To search, type one or more key words below.
Search Search the web.
 Page Bottom 

Priests Helping Fascists

New Report Revives Issue of Priests' Helping Fascists After War


Only months after Pope John Paul II apologized for the Catholic Church's silence during the Holocaust, the Vatican is once again under scrutiny for its possible role in aiding the escape of pro-Nazi Croatian leaders after the war.

A new report by the State Department says Catholic priests in Rome helped Croatian leaders, who sent up to 700,000 Serbs, Jews and others to death camps, to hide in Italy after the war and eventually flee to South America. The report, which focuses on how Nazi gold was shipped through neutral countries to finance the German war effort, points out that much of its information, from British and American intelligence files, could not be confirmed.

But the report says it is quite likely that the Vatican was aware of the efforts by priests at the San Girolamo Croatian College in Rome to help the Ustasha, as the Croatian fascist rulers were known.

''There is no evidence in U.S. archives that the Vatican leadership knew of or gave support to the Ustasha activities outside its walls,'' the report says. ''But given the location of the college, troubling questions remain.''

The report added that the college ''appeared to operate with at least the tacit acquiescence of some Vatican officials'' as ''it helped fugitive Croatian war criminals escape to the Western Hemisphere in the early postwar years.''

The writers of the report urge the Vatican to make available all its relevant archives.

A spokesman for the Vatican, Joaquin Navarro-Vals, today denied any Vatican knowledge of the underground effort to help Ustasha leaders and said the Vatican had no control over the college.

''The only control from the Holy See is intellectual control, making sure the college is teaching according to Catholic dogma,'' Mr. Navarro-Vals said. ''We don't think they were involved in such activities, but we do not have any records or control over these institutions.''

He described the State Department's reference to ''troubling questions'' about the Vatican as gratuitous assumptions.

This is not the first time that the Vatican has been accused of aiding the Croatian fascists. Last year the producers of a documentary for the A & E cable television network released a United States Treasury Department memo from 1946 that reported that the Vatican still held 200 million Swiss francs, $170 million today, for Croatian fascists for safekeeping. The Vatican vehemently denied the charge.

The State Department report does not address that sum of money or suggest that the Vatican treasury was part of network of Swiss and other European banks where the Nazis stored plundered gold and money.

The report points out how American and British intelligence services, preoccupied with the cold war, also colluded in helping Croatian fascists escape Soviet-occupied territory in the late 1940's and 50's and made no real effort to capture the Croatian fascist leader, Ante Pavelic, when he was hiding in Italy.

The 200-page document, which is careful not to accuse directly the Vatican leadership of direct knowledge or involvement, is most unlikely to unleash a major scandal at the Holy See. But it has revived demands by historians and Jewish groups that the Vatican reveal more secrets.

Mr. Navarro-Vals said that in 1975 the Vatican released all relevant information about the church's activities in the war in 11 volumes of documents covering 1939 to 1945. But it was the Vatican that decided what papers to release.

Organizations mentioned in this article:
State Department; Roman Catholic Church

Related Terms:
Nazi Policies Toward Jews and Other Minorities; Gold

You may print this article now, or save it on your computer for future reference. Instructions for saving this article on your computer are also available.

horizontal line
What's New Page to home page e-mail  Page Top