|His Eminence Blessed|
|Cardinal, Archbishop of Zagreb|
|Church||Roman Catholic Church|
|Appointed||7 December 1937|
|Term ended||10 February 1960|
26 October 1930|
by Giuseppe Palica
24 June 1934|
by Antun Bauer
12 January 1953|
by Pope Pius XII
|Rank||Cardinal-Priest (no assigned title)|
|Birth name||Alojzije Viktor Stepinac|
8 May 1898|
Brezarić near Krašić,
Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia,
10 February 1960 61) (aged|
Krašić, SR Croatia, Yugoslavia
|Denomination||Catholic (Roman Rite)|
|Alma mater||Pontifical Gregorian University|
|Coat of arms||
|Feast day||10 February|
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Title as Saint||Blessed|
3 October 1998|
Marija Bistrica, Croatia
by Pope John Paul II
|Reference style||His Eminence|
|Spoken style||Your Eminence|
Aloysius Viktor Stepinac (Croatian: Alojzije Viktor Stepinac, 8 May 1898 – 10 February 1960) was a Croatian prelate of the Catholic Church. A cardinal, Stepinac served as Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 until his death, a period which included the fascist rule of the Ustaše over the Axis puppet state the Independent State of Croatia (Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska or NDH) from 1941 to 1945 during World War II. He was tried by the communist Yugoslav government after the war and convicted of treason and collaboration with the Ustaše regime. The trial was depicted in the West as a typical communist "show trial", biased against the archbishop; In a verdict that polarized public opinion both in Yugoslavia and beyond, the Yugoslav authorities found him guilty on the charge of high treason (for collaboration with the fascist Ustaše regime), as well as complicity in the forced conversions of Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but served only five at Lepoglava before being transferred to house arrest with his movements confined to his home parish of Krašić.
In 1952 he was appointed cardinal by Pope Pius XII. He was unable to participate in the 1958 conclave due to the house arrest to which he had been sentenced. On 10 February 1960, still under confinement in Krasic, Stepinac died of polycythemia and other illnesses he contracted while imprisoned. On 3 October 1998, Pope John Paul II declared him a martyr and beatified him before 500,000 Croatians in Marija Bistrica near Zagreb.
His record during World War II, conviction, and subsequent beatification remain controversial. On 22 July 2016, the Zagreb County Court annulled his post-war conviction due to "gross violations of current and former fundamental principles of substantive and procedural criminal law". However, some claim the trial against A. Stepinac was "carried out with proper legal procedure".
Stella Alexander, author of The Triple Myth, a sympathetic biography of Stepinac, writes about him that "Two things stand out. He feared Communism above all (especially above fascism); and he found it hard to grasp that anything beyond the boundaries of Croatia, always excepting the Holy See, was quite real. ... He lived in the midst of apocalyptic events, bearing responsibilities which he had not sought. ... In the end one is left feeling that he was not quite great enough for his role. Given his limitations he behaved very well, certainly much better than most of his own people, and he grew in spiritual stature during the course of his long ordeal."
Croatian historian Jozo Tomasevich wrote that while Stepinac is to be commended for his actions on behalf of individuals and groups, as well as his general proclamations of human rights, Stepinac's failure to publicly condemn the genocide against the Serbs, “cannot be defended from the standpoint of humanity, justice and common decency” The historian Robert McCormick states, “tor all the Archbishop’s hand wringing, he continued to be a tacit participant in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). He repeatedly appeared in public with the Poglavnik (the Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić), and issued Te Deum's on the anniversary of the NDH’s creation. His failure to publicly denounce the Ustaše's atrocities in the name of the NDH, was tantamount to accepting Pavelić's policies".
Alojzije Viktor Stepinac was born in Brezarić, a village in the parish of Krašić in the Austro-Hungarian Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia on 8 May 1898, to a wealthy viticulturalist, Josip Stepinac, and his second wife Barbara (née Penić). He was the fifth of nine children, and he had three more siblings from his father's first marriage.
His mother, a devout Roman Catholic, prayed constantly that he would enter the priesthood. The family moved to Krašić in 1906, and Stepinac attended primary school there, then attended high school in Zagreb from 1909–15, boarding at the Archdiocese of Zagreb orphanage. This was followed by study at the lycée of the archdiocese, as he was seriously considering taking holy orders, having sent in his application to the seminary at the age of 16.
He was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Army for service in World War I, and had to accelerate his studies and graduate ahead of schedule. Sent to a reserve officers school in Rijeka, after six months training he was sent to serve on the Italian Front in 1917 where he commanded Bosnian soldiers. In July 1918, he was captured by Italian forces who held him as a prisoner of war. His family was initially told that he had been killed, and a memorial service held in Krašić. A week after the service, his parents received a telegram from their son telling them he had been captured. He was held in various Italian prisoner-of-war camps until 6 December 1918.
After the formation of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on 1 December 1918, he was no longer treated as an enemy soldier, and he volunteered for the Yugoslav Legion that had been engaged on the Salonika Front. As the war had already ended, he was demobilized with the rank of second lieutenant and returned home in the spring of 1919.
After the war he enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Zagreb, but left it after only one semester and returned home to help his father in his vineyards. His father wanted him to marry, and in 1923 he was briefly engaged to a teacher, Marija Horvat, but the engagement was broken off. In 1922, Stepinac was part of the politically-conservative Catholic Hrvatski orlovi (Croatian Eagles) youth sport organisation, and traveled to the mass games in Brno, Czechoslovakia. He was at the front of the group's ceremonial procession, carrying the Croatian flag.
On 28 October 1924, at the age of 26, Stepinac entered the Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum in Rome to study for the priesthood. During his studies there he befriended the future Austrian cardinal Franz König when the two played together on a volleyball team. Granted an American scholarship, he went on to study for doctorates in both theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Along with Croatian, he was fluent in Italian, German and French.
He was ordained on 26 October 1930 by Archbishop Giuseppe Palica, Vicegerent of Rome, in a ceremony which also included the ordination of his eventual successor as Archbishop of Zagreb, Franjo Šeper. On 1 November, he said his first mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Stepinac wanted to serve the common people, and wanted to be a parish priest.
He celebrated his first mass in his home parish of Krašić on 1 July 1931, but instead of being appointed to a parish he was appointed as liturgical master of ceremonies to the Archbishop of Zagreb Antun Bauer on 1 October. He also established the archdiocesan branch of the Catholic charity Caritas in December of that year, and initiated and edited the Caritas magazine. He also temporarily administered the parishes of Samobor and Sveti Ivan Zelina. By this time, Stepinac had become a strong Croatian nationalist, but was not active in Catholic Action or the politically-conservative Croatian Catholic movement. He was considered "conscientious and devoted to his work".
Stepinac was appointed coadjutor bishop to Bauer on 28 May 1934 at the age of 36 years, having been a priest for only three-and-a-half years, being selected after all other candidates had been rejected. Both Pope Pius XI and King Alexander I of Yugoslavia agreed with his appointment, and although the king wanted to withdraw his assent after he received further information about Stepinac, he was dissuaded by Bauer. According to some sources, Stepinac was the fifth or even eighth candidate to be considered for the role, which brought with it the right to succeed Bauer. Stepinac's decision to join the Yugoslav Legion in 1918 made him a more acceptable candidate to King Alexander.
According to Stepinac's biographer, Friar Šimun Ćorić, Bauer asked Stepinac if he would give his formal consent to being named as Bauer's successor, but after considering the issue for several days, Stepinac refused, saying that he considered himself unfit to be appointed as a bishop. In this version of events, Bauer persisted, and once it was clear that King Alexander had agreed to his appointment, Stepinac consented. Upon his naming, he took In te, Domine, speravi (I place my trust in You, my Lord) as his motto.
At the time of his consecration on 24 June 1934, Stepinac was the youngest bishop in the Catholic Church, and was completely unknown to the Croat people. Two weeks after his consecration, he led a 15,000-strong pilgrimage to the old Marian shrine of the Black Madonna at Marija Bistrica. Stepinac followed this with annual pilgrimages to the site. Bauer delegated many tasks and responsibilities to Stepinac, and he travelled widely within the country.
Stepinac's appointment came at a time of acute political turmoil in Yugoslavia. In June 1928, the popular leader of the Croatian Peasant Party (Serbo-Croatian: Hrvatska seljačka stranka, HSS) Stjepan Radić and several other Croatian deputies had been shot by a Serb deputy in the Yugoslav Parliament. Two had died immediately and Radić had succumbed to his wounds two months later, the incident causing widespread outrage among Croats. In January of the following year, King Alexander had prorogued Parliament and had effectively become a royal dictator.
In April 1933, the new leader of the HSS Vladko Maček had been sent to prison for three years on charges of separatism after he and other opposition figures had issued the Zagreb Points condemning the royal regime and its policies. While Maček was in prison, his deputy Josip Predavec was apparently murdered by the police. When Stepinac wanted to visit Maček in prison to thank him for his well-wishes on Stepinac's appointment as coadjutor bishop, his request was denied.
In response to the many messages of support, Stepinac "was sincerely thankful for all the congratulations, but said that he was not enthusiastic about the appointment because it was too heavy a cross for him".
On 30 July 1934, Stepinac received the French deputy Robert Schuman, whom he told: "There is no justice in Yugoslavia. [...] The Catholic Church endures much". Throughout 1934, Stepinac spoke with veteran Croatian politician and de facto head of the HSS Ante Trumbić on several occasions. On his views regarding the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Trumbić recorded that Stepinac had "loyalty to the state as it is, but with the condition that the state acts towards the Catholic Church as it does to all just denominations and that it guarantees them freedom". After his consecration, Stepinac visited Belgrade to pledge his allegiance to King Alexander. The journalist Richard West quotes Stepinac: "I told the King that I was not a politician and that I would forbid my clergy to take part in party politics, but on the other hand I would look for full respect for the rights of Croats. I warned the King that the Croats must not be improperly provoked and even forbidden to use the very name of Croat, something which I had myself experienced."
On 9 October 1934, King Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles by a Bulgarian gunman backed by the Croatian nationalist organisation, the Ustaše. Stepinac, along with Bishops Antun Akšamović, Dionizije Njaradi and Gregorij Rožman, were given special permission by the Papal Nuncio in Belgrade to attend the Serbian Orthodox funeral. Less than a month after the assassination, Stepinac was among those who signed what became known as the "Zagreb Memorandum", which listed a number of demands, including the exoneration of Maček, a general amnesty, freedom of movement and association, restrictions on the activities of government-authorised paramilitaries, and free elections. The key demand of the Memorandum was that the regency that had succeeded the king should address the "Croatian question", the desire of many Croats for self-determination.
In 1936, he climbed Mount Triglav, the tallest peak in Yugoslavia. In 2006, the 70th anniversary of his climb was commemorated with a memorial chapel being built near the summit. In July 1937, he led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (then the British Mandate of Palestine). During the pilgrimage, he blessed an altar dedicated to the martyr Nikola Tavelić, who had already been beatified at that time, and was later canonised as a saint. After his return from Palestine, Stepinac began a campaign for the canonisation of Tavelić, and proposed that a monument to him be built in the Velebit mountains overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
Archbishop of Zagreb
On 7 December 1937, Bauer died, and though still below the age of forty, Stepinac succeeded him as Archbishop of Zagreb. Presaging the Ustaše reign of terror during World War II, Stepinac addressed a group of university students during Lent in 1938, saying, "Love for one's own nation must not turn a man into a wild animal, which destroys everything and calls for reprisal, but it must enrich him, so that his own nation respects and loves other nations." In 1938, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia held its last election before the outbreak of war. Stepinac voted for Maček's opposition list, while Radio Belgrade spread the false information that he had voted for Milan Stojadinović's Yugoslav Radical Union. In the latter half of 1938, Stepinac had an operation for acute appendicitis.
In 1940, Stepinac received the regent Prince Paul at St. Mark's Church as he arrived in Zagreb to garner support for the 1939 Cvetković–Maček Agreement, which had created the autonomous Banovina of Croatia within Yugoslavia. The Agreement was intended to address the "Croatian question", but did not satisfy those demanding full independence. Pope Pius XII declared the period from 29 June 1940 to 29 June 1941 as a jubilee year to celebrate 1300 years of Christianity among the Croats. In 1940, the Franciscan Order celebrated 700 years in Croatia and the order's Minister General Leonardo Bello came to Zagreb for the event. During his visit, Stepinac joined the Third Order of Saint Francis, on 29 September 1940. After the death of Bauer, Stepinac attempted to remain aloof from politics, and tried to unify Croatian Catholic organisations and subordinate them directly to his authority. He was unable to achieve this, probably because he was young and relatively inexperienced, and did not command the level of respect and authority usually accorded an Archbishop of Zagreb.
The historian Mark Biondich observes that the Catholic Church had historically been on the fringes of Croatian mass politics and public life, and that the influence of the Church had been further eroded during the interwar period due to the royal dictatorship and the popularity of the anti-clerical HSS.
Political and religious views
During his period as coadjutor archbishop and as Archbishop of Zagreb up to the German-led Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Stepinac made his views clear on a number of political and religious issues. Foremost among these statements were those regarding Protestantism, Eastern orthodoxy, communism and Freemasonry.
Stepinac criticized Protestantism, stating in a speech in 1938 that "the Catholic Church was the greatest civilising force in human history", but railed against those that wanted to deprive the Catholic Church of any influence in public life. He referred to the Reformation as the "Deformation", and denounced Luther as a false prophet who "demolished the principles of legal authority given by the Lord". He went on to blame Protestantism for the "hell in which human society suffers today", and said that it had opened the road to "anarchy in all forms of human life." Stepinac was also highly critical of Eastern orthodoxy, seeing it as a serious danger to both the Catholic Church and Croats in general. The day after the Yugoslav coup d'état of 27 March 1941, he wrote in his diary:
All in all, Croats and Serbs are two worlds, the north and south poles, which will never become close except by a miracle of God. The schism is the greatest curse of Europe, almost greater than Protestantism. In it there is no morality, no principle, no truth, no justice, no honesty.
On the same day he issued an encyclical to his clergy, calling on them to pray for the young king, and that Croatia and Yugoslavia would be "spared the horrors of war". This was consistent with long-standing practice of the Catholic Church to show loyalty to the state and its leadership.
Stepinac was well aware of the fact that an estimated 200,000 mostly Croatian Catholics had converted to the Serbian Orthodox Church in the interwar period. He later claimed that Catholics were forced to convert to Orthodoxy during the period between the wars, but according to the historian Jozo Tomasevich, the principal reason for their conversions was the pro-Serb public policy in the Serb-dominated Yugoslav state meant that it was advantageous both politically and for career prospects to be a member of the dominant religion. Stepinac viewed the Yugoslav state as essentially anti-Catholic, particularly after the failure of the Yugoslav government to ratify the Concordat with the Vatican, which would have put the Catholic Church on a more equal footing with the Orthodox Church. He was also sensitive to the fact that the Concordat had been vetoed in the Yugoslav parliament partly due to pressure exerted by the Serbian church.
The most ideal thing would be for the Serbs to return to the faith of their fathers, that is, to bow the head before Christ's representative, the Holy Father. Then we could at last breathe in this part of Europe, for Byzantinism has played a frightful role in the history of this part of the world."
Of all the threats he perceived to the Croatian people and the Catholic Church, Stepinac railed most against the dangers of communism. In August 1940, in response to the recent establishment of diplomatic relations between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, Stepinac sermonised that there could be no co-operation between the Church and communists, stated that the Church was not afraid of communists, and that communists would make Croatia "a nation of killers and robbers, debauchees, and thieves".
Stepinac was particularly obsessed with Freemasonry, which was closely associated with the unity of Yugoslavia, and was opposed to the "authoritarianism and antiliberal ideology" of the Catholic Church. In 1934 he wrote in his diary: "In Yugoslavia, today, Freemasonry rules. Unfortunately, in the heart of the Croatian nation also, in Zagreb, this hellish society has entrenched itself, a lair of immorality, corruption, and all kinds of dishonesty, the sworn enemy of the Catholic Church and therefore also of the Croatian nation. Without the knowledge and approval of the Freemasons, nobody can be appointed to any influential position. It is no joke to join battle with it, but it must be done in the interests of the church, the Croatian people, and even the state of Yugoslavia if it wants to continue to exist, because the violence that rules today is supported by Freemasonry."
Tomasevich observes that the highly critical views expressed by Stepinac on these matters were quite common among conservative senior churchmen prior to the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. He further claims that despite papal encyclicals against fascism in 1931, and Nazism in 1937, Stepinac never mentioned, criticised or condemned either of those political currents, noting that in 1938, the Catholic Church was supporting the same side as Italy and Germany in the Spanish Civil War, and public criticism of their political systems would not have been helpful. Finally, he states that the Vatican saw Germany as the most important opponent of communism. Nevertheless, Stepinac was a member of the Yugoslav Catholic Bishops' Conference that issued warnings against both Nazism and Communism after the 1937 papal encyclical against Nazism ideology. Stepinac feared both Nazism and communism, and even distrusted western democracy. This can be seen from his diary entry of 5 November 1940, when he wrote, "If Germany wins [the war], there will be appalling terror and the destruction of little nations. If England wins, the masons, [and] Jews will remain in power... If the USSR wins, then the devil will have authority over both the world and hell."
West describes Stepinac as a "puritanical zealot", who gathered together those opposing communism, liberalism, secular education, divorce reform, profanity, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and birth control, under the umbrella of the Croatian Catholic movement. Stepinac even railed against "mixed sunbathing and swimming". West also observes that by 1934, Stepinac had developed into an "ardent, almost obsessive, Croatian nationalist whose bigotry was softened only by his piety and a measure of human kindness". According to the journalist Marcus Tanner, by the time he became coadjutor bishop, Stepinac had become a determined opponent of the Serb-centric approach of the Yugoslav government, and by the time he became archbishop he was a strong supporter of the HSS, making it clear that he had voted for Maček in the 1938 elections.
World War II
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of the Catholic Church
After the outbreak of war in September 1939, Yugoslavia declared its neutrality, and the United Kingdom worked hard to help Yugoslavia maintain its stance. In the face of steadily mounting pressure from Germany and Italy, by March 1941 Yugoslavia had been completely surrounded by members of the Axis. In this situation, some senior government figures were advocating for Yugoslavia to also join the Tripartite Pact.
After a number of delays, Prince Paul and Prime Minister Cvetković signed the Pact on 25 March, but the following day there were demonstrations in Belgrade, with protesters chanting "Better the grave than a slave, better a war than the pact". In the early hours of 27 March a bloodless military coup d'état was executed. In the wake of the coup, the new government refused to ratify Yugoslavia's signing of the Tripartite Pact, but did not openly rule it out. The coup found little support with the Croatian population, and on the day after the invasion commenced Maček resigned from the government and returned to Zagreb in anticipation of unrest.
Invasion and establishment of the Independent State of Croatia
Hitler was furious when he learned of the coup, and later on 27 March 1941 he ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia. Commencing on 6 April, a German-led Axis invasion force began its assault from multiple directions, quickly overcoming the limited resistance. During the fighting, several Croat units mutinied and others performed poorly or defected. On 10 April 1941, with the assistance of the Germans, the senior Ustaše figure in the country, Slavko Kvaternik, proclaimed the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia (Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH). German tanks entered Zagreb later that same day and were greeted by cheering crowds.
Before the war the Ustaše were a fascist, ultranationalist, racist and terrorist organization, fighting for an independent Croatia. Ustaše terrorists set off bombs on international trains bound for Yugoslavia, and were convicted in the 1934 assassination of the Yugoslav King and French foreign Minister in Marseilles. Ante Pavelić, Kvaternik and other Ustaše leaders were sentenced to death in absentia by French courts, as the true assassination ringleaders. The Ustaše “17 Principles” proclaimed that those who were not of Croat blood (i.e. Serbs and Jews), will not have any political role in the future Croat state. In his 1936 tract, “The Croat Question”, the Ustaše leader, Pavelić, spouted anti-Serb and anti-Semitic hatred, calling Jews the enemy of the Croat people.
On 12 April, Stepinac visited Kvaternik and pledged his loyalty to the NDH. The following day, when the Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić arrived in Zagreb, Stepinac did not participate in the welcome, but he did visit Pavelić on 16 April. These meetings and a radio broadcast all occurred prior to the capitulation of the Yugoslav armed forces on 17 April. During this meeting, Pavelić stated that he would not be tolerant toward the Serbian Orthodox Church because it was a political organisation rather than a church. That evening, Stepinac hosted a dinner party for Pavelić and the leading Ustaše. On 27 April, Stepinac recorded in his diary that Pavelić appeared to be "a sincere Catholic and that the Church would enjoy freedom to carry out its work", although he recognised that difficulties lay ahead. On the same day, the official Croatian Catholic newspaper Nedelja praised both Pavelić and Hitler, saying:
God, who directs the destiny of nations and controls the hearts of kings, has given us Ante Pavelić and moved the leader of friendly and allied people, Adolf Hitler, to use his victorious troops to disperse our oppressors and enable us to create an Independent State of Croatia. Glory be to God, our gratitude to Adolf Hitler, and infinite loyalty to our Poglavnik, Ante Pavelić.
Our people has come face to face with its age-old and ardently desired dream. The times are such that it is no longer the tongue which speaks but the blood with its mysterious links with the country, in which we have seen the light of God, and with its people from whom we spring. Do we need to say that the blood flows more quickly in our veins, that the hearts in our breasts beat faster?... It is easy to see God's hand at work here.
Stepinac urged the clergy of his archdiocese to fulfill their duty to the new Croatian state and pray that the head of state, i.e. the Ustashe leader Pavelić, "may have the spirit and wisdom in order to fulfill noble and responsible office for the glory of God and the salvation of the people in truth and justice". Stepinac's letter captured what was a common sentiment among Croatian nationalists and much of the Catholic Church in the new state. Considering the marginal role of the Church in the political arena during the interwar period, the creation of the NDH appeared to offer the Church and the Croatian Catholic movement an opportunity. The leaders of the new state appeared willing to work with Church leaders, and thus reduce the marginalisation the Church had been subject to under the Yugoslav state.
Stepinac's immediate visits to Kvaternik and Pavelić, and his diocesan letter all assisted the Ustaše in consolidating their control of the new state, and enhanced its credibility with the Croatian people. Cornwell notes that this letter was issued on the same day that nearly 200 Serbs were massacred by the Ustaše near Bjelovar. Even prior to Stepinac’s letter, Ustaše and Volksdeutche had already destroyed the Osijek synagogue (April 14), and on April 17 Pavelić had issued the Decree on the Protection of the Nation and the State, the first of the acts that placed Serbs, Jews and Roma outside the law, leading to their persecution and destruction. The Ustaše had opened and started filling their first concentration camp (April 15), and had instituted additional discriminatory edicts against Jews and Serbs (April 14, 19, 22 and 25). Stepinac already knew of the planned racial laws, which Pavelić signed only 2 days after Stepinac issued his letter praising Pavelić and the Ustaše state.
On April 30, 1941 Pavelić signed the main Race Laws - the Legal Decree on Racial Origins, and the Legal Decree on the Protection of Aryan Blood and the Honor of the Croatian People. In May 1941 Pavelić visited the Pope. Phayer writes that Stepinac arranged the audience with Pius XII, and “recommended the dictator to the Holy See”. Ester Gitman writes that “Stepinac chose not to join Pavelić” and that he was given a private audience with the Pope. Pavelić put pressure on Archbishop Stepinac to write to Pope Pius XII, via Cardinal Maglione, to request official recognition of the Independent State of Croatia. The answer came back in July - in accordance with long-standing tradition during wartime, no Vatican recognition of the NDH was forthcoming. But the Pope did send Abbott Marcone as his apostolic visitor, who acted as papal nuncio, which satisfied Stepinac, since he felt "the Vatican had de facto recognized the new state”.
Pavelić met Hitler for the first time on 7 June 1941, and told him that many younger clergy were supportive of the Ustaše regime, but mentioned that Stepinac had advised him that he could only rule if he was "as forebearing as possible". Biondich notes that Stepinac was unhappy that many younger priests were overtly supporting the Ustaše. On 26 June 1941, Stepinac met with the Archbishop of Vrhbosna and the bishops of Belgrade, Banja Luka, Split, Hvar, Šibenik and Senj-Modruš. The Bishop of Mostar sent a friar to the meeting. The group decided to go to Pavelić to express their devotion and trust. At the reception with Pavelić, Stepinac stated that "love of religion and country spring only from God", then promised Pavelić their loyalty and co-operation.
Despite initially welcoming the Independent State of Croatia, Stepinac subsequently condemned the Nazi-aligned state's atrocities against Jews and Serbs. He objected to the persecution of Jews and Nazi laws, helped Jews and others to escape and criticized Ustaše atrocities in front of Zagreb Cathedral in 1943. Despite this, Stepinac never broke with the Ustaše regime and continued to attend public gatherings at their side.
After the invasion and Italian annexation of much of the Dalmatian coast, the ecclesiastical province of the Zagreb archbishopric included the Archdiocese of Zagreb, as well as the dioceses of Đakovo and Senj-Modruš, and the Greek Catholic Bishopric of Križevci. Stepinac had very limited formal authority over the suffragan bishops of his province, being more of a "first among equals" than a superior. He did not have the power to dictate policy or control the behaviour of the Sarajevo-based Archbishop of Vrhbosna or the other bishops in the NDH.
Relations with the government
According to John Fine, Stepinac enjoyed close associations with the Ustaše leaders, as he was the archbishop of the capital. In contrast to this view, in mid-May 1941, Maglione was already noting that Stepinac and other bishops were treading cautiously with the NDH authorities to avoid "compromising themselves" with the Ustaše leadership. In July 1941, no Te Deum was sung at the Zagreb Cathedral in celebration of Pavelić's birthday, which contributed to tension between Stepinac and the Ustaše leader. In October 1941, shortly after the destruction of the main synagogue in Zagreb, Stepinac preached a sermon in which he said,
A House of God, of whatever religion, is a holy place. Whoever touches such a place will pay with his life. An attack on a House of God of any religion constitutes an attack on all religious communities.
In November 1941, Stepinac chaired a bishop's conference, during which he heard reports from various bishops within the NDH. What he heard made his enthusiasm wane for the new Croatian state. On 20 November he wrote to Pavelić including some of the reports he had received. He stated that he believed that the worst of the atrocities were over, and that he believed they were the work of individuals. The letter did challenge Pavelić, stating that "no-one can deny that these terrible acts of violence and cruelty have been taking place", pointing out that Pavelić himself had condemned the atrocities committed by the Ustaše. He said, "The Croatian nation has been proud of its 1000-year-old culture and Christian tradition. That is why we wait for it to show in practice, now that it has achieved its freedom, a greater nobility and humanity than that displayed by its former rulers".
In December 1941, Pavelić met with the Italian foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, and told him that the lower levels of Catholic clergy displayed a very positive attitude towards the Ustaše regime, but that some of the bishops were openly hostile to the government. Cornwell states that Stepinac was "wholly in accord with the general goals of the new Croatian state".
On more than one occasion, the archbishop professed his support for the Independent State of Croatia and welcomed the demise of Yugoslavia, and continued to do so throughout the war. On 10 April each year during the war he celebrated a mass to celebrate proclamation of the NDH. Pavelić attended services at Zagreb Cathedral only once in the four years he was in power, and Stepinac did not greet him at the entrance on that occasion. Stepinac lost control of the Archdiocese's publication Katolički List under the new regime. In 1942, officials from Hungary lobbied to ecclesiastically attach Hungarian-occupied Međimurje to a diocese in Hungary. Stepinac opposed this and received guarantees from the Holy See that diocesan boundaries would not change during the war. On 26 October 1943, the Germans killed the archbishop's brother Mijo. In 1944, Stepinac received the Polish Pauline priest Salezy Strzelec, who wrote about the archbishop, Zagreb, and Marija Bistrica upon his return to Poland.
According to Tanner, Stepinac remained naive about politics and the nature of the Ustaše regime. In 1943, Stepinac travelled to the Vatican and came into contact with the Croatian artist Ivan Meštrović. According to Meštrović, Stepinac asked him whether he thought Pavelić knew about the killings of Serbs. When Meštrović replied that Pavelić must know everything, Stepinac went pale and burst into tears.
The historian Martin Gilbert wrote that despite initially welcoming the Independent State of Croatia, Stepinac later "condemned Croat atrocities against both Serbs and Jews, and himself saved a group of Jews in an old age home". According to West, Stepinac and the entire Catholic Church remained loyal to Pavelić and the NDH. West states that Stepinac was one of the priests and father-confessors to senior Ustaše such as Pavelić, Budak, Kvaternik and Artuković.
In May 1943, Stepinac wrote to the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, and the contents of the letter reveal aspects of the attitude of the Croatian Catholic Church towards the NDH. Stepinac referred to complaints made by the Yugoslav government-in-exile to the Vatican claiming that the Church had not done its duty towards persecuted members of the Orthodox Church, and also that the Catholic Church had approved and arranged measures such as forced conversions. Stepinac described these complaints as "enemy propaganda" aimed at bringing the NDH into disrepute in the eyes of the Vatican. He admitted that atrocities had been committed against Serbs by irresponsible people without the sanction of the NDH authorities, and claimed that many of those responsible had been executed by the government. He deplored and condemned the atrocities, but stated that they were a reaction to Serb behaviour during the interwar period during which, he claimed, Serbs had violated all the rights of the Croatian people. He also reminded the Cardinal of the assassination of the Croatian deputies in the Parliament in 1928. His letter pointed out that the NDH authorities had taken a lot of actions that were seen as positive by the Church, including opposing abortion, pornography, Freemasonry and communism. Other actions of benefit to the Church mentioned by Stepinac included the Christian education of soldiers, religious education in schools, financial support for seminaries, church-building and maintenance, increased salaries for the clergy, and support for Church charitable work.
In 1944, the NDH Ministry for Justice and Religion proposed, and Stepinac accepted the Order of Merit medal from Pavelić, for ”having as archbishop unmasked inside and outside the country the opponents of the Independent State of Croatia”
The Catholic Church in the NDH began to criticise actions taken by the government, and attempted to distance itself to some extent from the authorities. It had no real alternative, given that the likely alternate governments were led by Serb-chauvinist Chetniks or communists. Instead, the Church maintained its support of the NDH government to the bitter end. This is demonstrated by the pastoral letter issued after the episcopal conference of 24 March 1945, in which the Croatian Catholic Church maintained its formal support for the puppet state and its rulers, despite the fact that most senior regime figures were preparing to flee the country. The Catholic press in the NDH also maintained its support of Pavelić right to the end.
Biondich concludes that claims that Stepinac was an Ustaše sympathiser, and even the spiritual leader of the regime are unfounded. He further states that while Stepinac supported independence, he "began privately to distance himself from the regime within weeks, and certainly within months of the Croatian state's formation." He also observes that while Stepinac continued to attend to his ceremonial duties at official state events, he was privately raising his concerns with the Ustaše leaders.
On the other hand, historian Robert McCormick states, “tor all the Archbishop’s hand wringing, he continued to be a tacit participant in the Independent State of Croatia (ISC). He repeatedly appeared in public with the Poglavnik (the Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić), and issued Te Deum’s on the anniversary of the NDH’s creation. His failure to publicly denounce the Ustaše’s atrocities in the name of the NDH, was tantamount to accepting Pavelić’s policies".
On April 10, 1945., Stepinac held a mass in the Zagreb Cathedral for the 4th anniversary of the NDH’s founding, and Te Deum’s were sung for what was left of the Ustaše state. Mark West notes that, on April 15, as Pavelić and other Ustaše leaders were getting ready to flee, “Archbishop Stepinac devoted his sermon to what he believed was Croatia’s worst sin, not mass murder, but swearing”
Response to Ustaše atrocities
The atrocities committed by the Ustaše can be categorised into four broad areas, all of which fell largely on the Serb population of the NDH; racial laws, mass killings and concentration camps, deportations, and forced conversions to Catholicism.
Stepinac protested Ustaše Race Laws, yet at as the historian Ivo Goldstein notes, at first he seemed to concede the validity of these laws, while seeking to modify them. Thus, on April 23, 1941, Stepinac wrote to the Ustaše Interior Minister, Artuković, "on the occasion of the announced passage of anti-Jewish laws”, to caution of “good Catholics who are of the Jewish race and who have converted from the Jewish religion...I consider that it would be necessary, in passing the necessary laws, to take converts of this kind into account." Thus, Stepinac viewed Race Laws as “necessary”, but that they should not apply to Jewish converts to Catholicism (Stepinac knew the Ustaše were preparing Race Laws when he supported the Ustaše and Pavelić in his letter of April 28, 1941, issued 2 days before Pavelić signed the race laws)
Stepinac again wrote to Artuković on 22 May to protest the Race Laws and their application to converted Jews, telling him that members of other races should not be discriminated against "through no fault of their own." He wrote, "We... appeal to you to issue regulations so that even in the framework of antisemitic legislation, and similar legislation concerning Serbs, the principles of human dignity be preserved.". Stepinac added: “Everyone will certainly approve the attempt for the economy to be in national hands, not to allow a non-national and anti-national element to amass capital, or foreign elements to decide about the State and the people. But to take away any possibility of existence from members of other peoples or other races, and to brand them with the stamp of shame, this is an issue of humanity and a question of morality”.
As Goldstein notes, Stepinac seemingly argued for “humane” Race Laws. On 24 May 1942, Stepinac condemned racial persecution in general terms, though he did not specifically mention Serbs. He stated in a diocesan letter:
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.
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.
In his homily of October 31, 1943, described as his most direct critique of the Ustaše, Stepinac first inveighed against abortion, the “pagan fashions of today’s female world” and “all the licentiousness ...that has been observed... at sea beaches and other bathing spots”. He blames these "sins" for the fact that "God like thunder today brings down not just cities and villages, but entire peoples”. The speech’s primary theme is the defense of the Church’s actions, against those who “accuse us of not having arisen in timely or appropriate fashion against the crimes in parts of our homeland”. Stepinac states that “the Church cannot force others to behave according to God’s laws” and cannot be responsible for “the hotheads in its own priestly ranks” (i.e. the priests who supported or participated in Ustaše crimes). He proclaims it was not the Church that "created in the souls of people the dissatisfaction and insatiability which has produced such sad consequences", instead he blames "certain circles, organizations, and members of other national groups".
Stepinac then criticizes at length Communism, its denial of private property rights, its approval of divorce, negation of God, refusal to allow religious education in schools, etc. Only after this does he refer to Ustaše crimes, stating “The Catholic Church does not know races that lord over others, or slave races. The Catholic Church knows only races and peoples as the creatures of God, and if it values some more, it is those of noble heart, and not of stronger fist. For her, a king in the royal palace is a man, in the same way as the last pauper and gypsy under a tent ... The system of shooting hundreds of hostages for a crime in which no culprit can be found is a pagan system that never yielded a good fruit”
In this speech Stepinac condemns “all the wrongdoing, all the killing of the innocent, all the burning of villages”. Much of his public criticism was spoken after most of the genocides were already completed, and it became clear the Nazis and Ustaše would lose. These belated speeches were made before limited audiences, unlike his pastoral letter, condemning the Communists, that he ordered read from all the pulpits across Croatia, only 4 months after the Communists seized power.
In a letter to the Vatican of May 1943, Stepinac still praised the Ustaše for the “good things” they had done, including the “strict ban on all pornographic publications, which were first and foremost published by Jews and Orthodox!”. Stepinac continued to support until the very end the same Ustaše state that continued to maintain Nazi-style Race Laws, and continued to kill people based on these laws.
Stepinac was involved directly and indirectly in efforts to save Jews from persecution. Amiel Shomrony (Emil Schwartz), was the personal secretary of Miroslav Šalom Freiberger (the chief rabbi in Zagreb) until 1942. In the actions for saving Jews, Shomrony acted as the mediator between the chief rabbi and Stepinac. He later stated that he considered Stepinac "truly blessed" since he did the best he could for the Jews during the war. Allegedly the Ustaša government at this point agitated at the Holy See for him to be removed from the position of archbishop of Zagreb, this however was refused due to the fact that the Vatican did not recognize the Ustaše state (despite Italian pressure). Stepinac and the papal nuncio to Belgrade mediated with Royal Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian troops, urging that the Yugoslav Jews be allowed to take refuge in the occupied Balkan territories to avoid deportation. He also arranged for Jews to travel via these territories to the safe, neutral states of Turkey and Spain, along with Istanbul-based nuncio Angelo Roncalli. He sent some Jews for safety to Rev. Dragutin Jeish, who was killed during the war by the Ustaše on suspicion of supporting the Partisans.
Mass killings and concentration camps
The Ustaše unleashed a reign of terror in which 80% of the Jews (30.000 people) in the NDH were killed, as well as practically all the Roma (25.000 people), and almost 20% of the Serb population (340.000 people – see: Number of victims). Stepinac initially responded to these mass killings with private letters of protest. Thus, on 14 May 1941, Stepinac received word of an Ustaše massacre of Serb villagers at Glina. On the same day, he wrote to Pavelić saying:
Just now I received news that the Ustaše in Glina executed without trial and investigation 260 Serbs. I know that the Serbs committed some major crimes in our homeland in these last twenty years. But I consider it my bishop's responsibility to raise my voice and to say that this is not permitted according to Catholic teaching, which is why I ask that you undertake the most urgent measures on the entire territory of the Independent State of Croatia, so that not a single Serb is killed unless it is shown that he committed a crime warranting death. Otherwise, we will not be able to count on the blessing of heaven, without which we must perish.
According to Biondich, in the first weeks or even months after the establishment of the NDH, Stepinac may have not known that the atrocities perpetrated by the Ustaše were a key component of their plan. This view supposes that Stepinac considered the atrocities were either spontaneous or the result of so-called "irresponsible elements" who would be held to account by the authorities. His correspondence with Pavelić tends to suggest he did not believe that the Poglavnik would have sanctioned such actions. Although Stepinac was firmly opposed to the idea of Ustaše to establish a concentration camp within the borders of the Đakovo Bishop's domain, the Đakovo concentration camp was established in the deserted flour mill owned by the Diocese of Đakovo on 1 December 1941.
On the other hand, Phayer writes, "it is impossible to believe that Stepinac and the Vatican did not know that the Ustasha murders amounted to genocide", given the "repression and terrorism of the Ustasha regime were without parallel in the history of Southeastern Europe". Stepinac clearly knew of the May 1941 Glina massacre, and early on that the Ustaše state was sending Jews, Serbs and others to concentration camps. Initially, Stepinac did not oppose these deportations of Jews and others to concentration camps as a matter of principle, but pleaded they be carried out “humanely”, by proposing to Pavelić, on July 21, 1941, the introduction of “some particulars to mitigate the procedure: a) for people to be sent to camp in such a way to allow them to prepare what would be the most essential, to allow them to arrange their most urgent obligations both to their families and their jobs; b) for transport not to be in crowded sealed railway cars, especially to distant places; c) to give internees enough food; d) to provide those who are ill with medical treatment; e) to allow the most necessary food to be sent to them, and enable them to correspond with their families.".
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. After seven Slovene priests were killed at Jasenovac, Stepinac wrote to Pavelić on 24 February 1943, saying:
This is a shameful blot and crime which cries to heaven for revenge, as the whole Jasenovac camp is a shameful fault for the Independent State of Croatia... the entire public, and especially the relatives of the killed priests, ask for compensation and satisfaction and ask that the killers, who are the greatest misfortune for Croatia, be brought before a court of justice.
These were still private protest letters. Although later in 1942 and 1943, Stepinac started to speak out more openly against the Ustaše genocides, this was after most of the genocides were already committed, and it became increasingly clear the Nazis and Ustaše will be defeated. Additionally, Stepinac never publicly condemned the numerically greatest Ustaše genocide, that against the Serbs, and Stepinac continued to support until the very end the Ustaše state that committed these crimes.
Addressing defenders of Stepinac’s more private approach, Ivo Goldstein notes that “relatively more persecuted Jews were saved when high church dignitaries openly, energetically and in a principled manner opposed this persecution – as in France (especially the Archbishops of Toulouse and Lyon), the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark, and for a time even in Germany itself. Catholic bishops in Slovakia strongly opposed Nazi demands for radical deportations and thus saved the lives of many converted Jews, and the Orthodox Metropolitan Stefan in Sofia, by tireless public defense of Jewish lives, played a fundamental role in preventing even one Jew from being deported to the Nazi camps from Bulgaria”. In nearly all these cases a much greater percent of the Jewish population survived, compared to the nearly 80% of Jews exterminated in the Independent State of Croatia, along with practically the entire Roma population, and nearly one-fifth of Serbs.
Stepinac again wrote to Pavelić on 21 July 1941 in the wake of mass deportations of Serbs from the NDH and the attendant massacres, stating he was sure that Pavelić was not aware of the atrocities, and that others might not be willing to tell him about them. He wrote that this situation meant there was an even greater obligation on Stepinac to bring them to Pavelić's attention. Further, he said he had received information from different sources regarding "inhumane and brutal treatment... during the deportations and at the camps, and even worse, that neither children, old people or the sick are spared." Having heard that some of the deportees were recent converts to Catholicism, he had a duty to show greater concern regarding them. He asked that "humane and Christian consideration... be shown especially to weak old people, young and innocent children, and the sick." According to Biondich, it is highly likely that Stepinac shared these concerns with the Vatican.
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. Mancone reported to Rome on the deteriorating conditions for Croatian Jews, made representations on behalf of the Jews to Croatian officials, and transported Jewish children to safety in neutral Turkey.
In a circular letter to his clergy, Stepinac initially insisted that conversion had to be done freely, and only after religious instruction. While this and subsequent regulations were designed to protect “the church hierarchy against charges of promoting forced conversions”, they also indicated “the church was willing to cooperate with regime’s forced conversions, provided the canonical rules were followed”. Indeed, on December 3, 1941 Stepinac sent the pope a report, wherein he notes “the best prospects exist for the conversions”.
However, the churches instructions were ignored by the Ustaše authorities. The authorities not only conducted forcible conversions, but on occasion they used the prospect of conversion as a means to gather Serbs together so they could kill them, which is what occurred at Glina. Some Serbs demanded that the local Catholic clergy convert them in order to save their lives. Later 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.
On May 18, 1943 Stepinac wrote a letter to the pope, in which he estimated 240.000 conversions to date (despite some disputes Tomasevich states this letter is authentic). The Catholic Church in Croatia has also had to contend with criticism of what some have seen as a passive stance towards the Ustaša policy of religious conversion whereby some Serbs – but not the intelligentsia element – were able to escape other persecution by adopting the Catholic faith. According to Cornwell, through his role in the forced conversions, Stepinac displayed a "moral dislocation" that "endorsed a contempt for religious freedom tantamount to complicity with the violence".
While Stepinac did suspend a number of priests, including Ivo Guberina and Zvonko Brekalo, he only had the authority to do so within his own diocese; he had no power to suspend other priests or bishops outside of Zagreb, as that power was reserved for the Vatican. Due to the arbitrary nature of justice in the NDH and the absence of proper systems for complaint and redress, people such as Stepinac developed an approach of intervening personally with senior government figures on behalf of victims.
Other crimes against the Serbian Orthodox Church
In addition to forced conversions, Tomasevich describes other elements of the “Ustaše massive attack against the Serbian Orthodox Church”. The Ustaše killed 157 Orthodox priests, among them 3 Serb Orthodox bishops (cutting the throat of the bishop of Banja Luka and killing the archbishop of Sarajevo), while they jailed and tortured the Orthodox archbishop of Zagreb. The Ustaše expelled to Serbia 327 Orthodox priests and one bishop, while 2 other bishops and 12 priests left on their own. Thus 85% of the Orthodox priests in the Independent State of Croatia were either killed or expelled by the Ustaše, in order to “leave the Orthodox population without spiritual leadership so the Ustašas’ policy of forced or fear-induced conversions to Catholicism would be easier to carry out”
The Ustaše destroyed and desecrated numerous Orthodox Churches, forbade the Cyrillic script and Julian calendar (both used in the Orthodox Church), even prohibited the term “Serbian Orthodox Church”. Orthodox schools were shut down, and the Church was prohibited from collecting contributions from believers, robbing it of income. Orthodox Church properties were confiscated by the Ustaše, some turned over to the Croatian Catholic Church. Finally, to destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Ustaše tried to create its own, alternative Croatian Orthodox Church, with an imported Russian priest. but failed to gain adherents
Despite these many actions by the Ustaše to destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church, Tomasevich found no condemnations of these crimes, public or private, by Stepinac or any other members of the Croatian Catholic Church. On the contrary, he states that this massive Ustaše attack on the Serbian Orthodox Church “was approved and supported by many Croatian Catholic priests”, and that the Croatian Catholic Church hierarchy and the Vatican “regarded Ustaše policies against the Serbs and Serbian Orthodox Church as advantageous to Roman Catholicism”
Overall assessments of Stepinac's actions during WWII
Tomasevich assesses Stepinac's wartime words and deeds in three categories : (1) Private actions to help certain individuals and groups, where he states Stepinac "deserves highest praise, although his actions were not always successful”, (2) Proclamations of general human rights, expressed in his sermons at first “occasionally and mildly”, but more strongly after 1943 (after the Ustashe had already perpetrated most of the genocides, and it was clear the Nazis and Ustashe would be defeated), also deserve praise, and (3) Statements dealing with overall Church policy toward the wartime Croatian state. Here Tomasevich states “there are serious shortcomings in Stepinac’s statements and actions toward the Ustashe regime and its genocidal actions against the Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church”
Thus, despite the Ustashe genocide against the Serbs, the ethnic cleansing and forced conversions, the killings and expulsions of most Orthodox priests, the destruction and desecration of many Orthodox Churches, “neither Archbishop Stepinac, nor any other Catholic bishop in the state...uttered one word of public protest” against these crimes. “This was not a mere oversight. It was a deliberate policy” as stated by the papal legate Abbot Marcone, when he wrote in 1943 that given the fact that most guerrillas were “schismatics” (i.e. Eastern-Orthodox Serbs) “our Croatian episcopate does not have any special motive to protest publicly against the government in favor of the schismatics” In Stepinac's case this was compounded by his “dim view of Orthodoxy and thought that an unbridgeable gulf existed between Croats and Serbs”. Additionally, given both Stepinac's and the Vatican’s desire to see a Catholic state in Croatia and have a legate there, “the Church had to refrain from publicly criticizing the government’s policies”.
Tomasevich concludes "the policy of the Croatian Catholic Church hierarchy and the Vatican of not publicly condemning the Ustasha regime's actions during the war will probably remain controversial. From the standpoint of humanity, justice and common decency, it cannot be defended. But Stepinac was not the only one responsible for it, the Vatican was too"
After the war, on 17 May 1945, Stepinac was arrested.
On 2 June, Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito met with representatives of the Archdiocese of Zagreb, during which he advocated the idea that "the Catholic Church could do more for the people if it was independent of the Vatican" and more "national", like the Serbian Orthodox Church. The following day, Stepinac was released from custody. One day later, Stepinac met with Tito, during which Tito's prime goal was to promote the idea of an autonomous Catholic Church for Yugoslavia with its own primate. This was consistent with the policy of the Yugoslav government in the immediate post-war period.
On 22 June, the bishops of Croatia released a public letter accusing the Yugoslav authorities of injustices and crimes towards them. On 28 June, Stepinac wrote a letter to the government of Croatia asking for an end to the prosecution of Nazi collaborationists (collaboration having been widespread in occupied Yugoslavia). On 10 July, Stepinac's secretary Stjepan Lacković travelled to Rome. While he was there, the Yugoslav authorities forbade him to return. In August, a new land reform law was introduced which legalized the confiscation of 85 percent of church holdings in Yugoslavia.
During the same period the archbishop almost certainly had ties with the post-war Ustaše guerrillas, the "Crusaders", and actively worked against the state. After fleeing with Pavelić, Erih Lisak, the last Ustaše chief of police, secretly returned to Croatia in September 1945, to organize remaining Ustaše forces hiding in forests, and he established contact with Stepinac’s office and Stepinac himself. Ante Moškov, a former Ustaše general, also contacted Stepinac, and the police discovered Ustaše files and gold hidden in the archbishopric cellars.
In September 1945, a synod of the Bishops' Conference of Yugoslavia was held in Zagreb which discussed the confrontation with the government. On 20. September, Stepinac published a pastoral letter in which he stated that "273 clergymen had been killed" since the Partisan take-over, "169 had been imprisoned", and another "89 were missing and presumed dead". The bishops also criticized the virtual suppression of the Catholic press, the fact that religious education was restricted, the confiscation of the majority of church lands, and the confiscation of seminaries. They condemned all ideologies based on a materialist atheistic philosophy. They strongly condemned the introduction of civil marriages, in addition to church marriages.
This pastoral letter was read in Catholic churches across Yugoslavia. The letter repeatedly condemned the Communists by name, in great detail, while Stepinac never condemned the Ustaše by name, making only brief, general references to their crimes, to very limited audiences. The letter’s extensive criticism of Communist actions against the Catholic Church, also contrasted with Stepinac’s complete silence, noted by Tomasevich, regarding the massive Ustaše attacks on the Serbian Orthodox Church - e.g. the Ustaše killing and exiling of 85% of Orthodox priests, efforts to entirely eliminate the Serbian church and replace it with an Ustaše-created Orthodox church, etc.
In response to this letter Tito spoke out publicly against Stepinac for the first time by writing an editorial on 25 October in the communist party's newspaper Borba accusing Stepinac of declaring war on the fledgling new Yugoslavia. Consequently, on 4 November a crowd of Partisans threw stones at Stepinac in Zaprešić. Tito had established "brotherhood and unity" as the federation's overarching objective and central policy, one which he did not want threatened by internal agitation. In addition, with the escalating Cold War conflict and increased concerns over both Western and Soviet infiltration (see Tito-Stalin split), the Yugoslav government did not tolerate further internal subversion within the potentially fragile new federation.
In an effort to put a stop to the archbishop's activities, Tito attempted to reach an accord with Stepinac, and achieve a greater degree of independence for the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia and Croatia. Stepinac refused to break from the Vatican, and continued to publicly condemn the communist government. Tito, however, was reluctant to bring him to trial, in spite of condemning evidence which was available. Abandoning the strive towards increased Church independence, Tito first attempted to persuade Stepinac to cease his activities. When this too failed, in January 1946 the federal government attempted to solicit his replacement with the Papal Nuncio in Belgrade, a request that was denied. Finally, Stepinac was himself asked to leave the country, which he refused. In September 1946 the Yugoslav authorities indicted Stepinac on multiple counts of war crimes and collaboration with the enemy during wartime. Milovan Đilas, a prominent leader in the Party, stated that Stepinac would never have been brought to trial "had he not continued to oppose the new Communist regime." Stella Alexander suggests that Yugoslav authorities wished to balance the arrest and execution of Serb leader Draža Mihailović by moving against a prominent Croat; and in the words of the Public Prosecutor, "to unmask before the world a concerted conspiracy by the western imperial powers against the new Yugoslavia".
By September of the same year the Yugoslav authorities indicted Stepinac on several counts—collaboration with the occupation forces, relations with the Ustaše regime, having chaplains in the Ustaše army as religious agitators, forced conversions of Serb Orthodox to Catholicism at gunpoint and high treason against the Yugoslav government. Stepinac was arrested on 18 September 1946 and his trial started on 30 September 1946, where he was tried alongside former officials of the Ustaše government including Erih Lisak (sentenced to death) and Ivan Šalić. Altogether there were 19 defendants.
The prosecution presented their evidence for the archbishop's collaboration with the Ustaše regime. Numerous witnesses were heard concerning the killings and forced conversions members of Aloysius Stepinac's military vicariate performed, explaining that "forced conversions" were more often than not followed by the slaughter of the new "converts". In relation to these events the prosecution pointed out that even if the archbishop did not explicitly order them, he also did nothing to stop them or punish those within the church who were responsible. They also pointed out the disproportionate number of chaplains in the NDH armed forces and attempted to present in detail his relationship with the Ustaše authorities.
On 3 October as part of the fourth day of the proceedings, Stepinac gave a lengthy 38-minute speech during which he laid down his views on the legitimacy of the trial. He claimed that the process was a "show trial", that he was being attacked in order for the state to attack the Church, and that "no religious conversions were done in bad faith". He went on to state that "My conscience is clear and calm. If you will not give me the right, history will give me that right", and that he did not intend to defend himself or appeal against a conviction, and that he is prepared to take ridicule, disdain, humiliation and death for his beliefs. He claimed that the military vicariate in the Independent State of Croatia was created to address the needs of the faithful among the soldiers and not for the army itself, nor as a sign of approval of all action by the army. He stated that he was never an Ustaša and that his Croatian nationalism stemmed from the nation's grievances in the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and that he never took part in any anti-government or terrorist activities against the state or against Serbs.
Stepinac also mentioned 260–270 priests were summarily executed by the Allied Yugoslav army for collaboration, which was widespread among the Catholic clergy in many parts of the NDH, and that these summary death sentences "uncivilized". He also spoke against the nationalization of Church property and the newly implemented division of church and state (prevention of Church involvement in education, press, charitable work, and teaching of religion in school), as well as alleged intimidation and molestation of clergy. He also complained against atheism, spoke out against evolution, materialism, and communism in general.
Stepinac was arrested on September 18, and was only given the indictment on the 23rd−meaning his defense were given only six to seven days to prepare. Stepinac's defense counsel were only allowed to call twenty witnesses—while the prosecution was allowed to call however many they pleased. The President of the Court refused to hear fourteen witnesses for the defense without giving any reason why.
On 11 October 1946, the court found Stepinac guilty of high treason and war crimes. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He served five years in the prison at Lepoglava until he was released in a conciliatory gesture by Tito, on condition that he either retire to Rome or be confined to his home parish of Krašić. He chose to stay in Krašić, saying he would never leave "unless they put me on a plane by force and take me over the frontier."
According to Biondich, Stepinac's conviction for high treason was political, given that the Yugoslav authorities had a vested interest in it. Professor Bogdan Kolar of the University of Ljubljana notes that the chief trial prosecutor, Jakov Blažević, admitted in a 1985 interview with the Slovenian magazine Polet that "Stepinac's only crime was not partaking in the separation of the Church in Croatia from the Vatican."
In the escalating Cold War atmosphere, and with the Vatican putting forward worldwide publicity, the trial was depicted in the West as a typical communist "show trial", in which the testimony was all false. The trial was immediately condemned by the Holy See. All Catholics who had taken part in the court proceedings, including most of the jury members, were excommunicated by Pope Pius XII who referred to the process as the "saddest trial" (tristissimo processo).
In the United States, one of Stepinac's biggest supporters was the Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cushing, who delivered several sermons in support of him. U.S. Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson on 11 October 1946 bemoaned the conditions in Yugoslavia and stated his regret of the trial.
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 13 October condemning the trial:
This great churchman 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.
[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 1 November 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.
Annulment of the verdict
On July 22, 2016, Zagreb County Court annulled the verdict in the review process, requested by the Archbishop's nephew Boris Stepinac, "due to gross violations of current and former fundamental principles of substantive and procedural criminal law". While explaining the verdict, Judge Ivan Turudić stated that the verdict had violated the principle of the right to a fair trial, appeal and a reasoned court decision, as well as the principle of the prohibition of forced labour and the rule of law, adding that it was enough to read some parts of the minutes of the trial, which demonstrated that the court mainly analyzed evidence that instructed witnesses for the prosecution to charge the defendant and that the actual decision in reality was not made by the court but by prosecutor Jakov Blažević. Judge Turudić criticized the fact that the verdict was not explained, but that the Court just repeated general allegations from the indictment, as well as the fact that the goal of the process was revenge against Cardinal Stepinac, moral disqualification of him and the Catholic Church. In conclusion, Judge Turudić stated that the verdict has been revised after nearly 70 years which has a profound significance for the history of the Croatian people.
In Stepinac's absence, archbishop of Belgrade Josip Ujčić became acting president of the Bishops' Conference of Yugoslavia, a position he held until Stepinac's death. In March 1947 the president of the People's Republic of Croatia Vladimir Bakarić made an official visit to Lepoglava prison to see Stepinac. He offered him to sign an amnesty plea to Yugoslavia's leader Josip Broz who would in turn allow Stepinac to leave the country. Instead, Stepinac gave Bakarić a request to Broz that he be retried by a neutral court. He also offered to explain his actions to the Croatian people on the largest square in Zagreb. A positive response was not received from either request.
The 1947 pilgrimage to Marija Bistrica attracted 75,000 people. Dragutin Saili had been in charge of the pilgrimage on the part of the Yugoslav authorities. At a meeting of the Central Committee on 1 August 1947 Saili was chastised for allowing pictures of Stepinac to be carried during the pilgrimage, as long as the pictures were alongside those of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz. Marko Belinić responded to the report by saying, "Saili's path, his poor cooperation with the Local Committee, is a deadly thing".
In February 1949, the United States House of Representatives approved a resolution condemning Stepinac's imprisonment, with the Senate following suit several months later. Aloysius Stepinac eventually served five years of his sixteen-year sentence for high treason in the Lepoglava prison, where he received preferred treatment in recognition of his clerical status. He was allocated two cells for personal use and an additional cell as his private chapel, while being exempt of all hard labor.
In 1950, a group of United States senators made foreign aid to Yugoslavia conditional on Stepinac's release. On 11 November 1951, Cyrus L. Sulzberger from The New York Times visited Stepinac in Lepoglava. He won the Pulitzer Prize for the interview.
A visiting congressional delegation from the United States, including Clement J. Zablocki and Edna F. Kelly, pressed to see Stepinac in late November 1951. Their request was denied by the Yugoslav authorities, but Josip Broz Tito assured the delegation that Stepinac would be released within a month. Stepinac was released as a precondition for American aid, on the condition that he either retire to Rome or be confined to his home parish of Krašić. He refused to leave Yugoslavia and opted to live in Krašić under a form of house arrest, to which he was transferred on 5 December 1951. He lived in the parish presbytery and was able to say Mass in the adjacent church. He stated that: "They will never make me leave unless they put me on a plane by force and take me over the frontier. It is my duty in these difficult times to stay with the people."
At a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia on 5 October 1951, the Croatian Prime Minister Ivan Krajačić said, "In America they are printing the book Crvena ruža na oltaru (Roses Roses on the Altar) of 350 pages, in which is described the entire Stepinac process. Religious education is particularly recently being taught on a large scale. We should do something about this. We could ban religious education. We could ban religious education in schools, but they will then pass it into their churches". On 31 January 1952 the Yugoslav authorities abolished religious education in state-run public schools, as part of the programme of separating church and state in Yugoslavia. In April, Stepinac told a journalist from Belgium's La Libertea, "I am greatly concerned about Catholic youth. In schools they are carrying out intensive communist propaganda, based on negating the truth".
On 29 November 1952, his name appeared in a list of cardinals to be newly created by Pope Pius XII; the day coincided with Yugoslavia's Republic Day. (Stepinac would never go to Rome to receive the red hat and titular church.) Yugoslavia then severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican in October 1953. In 1954, Stepinac received a rare visit from a Swedish journalist, to whom he said, "I tried to save, and did save, thousands of lives", and "[a]s for the massacres in the churches, what could I do?" The government also expelled the Catholic Faculty of Theology from the University of Zagreb, to which it was not restored until the first democratic elections were held in 1990, and was finally formalized in 1996.
Pius XII wrote to Cardinal Stepinac and three other jailed prelates (Stefan Wyszyński, József Mindszenty and Josef Beran) on 29 June 1956 urging their supporters to remain loyal. Stepinac was unable to participate in the 1958 Papal conclave due to his house arrest, despite calls from the Bishops' Conference of Yugoslavia for his release. On 2 June 1959 he wrote in a letter to Ivan Meštrović: "I likely will not live to see the collapse of communism in the world due to my poor health. But I am absolutely certain of that collapse."
Death and martyrdom controversies
In 1953, Stepinac was diagnosed with polycythemia, a rare blood disorder involving the excess of red blood cells, causing him to joke "I am suffering from an excess of reds." On 10 February 1960 at the age of 61, Stepinac died of a thrombosis. Pope John XXIII held a requiem mass for him soon after at St. Peter's Basilica. He was buried in Zagreb during a service in which the protocols appropriate to his senior clerical status were, with Tito's permission, fully observed. Cardinal Franz König was among those who attended the funeral. Yugoslav government relations with the Vatican improved after Stepinac's death, and developed further after the Second Vatican Council of 1962–65. Diplomatic relations were restored in 1966.
Notwithstanding that Stepinac died peacefully at home, he quickly became a martyr in the view of his supporters and many other Catholics. In 1998, traces of arsenic were detected in Stepinac's bones, leading many to believe he had been poisoned by his captors. But administration of arsenic along with bloodletting was a standard treatment for polycythemia in the early 1950s.
Meštrović did not return to Yugoslavia until 1959 and upon his return met again with Stepinac, who was then under house arrest. 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....".
In 1970, Glas Koncila published a text on Stepinac taken from L'Osservatore Romano which resulted in the edition being confiscated by court decree. Stepinac's beatification process began on October 9, 1981. The Catholic Church declared Stepinac a martyr on November 11, 1997, and on October 3, 1998 Pope John Paul II, while on pilgrimage to Marija Bistrica to beatify Stepinac, declared that Stepinac had indeed been martyred. John Paul had earlier determined that where a candidate for sainthood had been martyred, his/her cause could be advanced without the normal requirement for evidence of a miraculous intercession by the candidate. Accordingly, he beatified him.
Many non-Catholics have remained unconvinced about Stepinac's martyrdom and about his saintly qualities in general. The beatification re-ignited old controversies between Catholicism and Communism and between Serbs and Croats. The Jewish community in Croatia, some members of which had been helped by Stepinac during World War II, did not oppose his beatification but the Simon Wiesenthal Center asked for it to be deferred until his wartime conduct of had been investigated further. The Vatican had no reaction, though some Croats expressed irritation.
According to Ljubojević, Gavrilović and Perica, the mythology regarding Stepinac was created during the Cold War and newly independent Croatia with the cardinal's beatification in 1998. Their assessment is that this myth positioned Stepinac as the primary character in Croatian mythology, crediting him as a hero and martyr who was politically impartial. This myth alleges that Stepinac resisted all forms of totalitarianism in equal measure. The authors claim that Stepinac was a much greater opponent of communism than he was of Nazism and fascism, but his story was used by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to legitimise Croatian independence and to bolster the role of the Catholic Church as a central pillar of Croatian statehood.
On 14 February 1992, Croatian representative Vladimir Šeks put forth a declaration in the Croatian Sabor condemning the court decision and the process that led to it. The declaration was passed, along with a similar one about the death of Croatian communist official Andrija Hebrang. The declaration states that the true reason of Stepinac's imprisonment was his pointing out many communist crimes and especially refusing to form a Croatian Catholic Church in schism with the Pope. The verdict has not been formally challenged nor overturned in any court between 1997 and 1999 while it was possible under Croatian law. In 1998, the Croatian National Bank released commemoratives 500 kuna gold and 150 kuna silver coins.
In 2007, the municipality of Marija Bistrica began on a project called Stepinac's Path, which would build pilgrimage paths linking places significant to the cardinal: Krašić, Kaptol in Zagreb, Medvednica, Marija Bistrica, and Lepoglava. The Aloysius Stepinac Museum opened in Zagreb in 2007.
Today, name Alojzije is one of the quite common names (among the top thousand) in Croatia, with over a thousand namesakes living there. The name Alojzije was the most popular from years 1932 to 1938. The peak year was 1938. It was the least popular from years 1970 to 1980. About 160 people with faimily name Stepinac live in Croatia today, in 60 households. There were 140 of them in the middle of the past century, and their number increased by 20 percent. They are located in 6 Croatian counties, in 12 cities and 10 other places, mostly in Brezaric in Jastrebarsko area (60), Zagreb (50), Duga Resa (<10), Krasic in Jastrebarsko area (<10), and in Karlovac (<10).
Nominations to Righteous Among the Nations
Stepinac was unsuccessfully recommended on two occasions by two individual Croatian Jews to be added to the list of the Righteous Among the Nations. Amiel Shomrony (previously known in Croatia as Emil Schwarz), the secretary to the war-time head rabbi Miroslav Šalom Freiberger, nominated Stepinac in 1970. He was again nominated in 1994 by Igor Primorac. Esther Gitman, a Jew from Sarajevo living in the USA who holds a PhD on the subject of the fate of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia, stated that, for her, "Stepinac is holy man who saved many Jews". However the reason stated by Yad Vashem for denying the requests were that the proposers were not themselves Holocaust survivors, which is a requirement for inclusion in the list; and that maintaining close links with a genocidal regime at the same time as making humanitarian interventions would preclude listing.
Although Stepinac's life has been the subject of much writing, there are very few primary sources for researchers to draw upon, the main one being the Katolički List, a diocesan weekly journal. Stepinac's diary, discovered in 1950 (too late to be used in his trial), was confiscated by the Yugoslav authorities; it currently resides in Belgrade in the archives of the Federal Ministry of Justice, but only the extracts quoted by Jakov Blažević, the public prosecutor at Stepinac's trial, in his memoir Mač a ne Mir are available. Father Josip Vranković kept a diary from December 1951 to 10 February 1960, recording what Stepinac related to him each day; that diary was used by Franciscan Aleksa Benigar to write a biography of Stepinac, but Benigar refused to share the diary with any other researcher. The diocesan archives were also made available to Benigar, but no other researcher.
The official transcript of Stepinac's trial Suđenje Lisaku, Stepincu etc. was published in Zagreb in 1946, but contains substantial evidence of alteration. Alexander's Triple Myth therefore relies on the Yugoslav and foreign press—particularly Vjesnik and Narodne Novine—as well as Katolički List. All other primary sources available to researchers only indirectly focus on Stepinac.
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- According to one source, Stepinac fell in love with Marija and proposed, but she called the wedding off, saying they didn't belong together. Another source states that Stepinac called off the engagement as he had decided to enter the priesthood.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aloysius Stepinac.|
- Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac
- "The Case of Archbishop Stepinac", by Sava N. Kosanovic, Ambassador of the FNR Yugoslavia in Washington
- Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, A Servant of God and the Croatian People
- Cardinal Stepinac Village (Retirement & nursing home)
- Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and saving the Jews in Croatia during the WW2 © by Darko Zubrinic, Zagreb (1997)
- Newspaper clippings about Aloysius Stepinac in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)
|Catholic Church titles|
| Archbishop of Zagreb
7 December 1937 – 10 February 1960