"The Triple Myth" concerning Cardinal Stepinac
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Some of you may be aware of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac. He is still a very controversial figure, especially among the Orthodox. They absolutely hate him for his alleged collaboration with Ustasha, the Croatian fascist regime that collaborated with the Nazis. This is also part of a wider controversy regarding the church in Croatia during World War II, and its relationship with the Ustasha regime and its treatment of the Serbs.

There have been a variety of books written on this subject, some of which are more polemical than others. If I recall correctly, there is even one called "Vatican Auschwitz" (referring to the Jasenovac concentration camp). There are very few balanced books on the subject of Cardinal Stepinac and the Church in Croatia. One good example is Stella Alexander's book The Triple Myth. From what I've seen from a review, it would appear that although Stepinac was a very pious man, he also had some serious shortcomings. It is interesting to note that Stella Alexander converted to Catholicism before she died.

Here is a review of her book on Stepinac.

Quote:"The Triple Myth" is Stella Alexander's seminal 1987 biography of Croatia's World War II-era Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. A difficult subject, as anyone familiar with Yugoslavia knows, precisely because he has been shrouded in myths for decades, myths that are rooted in the same conflicts that made the fighting of World War II and the 1991-95 wars in Yugoslavia so atrocious. "The Triple Myth" is not pro- or anti- Croat or Serb, but a careful study of a controversial figure. Alexander's Stepinac is neither saint nor monster, but a "brave man, of piety and intelligence but with a blinkered world view". Stepinac's story, and the myths it evoked, have been fundamental to the development of modern Croatia. The book was recommended to this reader by both Croat and Jewish scholars in Zagreb as the most balanced examination of his life.

The "triple myth" of the title conveys the fact that Stepinac was manipulated to a variety of ends. There was the communist myth (that he was a separatist Croat who sought to undermine Tito with allegiance to the Vatican and fascism), the Serb myth (that he was responsible for the slaughter and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Serbs), and the Croat myth (that he was a saint who championed Croatian independence and saved thousands from death at the hands of the fascists). Like all effective myths, these are blends of fact, fiction, and propaganda. They appeal to those predisposed to believe them and have metastisized into "facts" for those who still fight these battles. Thus the myths, and the prejudices that underlie them, continue to wield tremendous power.

Stepinac was born to a prosperous farming family in 1898 and was once engaged, but his fiancee called it off due to his excessive piety. He studied at the Vatican and returned to Croatia in 1931, a time of turmoil as the democratic experiment in Yugoslavia was failing and nationalists, labor unions, and Serbian royalty vied for support. Though young and reluctant, Stepinac became archbishop of Zagreb in 1937 while the Belgrade government vainly sought to balance the Orthodox Serbian church against the Catholic church in Croatia. Alexander's description of the maneuvering behind the unsigned concordat in 1937 and how it stoked Serb/Croat tensions are fascinating. Stepinac was devoted to the church and to Croatia, which he conceived as tightly linked. These passions, and his visceral hatred for communism, left him tragically myopic about broader world affairs. When the fascist Ustashe regime entered Zagreb in 1941 and declared an independent Croatia allied with Nazi Germany, Stepinac rejoiced both for Croatia's independence and for the regime's militant anti-communism, as well as the fact that they, like him, viewed the church as an integral element of Croatian identity.

The Ustashe quickly began to brutalize Serbs and Jews, organizing death camps and mass deportations to ethnically-cleanse Croatia. Some Catholic clerics participated in these atrocities, though Stepinac's role was more ambiguous. During the first year, he not only failed to object to the atrocities but suggested ways to make them more efficient. In a July 1941 letter to the government he wrote: "The measures undertaken would have their full effect if they were carried out in a more humane and considerate way". By contrast, he opposed measures targetting Jews and Serbs who had converted to Catholicism, for once they became Catholics (and thus Croats), they were members of his flock. By mid-1942, Stepinac had split with the regime, no longer believing Croatia was truly independent -it was a vassal of Nazi Germany- nor that the church benefitted from the slaughter of Serbs and Jews. Yet he was slow to denounce the regime, feeling he would be more effective if he retained some influence and remained in Zagreb, trying to "save what could be saved".

Tito's communists took power in post-war Yugoslavia, beginning a relationship of mutual distrust with Stepinac that played out over many years, as each side needed but despised the other. In his 1946 show trial Stepinac was convicted of collaborating with the Ustashe. Noting that Tito was most interested in controlling the Catholics as all other institutions, Alexander comments that there would have been no trial had Stepinac been willing to sever ties with Rome and set up an independent Croatian Catholic church. Sentenced to sixteen years in prison, he was released into house arrest in 1951. The prosecution raised some valid questions that emphasized how differently Stepinac welcomed the fascists in 1941 and the communists in 1945. Stepinac had been seduced by the fact that the fascists were Catholics. His narrow worldview, focusing only on the church and Croatian independence, blinded him to the evils of the Ustashe until too late. In 1952, Stepinac was elevated to cardinal, remaining a symbol of obstinate opposition to the communists until his death, still under house arrest, in 1960.

Stepinac's legacy is complicated. Alexander's book does not end the debate but helps us sort facts from myths. Perhaps history can be no kinder, nor more cruel, than to conclude that Stepinac was devoted to the church and to Croatia but was tragically flawed, a victim of his own naivete and narrow-mindedness. He failed to be great, and his failing at such a critical historical moment makes that failure so much more tragic.
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"The Triple Myth" concerning Cardinal Stepinac - by Echo - 02-10-2020, 01:35 PM



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