BELGRADE -- A letter explaining the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) regarding the canonization of Alojzije Stepinac was recently handed to a Vatican official.
The daily Politika writes that the letter was given to Secretary of the Holy See for Relations with States Dominique Mamberti, who has been on a visit to Serbia.
The content of the message, however, remains unknown, but the newspaper noted that the SPC "undoubtedly does not view favorably announcements that Stepinac could become a saint."
Mamberti will also take with him to the Vatican another letter dedicated to the same subject, sent by the Serbian president.
In an interview for Politika published in Sunday, SPC Patriarch Irinej said the announcements from the Vatican that Stepinac could be canonized by the end of the year came as "a great surprise" for the Serbian Orthodox dignitaries - "because in order for someone to be a saint, they must be a truly shining and holy personality and be accepted as such by other Christians." (Did an Orthodox prelate just call Catholics 'christians'?)
Stepinac was a WW2-era Croatian Catholic cardinal, convicted after the war for collaboration with the fascist Independent State of Croatia (NDH/Ustaše) entity. The NDH operated death camps during the war that were the sites of mass murder of Serbs, Jews, and Romas. (And how exactly was Cardinal Stepinac involved in working with the NDH and operating death camps? He wasn't.)
"publicly condemned the new Yugoslav government and its actions during World War II, especially for murders of priests by communist militants. Yugoslav authorities indicted the archbishop on multiple counts of war crimes and collaboration with the enemy during wartime. The trial was depicted in the West as a typical communist "show trial", biased against the archbishop.
Stepinac "condemned Croat atrocities against both Serbs and Jews, and himself saved a group of Jews in an old age home". According to Richard West, on several occasions during the war, Stepinac criticized the Ustaše atrocities to certain leaders in private" (Given many acts of retaliation by the Axis governments during WWII, "in private" vs. public criticism was likely due to the reasonable concern to avoid provoking retaliation against people already at risk. See below: support from National Conference of Christians and Jews. Stepinac did not hesitate to put himself at risk nor did he shy away from confronting Ustaše leaders about the atrocities.).
Upon hearing news of the Glina massacre, in the summer of 1941 Stepinac sent a letter to Pavelić, requesting that "on the whole territory of the Independent State of Croatia, not one Serb is killed if he is not proven guilty for what he has deserved death." (Bear in mind, this is not an endorsement of capital punishment, merely an assertion that the state must abide by the rule of law.)
"All men and all races are children of God; all without distinction. Those who are Gypsies, Black, European, or Aryan all have the same rights (...) for this reason, the Catholic Church had always condemned, and continues to condemn, all injustice and all violence committed in the name of theories of class, race, or nationality. It is not permissible to persecute Gypsies or Jews because they are thought to be an inferior race."—notes 41, 11, 45 & 45.
In a sermon on October 25, 1942, he further commented on racial acceptance:
We affirm then that all peoples and races descend from God. In fact, there exists but one race... . The members of this race can be white or black, they can be separated by oceans or live on the opposing poles, [but] they remain first and foremost the race created by God, according to the precepts of natural law and positive Divine law as it is written in the hearts and minds of humans or revealed by Jesus Christ, the son of God, the sovereign of all peoples.
When deportation of Croatian Jews began, Stepinac and the papal envoy Giuseppe Marcone protested to Andrija Artukovic. Pope Pius XII had dispatched Marcone as Apostolic Visitor to Croatia, reportedly in order to assist Stepinac and the Croatian Episcopate in "combating the evil influence of neo-pagan propaganda which could be exercised in the organization of the new state". Marcone served as Nuncio in all but name.
After the release of left-wing activist Ante Ciliga from Jasenovac in January 1943, Stepinac requested a meeting with him to learn about what was occurring at the camp. He also wrote directly to Pavelić, saying on 24 February 1943, "The Jasenovac camp itself is a shameful stain on the honor of the [Independent State of Croatia]."
Stepinac advised individual priests to admit Orthodox believers to the Catholic Church if their lives were in danger, such that this conversion had no validity, allowing them to return to their faith once the danger passed.—notes 46-50 incl.
Support (for Stepinac) also came from the American Jewish Committee, who put out a declaration that On October 13, 1946, The New York Times wrote that,
The trial of Archbishop Stepinac was a purely political one with the outcome determined in advance. The trial and sentence of this Croatian prelate are in contradiction with the Yugoslavia's pledge that it will respect human rights and the fundamental liberties of all without reference to race, sex, language and creed. Archbishop Stepinac was sentenced and will be incarcerated as part of the campaign against his church, guilty only of being the enemy of Communism.
The National Conference of Christians and Jews at the Bronx Round Table adopted a unanimous resolution on October 13 (,1946) condemning the trial:
This great churchman (Stepinac) has been charged with being a collaborator with the Nazis. We Jews deny that. We know from his record since 1934, that he was a true friend of the Jews... This man, now the victim of a sham trial, all during the Nazi regime spoke out openly, unafraid, against the dreadful Nuremberg Laws, and his opposition to the Nazi terrorism was never relaxed.
In Britain, on 23 October 1946, Mr Richard Stokes MP declared in the House of Commons that,
[T]he archbishop was our constant ally in 1941, during the worst of the crisis, and thereafter, at a time when the Orthodox Church, which is now comme il faut with the Tito Government, was shaking hands with Mussolini... .
On November 1, 1946 Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons on the subject of the trial, expressing "great sadness" at the result.
This trial was prepared in the political sphere. It was for the purpose of dividing the Catholic Church in Croatia from its leadership at the Vatican. Tito has openly expressed this purpose... . The trial was not based on justice, but was an outrage on justice. Tito's regime has no interest in justice. It seeks only to stifle opposition... .[Stepinac] was one of the very rare men in Europe who raised his voice against the Nazis' tyranny at a time when it was very difficult and dangerous for him to do so.
May these closing words, excerpted from a statement by sculptor (Ivan) Meštrović, help others to ensure that the hard work of sifting fact from fiction may be diligently pursued.
(Ivan) Meštrović went on to sculpt a bust of Stepinac after his death which reads: "Archbishop Stepinac was not a man of idle words, but rather, he actively helped every person─when he was able, and to the extent he was able. He made no distinctions as to whether a man in need was a Croat or a Serb, whether he was a Catholic or an Orthodox, whether he was Christian or non-Christian. All the attacks upon him be they the product of misinformation, or the product of a clouded mind, cannot change this fact...". note 105.