ZAGREB, May 9, 2019 – Croatian Bishops’ Conference (HBK) president Želimir Puljić said on Thursday that in Pope Francis’s recent statement regarding the canonisation of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac “there is nothing contentious about the search for the truth” or anything “that would bring into question his sainthood and canonisation,” but conceded that the statement “has agitated the public and challenged believers.”
In an interview with the Croatian Catholic Network, Archbishop Puljić called on the faithful to be patient and calm. “The pope said he cared about the truth and that, together with the patriarch, he wants to arrive at the truth… However, regarding Stepinac and what the Congregation has already done and concluded, there is nothing contentious that would… bring into question his sainthood and canonisation.”
According to religion sociologist Ivan Markešić, the pope said that Stepinac, who was the Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II, had been a virtuous person, that he was beatified and could be prayed to, and that he said nothing bad about him.
But when he saw that there were doubts regarding some historical truths and undefined historical gaps, the pope asked the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) and Patriarch Irinej for help as he cares about Irinej’s opinion, said Markešić.
The pope did not find out about those doubts from the Catholic clergy but the SPC, and his statement is in line with his aspiration to bring Christians closer, as evidenced by his attitude to the Russian, Serb, Bulgarian and Macedonian churches, Markešić added.
He does not believe that the pope’s statement is a sign that Stepinac will not be canonised or that work on that has been halted. The commission will continue to look for common ground, which is a path towards the reconciliation of churches, he said.
“If we listen to statements by Metropolitan Porfirije or Episcope Ćulibrk, we can see that tensions are slowly being defused. Talking about Croatian WWII death camp Jasenovac, Porfirije says it’s not the number of victims that’s important but how to arrive at forgiveness and reconciliation. I think the next stage is to find common ground on which the Catholic Church and the SPC can talk about declaring Stepinac saint,” said Markešić.
Archbishop Puljić said the pope’s decision to consult the SPC regarding Stepinac was a precedent and that the SPC wanted to use this precedent to block the canonisation.
Markešić said the SPC was not interfering and that the pope had requested its participation. “He could have declared Stepinac saint regardless of the SPC, but he is responsible and consistent in his pushing for reconciliation.”
Puljić recalled that the HBK sent a letter to Patriarch Irinej last November which said that his statements elicited distrust of the SPC and Serbs in Croatia as well as deepening war wounds and inciting hate.
“We care about ecumenism. We too are trying to cultivate good relations with Orthodox believers. But we don’t like it when Stepinac is put in a political context. Stepinac did what he could in those times. Stepinac was such a critic of the NDH (WWII Independent State of Croatia) that perhaps not even the Serbs were so critical of (NDH leader Ante Pavelić). And Stepinac, poor man, suffered because of that,” said Puljić.
Markešić does not believe the HBK letter is conducive to the pope’s rapprochement with the Orthodox brothers, saying it “makes the reconciliation process harder.” The pope wants to be a Christian beyond any one church and sees Patriarch Irinej as a great and holy man, he added.
Stepinac can play a special role in connecting churches, but one should admit it if “there was something that should be admitted” about him as a man who could have made mistakes, said Markešić.
One should accept Pope Francis’s path towards reconciliation and “those waiting for the day when a new pope will arrive should not look forward to it too much” because the Vatican’s policy would not change much, he added.
What the church in Austria says about Bleiburg, that’s what Pope Francis stands for, he said, adding that the Catholic Church supported the magnificent celebration of Victory Day in Paris, yet in Zagreb church bells did not toll.
More news about the canonisation of Stepinac can be found in the Lifestyle section.