Aloysius Viktor Stepinac, 1898-1960, served as archbishop and later Cardinal of Zagreb. The Communist Yugoslav government of Marshal Josip Tito put Archbishop Stepinac on show trial, convicting and imprisoning him on October 11, 1946, for allegedly having collaborated with the previous fascist Ustaše regime and for reputedly engaging in the forced conversion of Serbian Orthodox faithful to Catholicism. The materials selected and also falsified by the Communists prior to Archbishop Stepinac’s trial to divide and conquer Orthodox and Catholic Christians continue to be cited as authoritative by historians and critics of the Cardinal to this day, without significant reference to primary documents.
Controversy over the legacy of Cardinal Stepinac intensified with his beatification by Blessed John Paul II on October 3, 1998. See the 1998 defense of Cardinal Stepinac by the Catholic League for the controversy around the beatification.
This controversy persists. The Military Channel, during the Thanksgiving weekend of November, 2011 reran a 2010 television series on “Nazi Collaborators,” which blasted Cardinal Stepinac in its episode on Croatia, “The Beast of the Balkans,” focusing in part on the convicted war criminal Dinko Šakic.
Legal scholar Ronald J. Rychlak published a critical essay in 2009 debunking the portrayal of Cardinal Stepinac as a war criminal, from which the following statement is excerpted:
In 1946, prior to Stepinac’s trial, the Communist Party had published a book that contained forged and carefully selected and edited documents designed to make Stepinac and the Catholic Church look bad. In the 1960s, Italian writer Carlo Falconi sought permission from the Yugoslav authorities to research Croatian archives for a book that he was writing on Pope Pius XII. Party officials eventually handed over some original documents and provided Falconi with a copy of the 1946 book. Neither Falconi nor the others who came after him knew that the evidence had been carefully manufactured to assure that Stepinac appeared to have been a collaborator of the Ustashi (and that Pius appeared sympathetic to the Nazis). He was not given access to any materials or archives that could contradict the communist-manufactured propaganda. Thus, on the basis of forged and carefully selected documents assembled by the Yugoslav secret police, Falconi wrote his book, The Silence of Pius XII.
Falconi’s book was extremely successful. It shaped much of the early scholarship on Pope Pius XII, and it remains much cited to this day. John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope made much use of the materials Falconi had used. In fact, Cornwell cited Falconi by name nine times, and he praised Falconi’s “painstaking” research. Falconi and the works that built upon his book have tainted the entire investigation into Pope Pius XII. As Croatian scholar Jure Kristo has explained: “The documents which both men [Falconi and Cornwell] used had, of course, been assembled by the Yugoslav secret police and fed to Falconi in order to compromise Pope Pius XII as ‘Hitler’s Pope.’” These documents have confounded scholars of Pope Pius XII for decades.
“Cardinal Stepinac, Pope Pius XII, and the Roman Catholic Church During the Second World War,” Ronald J. Rychlak, The Catholic Social Science Review 14 (2009): 367-383
Unfortunately, the Military Channel didn’t get the message, and continues to run an inaccurate episode that maligns a good and holy man, Cardinal Stepinac. Only in a culture that hates religious faith and Catholicism in general could the lies of the 1946 Communist show trial be treated as fact.
For more, here’s a link to “Rev. Know-It-All”‘s 12/7/11 radio discussion with me on Blessed Cardinal Stepinac.
© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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