In a few months I’ll get back to a letter I started writing over a year ago, in response to an Italian Catholic acquaintance who was wounded by my Feb. 2010 Jerusalem Post article which unflatteringly depicted Cardinal Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac, who headed Croatia’s Catholic Church during WWII and presided over the Croatian genocide of Serbs, Jews and Roma. The acquaintance sent me a 22-page paper written by a Croatian Jewish woman in defense of Stepinac, and part of my letter is a response to that, including an explanation of the Croatian Jew Complex.
But while I continue work on that, I wanted to note that Jewish groups — refreshingly — objected to Pope Benedict’s visit this month to Stepinac’s grave in Croatia:
…At his last stop Benedict prayed at the tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who was accused of collaborating with the Nazi-allied rulers during World War II. The communists sentenced him to 16 years in confinement after the war. [Eleven of those were spent in house arrest; for a Nazi-era figure who oversaw genocide, and considering he was tried and imprisoned by communists, it could have been far worse.]
Benedict praised him as someone who “knew how to resist every form of totalitarianism, becoming, in a time of Nazi and Fascist dictatorship, a defender of the Jews, the Orthodox and of all the persecuted, and then, in the age of communism, an advocate for his own faithful, especially for the many persecuted and murdered priests”.
[But not, apparently, for the group of priests who were “sent to the Jasenovac death camp because they refused to serve a mass of thanksgiving to Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic…One of the imprisoned Slovenian priests, Anton Rantasa, managed to escape…On 10 November 1942, he informed (Stepinac and the papal legate Ramiro Marcone)…on the crimes of genocide being perpetrated at Jasenovac. He was told to keep silent.” — Milan Bulajic, Belgrade Genocide Museum]
Jews said the pope was wrong to praise him.
“Holocaust survivors join all victims of the Nazi-aligned Ustasha regime in wartime Croatia in expressing disappointment that Pope Benedict would honour Cardinal Stepinac,” said Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
“Stepinac was an avid supporter of the Ustasha whose cruelties were so extreme that they even shocked some of their Nazi masters. Pope Benedict was right in condemning the evil Ustasha regime; he was wrong in paying homage to one of its foremost advocates,” Steinberg said.
The late Pope John Paul beatified Stepinac in 1998, putting him one step away from sainthood.
The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors on June 6 blasted Pope Benedict XVI over his statement about WW2 Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac.
The spiritual leader of the Roman Catholics claimed during his visit to Zagreb that Stepinac - tried and found guilty of collaboration with the fascist Ustasha regime of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) - was a defender of Jews, Orthodox Christians and anyone under persecution.
That regime ran death camps, including the largest - Jasenovac, where Serbs, but also Jews and Roma, were slaughtered.
Stepinac, beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1998, is an “adored personage in Croatia”, according to a Beta report, citing AFP. […]
So, yet again, Benedict disappoints on WWII matters. Just like John Paul II before him, who beatified Stepinac and promoted the same (Nazi) monsters in the 90s Balkans that Catholics deny the Vatican promoted in the 30s-40s. Just like Pius XII himself with theConcordat with Germany that he had all clergy pledge to. The argument can be made, however, that in some ways John Paul II’s complicity was worse, since there was no Hitler fear factor to pressure the Church into backing Croatia’s revived Ustasha regime in the 90s.
Stepinac did help some individuals here and there. A few lives — Jewish ones more than Serbian ones — were saved thanks to him. But he was careful not to make any real waves. He was what one might call a company man. The fact that one pope after another has never deigned to look into how saintly or not the man was — but has praised him before an Orthodox-homicidal public for supposedly saving Orthodox lives — also has something to do with the pope — any pope — being a company man. Notice that one pope doesn’t differ much from the last in any broad sense in terms of policies and positions, most glaringly when it comes to the Balkans. (The Vatican II Council was of course a major exception.) While the champions of this or that pope look for distinct or heroic qualities in this one or that one — and some are no doubt there — we must remember that these men are chosen for a reason: they don’t make waves. The committee decision that anoints the pope isn’t exactly looking for a maverick. The committee wants to keep things going as they have been. When has the College of Cardinals ever regretted its choice of pope? And so it goes, with one clone taking over as the previous one dies, visiting Croatia to praise Stepinac and not paying respects at the Jasenovac death camp. And so it goes. One after the other. Is it any surprise, then, that John Paul II wanted Piux XII sanctified (bestowing the “Servant of God” title upon him in 1990), and Benedict wants John Paul II sanctified — and both of course in accord on Pius and Stepinac.
And so, though I don’t disagree with most of the below, what we get is the same old shit from the pontiff, any pontiff:
Zagreb - Pope Benedict warned on Sunday that the traditional family in Europe was “disintegrating” under the weight of secularisation and called for laws to help couples cope with the costs of having and educating children.
“Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge the spread of a secularisation which leads to the exclusion of God from life and the increasing disintegration of the family, especially in Europe,” he said in his sermon on the edge of the capital.
The 84-year-old pontiff’s sermon was the latest in a series of salvos against what the Church sees as growing anti-Catholicism and “Christianophobia” in Europe.
Speaking on the day Croatia, whose population of 4.4 million people is 90% Catholic, celebrates its “Family Day”, he railed against practices such abortion, cohabitation as a “substitute for marriage”, and artificial birth control.
The pope urged Catholic families throughout Europe not to give in to a creeping “secularised mentality” and called for “legislation which supports families in the task of giving birth to children and educating them”.
The sermon reflected the Vatican’s belief that the Catholic Church in Europe is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion, religious education and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places.
Last year the Vatican criticised plans to propose legislation in Britain, known as the Equality Bill, that could force churches to hire homosexuals or transsexuals.
The Vatican was also at the forefront of a campaign that overturned a ruling by the continent’s top human rights court that would have banned crucifixes in schools in Italy.
At the start of the trip on Saturday, the pope criticised the European Union, saying its bureaucracy is overly centralised and sometimes neglected historical differences and national cultures. [OK, he gets points for that one.]
The Vatican strongly supports Croatia’s bid to become an EU member, which it is expected to achieve in 2013. This would put another overwhelmingly Catholic country in the bloc. [In case you were wondering why the Vatican keeps mum over Croatia’s pro-Nazi problem.]
Benedict’s trip to Zagreb was intended to encourage the local Church, 20 years after independence and 16 years after the end of the Balkan wars. […]
(This would be the local Church that tells the country to pray for the acquittals of war criminals and calls the president a communist when accused of helping WWII fascists, and has a bishop as a military chaplain who reads an Ustasha-era poem.)
European Jewish Press ran a similar AFP report, which also had the following background:
…The pope praised Stepinac during a visit to his tomb in the Zagreb cathedral.
“His martyrdom signals the culmination of the violence perpetrated against the Church during the terrible period of communist persecution,” he said.
“This unity explains what is humanly inexplicable: that such a hardened regime could not make the Church bow down.”
His trial was for long a sticking point between the Catholic Church and the Yugoslav communist regime.
In overwhelmingly Catholic Croatia, Stepinac is seen as a national hero and martyr for his attachment to an independent Croatia and unwavering faith in the face of communist persecution. […]
That is, the pope stayed on-message: Communism. There it was — that obsessive pointing to communism whenever Nazism is brought up. Yes, look over there at communism and not at the Nazism we aligned ourselves with against it — those supposedly “godless” Nazis, as the Church (and Benedict himself) calls them to deflect from the disturbing connections. Stepinac supposedly demonstrated “unwavering faith” in the face of a faithless communist regime, but apparently not in the face of the supposedly “godless” Nazism the Church aligned with. Indeed, Croatian Nazism was pursued in the name of god.
Serb-American reader Paul explained the similarities between Croatia and Lithuania, vis-a-vis the Communism vs. Nazism thing:
It went way beyond the Nazis, and [Lithuanians] rather enthusiastically and sadistically exterminated their Jewish neighbors at a number of killing fields. The resemblance with Croatia holds in that Russians/Communists are viewed as the evil ones and Nazis as not so bad (i.e. Tito is worse than Pavelic, Bleiburg is worse than Jasenovac). So, many Lithuanians [like Croatians] think of themselves as victims of some sort.
(Indeed. Recall that Lithuania filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Jewish partisans for their anti-Nazi resistance, while preventing prosecution of any Lithuanian collaborators in Holocaust crimes.) Now, check out this charming bit of coverage from the Catholic News Service:
Croatia is a different country from the one Blessed Pope John Paul II visited in 1994, 1998 and 2003. [Indeed. In 2011, Croatia is almost completely ethnically cleansed of all the riff-raff. The pope must be proud. ]
The pope also will visit to the tomb of a controversial Croatian cardinal, Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. A storm of debate erupted in the run-up to Blessed Pope John Paul’s beatification of the cardinal in Zagreb in 1998.
For Croats, the cardinal is the symbol of the church’s resistance to communist oppression…Today, the cardinal is still seen as a powerful example of staying true to God and respecting the dignity of every human being, the trip’s missal said. By praying at his tomb, Pope Benedict will be reinforcing the cardinal as a role model of patient perseverance and trust in God while undergoing great difficulties and hardship.
Pope Benedict didn’t just stay on-message. Like the popes before him, he also stayed away from Jasenovac:
The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) most likely shall not invite the Pope Benedict XVI to attend the celebration of 1,700 years of the Edict of Milan in the Town of Nis in 2013….As said by the Patriarchy the Pope perhaps would have been invited had he during visit to Croatia this weekend visited Jasenovac and paid respect to victim[s] of the concentration camp in which 700,000 Serbs and about 100,000 Jews and Roma were killed during the WWII.
That has not happened but the Pope did visit the grave of Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac who was on trial after the WWII for cooperation with the Nazis.
Jovan Mirkovic, Director of the Museums of Victims of Genocide does not agree with the Pope, who said that Stepinac was saving the Jews, Serbs and Roma. ‘There are simpl[y] no proofs for such claims but there are proofs about Cardinal’s responsibility for the ustashi crimes’, he says.
The Pope said in Croatia that Stepinac was a humanist who suffered under two totalitarian regimes – of the ustashis and of the communists. Like his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict XVI too paid respect to Stepinac at his grave in the Zagreb Cathedral.
In a statement to ‘Blic’ Federico Lombardi, Director of Vatican’s Office for media claims that there are testimonies that Stepinac was not supporting Ante Pavelic’s regime, that he was saving all he could and that serious historians have proved that.
Jovan Mirkovic, former Director of Jasenovac Monument Park says that ‘Vatican’s thesis that Stepinac was saving Jews is without ground’.
‘Had he saved [the] life of a single Jew, Israel would have proclaimed Stepinac a righteous among nations. I think there were certain attempts to that direction but they all failed’, Mirkovic says.
As regards Stepinac’s relation towards the Serbs, everything is clear according to Mirkovic.
‘It is sure that there is his responsibility for enforced turning of Serbs into Catholicism. Secondly, large number of his priests was ustashis committing crimes together with others. Thirdly, he was s supreme military priest and all military priests delegated to ustashi units were under his authority. Stepinac knew about Jasenovac and all [the] horrible things that were going on there’, Mirkovic says.
The only correction I would make to Mr. Mirkovic’s point is that the “Righteous” title wasn’t denied to Stepinac because of a lack of proof that he saved even one Jew — it’s my understanding that he did in fact save several, often made possible if the Jews were willing to convert even temporarily. While the conversion aspect is itself enough to disqualify a candidate from being Righteous, here was what Yad Vashem explained to the Croatian groups petitioning for the title: “Persons who assisted Jews but simultaneously collaborated or were linked with a fascist regime which took part in the Nazi-orchestrated persecution of Jews, may be disqualified for the Righteous title.”
Relatedly, reader Paul wrote the following in an email:
Apropos Benedict’s lies about “Blessed” Stepinac: I was shocked to see that many Serbs in Serbia (but not Bosnian Serbs, they know better) actually thought the Pope would make some sort of apology, and the SOC (Serbian Orthodox Church) actually sent a letter inviting him to do so. What naivete! When we take into consideration that the Vatican did not recognize Israel until 1994 but recognized Croatia in 1991, I am a bit shocked that the Jewish community and leaders seem to think that this organization…could somehow be a key partner in Jewish-Christian relations, while perceiving fundamentalist Protestants (who are generally pro-Israel) with contempt.
Another report on this month’s visit had the following sentence: “Many Croatians regard Stepinac as a hero for speaking out against the Nazi-backed regime during World War II.”
Not quite. This would not get him regarded as a hero in Croatia, which still pines for the Ustasha era — which it resurrected in the 90s under Franjo Tudjman. Consider the fact that at Croatian cultural centers across the globe, one will find a portrait of Stepinac alongside a bust or portrait of Fuehrer Ante Pavelic — the man Stepinac supposedly opposed. Their reverence for Stepinac has to do with his connection to the WWII state, as well as with his ‘martyrdom’ during communism. I propose that it also has something to do with gratitude for the ambiguity and controversy surrounding him, providing a cover for the Croatian public’s Nazi sympathies and allowing Croatians to continue playing both hands (fascist and anti-fascist.)
Amid the schlock that passes for reporting on anything that concerns the former Yugoslavia, was the following gem of a blog post, at a site titled Archbishop Cranmer (run by Church of England members):
…The BBC notes the ‘special relationship’ Croatia has ‘long had’ with the Vatican. In 1914, the Vatican gave her blessing to Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia which initiated a mass pogrom against Serbs throughout Croatia and Bosnia. One can only wonder at the profound symbolism of the Pope’s decision to pay homage and pray at the tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who was put on the path to sainthood by Pope John Paul II for the suffering he endured under Yugoslavia’s communist regime. Stepinac was Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960, leading Croatia’s church throughout World War II. He was subsequently accused of collaborating with Croatia’s Nazi-allied rulers, for which he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
It is difficult to grasp how a pope with first-hand experience of the evils of the Nazi era cannot see how the fanatical Catholicism of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and the fascist Ustashi under Ante Pavelic does not constitute the same kind of wickedness. Catholic bishops were seen blessing the arms of Croat recruits as they slaughtered Orthodox Serbs. Stepinac stands accused of remaining passively indifferent while 750,000 Serbs, 60,000 Jews and 26,000 gypsies were systematically tortured and murdered in a holocaust which proportionally exceeded that perpetrated by Nazi Germany. For many, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac was complicit in this genocide and fanatically active in the persecution and forced conversion of Orthodox Serbs, often at gun point. He said in his diaries, ‘the (Orthodox) Schism is Europe’s greatest curse, almost greater than Protestantism. It knows no morals, principles, truth, justice or decency’.
There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the history of fascist Croatia and her drive for ethnic and religious purity. Francis X Rocca may well wonder: ‘Given that a fanatical Catholicism was a basic component of the Ustashi ideology, and given the pope’s own tangles with Nazism, it might seem odd if he doesn’t address this ugly part of the country’s history in some way.’
Serbian Orthodox bishops have written to the Pope protesting his visit to Zagreb: to them, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac is every bit as guilty as General Ante Gotovina of crimes against humanity.
One wonders what political outrage and media furore would ensue if, within weeks of the guilty verdict against Ratko Mladić, an Orthodox religious leader visited Serbia and had the audacity to pay homage at the tomb of his genocidal inspiration.
The last line is an excellent point, on a mistaken premise (about Mladic). Anyway, as we can see here, Stepinac wasn’t a “monster.” He was just “passively indifferent” to the genocide happening around him, and under him.
A more in-depth characterization of Stepinac came from historian Srdja Trifkovic on June 8, titled “Shades of Grey“:
As a long-time upholder of friendship and alliance between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditionalists, I am disheartened by Pope Benedict XVI’s uncritical portrayal of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac (1898-1960) as a saintly figure during his visit to Croatia earlier this week.
The historical record presents a more nuanced and ambivalent picture of Stepinac. The leading American historian of the Balkans, H. James Burgwyn, notes that, as “a vocal nationalist Croat,” Stepinac “conferred respectability on the Ustaša regime by his immediate approval of the new government… Without the urging of prelates and priests, many Croats, who otherwise would have turned their backs on the Ustaša atrocities, allowed themselves to be co-opted by Pavelić’s regime” (H. James Burgwyn. Empire on the Adriatic: Mussolini’s Conquest of Yugoslavia, 1941-1943. New York: Enigma Books, 2005, pp. 52-53).
Specifically, on April 28, 1941, Archbishop Stepinac issued a pastoral letter in which he called on the clergy to take part in the “exalted work of defending and improving the Independent State of Croatia,” the birth of which “fulfilled the long-dreamed-of and desired ideal of our people” (Katolički List, April 28, 1941). The pastoral letter was read in every Croatian parish and over the radio.
The clergy hardly needed the Archbishop’s encouragement, however. This phenomenon was soon noted by various Axis officials in the field. The German Security Service (SD) expert for the Southeast, Dr. Wilhelm Hoettl, noted… “Since being Croat was equivalent to confessing to the Catholic faith, and being Serb followed the profession of Orthodoxy, they now began to convert the Orthodox to Roman Catholicism under duress. Forced conversions were actually a method of Croatization” (Walter Hagen. The Secret Front: the Story of Nazi Political Espionage. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1953, p. 238. ‘Hagen’ was Hoettl).
A devout and austere man, distressed by the deportations and mass killing around him, “Stepinac was no admirer of the Nazi and Fascist creeds beyond their authoritarian ideas and anti-Communism,” Burgwyn notes, but for over two years “he refrained from open criticism of Pavelić’s blood-soaked rule and kept silent over the Ustaša murders of the Orthodox” (Burgwyn, op. cit. p. 53).
In what is cited by his apologists as a bold move, Stepinac once declared from pulpit that “all men and races are children of God,” specifically mentioning “Gypsies, Black, European, or Aryan” — but no Serbs. He did not mention the main victims of the regime by name — not once — for the rest of the war. After more than two years of Ustaša rule, on October 31, 1943, Stepinac stated in a sermon that “there are people who accuse us of not having taken action against the crimes committed in different regions of our country. Our reply is… we cannot sound the alarm, for every man is endowed with his own free will and alone is responsible for his acts. It is for this reason that we cannot be held responsible for some in the ecclesiastical ranks.” Under the circumstances this view amounted to an abdication of moral responsibility.
No less contentiously, Stepinac stated at the Council of Croatian Bishops that a “psychological basis should be created among the Orthodox followers” for the conversions: “They should be guaranteed, upon conversion, not only life and civil rights, but in particular the right of personal freedom and also the right to hold property.” He did not say, or appear to think, that those rights were due to the unconverted Serbs. (Over a year before Yugoslavia’s collapse, on January 17, 1940, Stepinac wrote in his diary: “The most ideal thing would be if the Orthodox Serbs were… to bend their heads before Christ’s Vicar, our Holy Father [the Pope].”)
Stepinac’s failing was primarily in his timid and reluctant attitude to those members of the Croatian clergy who openly identified with the Ustaša regime, or even became supporters of and participants in the genocide.
When the anti-Serb and anti-Jewish racial laws of April and May 1941 were enacted, the Catholic press welcomed them as vital for “the survival and development of the Croatian nation” (Hrvatska Straža, May 11, 1941) — yet Stepinac did not intervene. On the subject of those laws, the Archbishop of Sarajevo Ivan Šarić declared that “there exist limits to love” and declared it “stupid and unworthy of Christ’s disciples to think that the struggle against evil could be waged in a noble way and with gloves on.” Stepinac did not reprimand him. Those were the early days of the Ustaša regime, however, before the slaughter started in earnest. Later, “when the Ustaša launched their massacres, the Holy See took no overt measures to bring them to a halt” (Bergwyn, op. cit. p. 54).
This need not have been so:
“Because Pavelić so eagerly sought Vatican diplomatic recognition and led a movement of zealous Catholics, Pius had the leverage to force Pavelić and the Ustaše to stop murdering Serbs and Jews. [Pavelić requested recognition immediately after arriving in Zagreb: “I fervently ask Your Holiness with Your highest apostolic authority to recognize our state, and deign as soon as possible to send Your representative, who will help me with Your fatherly advice . . . “] The Vatican never attempted to use this leverage to prevent this genocide. Pius XII never condemned the destruction of the Serbian and Jewish population in Croatia, even though he held great sway over Pavelić and his followers [Robert McCormick: Pius XII, in History in Dispute, Volume 11: The Holocaust, 1933-1945. St. James Press, 2003, p. 193].”
By the summer of 1941 some priests abandoned all pretense of restraint. Fr. Dragutin Kamber, SJ, as the Ustaša trustee in the city of Doboj, in central Bosnia, personally ordered the execution of hundreds of Serbs. Fr. Perić of the Gorica monastery instigated and participated in the massacre of over 5,000 Serbs in Livno and the surrounding villages. He encouraged the local Ustaša bands to start the slaughter with his own sister who was married to a Serb. The Catholic Weekly, the official journal of the Archdiocese headed by Stepinac, warned what was in store for the “schismatics” and enemies of the New Order: “When in the past God spoke through papal encyclicals, they closed their ears. Now God has decided to use other means… The sermons will be echoed by cannon, tanks and bombers” (Katolički tjednik, Zagreb, 31 August 1941).
Particularly controversial was the role of Stepinac in a belated attempt to save the Ustaša state from collapse. In March 1945, he presided over a commemorative assembly in Zagreb devoted to “Catholic priests killed by the hand of the enemy” (Katolički list, Zagreb 1945, No. 12-13, 29 March 1945, pp. 99-100)…In the message to the faithful signed by Stepinac and the Catholic episcopate on 24 March 1945, the bishops made a ringing assertion that “during the Second World War the will of the Croat people was expressed and realized in our own State” and that “nobody has the right to accuse any citizen of the State of Croatia because they respect this immutable will of the Croat People, to which it has the right both by God’s laws and those of men” (ibid. pp. 93-95).
The moral consequences of such posture are illustrated by Dr. Vladko Maček’s personal encounter with a mass murderer. The leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, interned at the Jasenovac camp headquarters in 1941-42, recalled hearing from the other side of the barbed wire “the screams and wails of despair and extreme suffering, the tortured outcries of the victims, broken by intermittent shooting.” They “accompanied all my waking hours and followed me into sleep at night.” He noticed that one of the guards assigned to watch him crossed himself each night before going to bed. Maček asked the guard whether he was not afraid of the punishment of God. “Don’t talk to me about that,” the guard replied, “for I am perfectly aware what is in store for me. For my past present and future deeds I shall burn in hell, but at least I shall burn for Croatia” (Vlatko Macek, In the Struggle for Freedom, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 1957, p. 234).
As this episode illustrates, the Ustaša criminality is measured not only by the numbers of dead Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, but also by the impact of their crimes on the society at large. That impact remains enormous, seven decades after the deed. Pope Benedict’s uncritical praise of Stepinac does not help heal the wounds and build the bridges. […]
On the point of seven decades later, a news report about the visit carried the following sentence: “Oppressed and marginalised during the decades of communist rule after World War II, the church regained some of its lost prominence in the 1990s when it was promoted by the nationalist regime then in power.”
And so one must ask what this affinity is for the Catholic Church particularly by nationalist Croatian regimes if not something that’s deeply rooted in the Nazi era, wherein the Church and the regime acted in unison.
The item also noted that Croatians’ Catholicism was strengthened during the 1991-95 war. That is, it was strengthened during a war under a leader who wrote, “As we were able to conclude from the preceding study, in the very origins of all our later, Western, civilization…genocidal violence is a natural phenomenon, consistent with human-social and mythological-divine nature. It is not only permitted, but even recommended, moreover even found in the words of the all-powerful Yahweh, always when it is necessary for the survival or the restoration of the kingdom of the chosen people, or for the maintenance and spread of their one true religion.” Presumably, President Tudjman was extrapolating the biblically-sanctioned ancient necessities of genocide to Catholicism and modern-day Croatia.
Coverage from Forbes.com also went to the point, though a bit meekly (and check out the wording in the first paragraph below):
…The Hague tribunal in April sentenced Gotovina to 24 years in prison for his role in a 1995 military offensive intended to drive Serb rebels out of land they had occupied for years along Croatia’s southern border with Bosnia.
In April, Benedict told Croatia’s new ambassador to the Holy See that the country shouldn’t worry about losing its identity by joining the EU, a message possibly intended for die-hard nationalists who have long been skeptical of entering the EU.
“You needn’t fear making a determined claim for respect of your own history and religious and cultural identity,” Benedict said…[You hear that, Croatia? You can keep your identity as Nazis. Especially since that’s whose vision the EU is anyway.]
Recently, Zagreb’s archbishop, Cardinal Josip Bozanic…told Croatian radio on Sunday that Croats should be less subservient to the EU and not accept all the conditions it sets, underscoring the long-standing sympathy of the local church with some of the more nationalistic sentiments in Croatia.
And so here we are. As I wrote to a young Catholic acquaintance who happens to not be in denial about Croatia’s crimes — but who still loves his popes:
The Vatican backed the same monsters in the 90s that it claimed it didn’t in the 30s and 40s. Today, the Church doesn’t even admonish its Croatian flock as that flock proudly flaunts its fascist creds. Whether we’re talking about the annual masses for Pavelic presided over by Croatian priests, or about Croatia’s favorite fascist rock star (who even performed in a hall adjoining a Catholic church in NY, with Cardinal Egan’s approval), or about the busts and portraits of Pavelic at Croatian cultural centers, or an Ustasha motto being repeated by a military chaplain, or the Croatian-Catholic clergy galvanizing the masses on behalf of 1990s war criminals, or a host of other — all too frequent — Nazi features of modern Croatian society, including a Catholic priest officiating at the funeral of convicted WWII war criminal Dinko Sakic (buried in full Nazi regalia), the Vatican voices NO OBJECTIONS.
And here we’ve been told by Vatican-defenders that the Nazis/Ustashas weren’t acting as Christians but as godless people — that they were the opposite of Christian, that they betrayed Christianity. Well then WHY, when the unrepentant, unreformed Nazis of Croatia decided to reclaim what Hitler gave them, did they get Vatican backing? Once again, the Vatican supported Nazis — in a Croatia that had revived all the Nazi symbolism and street names of Nazi heroes and even reappointed some of the surviving Nazis, openly bringing them back from Latin America. By the Vatican-defenders’ own logic, then, when John Paul II was gunning for an independent Croatia run by, and filled with, these supposedly “anti-Christian Nazis”, he betrayed Christianity. And that’s not to mention the whole Bosnia thing, his legacy of which has not helped his flock there fare well.
The decisive nail in the coffin of Christian civilization was driven in the Balkans. In Bosnia and Kosovo. The Vatican supported both policies that made it so. First, John Paul II supported the Bosnian Muslims against the reviled Orthodox Christians (Serbs), and then the Albanian ones against the Orthodox Serbs. This was a betrayal, and a self-killing. Not to mention a repetition of WWII history — working against the Orthodox. A repetition that took place in a modern — and less terrifying — context; he repeated the same kinds of missteps that make Pius XII controversial, at a time when there was far less pressure on the Church to do so. In fact, Germany and the Vatican were the driving forces behind repeating history in the Balkans, pressuring the rest of the world to follow their lead.
A June 8th letter appearing in the Irish Times by Michael Pravica, of Nevada, asked:
…[W]hen [will] the Vatican and the Croatian Catholic Church acknowledge and apologise for their roles in the mass murder and ethnic cleansing of millions of Serbs, Jews, and gypsies[?] Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, as leader of the Croatian Catholic Church, if nothing else, did not openly condemn this genocide, but silently condoned it. Pope Benedict should not have visited his grave as this will forever drive a wedge between Orthodox Christians and Catholics.
In a general email containing the letter, Professor Pravica mentions that the editor took out a line about the forced conversions in WWII Croatia. Which leaves one to wonder whether there’s something about forced conversions that’s worse than ethnic cleansing and genocide. Or else, whether that aspect was just too damning, in contrast to the more easily obscured role of the Church in the secular acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The answer presents itself for us: An accusation of inaction in the face of genocide — which can be explained away by circumstances — is preferable to an accusation of action: forced conversions would have been the Church’s the initiative. And that places the Church in league with the genocide in its midst, suggesting that its passivity wasn’t exactly that.
The Catholic Church preaches forgiveness. But does it know how to apologize? The overwhelming evidence suggests it does not.
Just for fun, I’ll close with this “hard-hitting” coverage of the controversial, highly charged, historically significant Croatia visit this month — from Newsmax:
…Addressing members of civil society in Zagreb June 4, the Pope reminded those present that respect for conscience “is fundamental for a free and just society, both at national and supranational levels.”
The great achievements of the modern age, he added, owe themselves to “the recognition and guarantee of freedom of conscience, of human rights, of the freedom of science and hence of a free society.”
Last year, the Council of Europe proposed a resolution that would have demanded member states curb the freedom of conscience of medical doctors and nurses. The proposal was later voted down. However, last month the Obama administration stood by its decision to force pro-life medical professionals to dispense so-called “emergency contraception” such as abortion-inducing drugs, thereby removing their right to refuse on grounds of conscience.
The Pope stressed that the “quality of social and civil life and the quality of democracy depend in large measure” on conscience. He warned: “If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy, and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself.”
Only if conscience is “rediscovered as the place in which to listen to truth and good, the place of responsibility before God and before fellow human beings — in other words, the bulwark against all forms of tyranny — then there is hope for the future,” Benedict XVI said. And he added that it is by forming consciences “that the Church makes her most specific and valuable contribution to society” as conscience is “the keystone on which to base a culture and build up the common good.”
The Pope’s June 4-5 pilgrimage to Croatia, his 19th visit outside Italy, was short and intense but well timed, coinciding with an imminent announcement on the outcome of Croatia’s bid to join the European Union.
Benedict XVI said he supported Croatian membership because he believes the country, with its rich Christian heritage, would be more effective within rather than outside the union in helping reverse the secularism that is sweeping across the continent.
The Pope also spoke out strongly in defence of the traditional family. At a Mass on Sunday, he called on all people to recognize the beauty, joy and witness of Christian marriage and family life, and firmly rejected the harm caused by secularism, artificial contraception and living together before marriage, all of which, he said, are opposed to true love.
Secularism, he observed, has reduced love “to sentimental emotion and to the gratification of instinctive impulses, without a commitment to build lasting bonds of reciprocal belonging and without openness to life.”
This was Benedict XVI’s first visit outside the Italian mainland this year. His next will be in August, to Madrid, Spain, where he will attend the Catholic Church’s tri-annual World Youth Day.
La la la la Blue Skies la la la White Clouds la la la Sunny Days la la la Starry Nights la la la la….zzzzzzzz.
Of course, we know the Church reserves an exception to having a conscience and opposing totalitarianism: when the Church benefits.
If Croatia is the great hope for reversing EU secularism, then like I alwayssay: I’ll be in the attic. Indeed, as only Nebojsa Malic reports, in furtherance of the country’s rulers’ EU aspirations, “Right after the pontiff’s visit, Zagreb announced that it will hold a Gay Pride Parade on June 18. The motto of the event is ‘Tomorrow belongs to us.’ In case that sounds familiar, here’s why.” I didn’t need to click on the link to know where it would take me: to the indelible scene in the film “Cabaret,” in which a bright, young, effeminate Nazi soldier sings “Tomorrow Belongs To Me,” eventually joined by the crowd. Until Nebojsa pointed it out in an email, the additional irony had been lost on me: Benedict had been a Hitler jungend himself.
(A closing honorable mention to BBC coverage for citing “thousands” killed by the Ustashas. A million people is “thousands.”)
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