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Aloysius Stepinac
Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb
Aloysius Stepinac
See Zagreb
Predecessor Antun Bauer
Successor Franjo Šeper
Ordination 26 October 1930
Consecration 7 December 1937
Created Cardinal 29 November 1952
Rank Cardinal archbishop
Personal details
Born 8 May 1898(1898-05-08)
(Krašić municipality),
Died 10 February 1960 (aged 61)
Krašić, Croatia, Yugoslavia
Nationality Croat
Denomination Roman Catholicism
Residence Krašić
Parents Josip and Barbara
Occupation Catholic priest
Alma mater Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum

Blessed Aloysius Viktor Stepinac (Croatian: Alojzije Viktor Stepinac, 8 May 1898 – 10 February 1960) was a Croatian Catholic cardinal who was Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960. He presided over the Croatian Catholic Church during World War II, a period in which it saw widespread collaboration with the Axis occupation, in particular with the Ustaše-led Independent State of Croatia (NDH) a Nazi puppet state established in occupied Yugoslavia. In 1946, in a verdict that polarized public opinion both in Yugoslavia and beyond, the Yugoslav authorities found him guilty of collaboration with the fascist Ustaše movement and complicity in allowing the forced conversions of Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but after five years (during which he received preferential treatment) he was released and offered a choice of emigration or confinement to his home parish of Krašić, he chose the latter. In 1952 he was appointed cardinal by Pope Pius XII. In 1998, Pope John Paul II declared him a martyr and beatified him, which again polarized public opinion.

Early life (1898-1934)

File:Stepinac Germanicum.PNG

Stepinac was born in the village of Brezarić in the parish of Krašić to Josip Stepinac and his wife Barbara. He was the fifth of eight children in his peasant family. In 1909 he moved to Zagreb to study in the Classical Gymnasium and graduated in 1916. Just before his eighteenth birthday he was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was attached to the 96th Karlovac Infantry Regiment before going to Rijeka for six months training.[1] He was then sent to serve on the Italian Front during World War I. In July 1918 he was captured by the Italians who held him as a prisoner of war for five months.[2] After the formation of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, he was no longer treated as an enemy soldier, and he instead volunteered for the Yugoslav legion that was engaged on the Salonika Front. A few months later, he was demobilized and returned home in the spring of 1919.

For service in the Yugoslav forces during World War I, he was awarded the Order of the Star of Karađorđe, an award for heroism in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. After the war he enrolled at the faculty of agronomy of the University of Zagreb, but left it after only one semester and returned home to help his father. In 1922 Stepinac was part of the Croatian Eagles Association and travelled to Brno, Czechoslovakia for a retreat. He was at the front of the group's ceremonial procession, carrying a Croatian flag. In 1924, he travelled to Rome to study for the priesthood at the Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum. During his studies there he befriended the future cardinal Franz König when the two played together on the same volleyball team.[3] He was ordained on October 26, 1930 by archbishop Giuseppe Palica in a ceremony which also included Franjo Šeper.[4] On November 1, he said his first mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. In 1931 he became a parish curate in Zagreb. He established the archdiocesan branch of Caritas in 1931.[5]

Pre-war Coadjutor and Archbishop of Zagreb (1934-1939)

File:Stepinac COA.png

He was appointed coadjutor to the see of Zagreb in 1934, after other candidates had been rejected by Pope Pius XI because king Alexander I of Yugoslavia needed to agree with the appointment. Upon his naming, he took In te, Domine, speravi (O Lord, in Thee have I trusted) as his motto.[6] During this period, King Alexander ran a dictatorship in the country. Stepinac was among those who signed the Zagreb memorandum demanding from the king the release of Vladko Maček and other Croatian politicians, as well as a general amnesty.[7] Stepinac was denied access by Yugoslav authorities to see Maček to thank him for his well-wishes concerning Stepinac's appointment as coadjutor.[8]

King Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles in 1934, and Stepinac along with Bishops Antun Akšamović, Dionizije Njaradi and Gregorij Rožman were given special permission from the Holy See to attend the funeral in an Orthodox church.[9] Croatian politician Ante Trumbić spoke to Stepinac on several occasions in 1934. On his relation with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, he recorded that Stepinac has "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".[10] On July 30 he received French deputy Robert Schuman, whom he told: "There is no justice in Yugoslavia. [...] The Catholic Church endures much".[11]

In 1936, he climbed the Mount Triglav, the tallest peak in Yugoslavia. In 2006 this climb was commemorated by a memorial chapel being built near the summit. In 1937 he led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (then the British Mandate of Palestine).[12] During the pilgrimage he blessed an altar dedicated to the martyr Nikola Tavelić (who was beatified then, but later canonized).[13]

On December 7, 1937 Archbishop Anton Bauer died, and though still below 40 Stepinac succeeded him as the Archbishop of Zagreb. During Lent in 1938 Stepinac told a group of students from the University of Zagreb: "Love towards one's own nation cannot turn a man into a wild animal, which destroys everything and calls for reprisal, but it must ennoble him, so that his own nation secures respect and love for other nations."[14] In 1938, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia held its last election before the outbreak of World War II. Stepinac voted for Vlatko Maček's opposition list, while Radio Belgrade spread the false information that he had voted for Milan Stojadinović's Yugoslav Radical Union.[15] In the latter half of 1938, Stepinac had an operation for acute appendicitis.[16]

In April 1939 Dr. Dragutin Hren spoke to Stepinac about a group of Croatian Discalced Carmelite nuns from Mayerling who were being pressured by the German Nazis. Stepinac decided to accept the group and place them at a mansion in Brezovica.[17][18] Stepinac spent October 6, 1939 in Ivanić-Grad where he administered confirmation for the local parish.[19] In 1940, he received Prince Paul at St. Mark's Church as the prince arrived in Zagreb to curry support for the Cvetković-Maček Agreement.[20] Under Stepinac, Pope Pius XII declared 1940 as a Jubilee year for Croats to celebrate 1300 years of Christianity among the Croats.[21] 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 Franciscan Third Order, on September 29, 1940.[22]

World War II (1939-1945)

File:Alois Stepinac2.jpg

Stepinac was the archbishop of Zagreb during World War II in the Independent State of Croatia (ISC), a puppet state formed by the Axis Powers in part of the territory of Yugoslavia after their occupation of Yugoslavia in April 1941. A movement of extremist Croatian nationalists, the Ustaša governed the state. In the early days of this regime Stepinac, like other influential Croatian leaders (notably Vladko Maček of the Croatian Peasant Party), supported the new state and its regime and welcomed the demise of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. On April 10 each year during the war he celebrated a mass to celebrate proclamation of the state. (Alexander, op.cit.) On April 21, 1941 the Catholic newspaper Katolički List, over which Stepinac had full control as president of the bishops' conference, reported that he had welcomed Ustaša leaders in meetings on April 12 and 16. Stella Alexander (op. cit.) states that, as the Yugoslav army was then still fighting the invaders, this was treason, and that it meant Stepinac had breached, "apparently in a fit of absentmindedness", an oath of allegiance he had given the king when appointed coadjutor. Although most states around the world, including the Vatican, never recognized the ISC as a sovereign nation, Stepinac publicly exhorted his hierarchy to pray for the new entity, and he asked God to fill the Ustaša leader Ante Pavelić with a spirit of wisdom for the benefit of the nation.

In his reports to the Vatican Stepinac spoke only favourably about the regime. On March 28, 1941 he had made clear his own attitude to the Serbs:

All in all, Croats and Serbs are of two worlds, north pole and south pole, never will they be able to get together unless by a miracle of God. The schism (Eastern Orthodoxy) is the greatest curse in Europe, almost greater than Protestantism. Here there is no moral, no principles, no truth, no justice, no honesty. (Alexander, op.cit.)

During this period of genocidal activities by the Ustashe, in May 14, 1941 Stepinac sent a letter of protest to Pavelić upon hearing news of the massacre in Glina, demanding that "on the whole territory of the Independent State of Croatia, that not one Serb is killed if he is not proven guilty for what he has deserved death."[23] On Sunday May 24, 1942 to the irritation of Ustaša officials, he used the pulpit and a diocesan letter to condemn genocide in specific terms, though without bringing himself to mention Serbs:

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.[24]
He also wrote directly to Pavelić, saying on February 24, 1943:[25]
The very Jasenovac camp is a stain on the honor of the ISC. Poglavnik! To those who look at me as a priest and a bishop I say as Christ did on the cross: Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

Later Stepinac called on government officials to stop the persecution of Jews and others and urged them to distinguish between people implicated in wrongdoings and others who were racially profiled or just held as "hostages". He also sought tolerance for people in mixed marriages and people who converted to Catholicism. 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.[26] He was also involved directly and indirectly in numerous efforts to save hundreds of Jews, before and during the war. Dr. Amiel Shomrony alias 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 most and the best he could for the Jews during the war.[27] Reportedly 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 to no avail as the Vatican City did not recognize the Croatian state, despite Italian pressure.[28]

In late 1941, a letter began circulating allegedly written by the Croat Prvislav Grisogono of the Independent Democratic Party to Stepinac, condemning him in gruesome detail for crimes against Serbs.[29] Grisogono was interred at the Banjica concentration camp at the time of the letter's spreading and upon his release wrote to Stepinac, telling him that it was a forgery.[29] The forger of the letter is alleged by Grisogono's descendants to be Adam Pribićević. Despite this, the letter was used by both the Serbian and Yugoslav governments.[29] Milan Grol, president of the Democratic Party and minister of communications in the Yugoslav government, also denounced the letter as a forgery, but it was still broadcast on the government's radio program in exile.[29]

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 Constantinople-based nuncio Angelo Roncalli.[30] He sent some Jews for safety to Rev. Dragutin Jesih, who was killed during the war by the Ustaše on suspicion of supporting the Partisans.[31]

In 1942, officials from the Kingdom of Hungary lobbied to attach the Hungarian-occupied Međimurje ecclesiastically to a diocese in Hungary. Stepinac opposed this and received guarantees from the Holy See that diocesan boundaries would not change during the war.[32] Stepinac travelled to the Vatican in 1943. There he came into contact with the Croatian artist Ivan Meštrović.[33] According to Meštrović, Stepinac asked him whether Croatian leader Ante Pavelić knew about crimes being committed in the state. When Meštrović replied that he must know everything, Stepinac broke into tears.[34] Meštrović did not return to Yugoslavia until 1959 and upon his return met with Stepinac again, who was then under house arrest.[35] 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....".[33]

On October 26, 1943 Germans killed the archbishop's brother Mijo Stepinac.[15] In 1943, Stepinac advised the retired bishop of Dubrovnik Josip Marija Carević to remain in Zagreb due to the dangers presented by Yugoslav Partisans in the surrounding area.[36] Despite this, Carević moved to the parish of Strmica near Veliko Trgovišće, where he was killed by Partisans in April or May 1945.[36] In 1944, Stepinac received the Polish Pauline priest Salezy Strzelec, who wrote about the archbishop, Zagreb, and Marija Bistrica upon his return to Poland.[37]

Stepinac allowed Catholic publications in Zagreb to remain openly supportive. And adulation of the regime by, among other clerics, the archbishop of Sarajevo Ivan Šarić, went unchecked. The Catholic Church in Croatia has also had to contend with criticism of what some has 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 (see Cornwell, op cit, pp 253 ff). Stepinac did not seem to make any public attempts to criticize the government, though he was later quoted as giving out a secret message to the priests that "when this time of madness and savagery passes, those who converted out of their beliefs will remain in our Church, and the rest will, when the danger is gone, return to their own."

Post-war period (1945-1946)

Stepinac was the only high-ranking religious leader in Zagreb to survive the war. The head rabbi of the Jewish Municipality of Zagreb Miroslav Šalom Freiberger was taken to Auschwitz by the SS in 1943 where he died shortly after his arrival. The Serbian Orthodox metropolitan Dositej Vasić died in Belgrade on January 13, 1945. On the Yugoslav Partisans' arrival in Zagreb, they arrested the Evangelical bishop Philip Popp, Zagreb's head Mufti Ismet Muftić and the head of the Croatian Orthodox Church Germogen Maksimov and had them executed.[38]

After the war, on May 17, 1945, Stepinac was arrested. On June 2, Prime Minister Josip Broz Tito met with representatives of the Archdiocese of Zagreb.[39] The following day, Stepinac was released. On June 4 he met with the Prime Minister but no agreement was reached between them. On June 22, the bishops of Croatia released a public letter accusing the Yugoslav authorities of injustices and crimes towards them. On June 28, Stepinac wrote a letter to the government of the Croatia asking for an end to the prosecution of wartime collaborationists[40] (Axis collaboration having been very widespread in occupied Yugoslavia). On July 8, Stepinac led his annual pilgrimage to Marija Bistrica which drew 40,000-50,000 people.[39] This would be his last pilgrimage to the site. On July 10, Stepinac's secretary Stjepan Lacković travelled to Rome. While he was there, the Yugoslav authorities forbade him to return.[41] In August, a new land reform law was introduced which legalized the confiscation of 85 percent of church holdings in Yugoslavia.[42]

From September 17 to 22, 1945, a synod of the Bishops' Conference of Yugoslavia was held in Zagreb which discussed these issues.[43] On October 20, Stepinac published a letter in which he claimed that 273 clergymen had been killed since the Partisan take-over, 169 had been imprisoned, and another 89 were "missing" and presumed dead. It is, however, argued that most of these executions had not been ordered by the Yugoslav high command and were, for the most part, spontaneous retributions against pro-nazi clerics by the people and isolated partisan groups and, thus, had nothing to do with the Yugoslav government. In response to this letter Tito spoke out publicly against Stepinac for the first time by writing an editorial in a daily newspaper accusing Stepinac of declaring war on the fledgling new Yugoslavia.

In forging a new republic out of the war-ravaged remnants and deep-seated bitternesses of the former kingdom, Tito had established brotherhood and unity as the new republic's over-arching objective and central policy. In such a climate Stepinac's persistence was unlikely to bear fruit. On November 4 he had stones thrown at him by a crowd in Zaprešić and in January 1946 Yugoslavia asked the Holy See to post him elsewhere. The request was refused. On January 5, 1946 Stepinac was visited by Randolph Churchill who said that the OZNA was spying on the archbishop and that all of his internal correspondence was censored.[44]

Trial (1946)

By September of the same year the Yugoslav authorities indicted Stepinac on several counts - collaboration with the occupation forces, relations with the genocidal Ustaše puppet regime, having chaplains in the Ustaše army as religious agitators, forceful conversions of Serb Orthodox to Catholicism at gunpoint and high treason against the Yugoslav government. Stepinac was arrested on September 18, 1946 and his trial started on September 30, 1946. Stepinac was tried alongside former officials of the Ustaše government including Erih Lisak (sentenced to death) and Ivan Šalić. Altogether there were 16 defendants.

On October 3, 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" (which was proven to be false claim).[45] He went on to state that "his conscience was clear" with regard to all of the accusations, 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. Furthermore, he asserted 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 once again claimed that 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 (see Catholic clergy involvement with the Ustaše), and that he deemed these summary death sentences "uncivilized". He also decried the nationalization of Church property - schools, seminaries, orphanages, printing presses, 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 issues such as atheism, he spoke out against evolution, materialism, and communism in general.

The state brought forth evidence and witnesses 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" (which is the main cause of their infamy). The state pointed out that even if the archbishop did not explicitly order them, he also did nothing to stop them, condemn them, or punish those within his 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. The Vatican was not excluded of implication in these accusations.

On October 11, 1946, the court found Stepinac guilty of high treason and war crimes. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison (considered a mild punishment for treason charges).


The trial was soon 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).[46] Many Catholics and others claimed that the judicial process was fatally compromised by alleged extorted witness statements, false testimonies and falsified documents. Some such critics have cited the matter of a 1943 letter addressed to the Pope which was entered into evidence. In it Stepinac expresses support for the Ustaše mass conversion programme and for the NDH state itself. Stepinac denied writing it, and the prosecutor stated that a copy signed by Stepinac existed but did not eventually produce it.

The way the trial was conducted was criticized by the Catholic Church, Switzerland, several other western states and various defecting Yugoslav nationalists (mostly Croats).[47]

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.[48]

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....[49]

On November 1, 1946 Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons on the subject of the trial, expressing "great sadness" at the result.[50] The Irish Dáil Éireann adopted a resolution condemning Stepinac's imprisonment.[51] In the United States, one of Stepinac's biggest supporters was archbishop of Boston Richard Cushing, who delivered several sermons in support of him.[52] Support also came from the American Jewish Committee, who put out a declaration that

[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.[48]

Imprisonment (1946-1951)

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.[53] In March 1947 the president of the People's Republic of Croatia Vladimir Bakarić made an official visit to Lepoglava prison to see Stepinac.[54] 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.[54] He also offered to explain his actions to the Croatian people on the largest square in Zagreb.[54] A positive response was not received from either request.

The 1947 pilgrimage to Marija Bistrica attracted 75,000 people.[55] Dragutin Saili had been in charge of the pilgrimage on the part of the Yugoslav authorities. At a meeting of the Central Committee on August 1, 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.[56] Marko Belinić responded to the report by saying, "Saili's path, his poor cooperation with the Local Committee, is a deadly thing".[56]

In February, 1949, the United States House of Representatives approved a resolution condemning Stepinac's imprisonment, with the Senate following suit several months later.[57] On November 11, 1951 Jewish-American Cyrus L. Sulzberger from the New York Times visited Stepinac in Lepoglava.[58] He won the Pulitzer Prize for the interview.[59] 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.[60]

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.[61] Alojzije Stepinac was released in a conciliatory gesture by the Yugoslav Prime Minister Josip Broz Tito, on the condition that he either retired to Rome or was confined to his home parish of Krašić. He refused to leave Yugoslavia and opted to live in Krašić, where he was transferred on December 5, 1951. 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."[62]

At a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia on October 5, 1951 Ivan Krajačić said, "In America they are printing the book Crvena ruža na oltaru 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".[63] On January 31, 1952 the Yugoslav authorities abolished religious education in state-run public schools, as part of the programme of separating church and state in Yugoslavia.[64] 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".[64]

Cardinalate (1953-1960)

On November 29, 1952, his name appeared in a list of cardinals newly created by Pope Pius XII, which coincided with Yugoslavia's Republic Day.[65] In response the non-aligned Yugoslav government severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican on December 17, 1952. The government also disaffiliated the Catholic Faculty of Theology from the University of Zagreb, to which it was not restored until a non-socialist, anti-Yugoslav government came to power in Croatia in 1991 (Croatia still being a federal unit of Yugoslavia at the time).[66][67]

Pius XII wrote to Stepinac and three other jailed cardinals (Stefan Wyszyński, József Mindszenty and Josef Beran) on June 29, 1956 urging their supporters to remain loyal.[65] 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.[68][69] On June 2, 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."[14]

Death and legacy

Alojzije Stepinac Rozga

Stepinac bust, from Zagreb area

In 1953, Stepinac was diagnosed with polycythemia, a rare blood disorder. Seven years later, at the age of 61, he died of a thrombosis. 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.[70]

Notwithstanding that Stepinac died peacefully at home, he quickly became a martyr in the view of his supporters and many other Catholics. There is no evidence that he was killed, but they argue that the declining health during his last years of life was in some way a consequence of his imprisonment, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that he was treated at home rather than in a hospital (as was dictated by the law). Against this, others argue that he enjoyed favored treatment in Lepoglava in comparison with other prisoners, being allocated double the normal entitlement of living space and an adjoining cell as his personal chapel. After his death, traces of poison were found in Stepinac's bones.[71]

In 1970, Glas Koncila published a text on Stepinac taken from L'Osservatore Romano which resulted in the edition being confiscated by court decree.[72] Stepinac's beatification process began on October 9, 1981.[73] The Catholic Church declared Stepinac a martyr on November 11, 1997.[5] For Catholics at least, Pope John Paul II resolved the debate in Zagreb on October 3, 1998 when he 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 the late cardinal after saying these words: One of the outstanding figures of the Catholic Church, having endured in his own body and his own spirit the atrocities of the Communist system, is now entrusted to the memory of his fellow countrymen with the radiant badge of martyrdom.

Zagreb Cathedral inside

Stepinac's grave in the Zagreb Cathedral

In 1984 a community of Croatians who had emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, built a Croatian American Home named after Stepinac and placed a larger-than-life statue of Archbishop Stepinac in its hallway. The Croatian American Lodge is located in Eastlake, Ohio.

On the other hand many non-Catholics have remained unconvinced about Stepinac's martyrdom and about his saintly qualities in general. Some saw his promotion to within one step of sainthood as a gratuitous provocation, one result of which is that to his most severe critics he has become known as the patron saint of genocide. 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 the wartime conduct of Stepinac had been further investigated. The Vatican ignored this representation.

On February 14, 1992, Croatian representative Vladimir Šeks put forth a declaration in the Croatian Sabor condemning the court decision and the process that led to it.[74] The declaration was passed, along with a similar one about the death of Croatian communist official Andrija Hebrang.[74] It says 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. However, the verdict has not been formally challenged nor overturned in any court (even between 1997 and 1999 when that was possible under Croatian law).[75] In 1998, the Croatian National Bank released commemmoratives 500 kuna gold and 150 kuna silver coins.[76]

In 2007, the municipality of Marija Bistrica began Stepinac's Path, which plans to build pilgrimage paths linking places significant to the cardinal: Krašić, Kaptol in Zagreb, Medvednica, Marija Bistrica, and Lepoglava.[77] The Aloysius Stepinac Museum opened in Zagreb in 2007.[78]

Croatian football international Dario Šimić wore a t-shirt with Stepinac's image on it under his jersey during the country's UEFA Euro 2008 game against Poland, which he revealed after the game.[79]

Nominations to Righteous Among the Nations

Styles of
Aloysius Stepinac
CardinalCoA PioM
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Zagreb

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. Amiel Shomrony has recently challenged the Serb lobby for preventing the inclusion of Stepinac into Yad Vashem's Righteous list.[27] 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, said that Stepinac did much more for Jews than some want to admit.[27] 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.

Primary sources

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.[80] Stepinac's diary, discovered in 1950 (to 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.[80] Father Josip Vranković kept a diary from December 1951 to February 10, 1960, recording what Stepinac related to him each day; that diary was used by Franciscan Aleksa Benigar to write a biography of Stepniac, but Benigar refused to share the diary with any other researcher.[80] The diocesan archives have also been made available to Benigar, but no other researcher.[81]

The official transcript of Stepinac's trial Sudjenje Lisaku, Stepincu etc was published in Zagreb in 1946, but contains substantial evidence of alteration.[81] Alexander's Triple Myth therefore relies on the Yugoslav and foreign press—particularly Vjesnik and Narodne Novine—as well as Katolički List.[82] All other primary sources available to researchers only indirectly focus on Stepinac.[82]


  • Alexander, Stella. 1987. Triple Myth: a life of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. Boulder, Colorado: East European Monographs.
  • Butler, Herbert. 1990. The Sub-prefect Should Have Held His Tongue. London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press.
  • Cornwell, John. 1999. Hitler's Pope. London: Viking.
  • Tanner, Marcus. 1997. Croatia. New Haven: Yale University Press.


Blazeni Kardinal Alojzije Stepinac Rijeka 0308

Stained glass in the Church of Virgin Mary of Lourdes in Rijeka

  1. Biography of Aloysius Stepinac
  2. Alban Butler, Kathleen Jones, David Hugh Farmer, Paul Burns; Butler's Lives of the Saints. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000. (p. 263)
  3. Franz König, Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, Open to God, Open to the World: The Last Testament. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005. (p. 36)
  4. "Alojzije Stepinac", The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church
  5. 5.0 5.1 Patron Saints Index: Blessed Alojzije Stepinac
  6. Catholic Scouts: Win over evil with goodness
  7. Perić, Ivo. Vladko Maček. Politički portret. Golden marketing. Zagreb, 2003. (pgs. 174-175)
  8. Janjatović, Bosiljka. Politički teror u Hrvatskoj 1918.-1935.. Hrvatski institut za povijest and Dom i svijet. Zagreb, 2002. (pg. 285)
  9. The Dictatorship of King Alexander and the Roman Catholic Church 1929-1934
  10. Gabelica, Ivan. Blaženi Alojzije Stepinac i hrvatska država. Zagreb, 2007, pg. 86
  11. Gabelica, Ivan. Blaženi Alojzije Stepinac i hrvatska država. Zagreb, 2007, pg. 75
  12. Stepinac's statue under the cross in Brodarica, Slobodna Dalmacija
  13. Saint Nikola Tavelić, the first Croatian saint (1340-1391)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Tomić, Celestin. Prophetic spirit of Aloysius Stepinac (1998)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Horvat, Vladimir. Archbishop Alojzije Cardinal Stepinac and totalitarian regimes
  16. Stella Alexander. The Triple Myth: A Life of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. Columbia University Press. New York, 1987. (pg. 54)
  17. Monastary Association "Aloyzije Stepinac"
  18. Life's work of Stepinac: Carmelites in Brezovica
  19. Archbishop Dr. Aloysius Stepinac and Ivanić-Grad
  20. Tanner, Marcus. Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. Yale University Press, 2007. (pg. 135)
  21. Žutić, Nikola. The Vatican and Croatdom in the first half of the XX century (until 1941).
  22. Stella Alexander. The Triple Myth: A Life of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. Columbia University Press. New York, 1987. (pgs. 26-27)
  23. Krišto, Jure. Katolička crkva i Nezavisna Država Hrvatska. Dokumenti, Knjiga druga. Zagreb: Hrvatski institut za povijest – Dom i svijet, 1998. (pgs. 39-40)
  24. Apud: Dr. H. Jansen, Pius XII: chronologie van een onophoudelijk protest, 2003, p. 151
    Dr. Hans Jansen is a historian of the Free University of Brussels and the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Brussels.
  25. Alojzije Viktor Stepinac: 1896-1960
  26. Krešić, Milenko. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Consequences of Exclusivist Ideologies
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Serbian Lobby Prevents the Inclusion of Stepinac in Yad Vashem (article in Croatian), Večernji list, June 5, 2005
  28. H. Jansen, 2003, p. 152
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 South Slav Journal (1991) Vol 14, No 1-2 (51-52). (pgs. 86-90)
  30. Jansen, 2003, p. 87.
  31. Croatian Righteous, Croatian Ministry of Science, Education and Sports
  32. Nada Kisić-Kolanović. Mladen Lorković-ministar urotnik. Golden marketing. Zagreb, 1999.
  33. 33.0 33.1 A Question of Judgment: Dr. Aloysius Stepinac and the Jews
  34. Tanner, Marcus. Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. Yale University Press, 2007. (pg. 155-156)
  35. Sculptin a legacy
  36. 36.0 36.1 Stjepan Kožul. Martirologij Crkve zagrebačke. Zagreb, 1998. (pgs. 35-36)
  37. Salezy Strzelec, Dojmovi iz Hrvatske
  38. Matijević, Margareta. Religious Communities in Croatia from 1945 to 1991
  39. 39.0 39.1 Akmadža, Miroslav. Causes of breaking of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Yugoslavia in 1952
  40. Sabrina P. Ramet. Balkan Babel. Westview Press, 2002. (pg. 85)
  41. The secretary of Aloysius Stepinac has died, March 11, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2008.
  42. Carol S. Lilly. Power and Persuasion: Ideology and Rhetoric in Communist Yugoslavia, 1944-1953, Westview Press, 2001. (p. 47)
  43. Creation of public opinion against the Catholic Church and archbishop Stepinac 1945, 1946
  44. Akmadža, Miroslav. Katolička crkva u Hrvatskoj i komunistički režim 1945 - 1966.. Rijeka: Otokar Keršovani, 2004. (pg. 24)
  45. Tomasevich, Jozo; War and revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: occupation and collaboration, Volume 2; Stanford University Press, 2001 ISBN 0-80473-615-4
  46. Mitja Velikonja. Religious Separation and Political Intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Texas A&M University Press, 2003. (p. 198)
  47. [ JSTOR]
  48. 48.0 48.1 Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac in Light of Documentation
  50. Akmadža, Miroslav. Katolička crkva u Hrvatskoj i komunistički režim 1945 - 1966.. Rijeka: Otokar Keršovani, 2004. (pg. 58)
  51. John Henry Whyte. Church and State in Modern Ireland, 1923-1970, Barnes & Noble, 1973. (p. 167)
  52. Joseph Denver. Cushing of Boston: A Candid Portrait, Branden Books, 1975. (p. 135)
  53. Bishop Srakić is the new president of the HBK,
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 Jandrić, Berislav: Kontroverze iz suvremene hrvatske povijesti: osobe i događaji koji su obilježili hrvatsku povijest nakon Drugoga svjetskog rata. Zagreb, Srednja Europa, 2006.
  55. Cindori, Lovro. Bistricka hodocascenje novog vremena.
  56. 56.0 56.1 Zapisnici Politbiroa Centralnoga Komiteta Komunističke Partije Hrvatske I., editted by Branislava Vojnović. Hrvatski državni arhiv, Zagreb, 2005 (p. 388)
  57. H. W. Brands. The Specter of Neutralism: The United States and the Emergence of the Third World, 1947-1960, Columbia University Press, 1989. (p. 156)
  58. Akmadža, Miroslav. Katolička crkva u Hrvatskoj i komunistički režim 1945 - 1966.. Rijeka: Otokar Keršovani, 2004. (pg. 62)
  59. Heinz Dietrich Fischer. The Pulitzer Prize Archive: A History and Anthology of Award-winning Materials in Journalism, Letters, and Arts, Walter de Gruyter, 2003. (p. 428)
  60. Lorraine M. Lees, Keeping Tito Afloat. Penn State Press, 1993. (p. 112)
  61. Time Magazine
  62. Tanner, Marcus (1997). Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. New Haven/London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300076681. 
  63. Zapisnici Politbiroa Centralnoga Komiteta Komunističke Partije Hrvatske II., editted by Branislava Vojnović. Hrvatski državni arhiv, Zagreb, 2005 (p. 848)
  64. 64.0 64.1 Akmadža, Miroslav. Katolička crkva u Hrvatskoj i komunistički režim 1945-1966.. Biblioteka Svjedočansta. Rijeka, 2004. (pgs. 93-95)
  65. 65.0 65.1 Jonathan Luxmoore, Jolanta Babiuch. Vatican and the Red Flag: The Struggle for the Soul of Eastern Europe, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000. (p. 104)
  66. Goldstein, Ivo. Croatia: A History . McGill Queen's University Press, 1999. (pg. 169)
  67. Catholic Faculty of Theology History
  68. Conclave - 1958
  69. Miroslav Akmadža, Uloga biskupa Josipa Lacha u crkveno-državnim odnosima 1945.-1962.. Tkalčić: Godišnjak Društva za povjesnicu Zagrebačke nadbiskupije 10/2006.
  70. "Franz König", The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church
  72. Important events in the history of Glas Koncila, Glas Koncila
  73. Juraj Batelja, Beatification of Aloysius Cardinal Stepinac
  74. 74.0 74.1 Vladimir Šeks, Temeljci hrvatske državnosti. Golden marketing, Zagreb, 2005. (pp. 568-569)
  75. [1]
  76. The 100th anniversary of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac's birth
  77. Cultural Tourism, Croatian National Tourist Board
  78. Opening of the museum of blessed Aloysius Stepinac, Total Portal
  79. Captain's band on the arm, Stepinac's picture on his chest
  80. 80.0 80.1 80.2 Alexander, 1987, p. vii.
  81. 81.0 81.1 Alexander, 1987, p. viii.
  82. 82.0 82.1 Alexander, 1987, p. ix.

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Antun Bauer
Archbishop of Zagreb
1937 – 1960
Succeeded by
Franjo Šeper

Template:Croatian saintsca:Alojzije Stepinachr:Blaženi Alojzije Stepinachu:Alojzije Stepinacja:アロイジエ・ステピナツ no:Alojzije Stepinacpt:Aloysius Stepinac ru:Степинац, Алоизие sl:Alojzij Stepinac sr:Алојзије Степинац sh:Alojzije Stepinac sv:Alojzije Stepinac

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