Despite “divergences” of points of view, the Croatian Catholic Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church, want to reflect jointly on the memory of their martyrs. A year after its institution, the mixed Serbo-Croatian Commission to study the historical truth of the life of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac (1898-1960), Croatian Cardinal declared a martyr, concluded its works with these words, during the sixth and last meeting on July 12-13, 2017.
The Catholic and Orthodox experts were asked to study the life of the Archbishop of Zagreb, who was opposed to Fascism and Communism, but whose memory is the object of controversies.
In a press release, the participants praised Pope Francis’ “magnanimity” who accepted the request of the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Irinej, and constituted the Commission. They described the “cordial atmosphere” that prevailed and the “full freedom of speech” during the meetings and assured that the works made possible “a better knowledge of the history of the years between World War I and 1960, year of Cardinal Stepinac’s death” and to illustrate “the life and ministry of an important Catholic minister, in a particularly troubled period of history.”
The experts came to the conclusion “that different events, interventions, writings, silences and the taking of positions are still objects of varied interpretations. In the case of Cardinal Stepinac, the interpretations that prevail, given respectively by the Catholic Croats and the Serbian Orthodox, still remain divergent.”
“The study of the life of Cardinal Stepinac, showed that in history all the Churches suffered cruelly different persecutions and have their Martyrs and Confessors of the faith. In this connection, the Commission’s members agreed to a future eventual collaboration, in view of a common endeavour, to share the memory of the Martyrs and Confessors of the two Churches.
The press release recalled also that the Commission of Historical Research did not interfere in the process of Blessed Stepinac’s Canonization, something that is the “exclusive competence of the Pope.”
Headed by Father Bernard Ardura, President of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, the Commission was made up of Bishops and historians. There were in total five representatives of the Catholic Church of Croatia: Cardinal Josip Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb; Monsignor Antun Skvorcevic, Bishop of Pozega; Monsignor Ratko Peric, Bishop of Mostar-Duvno, Jure Kristo and Mario Jareb of the Croatian Institute of History.
The five representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church were: Amfilohije, Metropolitan of Montenegro and of the Coast; Porfirije, Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana; Irinej, Bishop of Novi Sad and of Backa; Jovan, Bishop of Pakrac and of Slovenia, and Darko Tanaskovic, representative of Serbia at UNESCO.
Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who was Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960. was condemned by the Communist regime, imprisoned for five years and then under house arrest. He died of a blood ailment contracted in prison.
For several decades the accusation was propagated according to which Cardinal Stepinac collaborated with the Oustachi [Croatian secret society] dictatorship of Ante Pavelic, close to Hitler and leader of the Independent State of Croatia during World War II. According to the Church of Croatia, it is a calumny launched by the Communist regime.
The recognition of Cardinal Stepinac’s martyrdom by John Paul II in 1998 sparked the controversy. In 1952, when Monsignor Alojzije Stepinac was created Cardinal by Pius XII, Yugoslavia severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See.