Aloysius Stepinac

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His Eminence Blessed
Aloysius Stepinac
Archbishop of Zagreb
Cardinal Stepinac.
Church Roman Catholic Church
Archdiocese Zagreb
Diocese Zagreb
See Zagreb
Appointed 7 December 1937
Installed 1938
Term ended 10 February 1960
Predecessor Antun Bauer
Successor Franjo Šeper
Ordination 26 October 1930
by Giuseppe Palica
Consecration 7 December 1937
by Antonio Bauer
Created Cardinal 12 January 1953
by Pope Pius XII
Rank Cardinal-Priest (no assigned title)
Personal details
Birth name Alojzije Viktor Stepinac
Born (1898-05-08)8 May 1898
Brezarić near Krašić,
Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia,
(modern Croatia)
Died 10 February 1960(1960-02-10) (aged 61)
Krašić, NR Croatia,
FPR Yugoslavia
(modern Croatia)
Buried Zagreb Cathedral
Nationality Croat
Denomination Catholic (Roman Rite)
Residence Krašić
Previous post
  • Titular Archbishop of Nicopsis (1934-1937)
  • Coadjutor Archbishop of Zagreb (1934-1937)
Alma mater Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum
  • In te, Domine, speravi
  • ("I place my trust in you my Lord")
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Feast day 10 February
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Title as Saint Blessed
Beatified 3 October 1998
Marija Bistrica, Croatia
by Pope John Paul II
Styles of
Aloysius Stepinac
Coat of arms of Alojzije Stepinac.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal

Aloysius Viktor Stepinac (Croatian: Alojzije Viktor Stepinac, 8 May 1898 –10 February 1960) was a Croatian Catholic cardinal and Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960. In 1998 he was declared a martyr and beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Stepinac was ordained on October 26, 1930 by archbishop Giuseppe Palica, and in 1931 he became a parish curate in Zagreb. He established the archdiocesan branch of Caritas in 1931, and was appointed coadjutor to the see of Zagreb in 1934. When Archbishop Anton Bauer died on December 7, 1937, Stepinac succeeded him as the Archbishop of Zagreb.[2] During World War II, on 6 April 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded by Nazi Germany, who established the Ustaše-led Independent State of Croatia (Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH). As archbishop of the puppet state's capital, Stepinac had close associations with the Ustaše leaders during the Nazi occupation,[3] had issued proclamations celebrating the NDH, and welcomed the Ustaše leaders.[4] Despite initially welcoming the Independent State of Croatia, Stepinac subsequently condemned the Nazi-aligned state's atrocities against Jews and Serbs.[5] 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.[6][7] Despite this, Stepinac never broke with Ustaše regime and continued to attend public gatherings at their side. [8]

After the war he publicly condemned the new Yugoslav government and its actions during World War II, especially for murders of priests by Communist militants.[2] Yugoslav authorities indicted the archbishop on multiple counts of war crimes and collaboration with the enemy during wartime.[3] The trial was depicted in the West as a typical communist "show trial",[9][10] biased against the archbishop;[11] however, some claim the trial was "carried out with proper legal procedure".[3] In a verdict that polarized public opinion both in Yugoslavia and beyond,[3][4] 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.[12] He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but was released to house arrest after five, with his movements confined to his home parish of Krašić.

After foreign and domestic pressure, Stepinac was released from Lepoglava prison. In 1952 he was appointed cardinal by Pope Pius XII. He was unable to participate in the 1958 conclave. Stepinac died of polycythemia in 1960 while still under confinement in his parish. On October 3, 1998, Pope John Paul II declared him a martyr and beatified him before 500,000 Croatians in Marija Bistrica near Zagreb.[2]

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."[13]

Early life[edit]

Stepinac was born in the village of Brezarić in the parish of Krašić, on 8 May 1898, to Josip Stepinac and his wife Barbara.[14] 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.[14] He was attached to the 96th Karlovac Infantry Regiment before going to Rijeka for six months training.[15] He was then sent to serve on the Italian Front during World War I.[14] In July 1918 he was captured by the Italians who held him as a prisoner of war for five months.[16] 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.[14] A few months later, he was demobilized with the rank of Second Lieutenant and returned home in the spring of 1919.[17]

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.[18] 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 traveled to the Catholic Eagle slet in Brno, Czechoslovakia. He was at the front of the group's ceremonial procession, carrying a Croatian flag.[19] In 1924, he traveled 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.[20] He was ordained on October 26, 1930 by archbishop Giuseppe Palica in a ceremony which also included Franjo Šeper.[21] 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.[22]

Pre-war Coadjutor and Archbishop of Zagreb[edit]

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.[23] 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.[24] Stepinac was denied access by Yugoslav authorities to see Maček to thank him for his well-wishes concerning Stepinac's appointment as coadjutor.[25]

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.[26] 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".[27] On July 30 he received French deputy Robert Schuman, whom he told: "There is no justice in Yugoslavia. [...] The Catholic Church endures much".[28]

Stepinac was a strong opponent of Freemasonry, and in 1934 he wrote: "In Yugoslavia, today, Freemasonry rules. Unfortunately, in the heart of the Croatian nation also, this hellish society has entrenched itself, a lair of immorality corruption and all sorts of dishonesty, the sworn enemy of the Catholic Church, and therefore also of the Croatian nation.[29]"

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).[30] During the pilgrimage he blessed an altar dedicated to the martyr Nikola Tavelić (who was beatified then, but later canonized).[31]

On December 7, 1937 Archbishop Anton Bauer died, and though still below the age of forty, 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."[32] 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.[33] In the latter half of 1938, Stepinac had an operation for acute appendicitis.[34]

Stepinac criticized Protestantism, stating in a speech in 1938: "while the [Catholic] Church was engaged in beneficial work, 'the gates of hell' of which Jesus spoke did not stay closed...When later the Reformation (or better Deformation) under the leadership of Luther, came and demolished the principles of legal authority given by the Lord, the road was wide open to anarchy in all forms of human life"[35]" At the same conference, organized by Catholic Action, Stepianc strongly condemned Communism, but never once mentioned Nazism or Fascism, although Pope Pius XI had issued encyclicals condemning both.[36]"

Stepinac statue in Zagreb

In response to growing tensions in Europe, in 1936 Stepinac helped sponsor a committee aiding Jewish refuges from Austria and Germany.[37] Then 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.[38][39] Stepinac spent October 6, 1939 in Ivanić-Grad where he administered confirmation for the local parish.[40] 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.[41] Under Stepinac, Pope Pius XII declared 1940 as a Jubilee year for Croats to celebrate 1300 years of Christianity among the Croats.[42] 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.[43]

World War II[edit]

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia broke with the Axis after a military coup was conducted on March 27, 1941 by a group of military officers. The new government denounced the Tripartite Pact signed by the previous government two days before, allying Yugoslavia with the Axis and allowing the passage of German troops to attack Greece. Large demonstrations were held in Belgrade, with protesters openly calling for resistance if Yugoslavia's neutrality were violated, with the slogans Better war than the pact and Better the grave than a slave. The coup found little support with the Croatian population and within days Croatian Peasant Party and Bloc of Popular Accord leader Vladko Maček resigned from the government and returned to Zagreb in anticipation of unrest. The day after the coup Stepinac was quoted:[4]

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 is the greatest curse in Europe, almost greater than Protestantism. Here there is no moral, no principles, no truth, no justice, no honesty.[4]

Hitler was furious when he learned of the coup, and ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia. On 6 April 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Kingdom's neighbours. The Axis-allied[44] Yugoslav forces maintained a defence up until 17 April, although Croat units performed poorly and some defected with fighting still ongoing. On 10 April 1941, Slavko Kvaternik proclaimed the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia. The Wehrmacht subsequently entered Zagreb without any resistance. Having previously agreed to form a Croatian satellite, the Germans and Italians helped establish the state and installed the Ustaše movement into power. Fiercely nationalistic, the Ustaše were also fanatically Catholic. In the Yugoslav political context, they identified Catholicism with Croatian nationalism and, once established in power, set about persecuting and murdering non-Catholics.[45]

Stepinac greeting the Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic

As the archbishop of the capital, Stepinac enjoyed close associations with the Ustaše leaders.[3] When the Ustaše arrived, following the capitulation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (which was itself formerly a member of the Axis[44]), he publicly welcomed their arrival and issued proclamations celebrating the NDH.[4] Stepinac lost control of the Archdiocese's publication Katolički List under the new regime.[46] Even though (with the exception of the Axis) no state around the world, including the Vatican, recognized the NDH as a sovereign nation, Stepinac publicly exhorted his hierarchy to pray for the Independent State of Croatia, and publicly called for God to "fill the Ustaše leader, Ante Pavelić, with a spirit of wisdom for the benefit of the nation".[4] On more than one occasion, the archbishop professed his support for the Independent State of Croatia and welcomed the demise of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia,[3] and continued to do so throughout the war. On April 10 each year during the war he celebrated a mass to celebrate proclamation of the Independent state.[4]

Despite initially welcoming the Independent State of Croatia, Martin Gilbert wrote that Stepinac later "condemned Croat atrocities against both Serbs and Jews, and himself saved a group of Jews in an old age home".[5] According to Richard West, on several occasions during the war, Stepinac criticized the Ustaše atrocities to certain leaders in private, but continued to give communion to Ustaše leaders and made no public comments about their activities, ignoring complaints about the atrocities and forced conversions, particularly those described to him in great detail by Bishop Alojzije Mišić of Mostar.[47]

Upon hearing news of the Glina massacre, in the summer of 1941 Stepinac sent a letter to Pavelić, requesting that "on the whole territory of the Independent State of Croatia, not one Serb is killed if he is not proven guilty for what he has deserved death."[48] When hearing of the racial laws being enacted, he asked: "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."[12] On Sunday May 24, 1942 he 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.[49]

In a sermon on October 25, 1942, he further commented on racial acceptance:

We affirm then that all peoples and races descend from God. In fact, there exists but one race...The members of this race can be white or black, they can be separated by oceans or live on the opposing poles, [but] they remain first and foremost the race created by God, according to the precepts of natural law and positive Divine law as it is written in the hearts and minds of humans or revealed by Jesus Christ, the son of God, the sovereign of all peoples.[50]

When deportation of Croatian Jews began, Stepinac and the papal envoy Giuseppe Marcone protested to Andrija Artukovic.[51] 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".[52] Marcone served as Nuncio in all but name.[53]

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.[54] He also wrote directly to Pavelić, saying on 24 February 1943, "The Jasenovac camp itself is a shameful stain on the honor of the [Independent State of Croatia]."[55]

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.[56]

Stepinac (far right) with two Catholic priests at the funeral of Ustasha leader Marko Došen, September 1944..[57]

Stepinac was involved directly and indirectly in efforts to save Jews from persecution. 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 best he could for the Jews during the war.[58] 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).[59] 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.[7] 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.[60]

In 1942, officials from 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.[61] On October 26, 1943 the Germans killed the archbishop's brother Mijo Stepinac.[33] In 1944, Stepinac received the Polish Pauline priest Salezy Strzelec, who wrote about the archbishop, Zagreb, and Marija Bistrica upon his return to Poland.[62]

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.[63] While Stepinac did suspend a number of priests, 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.[64]

In 1944 Stepinac accepted from the Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic a medal ("Order of Merit – Grand Order with the star"), described in the Ustasha Official Gazette as, “For having as Archbishop (and as Military Vicar) unmasked inside and outside the country the outlaws from the territory of the Independent State of Croatia”.[citation needed]

Post-war period[edit]

Stepinac at a post-war communist rally in September 1945. From left: three dignitaries of the Orthodox Church, the Partisan General Commanding of Zagreb, the Secretary to the Apostolic Visitor, Auxiliary Bishop Dr. Josip Lach, Archbishop Stepinac, People's Premier of Croatia Dr. Vladimir Bakaric, Soviet Military Attache, Minister of the Interior Dr. Hebrang.[65]
Our Lady of Marija Bistrica, where Pope John Paul II beatified Stepinac before 500,000 Croatians

After the war, on May 17, 1945, Stepinac was arrested. On June 2, Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito met with representatives of the Archdiocese of Zagreb.[66] The following day, he was released from custody. On June 4 Stepinac met with Tito 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 Nazi collaborationists[67] (collaboration having been widespread in occupied Yugoslavia). On July 10, Stepinac's secretary Stjepan Lacković travelled to Rome. While he was there, the Yugoslav authorities forbade him to return.[68] In August, a new land reform law was introduced which legalized the confiscation of 85 percent of church holdings in Yugoslavia.[69]

During the same period the archbishop almost certainly had ties with the post-war Ustaše guerrillas, the "Crusaders",[3] and actively worked against the state.[4] From September 17 to 22 1945, a synod of the Bishops' Conference of Yugoslavia was held in Zagreb which discussed the confrontation with the government.[70] On October 20 Stepinac published a letter in which he made the claim that "273 clergymen had been killed" since the Partisan take-over, "169 had been imprisoned", and another "89 were missing and presumed dead". Similar numbers were later published.[71]

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 November 4 Stepinac had stones thrown at him by a crowd of Partisans in Zaprešić.[72][73] 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.[3]

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.[74] 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.[3] Abandoning the strive towards increased Church independence, Tito first attempted to persuade Stepinac to cease his activities.[citation needed] When this too failed, in January 1946 the federal government attempted to solicit his replacement with the Vatican, a request that was denied. Finally, Stepinac was himself asked to leave the country, which he refused.[citation needed] On September 1946 the Yugoslav authorities indicted Stepinac on multiple counts of war crimes and collaboration with the enemy during wartime.[3] 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."[73]


Stepinac on trial

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 September 18, 1946 and his trial started on September 30, 1946, where he was tried alongside former officials of the Ustaše government including Erih Lisak (sentenced to death) and Ivan Šalić. Altogether there were 16 defendants.[citation needed]

The prosecution presented their evidence for the archbishop's collaboration with the Ustaše regime.[3][4] Numerous witnesses were heard concerning the killings and forced conversions members of Aloysius Stepinac's military vicariate performed,[citation needed] 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). 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[citation needed] and attempted to present in detail his relationship with the Ustaše authorities. The Vatican was not excluded of implication in these accusations.[citation needed]

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".[75] 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.[76] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[77] Stepinac's defense counsel were only allowed to call twenty witnesses—while the prosecution was allowed to call however many they pleased.[76] The President of the Court refused to hear fourteen witnesses for the defense without giving any reason why.[76]

On October 11, 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."[78]


In the escalating Cold War atmosphere, and with the Vatican putting forward worldwide publicity,[4] 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).[79]

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.[80] U.S. Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson on October 11, 1946 bemoaned the conditions in Yugoslavia and stated his regret of the trial.[77]

Support also came from the American Jewish Committee, who put out a declaration that On October 13, 1946, The New York Times wrote that,

The trial of Archbishop Stepinac was a purely political one with the outcome determined in advance. The trial and sentence of this Croatian prelate are in contradiction with the Yugoslavia's pledge that it will respect human rights and the fundamental liberties of all without reference to race, sex, language and creed. Archbishop Stepinac was sentenced and will be incarcerated as part of the campaign against his church, guilty only of being the enemy of Communism.[81]

The National Conference of Christians and Jews at the Bronx Round Table adopted a unanimous resolution on October 13 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.[77]

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....[82]

On November 1, 1946 Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons on the subject of the trial, expressing "great sadness" at the result.[83]

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....[77]

[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.[81]


Bust of Stepinac at the village of Rozga near Zagreb.
Stepinac's grave in the Zagreb Cathedral

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.[84] In March 1947 the president of the People's Republic of Croatia Vladimir Bakarić made an official visit to Lepoglava prison to see Stepinac.[85] 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.[85] He also offered to explain his actions to the Croatian people on the largest square in Zagreb.[85] A positive response was not received from either request.

The 1947 pilgrimage to Marija Bistrica attracted 75,000 people.[86] 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.[87] Marko Belinić responded to the report by saying, "Saili's path, his poor cooperation with the Local Committee, is a deadly thing".[87]

In February, 1949, the United States House of Representatives approved a resolution condemning Stepinac's imprisonment, with the Senate following suit several months later.[88] 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.[89]

On November 11, 1951 Jewish-American Cyrus L. Sulzberger from the New York Times visited Stepinac in Lepoglava.[90] He won the Pulitzer Prize for the interview.[91]

In 1950 a group of United States senators made foreign aid to Yugoslavia conditional on Stepinac's release.[92] 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.[93] 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, 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."[94]

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".[95] 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.[96] 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".[96]


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.[97] Yugoslavia then severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican on December 17, 1952.[76] 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.[98][99][100]

Pius XII wrote to Cardinal Stepinac and three other jailed prelates (Stefan Wyszyński, József Mindszenty and Josef Beran) on June 29, 1956 urging their supporters to remain loyal.[97] 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.[101][102] 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."[32]

The 1955 film The Prisoner was loosely based on József Mindszenty and to some extent Stepinac. The Cardinal character, played by Alec Guinness, was made to appear physically similar to Stepinac.[103]

Death and martyrdom controversies[edit]

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

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."[104] 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.[105] 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.[106] Cardinal Franz König was among those who attended the funeral.[107]

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.[108][109] But administration of arsenic along with bloodletting was a standard treatment for polycythemia in the early 1950s [110]

When in 1943 Stepinac travelled to the Vatican, he came into contact with the Croatian artist Ivan Meštrović.[111] 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 reportedly broke into tears.[112] Meštrović did not return to Yugoslavia until 1959 and upon his return met again with Stepinac, who was then under house arrest.[113] 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....".[111]

In 1970, Glas Koncila published a text on Stepinac taken from L'Osservatore Romano which resulted in the edition being confiscated by court decree.[114] Stepinac's beatification process began on October 9, 1981.[115] The Catholic Church declared Stepinac a martyr on November 11, 1997,[22] 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.[116] 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.

On the other hand, 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 the wartime conduct of Stepinac had been further investigated.[117] The Vatican had no reaction, though some Croats expressed irritation.[117]


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.[118] The declaration was passed, along with a similar one about the death of Croatian communist official Andrija Hebrang.[118] 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.[119] In 1998, the Croatian National Bank released commemoratives 500 kuna gold and 150 kuna silver coins.[120]

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.[121] The Aloysius Stepinac Museum opened in Zagreb in 2007.[122]

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.[123]

In 2008, a total of 119 streets in Croatia were named after Alojzije Stepinac, making him the tenth most common person eponym of streets in the country.[124]

Nominations to Righteous Among the Nations[edit]

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.[58] 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.[58] However the reason stated by Yad Vashem for denying the requests were that the proposers were not themselves Holocaust survivors,[citation needed] 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[edit]

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.[125] 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.[125] 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 Stepinac, but Benigar refused to share the diary with any other researcher.[125] The diocesan archives have also been made available to Benigar, but no other researcher.[126]

The official transcript of Stepinac's trial Sudjenje Lisaku, Stepincu etc. was published in Zagreb in 1946, but contains substantial evidence of alteration.[126] Alexander's Triple Myth therefore relies on the Yugoslav and foreign press—particularly Vjesnik and Narodne Novine—as well as Katolički List.[127] All other primary sources available to researchers only indirectly focus on Stepinac.[127]

See also[edit]



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  113. ^ Sculptin a legacy
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  119. ^ [1]
  120. ^ The 100th anniversary of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac's birth
  121. ^ Cultural Tourism, Croatian National Tourist Board
  122. ^ Opening of the museum of blessed Aloysius Stepinac, Total Portal
  123. ^ Captain's band on the arm, Stepinac's picture on his chest
  124. ^ Letica, Slaven (29 November 2008). Bach, Nenad, ed. "If Streets Could Talk. Kad bi ulice imale dar govora.". Croatian World Network. ISSN 1847-3911. Retrieved 2014-12-31. 
  125. ^ a b c Alexander (1987), p. vii.
  126. ^ a b Alexander (1987), p. viii.
  127. ^ a b Alexander (1987), p. ix.


  • Alexander, Stella. 1987. Triple Myth: a life of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. Boulder, Colorado: East European Monographs.
  • Akmadža, Miroslav (2004). Katolička crkva u Hrvatskoj i komunistički režim 1945 - 1966. [The Catholic Church in Croatia and the Communist Regime 1945-1966]. Otokar Keršovani. ISBN 953-153-098-X. 
  • 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.
  • Gitman, Esther (2011). When Courage Prevailed: The Rescue and Survival of the Jews in the Independent State of Croatia 1941-1945. Paragon House. ISBN 1-55778-894-4. 
  • Dedijer, Vladimir. The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican - The Croatian Massacre of the Serbs During World War II. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1992.
  • Tanner, Marcus (1997). Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07668-1. 

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Antun Bauer
Archbishop of Zagreb
7 December 1937 – 10 February 1960
Succeeded by
Franjo Šeper