CARDINAL STEPINAC, POPE PIUS XII, AND THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Ronald J. Rychlak
University of Mississippi School of Law
The Catholic Social Science Review 14 (2009): 367-383
Like Pius XII, who fought to undermine the Nazis, Croatian Archbishop (later Cardinal) Aloysius Stepinac battled with the Nazi-like Ustashi regime. Like Pius, Stepinac was known to those close to him as a staunch opponent of Fascism, but also like Pius, his reputation was smeared by false accusations after the war. In fact, evidence that was manufactured by Communist authorities after the war to defame Stepinac, and which has since been established as false, has made its way into the historical analysis of Pius XII’s papacy. That false evidence continues to confound scholars and distort their appreciation of efforts undertaken by Pius and Stepinac to combat evil regimes and protect victims of all different backgrounds.
Pope Pius XII and Cardinal Stepinac both advanced to high positions in the Church at a young age. In 1934, Pope Pius XI nominated the thirty-six year old Stepinac as the coadjutor archbishop of Zagreb. At that time he was the youngest bishop in the world. In 1937, though still below the prescribed canonical age of 40, Stepinac succeeded Anton Bauer as the archbishop of Zagreb, becoming one of the youngest archbishops in the Church’s history. He served as Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 until his death in 1960.
Two years after Stepinac was consecrated archbishop of Zagreb, Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope, taking the name Pius XII.
World War II broke out later that same year. Within two more years, a Nazi-puppet regime took over in Croatia. Ante Pavelic and his Ustashi government unleashed a wave of brutality that shocked even the Nazis.
“Almost immediately, [Archbishop] Stepinac used his position to speak out against the treatment of Jews and Orthodox Christians.” Like Pope Pius XII, he offered shelter to those who were in need, and he inspired others to do the same.
Stepinac’s words and actions before, during, and after the war show that he was a good man. In 1936 he sponsored the work of a committee aiding Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. In December 1938 he wrote to priests in Zagreb asking them to help the persecuted Jews. Later that month he founded Action for Aid for Jewish Refugees, placing the organization under his personal protection. He wrote to wealthy Catholics reminding them that it was their “Christian duty” to support Jewish exiles. During the war, Meir Touval-Weltmann, a member of a commission to help European Jews, wrote a letter of thanks for all that the Holy See had done and enclosed a memorandum which stated: Dr. Stepinac has done everything possible to aid and ease the unhappy fate of the Jews in Croatia.
In March 1938, addressing a group of university students, Archbishop Stepinac condemned the racist ideologies that were prevailing throughout many parts of Europe:
[E]ventually, at death, all racial differences disappear. Therefore, man will not be justified in God’s judgment by belonging to this or that race, but by honest life and good deeds. So if love toward a nation crosses the borders of sound reason, then it is no longer love, but passion, and passion is neither of use, nor lasting…. Therefore love toward your own nation is not contradictory to love for the whole of mankind; they complement each other. All of the nations are children of God.
This was a view that he maintained all of his life.
When the Nazis first came to power, Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) negotiated a concordat on behalf of the Holy See. He has been severely and unjustly criticized for that action. In reality, that agreement helped many victims escape Nazi persecution. From the very beginning, Cardinal Pacelli was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime. Similarly, at first, Archbishop Stepinac tried to work with the Ustashi government. He could not, however, condone the regime’s racist or nationalistic policies. As he learned of the extent of the brutality, and after having received direction from Rome, Stepinac became a strong opponent of Paveliƒ and the Ustashi. By May 1943, the Vatican had a list of 34 separate interventions by Stepinac against the persecution of Serbs and Jews in Croatia. The files of the German police attaché in Zagreb, show that Stepinac was often identified as a traitor by the Nazis and the Ustashi.
Some critics say that Pius XII did not oppose the Nazis until late in the war. As many scholars have demonstrated, that is a ridiculous charge. Similarly, some of Stepinac’s critics have argued that he opposed the Ustashi only late in the war, when it was clear that they would be defeated. In reality, however, relations between Pavelic and Archbishop Stepinac were strained from the beginning. The Archbishop did not participate in the welcome extended to Pavelic when he arrived at the Zagreb railroad station in April 1941. Additionally, the traditional Te Deum Laudamus (a hymn of thanksgiving for a special blessing) was not sung at the cathedral on the occasion of Pavelic’s birthday. Pavelic attended Mass at the Zagreb Cathedral only one time in the four years he was in power, and on that occasion Stepinac failed to greet him as the Ustashi leader had expected.
See the entire article in: http://www.studiacroatica.org/revistas/165/stepinac_eng.htm