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Who Will Be The Next Roman Catholic Saint?

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John Paul II in prayer before the tomb of Cardinal Stepinac

In October of 1998, Pope John Paul II traveled to the Marian shrine at Marija Bistrica (Croatia) to officially announce the beatification of Aloysius Stepinac. Some 400,000 Catholic Croatians cheered and applauded the anouncement.

In his address, the Pope said, "An illustrious son of this blessed land is raised to the glory of the altars."

"One of the outstanding figures of the Catholic Church, having endured in his own body and his own spirit the atrocities of the Communist system, is now entrusted to the memory of his fellow countrymen with the radiant badge of martyrdom." [1]

The beatification of Cardinal Stepinac may prove to be one of the most controversial events in John Paul II's tenure.

Stepinac, a Croatian nationalist, collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Military vicar for the murderous Ustashi who were engaged in a bloody ethnic cleansing of their country with the blessing and participation of Roman Catholic clergy. Croatian and Roman Catholic spin doctors have revised the history of those terrible years and now Stepinac is honored as an anti-Communist martyr.

It is understandable that Croats choose to overlook Stepinac's wartime activities in support of the fascist Croatian regime. After all, many of them still hold the prejudices and values that fueled the horrors of WWII. It comes as no surprise that the Pope, in his speech in Marija Bistrica, overlooked Stepinac's involvement in the Croatian Holocaust and, instead, focused on his resistance to the postwar Communist government of Yugoslavia. After all, the RCC has a 1700-year history of seeing only what it wants to see.

On the other hand, Orthodox Serbs, together with many Jews and Romanies, are not happy at all. To many Serbs, the archbishop symbolized Croatian fascism. They remember seeing his face on postage stamps and reading fascist propaganda in his diocesan journal. They remember his blessing the barbarous Ustashi troops as they marched off to battle or to slaughter tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Romanies. They remember him celebrating birthday Masses for the Croatian fuhrer, Ante Pavelic.

Stepinac was good at his work as military vicar. Croatian fuhrer Pavelic had this to say about the work of the Catholic clergy within the ranks of the Ustashi military. He was quoted in the official Ustashi newspaper as having said:

"I am convinced that posterity will be grateful to you Roman Catholic Croatian priests for having inculcated our first soldiers of the Independent State of Croatia with a wholesome spirit, a high morality and respect for God, as well as with fearlessness and courage in facing the enemy both within and without." [2]

After World War II ended, the Yugoslavia government tried Stepinac as a Nazi collaborator and the all-Catholic Croatian jury sentenced him to 16 years in prison. Pope Pius XII was outraged that his golden boy was tried and convicted. He responded by excommunicating every Catholic who had anything to do with Stepinac's trial and conviction.

Stepinac didn't spend a lot of time in prison. He was convicted in 1946 and released in 1951. The terms of his release forbade him from resuming his duties and required him to remain within the confines of Krasic, a town near his birthplace.

Pius XII elevated Stepinac to Cardinal in January, 1953. This really upset the government of Yugoslavia and diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Yugoslavia were severed.

When Croatia achieved independence, in 1992, one of the first acts of her newly-elected Parliament was to absolve Stepinac of the charges laid to him. According to their revised version of history, he had been put on trial, not for having collaborated with the Nazis. His 'crime,' they say, was that he refused to cooperate with Marshall Tito, Yugoslavia's Communist leader, in establishing a national Catholic church independent of Rome.

As Rome circles her wagons around the revised history of the RCC failure to speak out against the atrocities of the Croatian Holocaust or to control her priests and monks, she is also creating a new biography for Aloysius Stepinac. As one RCC apologist writes:

"In 1985, his trial prosecutor Jakov Blazevic admitted publically that Cardinal Stepinac's trial was entirely framed, and that Stepinac was tried only because he refused to sever thousand year old ties between Croatians and the Roman Catholic Church." [3]

In announcing the beatification of Stepinac, John Paul II referred to his 'martyrdom.' I do not doubt that the Pope's words were carefully chosen and that the identification of Stepinac as a 'martyr' was intended. This would be perfectly in line with the ongoing program to re-write history to paint a positive picture of the disgraceful and murderous conduct of the Catholic priesthood in wartime Croatian and, especially of Rome's shameful failure to use her power and influence to seek an end to the Croatian Holocaust.

Does Stepinac merit the honorific title of "martyr?"

According to my Catholic Dictionary, a martyr is

"One who gives up his or her life rather than deny Christ and the Gospel. A martyr strives for conformity to Christ and is willing to part with his or her earthly life rather than reject God. The Church's history is dotted with the heroism of martyrs. St. Augustine contended that martyrs are made not by the suffering endured but by the motive compelling them to relinquish their lives." [5]

Well, though that definition is provided by a Roman Catholic dictionary, it cannot be considered 'official.' Turning to the allegedly infallible Teaching Authority of the Roman Catholic Church which, together with Sacred Tradition and the Sacred Scriptures, is revered by Catholic faithful as the Word of God, I came up with this understanding of what it takes to be a martyr.

"Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude. 'Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God.'[St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Rom. 4, 1 SCh 10, 110.]" [4]

And here is where Rome's revisionists come into conflict with Rome's theologians.

Stepinac was charged, tried and convicted of the crime of collaboration with the Nazis following their invasion and dismantling of Yugoslavia. That he was guilty of this crime, at least, is supported by the historical record that includes photographic evidence, copies of homilies and written messages printed in his diocesan journal and in the official publications of the murderous Ustashi government and the sworn testimony of a great number of eyewitnesses.

In my research, I found no evidence that he was brought to trial because he refused to deny Christ or even his faith. If we are to believe the Romish spin doctors, the real reason he was put in the dock was that he resisted Tito's efforts to create an independent Yugoslavian Catholic church.

And there you have it. The horrors perpetrated by priest-led Ustashi murder brigades, the priest-administered Ustashi death camps - none of this appears important when considering Stepinac's sacerdotal life. That he continued to live the good life as a prince of the Roman church while all around him Orthodox Serbs, Jews and Romanies were being tortured and murdered apparently means nothing to the Romish spin doctors who are creating a new biography for their newest 'saint.'

All that really seems to matter is that he remained loyal to the Holy See; that he refused to help form a breakaway church. I suppose this would fit the Catechism's definition of bearing "witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine." Well, at least as far as Catholics consider their faith and doctrine to be truth, which is another issue entirely.

Even if we allow the above, Stepinac's 'martyrdom' fails to match at least one other criterion. He did not die as a consequence of his refusal to deny his allegiance to the Holy See. He was sentenced to 16 years at hard labor for his collaboration, but he served less than five years in the prison at Lepoglava, before being released to live in Krasic, the town of his birth. Granted, he was required to live out his life within the boundaries of Krasic, but that surely was vastly preferable to living in a cell.

Stepinac lived some ten years after being released to spend the rest of his days in Krasic. Offhand, I would think that rather negates any suggestion that he chose death rather deny his faith or his Christ. On the other hand, I suppose, by really stretching things, one could say he met the Catechism's definition as having borne witness "even unto death." In order to make the martyrdom idea more palatable to those Catholics who may question the use of the appellation 'martyr' when referring to 'Saint Stepinac,' I have seen several attempts by RCC apologists that suggest he was died as a consequence of his faithful resistance.

"In 1946 the then-Archbishop Stepinac was convicted of "crimes against the state and the people" by the Yugoslavian Communist regime, and sentenced to 16 years at hard labor. He died in 1961, of illness which apparently stemmed from poison administered to him by prison-camp authorities." [6]

That must have been a really slow-acting poison. It took more than nine years to make a martyr of Stepinac. Another RCC apologist provides a different spin on the archbishop's martyrdom:

"Due to pain caused by the many illnesses he contracted while imprisoned, Cardinal Stepinac died in Krasic on February 10, 1960." [7]

Again, it would appear that the pain of those prison illnesses took a very long time to kill the saintly archbishop. One has to wonder if the root cause of the man's death cannot be traced even farther back in time, like all the way back to World War I.

Stepinac, born near Krasic in 1898, was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army in 1916. He fought on the Italian front until he was captured. He did not return to civilian life until 1919. One wonders whether the illnesses/suffering he may have endured on the battlefield or as a prisoner of war at that time were not responsible for his death in 1960. That is as least as plausible as the fanciful ideas coming from those who wave Rome's banner.

There is at least one other possible cause for Stepinac's death that has nothing to do with poison, or pain or religious persecution. The man was 62 years old when he died. He had endured many hardships in his life, all of which may have shortened it - or may not have reduced its span by a single hour. A great many people died at or before the age of 62 in those days and, in fact still do today. Stepinac may simply have died of old age. It does happen.

A month after his death, Stepinac's body was interred behind the altar of the Zagreb cathedral. Catholics do have a thing about bodies and body parts, don't they? Anyway, true to form, Roman Catholic faithful began visiting what has become a shrine to Stepinac and now there is a growing body of fanciful testimonies of favors being granted at the site. Sigh!

Let's see now. Seems almost anyone can become a Catholic saint. It would appear that the selection process is rather open. Many habitual sins that one might think would disqualify one from becoming a saint whose life all observant Catholics are expected to emulate apparently have no effect on the decision to canonize.

Flaming homosexuals have become not only saints but can even become doctors of the church, like St. Anselm. Degenerates who wrote erotic accounts of their depraved sexual fancies and "visions," have become saints and doctors of the church; people like Catherine of Sienna and Teresa of Avila. Anti-social people can become saints, like St. Anne of Constantinople, born of a wealthy family and orphaned early in her life. Her wealth attracted many unacceptable suitors so she spent her money on the poor and moved to a high place where she lived as a hermit for 50 years or so. Soon the Roman pantheon will have a new demigod, the fascist Aloyisius Stepinac.

I wonder who will be next? Adolph Hitler perhaps? He was a fascisst and a lifelong Catholic. He supported and encouraged fascism and a holocaust. He had friends in the Vatican, among them the former Secretary of State, Eugene Pacelli, perhaps better known as Pope Pius XII. He never was excommunicated, you know.

It could happen.

Endnotes:

1. Boudreaux, Richard, "Enter The First Fascist Saint," Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1998

2. "Nova Hrvatska" , Nov. 26, 1941

3. Savor, Michael, "Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac: A Servant of God and the Croatian People," available on the WWW at ttp://www.hr/darko/etf/stepinac.html

4. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2473.

5. Stravinskas, Pter, Ed., "Catholic Dictionary," Huntington:Our Sunday Visitor, Inc (1993), p. 322

6. "Stepinac beatification revives old debate," Catholic World News, July 9, 1998, http://www.catholic.org/media/news/vnbarchive/vnb070998.html

7. Savor, Michael, "Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac: A Servant of God and the Croatian People," available on the WWW at http://www.hr/darko/etf/stepinac.html

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