Pope Francis and Serbian Orthodox Church Discuss Canonization of Croatian Cardinal Stepinac

By 17 January 2016

Cardinal Stepinac on the way to sainthood?

Pope Francis met yesterday at the Vatican with a delegation of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate. The news was confirmed by the Press Office of the Holy See. It has not been announced who was in the delegation nor what was discussed, but it is believed that members of the delegation of the Serbian Orthodox Church were those representatives who will also be members of the interreligious committee to analyze the actions of Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac during the Second World War, reports Vecernji List on January 17, 2016.

It is certain that they have discussed the work of the joint commission of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church which should discuss the actions of Stepinac, who is expected to be canonized in the future. The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej has recently written to Pope Francis and asked him to receive the Serbian delegation. According to media reports, Irinej asked the Pope to "remove the question of the canonization of Cardinal Stepinac from the agenda, and to leave it to the infallible judgment of God". He reportedly said that Stepinac "wholeheartedly supported the creation of the Independent State of Croatia, lavished praise on its leadership and took part in the creation of an atmosphere of intolerance in that country, which was a copy of Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy".

"We are afraid that there are too many open questions and wounds which Cardinal Stepinac symbolizes. His canonization, to our great regret, would return the relations between Serbs and Croats, as well as between Catholics and Orthodox faithful, back to their tragic history", said the Patriarch's letter. In September 2015, Pope Francis discussed the issue with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić, who later announced that he said to the Pope "that both Catholic and Orthodox priests were persecuted under communism, and therefore the Catholic Church can consider Stepinac to be a martyr, but before he is declared a saint we should see why he was silent when so many crimes were committed in the Second World War".

During their meeting in May 2015, Pope Francis told Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović that he had decided to establish the interreligious committee. The canonization of Cardinal Stepinac is not in question, said Pope Francis at the time, but no one knows when the decision could be made official.

The Catholic-Orthodox commission should eliminate all doubts of the Serbian Orthodox Church about Stepinac. since the Pope does not want the canonization to be understood as an act against it or against the Serbian people. It is not known when the Commission might end its work. Of course, the opinion of the Serbian Orthodox Church will not prevent the canonization of Cardinal Stepinac, but the commission's goal is to avoid causing any further divisions between Catholics and Orthodox faithful.