“Would that do any good?”, the question followed. Calic replied: “Stepinac was the Archbishop of Zagreb, chairman of the Bishops’ Conference and was in charge of the entire Catholic military pastoral care. As the highest representative of the Church in Croatia, he could at least stop the systematic persecution of Serbs by members of the Catholic Church.”

I find it sickening that Calic in this interview generally talks about persecution of Serbs and Jews in Croatia during WWII and fails to mention, in the same breath, that Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbia’s WWII Milan Nedic government were utter persecutors and exterminators of the Jews – historical facts are that by May 1942 Serbia had exterminated 94% of its Jews and boasted of becoming one of the first European states to be “Free of Jews” (Judenfrei)!  

How twisted and full of hate against Croats would one need to be to come up with such a reply as Calic did above! She completely ignores the realities of WWII and especially the fact that Serbs persecuted and murdered Croatians by thousands upon thousands and Stepinac still did all in his power to save as many Serbs as possible, even though most deserved persecution for their previous crimes and oppression, if we’re to be frank on a human motives’ levels. She completely ignores the historical findings of past twenty years that show and demonstrate the good deeds of Cardinal Stepinac towards Jews, Serbs, Roma – towards anyone faced with life-danger amidst the WWII political brutal divisions and animosities from all sides. Calic completely bypasses and ignores or underplays the public truth about Blessed Stepinac, published by historians and I will only present a small part here.

In 1934, Pius XI named Stepinac as coadjutor to Bauer. Not long after being made a bishop, as early as 1936, Stepinac knew of the threat facing the Jewish people in Europe and sought to raise funds to help those who were fleeing Nazi Germany and Austria.

He appealed to wealthy Croatian Catholics for their help: “Dear Sir, due to violent and inhumane persecution, a large number of people have had to leave their homeland. Left without means for a normal life, they wander throughout the world…Every day, a large number of emigrants contact us asking for intervention…It is our Christian duty to help them…I am free to address you, as a member of our Church, to ask for support for our fund in favour of emigrants. I ask you to write your free monthly allotment on the enclosed leaflet,” he wrote to them.

In an address to students in 1938, Stepinac condemned the racist ideologies of the Third Reich: “Love toward one’s nation cannot turn a man into a wild animal, which destroys everything and calls for reprisal, but it must ennoble him, so that his own nation secures respect and love of other nations.”

In 1939, he launched another fundraising campaign to help Jews and other persecuted migrants fleeing their countries because of the war, again emphasizing the Christian’s duty to help those in need regardless of their race or creed.

War officially came to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (which was comprised of modern-day Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia) on April 6, 1941, when German forces invaded the region.

Stepinac, as head of the Catholic Church in the majority-Catholic Croatia that had declared itself an independent state in April 1941 as the Serb-led Kingdom of Yugoslavia fell apart, had the difficult task of opposing the racial laws that were brought into practice in Croatia (as they were brought about in Serbia also).

Stepinac organised hiding places for an unknown number of Jews using Croatian Catholic connections he had throughout the country or raised funds to help them escape to a safer place. When Stepinac’s own life was in danger, he warned all those that he had helped hide, and told them to find a different hiding place so that they would not be found out.

Stepinac also told his priests in no uncertain terms that they were to accept any requests from people who wanted to convert to the Catholic Church in order to try to save their lives – whether they were Jewish, Serbian, Gypsies, or other persecuted groups.

Based on dr Esther Gitman’s research into historical documents she found that Stepinac had a policy he passed on as instruction to all priests in Croatia: when a priest is approached by a Jew or a Serb whose life is in danger and they wished to convert, convert them, because the Christian duty is in the first place to save lives.

“When you are visited by people of the Jewish or Eastern Orthodox faith, whose lives are in danger and who express the wish to convert to Catholicism, accept them in order to save human lives. Do not require any special religious knowledge from them, because the Eastern Orthodox are Christians like us, and the Jewish faith is the faith from which Christianity draws its roots. The role and duty of Christians is in the first place to save people. When this time of madness and savagery has passed, those who would convert out of conviction will remain in our church, while others, after the danger passes, will return to their church,” read a note from Alojzije Stepinac distributed to parishes in Croatia during the war.

In the interview Calic claims that 250,000 Orthodox Serbs were converted to Catholicism in WWII Croatia! She provides no verifiable source for her claim, and journalist interviewing her does not ask for one (!) and we are tempted with good reason to conclude that she made it up, just like communists and Serbs have been making up stories and numbers of others’ victims for decades! This communist Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia lover, Calic, does not even bother in this interview mentioning that Tito mounted a persecutory court process (a show trial) against Stepinac in 1946, charging him with Nazi-collaboration and denying him any right of defence, conveying of life sentence by house arrest where he died a harsh death in 1960. It was only after Stepinac rejected Tito’s proposal and insistence to take the Catholic Church in Croatia away from Rome, to abandon Roman Catholic Church and establish Croatian Catholic Church that Stepinac was charged, tried and convicted of treason by Tito’s communist Yugoslavia! Calic in her above interview even tries to justify the staged process against Stepinac by saying that the process “also involved dealing with mass crimes in which the representatives of the Catholic Church took part.” What an appalling and tendentious claim by Calic! Reading it one could easily conclude that the Catholic bishops in Croatia carried out mass murders of people and that Cardinal Stepinac was their leader.

Outrageous!

Calic’s presentation of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in this interview as a “figure of hate” goes in the same direction as similar bashings against Stepinac by the Serbian Orthodox Church that have persisted since WWII. This is evidently another attempt to damage a representative of the Croatian Church, which was so strongly persecuted by the Communists in the media. Furthermore, with this interview, Calic appears to have hopped onto the Serbian wagon of continued persecution of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac to perhaps remind the German nation of its own dark WWII past and thus get them on the side like hers, which hates Stepinac. If they didn’t hate him they would need to take a look at themselves and admit to Serbia’s sins and genocidal past!

How dare she call Stepinac a Nazi sympathiser in a country that is still trying to forget its Nazi past! Furthermore, why is the German Catholic portal (Katolische.de) publishing such defamation and persecution of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac when other worldly renowned Catholic newspapers and portals such as the Catholic Weekly (Australia and USA), Catholic News Agency, etc. have been publishing research findings about Stepinac’s deeds of numerous rescues of Jews and other endangered groups during and before WWII for at least a decade!

If you want to remind yourself of, or learn about communist narratives simply visit the katolische.de interview with Marie-Janine Calic dated 8 December 2020 and all will be crystal clear to you.

And if you want to visit a place of absolute truth about the works and good deeds of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac during WWII, in particular, read the book by the American author, a Holocaust survivor from Sarajevo, dr. Esther Gitman, “Stepinac: A Pillar of Human Rights” or “When Courage Prevailed: The Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia 1941–1945” or the book by British author dr Robin Harris: “Stepinac: His Life and Times”, or Zvonimir Gavranovic’s books “In Search of Cardinal Stepinac”, among multitudes of other most credible works about Stepinac. Ina Vukic

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

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