ZAGREB – Alen Budaj, an associate of the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, has said that the countries that are legal successors to the former Yugoslavia, Serbia in particular, must send a strong diplomatic protest to the Vatican over its intention declare Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac a saint.
The Vatican has officially confirmed that Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac will soon be declared a saint.
Immediately upon the entering of the Germans in Zagreb, on April 10, 1941, Stepinac supported the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia (ISC), which was declared a state by the Ustasha (Croatian fascist movement), and in 1945, he fought for the preservation of the regime headed by Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic.
Budaj believes that a protest against sanctifying Stepinac, who took part in the creation and implementation of NDH ideas during World War II, needs to be made even at the cost of breaking off diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
“I hope that the Serbian Orthodox Church will react, since this particular decision made by the Vatican is also undermining the ecumenical relations between the two churches,” Budaj said, stressing that Israel and many Jewish institutions in the territory of the former Yugoslavia should react to this strongly and immediately.
It is not at all surprising that the new Pope Francis is proclaiming Stepinac a saint, as that road was mapped by the Catholic Church in Croatia immediately after the verdict against Stepinac had been delivered, said Budaj, who is also director of the Margel Institute, a Jewish NGO in Zagreb.
On October 11, 1946, Stepinac was found guilty of high treason and war crimes – for his relations with the Croatian Ustasha and collaboration with the occupation forces – and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
In 1951, he was transferred to his native village of Krasic, where he spent the remainder of his life confined to his home parish until his death on February 10, 1960. As a sign of support, the Vatican awarded Stepinac the title of cardinal in 1952.
Budaj pointed out that already during his trial, the West and the Catholic world considered Stepinac to be a martyr and innocent victim of Communist persecution, that Stepinac has been made a cardinal while alive and beatified after death, and is now to be declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
He would be the only saint to receive a high distinction from the Ustasha headman, and that while being the Archbishop of Zagreb, for a merit he earned as a helper of a fascist, criminal regime, Budaj said, adding that a report about it appeared in Narodne Novine, the official mouthpiece of the NDH.
“While Monsignor Svetozar Ritig, prebendary of the Zagreb Chapter (Kaptol), saw in Pavelic an evil in the making as early as in 1929, Stepinac wholeheartedly greeted and served Pavelic. Ritig has no street (named after him) in Zagreb, as he was an anti-fascist, while Stepinac has all the honors as a clerical fascist,” said Budaj.
Budaj said it is no big wonder that Stepinac will be canonized, as the Vatican was recognized as a state by fascist Benito Mussolini’s Lateran Treaty in 1929.
“I do not want to hear about Stepinac’s great merit in ‘saving’ Jews, because he was all the while drawing up in the official Catholic press Pavelic’s racial provisions by which the Jews were taken to concentration camps.
I do not want to hear about his efforts to save certain Serbs, because he was on the Committee of Three in charge of conversions to Catholicism and I do not want to hear about his being a martyr and saint because he left his own Catholic priests to be tortured by the Ustasha in Jasenovac (Ustasha concentration camp) just because they were under suspicion of being opponents of the regime,” Budaj said.
He pointed out that Stepinac never regretted over violent conversion of Serbs into Catholicism or over Jews being forcibly taken to be baptized, even though he knew it would not save them from being taken to the camp.
“He never repented his Catholic ‘baptized souls’ burning Jewish and Serbian churches, plundering around as wild hordes, raping and killing as crusader armies once did across the Holy Land,” Budaj said in an interview for SRNA news agency that was published in Banja Luka-based Nezavisne Novine.
He added that Stepinac knew about it all, but nevertheless bestowed blessings on the NDH and served it, even after its collapse, hiding Ustasha criminals, stolen Jewish gold and Ustasha state archive in the Zagreb Kaptol.
“To me, as a free man, Stepinac will never be a saint, as I am not bound by decisions of the Pope, nor have I lost my mind to believe in that fraudulent alchemy of miraculous transformation of a criminal into a saint,” said Budaj.