Sir, - Contrary to Fintan O'Toole's assertion (Opinion, October 9th), Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac was jailed not because he collaborated with the Ustashe (he didn't) but because he opposed Tito's Communist government in Yugoslavia. Before Stepinac's arrest, Tito several times urged him to set up his own "national church", independent of Rome. Stepinac refused. Had he obeyed, he would have kept his freedom.
There can be no denying that, after the German and Italian invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Stepinac initially welcomed the Ustashe regime, and the creation of the "Independent State of Croatia". One has to remember that the artificial state of Yugoslavia had been set up by the victorious allies after 1918 as a reward to Serbia. Croatia, which had been part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, was incorporated into Yugoslavia against the will of the vast majority of its people.
In her biography of Stepinac, The Triple Myth, Stella Alexander convincingly demonstrates that Stepinac quickly realised just how murderously brutal the Ustashe regime really was, and vigorously opposed it. In sermons he repeatedly attacked Nazi ideology as "pagan"; on the steps of Zagreb Cathedral he publicly castigated the unspeakable Ante Pavelic for breaking the Fifth Commandment (Thou shalt not kill), enraging the Ustashe leader. He denounced racialism and mass murder as utterly evil and antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church; and during the war he hid thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gipsies from the fascist authorities, saving them from certain death.
Most of his Croatian countrymen still regard the late Archbishop of Zagreb as their greatest nationalist martyr, a symbol of the country's suffering under both fascism and communism. It was therefore entirely appropriate that Pope John Paul should honour his memory. The Western liberal intelligentsia, of course, cannot forgive the Croats for the part they played in destroying the comparatively liberal model of communism into which Yugoslavia developed in the latter years before its dismemberment. Western liberals also find it repugnant that the Croats have remained so firmly attached to their homeland, culture and religion. - Yours, etc.