In “Disputed Barricade: The Life and Times of Josip Broz-Tito, Marshal of Yugoslavia” (Johnathan Cape, 1957), Sir Fitzroy Maclean described Ante Pavelić’s return to Croatia “in the baggage train of the invading German armies” and goes on to note:
“Pavelić’s henchman, Colonel Kvaternik, had publicly proclaimed Croatia’s independence amid scenes of genuine enthusiasm some hours before the first German troops actually entered Zagreb. In particular the change had been welcomed by many of the Catholic clergy, whose attitude had always reflected the Vatican’s dislike of Belgrade and who now looked forward to enjoying a privileged position in a Catholic country, freed for ever from the influence of their hated Orthodox rivals… Among the first to pay his respects to the Poglavnik (or leader, that is Pavelić HMcL) was Monsignor Stepinac, the Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb and Metropolitan of Croatia. In a Circular [sic, should be Pastoral HMcL] Letter of April 26th the Archbishop formally called upon the clergy to render loyal service to their new rulers. ‘These are events’ he wrote, ‘which fulfil the long dreamed of and desired ideal of our people… respond readily to my call to join in the noble task of working for the safety and well-being of the Independent State of Croatia.’” [p124]
This, of course, was before the nature of the Pavelić regime had been revealed in all its vile barbarity. And it was barbarous. Maclean goes on to tell us:
“The Ustaše vied to outdo each other, boasting of the numbers of their victims and of their own particular methods of dispatching them. The aged Orthodox Bishop of Plaški was garrotted by his assassins. Bishop Platon of Banjaluka was prodded to death in a pond. Some Ustaše collected the eyes of the Serbs they had killed, sending them, when they had enough, to the Poglavnik for his inspection or proudly displaying them and other human organs in the cafes of Zagreb. Even their German and Italian allies were dismayed at their excesses.
Pavelić, who saw Croatia once again in its historic role of Antemurale Christianitatis and himself as the defender of Western civilization in the struggle against Eastern barbarism, attached considerable importance to obtaining the official and open support of the Catholic Church for his policy of racial and religious Gleichschaltung. But in this he does not seem to have been as successful as he had hoped. The rank and file of the Catholic clergy in Croatia were, he confided to Ciano in December 1941, ‘very favorable’ to his regime; the higher ecclesiastical authorities considerably less so ‘indeed some of the Bishops were… definitely hostile.” [p162]
And among those who were by that time "definitely hostile" to the Government of the Independent State of Croatia was Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac. Maclean writes:
“…the Metropolitan, Archbishop Stepinac, had, in a Pastoral Letter issued in April 1941, welcomed the Independent State of Croatia and called upon the clergy to serve it loyally. But, as time went on, his initial enthusiasm seems to have given way to a sense of serious misgiving. No-one was more anxious than he to see the Orthodox population of Croatia converted to Catholicism and the last traces of Byzantium removed from Croat soil. ‘The Schismatics’, he had written some months earlier, ‘the curse of Europe — almost worse than Protestants…’ But the means by which the new regime was seeking to achieve these ends could scarcely meet with his approval.” [p162]
And what were these methods? Maclean makes it abundantly clear:
“The Ustaše’s favourite method of religious unification was, as we have seen, the wholesale massacre of the Orthodox population. But in their more merciful moments, they would sometimes offer their victims immediate conversion to Catholicism as an alternative to annihilation. A priest would be produced and, while armed Ustaše looked on, whole villages would be received into the Church simultaneously. Soon, throughout the country, Catholic priests were besieged by crowds of panic-stricken men, women and children, clamouring for admission to the Church of Rome, in the hope that they might thus succeed in saving their lives.
This presented Archbishop Stepinac with a decidedly awkward problem. Canon law expressly forbade the admission to the Church of anyone who had not been duly instructed in its doctrines, or whose motives for wishing to enter it seemed dictated by self-interest, or were otherwise open to suspicion. The conditions were quite clearly not being fulfilled. What is more, the officiating priests were in many cases operating without proper authority from their ecclesiastical superiors. Taking a long view (and the Church has always taken a long view), there was a serious risk that what was happening might do the Church more harm than good, a risk that its reputation might suffer, a risk that under changed circumstances (and circumstances might always change) the mass conversions might be followed by mass backslidings. These and other dangers were all too evident from the reports he was now receiving from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina.” [pp 162/3]
Archbishop Stepinac, as he amassed the reports arriving from throughout the country, discussed matters both with the other members of the hierarchy and with his priests. It should be noted that here at least in part Maclean misrepresented Mgr Stepinac. There was no question of Mgr Stepinac wanting “the last traces of Byzantium removed from Croat soil”. For one good and simple reason: one of His Excellency’s bishops was in fact a Catholic of the Slav-Byzantine rite in full communion with Rome, Mgr Simrak, Bishop of Krizevci. Obviously, so too were many of his priests. In 1939 there were estimated to be about 55,000 Catholic Yugoslavs of the Byzantine rite consisting of a nucleus of Croatised Serbs. In 1464, Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, drove the Turks out of part of Bosnia and established on the border military colonies of refugee Serbs of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1611 these people came into “unambiguous communion” with the Holy See and their then Bishop, Simeon Vretanjic, was recognised as a “ritual vicar” (ie, pertaining to adherents of that Byzantine rite now in communion with Rome, HMcL) of the then Bishopric of Zagreb. The Tablet, Vol 188, No. 5556, 2 Nov 1946 @p229 states:
(Bishop) Simeon’s profession of faith was received by St Robert Bellarmine; and he lived at the Monastery of Marca, which was a centre for Serbian reunion, of which there was some talk at the time, several individual Bishops, who had fled from the Turks into Hungary, being reconciled. In 1739 Marca was burned down by brigands, and when these Byzantines were in 1777 given a diocesan Bishop, his See was fixed at Krizevci (Kä¢rä¢s, Kreutz, Crisium) in Croatia, not far from Zagreb. He was at first a suffragan of the Primate of Hungary, but since 1920 of the Archbishop of Zagreb.
During the eighteenth century there was a migration of Rusins from the Podkarpatska Rus to the Backa and elsewhere, and another of Galician Ukrainians to Bosnia and Slavonia at the end of the nineteenth, and there are Rumanian and Macedonian Bulgar elements also in this heterogenous collection, held together by the Catholic faith and their common Eastern rite. In 1939 they were found in five more or less ethnic groups in various parts of Yugoslavia, the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Krizevci covering members of his rite throughout the country. Only the original Serbs are completely Croatised; the remainder conserve at least their language of origin.”
Mgr Simrak died aged 63 in Zagreb on 9 August 1946 as a consequence of his imprisonment and mistreatment in one of Tito’s prisons. The Tablet Vol 188, No. 5554, 19 Oct 1946 @p196 notes that:
“He (Mgr Simrak) had been imprisoned at Crisio by the partisans, on May 12th, 1945, when his episcopal ring was taken from his finger and he was forbidden to offer Mass. One of his canons was at the same time imprisoned, in a small windowless cell; we do not know what has become of him.”
Having consulted his fellow bishops and priests, in November of 1941 Mgr Stepinac addressed a letter to Ante Pavelić. Maclean writes that:
“The tone of the Archbishop’s letter was studiously moderate. He was careful, in particular, not to hold the Poglavnik responsible for the misdeeds of his henchmen. But, for all that, it was not the sort of letter that was calculated to please a man of Pavelić’s temperament, already irritated by the numerous appeals and protests which Monsignor Stepinac had from time to time addressed to him: begging him to spare the lives of hostages and to put a stop to mass executions; criticising his new racial laws, and asking him to grant special treatment to Serbs and Jews who had entered the Catholic Church and to excuse the latter from wearing yellow armbands. His sermons, too, had contained a number of pointed allusions to ‘those who, while glorying in being Catholics or even possessing a spiritual vocation, nevertheless abandon themselves to passion and hatred and forget the essential Christian rule of love and charity.’ In fact it was not long before Dr Pavelić had conceived a hearty dislike for the tall, thin, stubborn, ascetic-looking prelate in his massive palace next to the cathedral. ‘That sniveller,’ the Poglavnik was heard to exclaim a few weeks later, after hearing Stepanic preach at St Mark’s Church on the occasion of the opening of the new Croat Assembly, ‘That sniveller is trying to give me a lesson in politics.’”[p166]
What had the Archbishop written? Dated November 20, the letter began by explaining that the annual Conference of the Catholic hierarchy had reached certain conclusions, “notably”, quotes Maclean:
“that questions appertaining to conversions to Catholicism were a matter for decision by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and by no one else; that only the Roman Catholic hierarchy could appoint ‘missionaries’ to preside over conversions; and that only those might enter the Church who did so from genuine conversion and of their own free will… It was impossible to deny that horrible acts of cruelty and violence had been committed, he noted. (The reports he had received from his Bishops were sufficient proof of that. HMcL) It is essential to take a strictly realistic view. Even the Orthodox Church has its genuine adherents, who cannot automatically change their views or their nature overnight. A purely mechanical procedure is for this reason apt to have unfortunate results… In this manner houses are built on sand, and not on rock, and when the rains descends and the wind blows nothing is left of them but ruins.”[p165]
His Grace did not blame the Government for what had happened regarding it rather as “the work of irresponsible elements who did not realize how much harm they were doing.” The Poglavnik’s “decision to establish peace and justice merited the gratitude of all.” But the Church, for its part, was bound to condemn the crimes and excesses which had been committed and ”to demand the fullest respect for the individual, regardless of status, sex, religion, nationality or race.” In conclusion, he ventured: “We are sure that you share our view and that you will do everything in your power to check the violence of isolated individuals and to ensure that control is vested in the responsible authorities. Should this not be the case, any attempts to convert the Schismatics will be in vain.”
Stevan K Pavlowitch in the Nations of the World (Ernest Benn Ltd, London 1971) writes:
“Archbishop Stepinac of Zagreb was no Ustasha sympathizer. He was a traditional Catholic prelate, a Nationalist Croat, and an anti-Communist. As such, he initially welcomed independence, but his increasing uneasiness about the Ustasha regime quickly led him to hesitations which paralysed the Catholic Church in Croatia almost as much as the Peasant Party. Serious misgivings were especially felt by the hierarchy about the government’s campaign of conversions, carried out according to principles and with means that had little to do with religion. After the archbishop’s protests against violence and the disregard of established canonical procedure, the government’s continued policy of conversions for racial ends, which made martyrs and pseudo-converts, which used the Catholic Church and tinged it with infamy, caused a collective remonstrance, addressed in November to the Poglavnik.” [p113]
After the declaration of the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia, His Holiness Pope Pius XII had in May of 1941 cordially received the former Duke of Spoleto, now known as King Tomislav II, as Head of State, and the Poglavnik, Ante Pavelić, as the Head of Government of a Catholic country. In addition, Mgr Marcone, “a robust-looking Benedictine” according to Maclean, was sent to Zagreb as Papal Legate, NOT as Nuncio since historically the Holy See does not grant recognition to states formed during a conflict while that conflict remains unresolved by international treaty. Maclean records that Mgr Marcone “joined with gusto in the official life of the new capital.” Pressed by representatives of the Independent State of Croatia in Rome to grant diplomatic status, the officials of the Secretariat of State “though friendly and sympathetic, were inclined to be evasive and to talk at length of the Vatican’s neutral status.” Maclean continues:
“There were also signs that some, at any rate, of the cardinals had received unfavourable reports of what was happening in Croatia. Cardinal Maglione, the Cardinal Secretary of State, spoke of ‘not very nice stories’. And Cardinal Tisserant, the heavily bearded Cardinal Secretary for the Eastern Congregation [he means the Congregation for the Oriental Church; the Prefecture had been reserved to the Holy Father himself at the erection of that Congregation by Benedict XV, but this is no longer the case; it should be noted here that Cardinal Tisserant had a measure of direct responsibility for Mgr Simrak and his Slav-Byzantine rite See], had, in conversation with Pavelić’s diplomatic representative in Rome, made some very wounding remarks about the alleged ‘independence’ of the Independent State of Croatia and about Croats generally, and had gone on to comment most unfavourably on the atrocities committed by the Ustasha. Indeed, the tone of his remarks had been so critical and so ironical that Lorković [Mladen], the Ustasha Minister of Foreign Affairs, had been moved to scrawl the words ‘Oprez! Neprijatelj!’ — ‘Look out! An enemy!’ — across the foot of the dispatch reporting them.”[p167]
“In May 1941, the Pope had received Pavelić, and he had sent a legate to Croatia, but the Holy See had not recognised the N.D.H. (the Independent State of Croatia) and continued to maintain diplomatic relations with the exiled Yugoslav government. Fully aware of the facts, and with an anti-Ustasha lobby in the Vatican itself, the papacy maintained a reserved, and at times even disapproving, attitude towards the boastful Catholicism of the Ustashas.”
Regretfully, however, Pavlowitch notes that the papal attitude notwithstanding, at least some of the “Catholic leadership, and many clerics continued to give them (the Ustasha) enthusiastic support.”
Maclean notes that reports reached Archbishop Stepinac of “priests being actually threatened with physical violence by the panic-stricken crowds who besieged their presbyteries because they would not admit them fast enough to the Church.” He goes on to observe:
“This presented the Archbishop with yet another problem: whatever the exact provisions of Canon Law, could he, in all conscience, condemn these unfortunates to certain death by refusing them admission to the Church? In a circular dated March 2nd, 1942, he gave his clergy discretion to overlook ‘secondary motives’ for wishing to enter the Church, providing the essential motive was also present in the candidates, namely, a genuine belief in the Catholic faith ‘or at any rate genuine — (genuine!) — good will’. And even where these conditions did not appear to be fulfilled, the priest was authorised to ‘pursue the matter further’. Thus, mainly from humanitarian motives, the door was opened a little wider than strict interpretation of Canon Law would perhaps have permitted and the number of conversions to Catholicism multiplied still further.”[p168]
Maclean relates that by the end of 1942:
“… the attitude of the senior Catholic clergy still left much to be desired. Archbishop Stepinac remained, it is true, scrupulously correct in his attitude towards the regime. He continued to attend official functions and ceremonies; he had become Chaplain General to the Croat Armed Forces; he accepted and wore the high decoration which Pavelić had bestowed on him. But at the same time he continued to intervene on behalf of the victims of the regime, while his letters and speeches and sermons became ever more critical of the Ustasha, of their methods and of their racial theories and laws. So critical, in fact, as to be almost defiant. ‘The Church’, the Archbishop wrote to Pavelić in March 1943, ‘on learning that there were to be fresh persecutions of the Jews, ‘does not fear any power in this world, when it is a question of defending the elementary rights of men.’”[p201]
When, later, Maclean comes to deal with the emergence of Tito’s “People’s Democracy”, he has this to say:
“At the head of the Catholic hierarchy during these difficult times stood Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac. Some of the other clergy and bishops, notably Archbishop (Ivan) Šarić of Sarajevo, who had been one of Pavelić’s most enthusiastic supporters, had found it advisable to leave Croatia with the Germans. Stepinac, who had shown considerably less enthusiasm for the Ustasha and had even sought to restrain Pavelić from some of his worst excesses, remained to face the Poglavnik’s no less formidable successor. His duty, as he saw it, was to his flock.
From Tito’s point of view, Archbishop Stepinac represented an awkward problem. In June 1945, shortly after Stepinac’s release from a fortnight’s imprisonment, the two men had met in Zagreb for the purpose of finding a modus vivendi between Church and State. Their meeting had not been unfriendly. Each had expressed his understanding for the other’s point of view and his desire for an agreement. ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s’, the Archbishop had said, ‘and to God that which is God’s.’ And they had parted with mutual expressions of good will. But Caesar in the event had claimed a larger share than the Church had seen fit to accord him and soon relations were more strained than ever. In upholding what he regarded as his Church’s rights, Stepinac showed himself adamant. Nor did he hesitate to make his views as widely known as possible by means of his sermons and pastoral letters.
In Tito’s eyes such an attitude was openly subversive of the Government’s authority. And subversion was not something he was prepared to tolerate. He was thus confronted with a dilemma. Clearly, it would be difficult to liquidate the Archbishop, as Mihaljovic had been liquidated. On the other hand, there could be no question of allowing him to continue his activities unhindered. In the end he decided to ask the Vatican, through the Papal Nuncio in Belgrade, to replace Stepinac. But here he met with an abrupt refusal. The Holy See, he was told, did not allow temporal authorities any say in Church appointments. He had encountered an organization as uncompromising as that to which he himself owed allegiance.
It had not been Tito’s intention to force, at this stage, a showdown with the Vatican, which still commanded the unswerving loyalty of several million devout Catholics in Croatia and Slovenia. A further period of cold war would have suited him better. But if the Vatican wanted a showdown, he was ready for one. Withhout further delay he gave instructions for the Public Prosecutor to prepare a case against Stepinac as a collaborator with the enemy during the war as an active opponent of the present regime. Material, of a sort, was not lacking.”
And with that wry comment Maclean then goes on to deal with the Stallinesque Show Trial of Archbishop Aloysisus Stepinac. But who was this Tito, persecutor of both Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac and the Catholic Church?
In June of 1937, the Comintern envoy to the Yugoslav Communist Party (the CPY) leadership, Milan Gorki, was summoned to Moscow. Arrested at the Lux Hotel in the apartment of his comrade D Manuilsky, he was accused of sabotaging Popular Front tactics, of being a friend of Nikolai Bukharin (executed on 15 March 1938, this coincide with the Anschluss of Austria) and of committing “deviationist errors” in his pamphlet Novim Putenma. His wife, Betty Glen, was also arrested and she was accused of being an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Needless to say, they were liquidated. The new envoy sent by Moscow to Yugoslavia was one Josip Tito-Broz.
Born on 25 May 1892 (perhaps) in the village of Kumrovic on the Croat-Slovene border, after his primary education Tito had become an engineering apprentice at Sisak. There he later joined the Engineering workers Trade Union and so automatically became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia. After military service, he worked in factories in Slovenia, Austria and Bohemia. He was said by his official biographer, V Didijer, to have “impressed his employers with his skill, and his mates with his strongly developed feelings of working class solidarity.”
On the outbreak of WWI, he was serving in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He claimed that he had been arrested in 1914 for spreading anti-war propaganda. Nonetheless, he took part in the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia in the Autumn of 1914. Later, he served on the Eastern front, but did not, like so many of his comrades, surrender to the Russians. Wounded, he was taken prisoner and was held for a long time in POW camp. He did not volunteer for the Volunteer Divisions of Yugoslav POWs. After the overthrow of the Czar, Tito escaped to Petrograd and later claimed that he took part in the July demonstrations, was arrested hiding under the Neva bridges and was imprisoned in the Petropavlovsk fortress prison for three weeks before being shipped back to Siberia.
He later claimed that he supported the Bolsheviks when they came to power and fought for three days in the Czech Legion before becoming a member of the Yugoslav Section of the Bolshevik Party. He returned to Yugoslavia in August 1920 with his Russian wife and worked as skilled mechanic. At the same time he worked as an agitator for the Bolsheviks within the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. His progress from then on was entirely predictable. In 1924 he joined the District Committee of the CPY in Croatia. By 1927 he was member of the Party Committee for Zagreb. In June of that year the Zagreb Party Committee ensured that he became the Secretary of the Metal-workers’ Union for Croatia, which was one of the strongest affiliates of the Industrial Trades Unions of Yugoslavia.
In February of 1928 at the conference of the Zagreb Party Organisation he was the leader of the anti-fraction group. In the Spring of that year, he was sentenced to two weeks in prison for his part in the break-up of the First of May indoor meeting organised by the Socialists and was arrested again in June for organising the riots in Zagreb. When he appeared in court in relation to this charge, he was represented by Dr I Politeo whose other clients in the criminal courts would later include the murderer of Interior Minister Draskovic and Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac!
Didijer says in his preface to With Tito through the War: “In no other country in the world, in no Communist Party outside the Soviet Union, was the devotion (to the Soviet Union and to Stalin personally) so powerful as in Yugoslavia during the War.” And that devotion was to be reflected in the adoption by Tito of Stalinist jurisprudence. Fred Singleton notes in his Twentieth Century Yugoslavia that at the end of WWII “a new revolutionary republic had come into being with a new kind of legality… Archbishop Stepinac had also compromised himself and his Church by his failure to condemn Pavelić and by his refusal to co-operate with the new regime.”[p 106, my emphasis]
It was to be this refusal to co-operate with the regime in its endeavours to destroy his Church that was to seal the fate of Archbishop Sepinac. Dr Politeo was in theory allowed carte blanche to call witnesses in Tito’s defence. The Prosecutor at the trial of Mgr Stepinac in theory had similar rights. There was one major difference. In practice the prosecutor was allowed to exercise his rights, Dr Politeo wasn’t.