Alojzije Cardinal Stepinac: Croatian Catholic prelate and patriot

Alojzije Cardinal Stepinac was born on May 8,1898 in Brezarić, Croatia-Slavonia, Austria-Hungary to a wealthy Croatian family. He was the 5th of 9 children. His mother was a devout Catholic and prayed constantly that young Alojzije would enter the priesthood. In 1914, he entered the seminary. In 1917, he was conscripted in the Austro-Hungarian army and served on the Italian Front. In 1918, he was captured by Italian forces. His family was told that he was killed. A week after having a memorial service for him, his family was told he was captured by the Italian Army. He was released by the Italians on December 6,1918. After the war, he enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Zagreb, but left to help his father in the vineyards. His father wanted him to marry and in 1923, he was briefly engaged to a teacher, Marija Horvat, but the engagement was broken off. In 1922, he was part of Hrvatski orlovi (Croatian Eagles), a politically-conservative Catholic youth sports organization. In 1924, he entered the Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum in Rome to study for the priesthood. He was fluent in Croatian, Italian, German, and French. He was ordained a priest on October 26,1930 by Archbishop Giuseppe Palica. He celebrated his first mass in his home parish of Krašić on July 1,1931. On December 7,1937, he was appointed Archbishop of Zagreb by Pope Pius XI. He was a political and religious conservative who opposed abortion, Communism, Freemasonry, liberalism, secular education, divorce reform, profanity, sex outside of marriage, and birth control. When the Ustaše regime and the Independent State of Croatia was created. He welcomed them and pledged his support. He subsequently condemned the atrocities against Jews and Serbs committed by the Ustaše. He was against forced conversions of Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism insisting that it had to be done freely and only after religious instruction, however, this was ignored by the Ustaše authorities. He did advised individual priests to admit Orthodox believers to the Catholic Church if their lives were in danger, such that this conversion had no validity, allowing them to return to their faith once the danger passed. He was also saved many individual Jews from Nazi persecution. After the war, the Communists took over Croatia and Yugoslavia, even though restored was Communist. Stepinac publicly condemned the new Yugoslav government and its actions during World War II, especially for murders of priests by Communist militants. On September 18,1946, Archbishop Stepinac was arrested by Communist authorities in Yugoslavia for allegeded collaboration with the occupation forces, relations with the Ustaše regime, having chaplains in the Ustaše army as religious agitators, forced conversions of Serb Orthodox to Catholicism at gunpoint and high treason against the Yugoslav government. All of which was untrue. On September 30,1946, his trial began. He was tried along 16 other defendants. The trial against him was a show trial and bogus. On October 3,1946, he gave a lengthy 38-minute speech condemning the procedures against him as a “show trial”. During the speech he said he never took part in activities against Yugoslavia or the Serbs. He also mention of the nearly 300 Catholic priests murdered by the Communist Allied Yugoslav Army. On October 11,1946, he was found guilty for high treason and war crimes. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The sentence was condemned by individuals and organizations: Pope Pius XII, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, the American Jewish Committee, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, British MP Richard Stokes, and former UK Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. Pope Pius XII excommunicated all Catholic who participated in the trial against Archbishop Stepinac. In 1949, the United States House of Representatives approved a resolution condemning Stepinac’s imprisonment, with the Senate following suit several months later. In 1951, Josip Broz Tito, the Communist dictator of Yugoslavia, released him on the condition of leaving for Rome or under house arrest in Krašić. He refused to leave and opted under house arrest. On November 29,1952, his named appeared on the list for Bishops to become Cardinals. Yugoslavia would not allow him to attend Rome and he did not receive his Red hat. He was created a Cardinal by Pope Pius XII on January 12,1953. He died on February 10,1960 in Krašić, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). To many Croatian Catholics, he died a martyr. On October 3,1998, he was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in Zagreb which was strongly supported by Croatian Catholics and the Croatian Jewish community. On July 22,2016, the Zagreb County Court annulled the verdict in the review process, requested by the Archbishop’s nephew Boris Stepinac, “due to gross violations of current and former fundamental principles of substantive and procedural criminal law”.

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