The Vatican, and with it the Catholic Church, after the disappearance of the Catholic State of Croatia, never claimed any responsibility, not even a partial one, for the atrocities committed there. Indeed, when accused, they disclaimed any connection with the whole Croatian "experiment."
When asked to express their abhorrence for the deeds committed by the Ustashis of Catholic Croatia, they both kept their silence. Silence means approval. That is why, since the downfall of Independent Croatia, the Catholic Church has constantly helped the scattered remnants of the Ustashi at home and abroad. Not only during the pontificate of Pius XII, but equally during those of "good Pope John XXIII" and Pope Paul VI.
Catholic laymen, Catholic priests and Catholic monks continued to back the Ustashi as actively as ever. Underground organizations were formed in many parts of the world. Ustashi secret headquarters were set up, e.g. in Madrid, Spain, where incidentally A. Pavelic had installed himself following his attempted assassination in the Argentine. Indeed, while Pius XII was still alive, another no less active centre sprang up in Rome itself.
Simultaneous to all this, Catholic clergy within Croatia exerted themselves as relentlessly as their companions abroad. As typified by a group of nine of them arrested in Osjek, Northern Croatia, and tried in March 1960. While two of them were theological students the other seven were Catholic padres led by Father Ciril Koss and Father Ivan Kopic.
In 1964, the Brotherhood of the Cross, a Catholic Croatian organization in West Germany, was dissolved on the orders of the German Government, after a bomb attack in that country. Its leader? Father Madic Skoko, a Catholic priest. Following a three months long trial the Germans condemned him to four years hard labour.
In 1965, the Ustashi became so blatantly active in Australia, where they terrorized fellow Catholics into supporting their activities that the Australian Government had to take drastic measures against them. Similar cases occurred in other countries, e.g. in the USA where bombs were made to explode simultaneously in sundry localities in 1967.
These were not the sporadic exertions of desperados. But the coordinated activities of the Ustashi waiting for "The Day."
One of their headquarters, which after the Second World War had been set up in Rome in 1960, was transferred to the Croatian capital itself, Zagreb. This, it must be remembered, during the pontificate of Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), the father of Ecumenism.
The Ustashi correspondence, documents and instructions, significantly enough, were found hidden inside the walls of the Franciscan monastery of that city. The Ustashi leader? A Franciscan monk, Father Rudi Jerak, who had been recruiting members while giving them religious instruction. Father Jerak was arrested, with fourteen other Catholics who were running terroristic organizations "with the aim of creating a separate State of Croatia"
In 1966, the new socialist, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), as we have already seen, promoted Mgr. Seper, Cardinal. Seper became Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His department became responsible for guarding against "theological errors."
Cardinal Seper, it must be remembered, was the successor of Archbishop Stepinac of Zagreb.
The silent but effective protection of the Vatican for the scattered Ustashi continued uninterrupted from the downfall of Ustashi Croatia. Polish Pope, John Paul II, globe trotting the world with clamorous demands for "respect and observance of human rights." like his papal predecessors, never mentioned or condemned the Ustashi atrocities.
The thousands of Ustashi who fled to various countries, helped by the Vatican itself, once settled in their host lands were protected, ipso facto, by the local Catholic clergy. The local clergy and their lay associates, that is Catholic laymen, then set out to see that the Ustashi were protected, not only by absconding themselves within the local population but, above all, under an umbrella of legalized protection.
This was made possible by the passing of legislation which could impede the arrest or the extradition of what was termed "war criminals" wanted either by Yugoslavia, or by the Allied war tribunals.The legislation was inspired and often successfully carried out by Catholic bodies and associated Catholic politicians on a regional and even national level. The campaign was particularly effective in Australia, Canada and the USA. The Catholic Church, having provided a legislative umbrella, then helped the "Ustashi refugees" financially, with jobs and with a prudent integration into their new community.
Many managed to be integrated and vanished. New identities or legalized camouflages helped with their absorption into the community. During the first few years their integration went smoothly. Then, however, as their true identity became known steps were taken, either by the authorities in Europe or those in the countries of their adoption, to bring them to justice; even to extradite them to the localities of their crimes.
Several were arrested and suffered expulsion, some appeared before tribunals. Most of them, however, protected as they were by the Catholic Church, managed to escape the legal net. This was done not only by minor former Ustashis, but equally by major ones.
The most notorious case was that of Andrija Artukovic, Croatian Minister of the Interior and later Minister of Justice.
In the Croatian Cabinet, he was the spokesman for Archbishop Stepinac. Artukovic was born in Croatia and was educated in Franciscan schools. He studied law at the University of Zagreb, where he became a fanatical advocate of the Catholicity and independence of a self-governing Catholic Croatia.
After the Croatian Government collapsed, when Tito partisans joined the Soviet armies, Artukovic, like thousands of other Ustashi, fled the country, helped by Catholic clergy. They lived in adjacent countries, mostly in Switzerland, Austria, and also in Catholic Ireland.
Many reached the shore of the USA. Artukovic went to the USA in July 1948, under a visitor's visa issued to him in the name of Aloys Anich. The visa and other documents were obtained via the Catholic organizations at the Vatican and in the USA. The Knights of Columbus helped, since Artukovic became a Knight of Columbus.
In 1949, Artukovic applied for residence status under the Displaced Person Act. In March 1951, however, the Yugoslav Government made a formal demand that Artukovic be returned for prosecution "as a war criminal." Immediately, the whole of the Catholic machinery in the USA was set in motion to protect Artukovic.
How did Artukovic manage to flee Catholic Croatia after its collapse?
Artukovic like Pavelic took refuge in Italy, hiding in various monasteries and residing even in Rome. Under the direct protection of the Vatican, he was supplied with false documents and went to Catholic Ireland where the vigilant Catholic hierarchs looked after him. They provided him with other false documents which allowed him into the USA where Catholic Irish officials saw to it that he was welcomed, settled and protected.
The Catholic protective umbrella, however, did not prevent his identity from becoming known. The result was that proceedings were taken, with the view of his arrest by the USA as a war criminal.
The Catholic authorities, however, with the aid of lay Catholic legal organizations, managed to pass certain legislative measures on a local and national level, as already indicated, which protected him from arrest.
When steps were taken for his extradition, these also were nullified, by legal, semi-legal and equivocal or conflicting legal quibbles, which rendered him practically immune.
The protection of the Catholic Church of America seemed impregnable. This was demonstrated by the fact that it took the USA and Yugoslavia decades to have Artukovic extradited from the USA.
Artukovic lived peacefully for over 40 years in the U.S. and was finally extradited from there in February 1986 after a legal battle which lasted well over 30 long years. A sombre spectacle of the tremendous power of the Catholic Church in America.
Brought before a court in Zagreb, frail and haggard, the former Interior Minister, known as the Balkans Butcher, was pronounced guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death.
Throughout the four weeks trial he pled his innocence. Artukovic was convicted of four specific crimes, including the murder of civilians and prisoners of war.
The authorities, and above all the Catholic press world wide, beginning with the USA media, emphasized that he was convicted of "the mass murder of Jews, Gypsies, and others." Some specified "and of Serbs."
The distortion of the specific racial-sectarian motive, which had motivated the Catholic lay and clerical authorities for conniving with the Ustashi massacre of almost 700,000 Orthodox Serbs, would be incredible had it not happened.
The American mass media never mentioned the religious motivation, plus the racial one, which had inspired the Croatian massacre. The Catholic Church was never blamed, or even mentioned as having had any part in the Croatian affair. Not a word of condemnation, criticism or even impartial reminder of her responsibility.
The State Department saw to it that it should be so. Since, by then, the USA and the Vatican had exchanged ambassadors, and the Papal Ambassador in Washington had seen to it that the Catholic mass media of the USA be briefed about what to say.
The emphasis of the media was that Artukovic had been sentenced to death because of the mass murder of Jews and Gypsies and, as if by chance, also of Serbs. The fact that the mass murder had been of Serbs and of Orthodox Serbs, was never even given a hint. This exculpated the Catholic Church. Indeed, to millions, the Vatican and the Church had nothing to do with the massacre whatsoever!
To render the sentence more convincing, and to make it appear as having nothing to do with Catholic religious persecution, the court of Zagreb, which had previously discussed the whole trial with the USA and the Vatican authorities, then accused Artukovic of ordering "a massacre of civilians in 1942, the murder of 450 civilian deportees on the road to a concentration camp, the murder of a prominent lawyer in 1941, and the killing of captured Yugoslav partisans in 1943" (Reuter reports)
Not a word or even a hint of the religious nature of the massacre, or of the fact that Catholic padres and monks had been in charge of concentration camps where hundreds of thousands had been tortured and murdered, or had been forced to accept Catholic baptism to save themselves from torture or execution.
Andrija Artakovic, led from the Court of Zagreb, after being sentenced to death, 14 May 1986, for war crimes in Yugoslavia.
This was the general captions of the World Press after Artukovic's sentence; not a word indicating the kind of war crimes which he committed. In fact, in many articles dealing with the four weeks court trials, the Catholic Church was hardly mentioned.
The particular sectarian character, and anti-Orthodox nature of the Croatian massacres, were never indicated, with rare exceptions, by either the British or the American media. Indeed, the Vatican had managed to exert such censorship about the whole affair that the emphasis of the world media was that Artukovic had been responsible for the death of a few hundred Jews, Gypsies, and a few Serbs.
Unlike the Holocaust, which the Jewish community is rightly mentioning daily for the world to remember, the Catholic Holocaust has been not only forgotten, it has become an unmentionable subject. A taboo word. Most of the Protestants have contributed, with the Vatican, to make the world forget the atrocities of Catholic Croatia.
In short, Artukovic had been a minor war criminal who had executed a few hundred civilians simply for military or political motivation. Religion had been totally omitted. Indeed, had not even been mentioned. A proof if there needed to be one of the tacit concordance reached between the Vatican, the USA and the communist authorities of Yugoslavia long before the trial itself.
But the mendacity of the nature of the trial became even more glaring, by the fact concerning the omission of the proportionally immense massacre of the Orthodox Serbs during the Croatian Regime.
During the trial not only was the Catholic Church never mentioned; there had been not even a single hint concerning the horrendous reality that, hidden behind that general over-simplificationnamely that those who had been murdered had been mainly Jews and Gypsies, adding as an additional item "and Serbs" to the other no less horrendous reality that "and Serbs" meant ninety-nine percent of the total victims, most of them belonging to the Orthodox Church. Also the fact that the Serbs had been made to perish because they belonged to a Church, which the Catholic State of Croatia had considered inimical to the Catholic Church, and to the plan of the Vatican, which had connived the birth of the Croatian State itself.
During the Zagreb trial of Artukovic, the world press never dared to mention these facts. The collective silence of the European and American media would be incredible, had it not been a sad reality that most of it had been silenced by fear of the reaction of the Catholic Church of the USA, whose silent pressure had been felt in the editorial offices of newspaper and TV stations.
The trial which was concluded in May 1986 thus seemed to have closed a chapter of history, one of planned genocide and, perhaps even worse, of religious persecution carried out with the connivance of the Vatican, which had protected those who had acted as the instruments of the horrendous Croatian experience.
The Vatican had not only been exculpated from its participation in the whole affair, it was not even mentioned. Indeed, the Catholic Church, whose exertions had loomed so prominently in the Catholic concentration camps, was made to look like a helpless witness: indirectly some organs of the American media had gone so far as to hint that it had helped the victims of Croat Nazism.
The Protestants of the USA, with few exceptions, acted likewise. Their cowardice, plus the Catholic operational energy, and the collaboration of the American media, had all contributed to the distortion of the historical truth.
When a whole nation is deliberately kept in total ignorance of certain horrendous historical facts, that nation is endangered. In our case, the obliteration of the fact that the Vatican had so prominently participated in the creation of the Catholic State of Croatia. A crime against the right of the American people to be informed.
The rabid nationalism, and the ferocious religious dogmatism which created Catholic Croatia one day might be resurrected anew. Not only in Europe, but also in other parts of the world, including the Western Hemisphere, indeed, including the USA itself.
An omen. And a warning.
1. The Times, London, March 30, 1960. [Back]
2. The Times, London, May 16, 1986.[Back]
3. Reports from Belgrade May 14, 15, 1986.[Back]
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