Another little ecumenical first, by Pope Francis

The Pope has halted the canonization process for Aloysius Stepinac, the Croation Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 until his death in 1960.  Pope John Paul II had beatified the fiercely anti-communist archbishop, who spent many years in prison and under house arrest in Communist Yugoslavia, in 1998. The archbishop’s actions during World War II, however, especially his ties to the Nazi-aligned, murderous Ustaše regime, have raised criticism not only from the Serbian Orthodox Church but also from other victim groups.

Pope Francis has now halted the all-but-complete process of canonization for Stepinac and established a commission of Catholic and Serbian Orthodox experts instead, which will look more closely into the archbishop’s actions during World War II.  The Pope’s decision was described as an “unexpected ecumenical step, without any historical precedent,” according to the German-language website Oekuemenisches Heiligenlexikon (https://www.heiligenlexikon.de/).

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9 comments

  1. Personally, I don’t object to what Francis has done here. I suppose there are many connotations to sainthood, and “Nazi collaborator” and “saint” don’t seem to mesh.

    At the same time … that he is already beatified would seem to indicate that the church already has made some pretty important claims about Stepinac: that he is in heaven, that a miracle has been attributed to him, perhaps other things. It’s not beyond question that Catholics in Zagreb are already marking his feast day liturgically. (Granted, I am using my favorite theology textbook, Wikipedia, in making these assertions, so if these criteria don’t apply in his case, I hope someone will correct me). In this light, I am not sure what it means to refuse to consider the possibility that the things required to elevate one to sainthood apply in Stepinac’s case. The difference between beatification and sainthood seem a bit … incremental.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:
      One of the questions that I am constantly asked here in the South is about the Church’s treatment of sainthood.

      In my understanding, the Church teaches that those in heaven are saints, canonized or not. As a child I was taught that those people who we can be reasonably sure are in heaven get canonized, but there were standards to meet: a waiting period, research, miracles (1,2 or3?) a trial of sorts, including someone playing the Devil’s Advocate.

      Lately, we seem to be willing to waive these standards for what seem to me to be political purposes. In the long run, it matters little because I can’t see how it makes a difference to those who are in heaven – they do not us to say they are saints. They know it. The only thing about this that bothers me is the sense that it is more of a political decision than anything else. And I confess that my concern about that is essentially a political concern for the appearance of validity in canonization.

  2. Whatever the bishop did during the Second World War, we need to remember that there are many saints who in earlier years were active in unsavoury pursuits – remember St Paul; and the failings of St Peter; and the case of St Dismas whose feast day is 25 March, and who had a conversion experience on his death-cross. Since we are all sinners, we look to how mercy and grace can transform us.
    Political considerations can play a part, for the sake of the unity of the Body of Christ. We remember Paul’s advice to the Corinthians about eating the meat sacrificed to idols, showing care for fellow-Christians who may be take offence.

  3. Canonization and beatification are political processes. If a group in one place reveres someone, she is investigated and beatified if the process warrants it. In this example, Stepinac was venerated by the people of Zagreb, and deemed by Rome to be answering petitions so the veneration is appropriate.

    Canonization is another step that extends that veneration to the whole world. Here the cultural and political of the local church meets the variety of Catholicism. Zagreb may venerate Stepinac but others are more concerned about his Nazi and Fascist ties. Completely to be expected I would think. (It is similar to what happened to Romero during the beatification process, but there disagreements were visible at the local level, i.e. Before beatification)

    None of this is significant to the revered persons. God alone determines their place in heaven. It has more to do with us who revere them and whether association with the candidates will draw us closer to God.

  4. I suppose there are many connotations to sainthood, and “Nazi collaborator” and “saint” don’t seem to mesh.

    Yes, but are we going to take a communist regime’s verdict to that effect at face value?

    One would think that these issues had been sorted out during the diocese’s Informative Process and the Congregation for Saints’ Positio. Is there evidence that they were not?

  5. Except for persons universally revered (Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero, for example), perhaps the saint-making process could be redirected for a century or two. It seems that we lack significant numbers of revered persons who were married, or whose witness to holiness was conducted within the bounds of family life.

    Does the Church need the witness of martyrs? Certainly. Could a person be a sinner, yet suffer for the faith? An inspiring moment of heroism is always possible with grace. Do some suffer for the faith over the course of a lifetime? Sometimes it is much more difficult to endure decades of trials than a quick death. Can we take the institution seriously when it sermonizes on family, yet offers far fewer models of the sacrament of marriage? I don’t know.

  6. Todd Flowerday : Except for persons universally revered (Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero, for example), perhaps the saint-making process could be redirected for a century or two. It seems that we lack significant numbers of revered persons who were married, or whose witness to holiness was conducted within the bounds of family life.

    Well, we did just canonize a married couple with children a few weeks ago.

    Religious orders do have a leg up because they can mobilize to start a cause much more easily than other groups – which was certainly part of what helped Louis and Zelie Martin’s causes (not that there is any doubt about their holiness).

    Of course, some of us might suggest that the greater concern is that the bar for the causes of saints has been lowered too far as it is over the past three decades.

  7. I might agree with your last paragraph. A possible solution would be an alternative to the current four tiers of Roman bureaucracy. Permit bishop conferences or dioceses ore religius orders to raise up a limited number of revered persons. Possibly name schools, shrines, buildings, etc. after them (instead of donors), but not parishes. A limited recognition in the liturgy, but only for the order or region. Let sainthood recognition proceed more organically.

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