THE POPE, STEPINAC AND PAVELIC TRY TO SAVE CROATIAAs in the darkest Middle Ages, so also now the Catholic Church firmly believes that the ruthless brandishing of the Catholic sword is the surest way of saving the souls of men. This, not so much to confer on them eternal bliss, as to further the Church militant—that is, her expanding dominion on earth. Archbishop Stepinac and Pope Pius XII, therefore, let the terror in sealed Croatia take its course to the very end. Indeed, far from ever attempting to curtail it, they kept it alive, until the Kingdom tumbled with the fall of Fascism.
And yet before the echoes of the dictators ceased to be heard the Vatican suddenly appeared by the side of the victors, in a stealthy attempt to save moribund Fascism wherever it could.
Following consultations with Rome, Archbishop Stepinac and Ante Pavelic set in motion a joint plan to prevent their model State from crumbling as Fascist Europe was doing all around them. This consisted of:
(a) preventing the Yugoslav Government from scattering the Ustashi armies;
(b) persuading the Allies to occupy Yugoslavia, so as to prevent the Central Government from taking over the Independent Catholic State of Croatia.
The two set out with desperate determination to implement their new policy, sustained by the belief that the Vatican would use its influence among the big Powers to save them. While waiting, however, they began to reorganize the Ustashi armies, with the specific objectives of (a) preventing the collapse of Ustashi Croatia, and (b) of resisting and possibly destroying the new Central Yugoslav Government.
To the latter, such stubborn hostility was of the utmost seriousness, as at that period it was busily engaged in cleansing the country of resisting pockets of Nazi troops. The fight it had simultaneously to maintain against the Ustashi bands, therefore, put a considerable additional strain on the new Central Government. This was rendered even graver by the fact that in the international sphere Yugoslavia was considered a pawn for the already quarreling victorious great Powers, each of which was ready to negotiate with anyone, in or outside that country, to advance its own projects.
Stepinac and Pavelic did all they could to see that Yugoslavia might be occupied by the "right" Allies—that is to say, by those willing to strike a deal with the Vatican for continued "independence" of Croatia. The true nature of their exertions can best be gauged if it is remembered that since 1941 Yugoslavia had been one of the Allies herself. Stepinac and Pavelic approached the Supreme Allied Command for the Mediterranean, and duly submitted a memorandum, openly outlining their policy: indeed, asking specifically for a prompt Allied occupation of the whole country. Anglo-American armies should be dispatched with speed, they said. Ustashi troops would welcome them, and more would join them. The "right" Allies must not lose another day. Civil war had broken out all over Yugoslavia. They must intervene.
Having invoked the guns of the "right" Allies, the good Archbishop set out to use the spiritual guns of the Church. On March, 24, 1945, he summoned his own bishops to a conference. Result: the blatant use of the spiritual authority of the Church for the promotion of political and military designs. Stepinac, backed by most of the bishops, issued a pastoral letter. After duly praising Ante Pavelic, their lordships attacked the Yugoslav National Liberation movement with all the pious venom of which they were capable. Thereupon they ordered all Croats to help the Ustashi bands to fight the Yugoslav troops. Only thus they thought would Ustashi Croatia survive.
As the situation worsened it became necessary to take another step. Following hasty consultations with the Vatican shortly before the total disintegration, Ante Pavelic asked a trusted friend to take hold of the reins of Ustashi Government. His name? Archbishop Stepinac. It was a shrewd move. A last desperate attempt to unite the Ustashi State into a truly compact unit. Stepinac—or rather the Vatican, which had inspired it—had fancied that, once the spiritual, political, and military forces of the State were centralized in the head of the Catholic Hierarchy, the Archbishop's authority would delay the disintegration of the State—indeed, by strengthening its fabric, might even prevent its collapse, and thus enable Vatican diplomacy in the meantime to exert its growing pressure on certain Allies, until these consented to save the Ustashi State from obliteration.
The move neither stopped the swiftly advancing Yugoslav Army nor saved from total collapse the fast-tumbling European Fascism. The Ustashi State had been doomed long before Stepinac tried to save it. In a losing battle to prevent its inevitable fate, Pavelic and his bloody bands, months before, had unloosed such a reign of terror as almost to surpass the previous ferocity. People were hanged, executed, or liquidated as hostages on the slightest suspicion.
To take the city of Zagreb and its immediate environs, in the course of only seven months (From August, 1944, to February, 1945) 379 hostages were publicly hanged. On August 7, 1944, between the villages of Precec and Ostrono, ten persons were hanged; on August 26, at Jablanac, near Zapresic, thirty-six persons; on September 30, on the railway between the stations of Pusca Bistra and Luka, ten persons; on October 4, at St. Ivan, twenty-nine persons; on October 5, again at Zapresic, five persons; on October 6, at Cucerje, twenty persons; on October 9, at Velika Gorica, thirteen persons; on October 28, at Djurinac, twenty persons; on the same day at Sveta Nedjelja, near Samobor, eighteen persons; on December 1, at Brezovica, ten persons; on December 20, at Odra, thirteen persons; on December 28, at Krusljevo Selo, fifty persons; on January 4, 1945, at Zitnjak, twenty-five persons; on January 25, at Konscina, forty persons; on February 3, again at Zitnjak, ten persons; on February 10, at Remetinac, thirty persons; on February 13, at Vrapce, twenty persons; on February 22, again at Vrapce, another twenty persons.
Notwithstanding all this, the end approached fast. Within a few days, Zagreb, the Croatian capital, was liberated. The Ustashi tried to save what they could. At the end of April, 1945, Pavelic, with the full consent of Stepinac, ordered the burial, in the Franciscan monastery in Zagreb Cathedral city, the Capitol, of thirty-six chests of plundered gold and valuables—rings, jewelry, gold watches, gold dentures, gold fillings which had been wrenched from the jaws of victims whom the Ustashi had massacred—and about two truckloads of silver. Then, when the collapse was complete, having entrusted to the care of Stepinac himself their most important documents,  the Ustashi ran for their lives. Some were executed. Many escaped. Pavelic fled to Austria, where he was made a prisoner by the American forces near Salzburg. While preparations for his official trial were well on their way, a "mysterious intervention" stopped the proceedings. Why! Pavelic was released unconditionally. Pius XII, through Stepinac and the Archbishop of Salzburg, had seen to it that his protégé did not suffer the fate of many other war criminals who were hanged. Pavelic, rendered immune by the powerful papal protection, traveled to Italy and found it in the Vatican City, where he waited for easier times.
After a while, to avoid scandal, the Pope, now a pillar of the victorious democracies, required Pavelic to quit Rome. Pavelic went from one monastery to another in monkish disguise under various aliases, Father Benares, or Father Gomez.
Meanwhile in Croatia—Stepinac, in accord with the Holy Father, continued his ominous preparations for war. The Ustashi, instead of disbanding, became guerrillas. They were, as in olden times, to fight in the hills and woods of "occupied Croatia." Their new enemy: the Central Government of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, which had replaced the Yugoslav kingdom. Their new terrorist activities were to be cloaked again in innocent-sounding religious organizations. The old name of "The Crusaders" was adopted. After clandestinely meeting with the Ustashi Chief of Police in September, 1945, Stepinac summoned another Bishops' Conference in Zagreb. Once more their Graces, claiming to be men of peace, incited to war. In a pastoral letter they asked the people in so many unctuous words to rise and overthrow the Government.
Before such battle orders were issued, a flag, a symbol of the great holy army of the Ustashi, was consecrated to the Ustashi Crusaders' forces. Where did the ceremony take place? In Stepinac's chapel. On November 8, 1945, the good Archbishop received an agent who brought from Salzburg the "Pledge of Ustashi intellectuals"—to fight the Yugoslav Government till the end "for the liberation of the Croatian people."
The pledges of the surviving Ustashi, the activities of Archbishop Stepinac, were no shadow of resistance, but concrete and real. Stepinac employed dangerous, ruthless individuals. To cite only one, the former Ustashi Chief of Police. This individual launched a programme of sabotage and of assassination of the officials of the New Yugoslav Republic, with the Archbishop's approval. Stepinac furthermore established contact with the scattered armed bands of the Ustashi, directing priests and monks to act as liaison with them. These holy men traveled all over the country, keeping the illegal Crusader groups in communication with one another. They zealously reported their position, strength, and equipment to Stepinac in Zagreb. The Archiepiscopal Headquarters saw to it that such reports reached the Vatican, which, as a genuine champion of all democracies, forwarded them to the USA.
The chain—Ustashi, Stepinac, Vatican, USA—was not merely a clandestine news agency. It was something more: a bait to induce certain Allied forces to promote a timely military intervention against Yugoslavia. For, indeed, Stepinac and his illegal bands based their hope of ultimate success upon that. The Vatican, far from counseling moderation, encouraged the Ustashi resistance, and added continual fuel to their burning hopes with repeated assurances of forthcoming military intervention. The Allies would come to their help. They must hold on, as the international situation was bound to change in their favour. The Western Powers were going to turn against their recent ally, Soviet Russia. A war of liberation was in preparation. Once that had begun, Yugoslavia would be wiped out, and Ustashi Croatia would spring again to the fore. The Ustashi guerrillas talked of nothing else. Stepinac saw to it that their expectations were maintained at the highest level, lest their enthusiasm change to despair, and thus cause the total collapse of organized military resistance.
To this effect, the prestige and authority of religion were once more unscrupulously employed. "The Fathers"—that is, the various Catholic padres whom the Archbishopric of Zagreb had duly attached to the illegal terroristic Ustashi bands—went from hideout to hideout, encouraging the impatient Ustashi troops to endure a little longer. The British and Americans were just coming. But they must be patient, as, naturally, to plan a good military expedition took time. The assurances of the Catholic padres were repeated day in and day out, until they became a refrain for the Ustashi loops, expecting "the day" as, simultaneously, their day of deliverance and the new birthday of a more glorious Ustashi Croatia. This was not merely the conviction of the underground Ustashi formations or that of the priests. It was that of Stepinac himself, sure that once the Allies intervened, the Ustashi would be given help by the peasants, who "one day will rise."
The Archbishop, however, was not content only with wiping out Yugoslavia as a political unit in order to ensure the resurgence of a new Catholic Croatia. He was allured by visions of superb grandeur—nothing less than that an Allied intervention would be a stepping-stone leading them to Belgrade and, then, to Moscow. The issue, according to conservative forecasting, rested on conventional military weapons. Stepinac, however, although a Catholic Archbishop, was a man of progressive ideas. He believed in the power of scientific achievements, such as the recently discovered atomic energy. The atom bombs dropped without a warning on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had in a few seconds blotted out of existence 100,000 men, women, and children. Catholic Providence had not given the Christian West atomic bombs for nothing. It was the duty of the Western Allies to use them. Stepinac was a logical man. If he had used the Ustashi to impose Catholicism upon the Serb Orthodox, it was perfectly natural for him to look "upon the West to use its atomic power to impose Western civilization on Moscow and Belgrade, before it is too late."
The ruthlessness of such advocacy was typically Catholic. Christianity (that is, Catholicism) could be—indeed, had to be—imposed upon those rejecting Christian civilization, and, failing persuasion, this must be done by force. Such Catholic reasoning had made Ustashi Croatia possible; the same Catholic reasoning now had begun looking on wider horizons, to make a new Ustashi regime of a whole Continent.
Was that the personal whim of Archbishop Stepinac? It was the basic Catholic policy emanating directly from the Vatican. This was proved only three years later (1949) when another pillar of the Catholic Church—i.e. Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary—having planned to overthrow the Hungarian Government, reckoned on the military intervention of the "right" kind of Allies. Such intervention would have meant general war, and hence the use of atomic bombs. Cardinal Mindszenty had acted on the assumption that the overthrow of the Hungarian Government, with the consequent "restoration of the Hungarian Catholic Monarchy of Hapsburg in its place, could be achieved with help from abroad...in case a new world war created such a situation," to quote his own words. "I regarded it (the outbreak of the third world war) as a basis," said the Cardinal. Mindszenty could well think and act in this fashion, in the comforting knowledge that behind him stood the Vatican, bent upon furthering its vast political schemes, on the assumption of a third world conflict. Vatican political post-war designs had precisely that "as a basis."
Are these speculations? Actions speak louder than words. Pius XII at this same period was not idle. He held talks with prominent military leaders of the "right" Allies upon whom first Stepinac and then Mindszenty had counted so much. British and, above all, American generals came and went in endless procession to and from His Holiness. To give one typical example: On one single day in June, 1949, Pius XII received five USA generals in successive audiences; General Mark Clark, wartime Commander of the U.S. Fifth Army in Italy, and subsequently Commander in the Korean war; Lieut.-General J. Cannon, Commanding General of the U.S. Air Force in Europe; Major-General Robert Douglass, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe; Major-General Maxwell Taylor, Deputy Commander, European Command; and Lieut.-General Geoffrey Keyes, Commanding General of the U.S. forces in Austria. All these went to see, not the self-styled papal Prince of Peace; they went to talk with the Pope, like them, a man of war.
With the Vatican as a busy center of vast war designs, it was inevitable that some of its dignitaries in various countries should become its political reflections or spokesmen. Archbishops and Cardinals consequently spoke and acted on the assumption of war, and hence the use of atomic bombs. The Vatican, which within an astonishingly brief period had developed the most intimate relations with certain malign forces in the USA, was not merely indulging in wishful thinking when it passed on such information to its emissaries abroad. It informed them of what was going on behind the scenes in certain quarters. That this was a most sinister, incredible reality was demonstrated to a stunned world the following year. On August 27, 1950, Mr. Francis Matthews, during a speech in Boston, called upon the United States to become the first aggressor for peace.  In plain words, to launch a third world conflict. That is, to initiate an atomic war. Mr. Francis Matthews was neither a crank nor an irresponsible citizen. He was a powerful man in the American Government: none other than the Secretary of the American Navy. But Mr. Matthews was also something which at this juncture was perhaps even more ominous. He was a fanatical Catholic, honoured many times for his services to Catholic welfare work; and, more than that, Mr. Matthews had been the head of the most villainous Catholic organization in the whole of the USA—that is, the Knights of Columbus. And, as if that were not sufficient, he was nothing less than a secret Papal Chamberlain of Pope Pius XII.
With individuals so highly placed, the Vatican could not help being so well-informed of what was brewing in certain quarters preparing to be the first aggressors for peace. The information it passed to the Servants of the Church, therefore, moulded the policies of bishops and Cardinals, such as Stepinac and Mindszenty, playing the complicated Vatican game on the chessboard of postwar Europe. The declarations of secret Papal Chamberlains, of Cardinals, and of Archbishops, consequently, far from being the personal opinions of individuals, were the expression of hopes and policies entertained at the source which, as early as 1946, had already inspired all the main schemes and beliefs of Stepinac—namely, the Vatican.
1. This was done ten days before the final collapse.[Back]
2. Ustashi Ministers left their belongings in Stepinac's care. Minister Alajbegovic, later extradited by Anglo-American authorities and condemned to death by Zagreb on June 7, 1947, for instance, buried the files of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Archbishop's palace, while Pavelic himself had all the phonograph records of his own speeches carefully concealed among the files of Archbishop Stepinac's Spiritual Board in Zagreb.[Back]
3. Very often it was the other way round. This was openly admitted by American diplomats. For a frank appraisal of this American Vatican intelligence traffic, see Lying in State (published 1952), the Memoirs of Mr. Stanton Griffis, who was U.S. Ambassador in Warsaw in 1947 and 1948. In it Mr. Griffis describes how he transmitted letters from Polish bishops to the Vatican, giving the names of the Church's representatives, to whom he also handed sums of dollars, although the illegal possession of dollars was then considered a capital offense.[Back]
4. Stepinac's statement to a British liaison officer. See New Statesman & Nation, London, October 26, 1946.[Back]
5. For more details, see the author's Catholic Imperialism and World Freedom (Watts), Chapter 20, "The Spectacular Case of Cardinal Mindszenty."[Back]
6. See announcement in Osservatore Romano, also Universe, June 10, 1949.[Back]
7. For more details of the Vatican's activities with the USA. at this period, see the author's Catholic Imperialism and World Freedom (Watts), Chapter 4, "Papal Promotion of Contemporary Religious Superstition for Political Purposes." [Back]
8. See The Times, London, August 28, 1950. Also the New York Times.[Back]