BELGRADE – Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on Friday said a Croatian court decision annulling a 1946 conviction of Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac was, in a way, aimed at pressuring the Pope into giving up on establishing the truth and into canonising the former Croatian Roman Catholic cardinal.
The county court in Zagreb has annulled in its entirety a verdict sentencing Stepinac to 16 years of imprisonment, forced labour and loss of civil and political rights for a period of five years.
Stepinac was loyal to the WWII-era Ustasha regime of Ante Pavelic.
His role and responsibility in the deaths of many Serbs, Jews and Roma killed in the war have been questioned and are to be probed by a commission comprised of representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and the Roman Catholic Church with mediation from the Vatican.
Croatia is covering up the pits into which the Ustashas had been digging Serbs, but if it carries on like this, it will dig an abyss into which it itself will fall, and end up without the support of the civilised, anti-fascist and anti-national part of humanity, Nikolic told Blic.
“Stepinac was never convicted in Croatia – the Independent State of Croatia or today’s legal successor of that Ustasha state. He was convicted in Yugoslavia and Serbia is the legal successor of all former Yugoslav states, and all newly-created states agree with this,” Nikolic said.
Nikolic said he had presented his view on Stepinac’s role in WWII to Pope Francis in a direct conversation with him during a visit to the Vatican.
The president added that he was personally preparing evidence he would present to representatives of the SPC and then also the commission.
“The head of the Roman Catholic Church told me he would not rush a decision because (if canonised) Stepinac would be the first Christian saint whom the SPC and other Orthodox churches would not recognise,” Nikolic said.