A statement (Italian, Croatian, Serbian) was issued today by the Holy See Press Office regarding the joint commission of experts from Croatian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Serbian Orthodox Church.
My translation (and bold):
A JOINT STATEMENT OF THE MIXED COMMISSION OF CROATIAN CATHOLIC AND SERBIAN ORTHODOX EXPERTS FOR A JOINT READING OF THE FIGURE OF CARDINAL ALOJZIJE STEPINAC, ARCHBISHOP OF ZAGREB
On 12 and 13 July 2017, in the Vatican, at Domus Sanctae Marthae, for their sixth and last meeting and under the presidency of Rev. Bernard Ardura, President of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, members of the Joint Commission of Croatian Catholics and Orthodox Serbs experts reunited for a joint re-reading of the figure of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb.
Present for the Croatian Bishops’ Conference were: His Em. Cardinal Josip Bozanić, Archbishop of Zagreb, His Ex. Antun Škvorčević, Bishop of Požega, His Ex. Ratko Perić, Bishop of Mostar-Duvno, Dr. Jure Krišto and Dr. Mario Jareb of the Croatian Institute of History .
Present for the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church were: His Em. Amfilohije, Metropolitan Bishop of Montenegro and the Littoral, His Em. Porfirije, Metropolitan Bishop of Zagreb and Ljubljana, His Ex. Irinej, Bishop of Novi Sad and Bačka, His Ex. Jovan, Bishop of Pakrac and Slavonia, and Prof. Dr. Darko Tanasković, Representative of Serbia at UNESCO.
The present have recognised the generosity of Pope Francis who has graciously accepted the request of the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Irinej, and decided to found the Commission.
All members are grateful for the friendly climate in which they, with full freedom of speech, were able to fulfill the task entrusted to the Commission: that is to carry out a common re-reading of the life of Cardinal Stepinac.
They have been aware, since the beginning of their work, that canonization process of Cardinal Stepinac is exclusively in the authority of the Pope. They also recognize that every Church has its own criteria for the canonization process.
The members of the Commission also acknowledged that their work has allowed a better understanding of the history of the years between World War I and 1960, the year of Cardinal Stepinac’s death. The work has enabled the illustration of the life and ministry of an important Catholic Pastor in a particularly troubled period of history.
The members have come to the conclusion that various events, interventions, writings, silence and positions are still an object of various interpretations. In the case of Cardinal Stepinac, the predominant interpretations given by Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs remain divergent.
The study of the life of Cardinal Stepinac has taught us that during history all Churches have cruelly suffered various persecutions and that they have their martyrs and confessors of the faith. In this sense, the Commission members have agreed on the possibility of a future cooperation, in view of a common work, to share the memory of the martyrs and confessors of the two Churches.
The above mentioned Catholic-Orthodox commission was formed at the request of Pope Francis.
Since the news of an imminent canonization of Blessed Cardinal Stepinac broke around his feast day in 2014, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej gave that same year in June to the then Archbishop Mamberti a letter for the Pope where he expressed some of his concerns with the character and the work of the Blessed. The Holy Father replied in a letter given to the Patriarch by Cardinal Kurt Koch in February of 2015. In the letter to the Patriarch the Pope accentuated that all of the concerns brought up by the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding the canonization of Stepinac were already questioned by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The commissions concluded that the Cardinal was “a pastor dedicated to saving lives, a true follower of Christ and a model of Christian life” (source). But, he suggested, a commission that will review the questions raised by the Serbian Orthodox Church can be formed. It would not (and it did not) affect the canonization process.
As the then Apostolic Nuncio to Croatia Mons. Alessandro D’Errico said upon meeting the Holy Father on 17 December 2015, the Pope suggested the commission “because he felt there could be renewed tensions between the two Churches and nations“. The Commission is “an ecumenical gesture and a step out to the periphery, a spiritual periphery where the Church is open for discussion on various factors”.
On 18 January 2016, the matter was addressed in an article in L’Osservatore Romano, two days after Pope Francis received a delegation from the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The first meeting of the Commission was held exactly one year ago at the same place. Since then, the Commission met six times: first and last time in Rome on 12 and 13 July 2016/2017, second time in Zagreb, Croatia, 17 and 18 October 2016 with the theme “Stepinac and the Serbian Orthodox Church 1934 – 1941“, third time in Novi Sad, Serbia 13 and 14 February 2017 on “Stepinac and NDH 1941 – 1945“, fourth time in Požega, Croatia on 21 and 22 April with the subject “Stepinac and the Serbian Orthodox Church 1941 – 1945” and fifth on 7 and 8 June in Podgorica, Montenegro with the theme “Stepinac and the communist persecution 1945 – 1960“.
I am glad the work of the joint Commission is now over. Above all, because my favourite Blessed’s canonization is no longer put on hold! But also because this has been a long, long year. Rumours and especially reactions to this Pope’s decision and Commission’s work were plenty and not so… favorable. My people who once boasted with the centuries old obedience to the Successor of Peter were either very confused with this papal act or even turned against him. Serbian politicians like the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić used the Commission for attacks on Croatian politicians and once again promoting the false story of genocide over Serbs during NDH and the idea of Greater Serbia.
As I suspected, because of the close-mindedness of the Serbian members, the Stepinac Commission in this joint statement agreed to disagree. They still interpret Blessed Stepinac’s words, spoken and written, his conviction, his deeds in a different way. But it was not all in vain. The Commission was helpful “so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed“. It helped us Croatians to once again publicly discuss, speak and write and promote one of our greatest minds and saints. Alojzije Stepinac loved his homeland and his Mother Church. He was faithful to them until his last breath. He is not only an important Catholic pastor as the statement says, but a true Shepherd of the Church who saved numerous Jew and Serbian lives and can be called Righteous Among the Nations and the Protector of the Serbs. He was an apostle of Christ who followed in his footsteps giving his life for others. He was guiding his beloved Church and his people towards a better dialogue with the Serbian Church and its people. I believe this Commission was one of his miracles.