e s s a y 

h u b e r t  b u t l e r



n countries where the old beliefs are dying it is the custom for educated people to handle them with nostalgic reverence. It is thought crude and undignified for a sophisticated man to take sides in a religious squabble, and it often happens that, the less he believes in himself, the more indulgent he is to the time-honoured beliefs of others. I have been reproached several times by sincere and civilized unbelievers for my efforts to find out the details of the vast campaign in Croatia in 1941 to convert two and a half million Orthodox to Catholicism. ‘Why not let bygones be bygones?’ they say. ‘If we rake these things up we’ll merely start trouble at home and play into the hands of the Communists. And anyway, they are always killing each other in the Balkans.’ I once heard an ambassador in Belgrade argue like that, and indeed I have never heard a British or American official abroad argue in any other way. When in 1946 I went to Zagreb and looked up the files of the war-time newspapers of Croatia in which the whole story was to be read, it was obvious that no foreign inquirer had handled them before, and the library clerks regarded me with wonder and suspicion.

Yet it seemed to me that for a man as for a community too high a price can be paid for tranquillity. If you suppress a fact because it is awkward, you will next be asked to contradict it. And so it happened to me when I got back to Ireland, and gave a talk about Yugoslavia, the country and its people, on Radio …irann. I did not mention the Communist war on the Church, or Archbishop Stepinac, who had just been sentenced to imprisonment for collaboration with Pavelitch, the Quisling ruler of Croatia, and for conniving at the forced conversion campaign. I could not refer to the Communist persecution of religion without mentioning the more terrible Catholic persecution which had preceded it, so I thought silence was best. But silence did not help me. In the following week our leading Roman Catholic weekly, The Standard, published a long editorial diatribe against myself and against Radio …irann. I had not, it declared, said a word about the sufferings of the Church and its ministers under Tito and, by sponsoring me, Radio …irann had connived at a vile piece of subversive propaganda. The officials of Radio …irann, knowing I was no Communist, supported me, and finally The Standard, under pressure from my solicitor, agreed to print a long reply from me. I received the proof-sheets, corrected and returned them, but the reply never appeared. Months later, a muddled, amiable explanation reached me, and my friends said ‘let bygones be bygones’. I did. That is the way things happen in Ireland.

But it became increasingly difficult to be silent. The foreign editor of The Standard, Count O’Brien of Thomond, published a little book called ARCHBISHOP STEPINAC, THE MAN AND HIS CASE. It had an introduction by the Archbishop of Dublin, and commendation on the dust-cover from a couple of cardinals, Canadian and English, and half a dozen bishops and archbishops. Cardinal Spellman laid a copy of the book on the foundation stone of the new Stepinac Institute in New York, USA, and told 1700 schoolgirls, drawn up on a polo-ground in the form of a rosary, what they were to think about Croatian ecclesiastical history. Yet it seemed to me that there was a major error of fact or of interpretation, or a significant omission, on almost every page of this book. Meanwhile all the county councils and corporations in Ireland met and passed resolutions. Extracts from Count O’Brien’s book were hurled about, and fiery telegrams despatched to parliaments and ambassadors.* But the climax of my discomfort was reached when our Minister for Agriculture, Mr Dillon, addressing some law students, advised them to model themselves on Mindzenty, Stepinac and Pavelitch, who had ‘so gallantly defended freedom of thought and freedom of conscience’. Those who knew Yugoslavia were aghast, for Pavelitch, one of the major war criminals, was the Yugoslav counterpart of Himmler, and it was under his rule that the gas chamber and the concentration camp were introduced into Yugoslavia and the forced conversion campaign initiated. Clearly Mr Dillon was speaking in ignorance, not in bigotry, but ignorance rampaging with such assurance and harnessed to religious enthusiasm is like a runaway horse and cart. It must be stopped before serious mischief results.

I felt that the honour of the small Protestant community in Southern Ireland would be compromised if those of us who had investigated the facts remained silent about what we had discovered. In many Roman Catholic pulpits the sufferings of the Catholics under Tito were being compared to the long martyrdom of Catholic Ireland under Protestant rule. ‘Yesterday and today Herod abides.’ If we agreed that history should be falsified in Croatia in the interests of Catholic piety, how could we protest when our own history was similarly distorted?

In letters to the newspapers I replied to Mr Dillon and many others who had expressed similar opinions. A well known Irish Jesuit, Father Devane, assuming a Slav name, Mihajlo Dvornik, to lend force to his accuracy, solemnly declared that there had been no forced conversions in Croatia, but I could find no one ready to argue the details .Mostly they quoted at me passages from Count O’Brien, or, on a priori grounds, accused me of vile slander. ‘The Catholic Church had always insisted that conversion must be from the heart. Ad amplexandam fidem Catholicam nemo invitus cogatur. I was alleging the impossible.

Soon afterwards it was announced that Tito was to visit London, and in Ireland, as in England, various anti-Yugoslav demonstrations were arranged. My friend, Owen Sheehy-Skeffington, a lecturer in Trinity College and now a member of the Irish Senate, invited me to a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Association, at which the editor of The Standard was to read a paper on ‘Yugoslavia — the Pattern of Persecution’. The Association had been modelled on Chatham House as an international fact-finding society and Arnold Toynbee himself had come over to give his blessing to the first meeting. In the Survey of International Affairs of 1955 he was later to express himself as strongly as I had about the persecution of the Orthodox. This is an undenominational society with a tradition of free speech. The lecturer had never been to Yugoslavia, and I believe that all the others on the platform were in the same position, though one of them said that on a cruise down the Dalmatian coast he had met members of a Yugoslav football team. I decided that at the end of his paper I would try to make those points which he had failed, despite his promise, to publish for me. I would try to show how variegated was the pattern of persecution in Yugoslavia, and how misleading our crude simplifications would be. What followed has been told by Paul Blanshard, whom I met for the first time that evening, in his book THE IRISH AND CATHOLIC POWER. It is enough to say here that the Chairman’s attempt to close the meeting at the end of the paper was ruled out, on a vote, as unconstitutional. I got up, holding in my hands THE MARTYRDOM OF THE SERBS, a book published by the exiled Serbian Orthodox Church in Chicago, in case anything I said required authoritative corroboration. It had been given me by archpriest Nicolitch, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in England. But I had spoken only a few sentences when a stately figure rose from among the audience and walked out. It was the Papal Nuncio, of whose presence I had been unaware. The Chairman instantly closed the meeting, and there was an appalled silence, followed by a rush of reporters in my direction. They had understood nothing in the confusion. There was, consequently, some lively reporting, and two leading dailies quoted me as saying that the Orthodox Church, not the Communists, had initiated the persecution of the Catholics in Yugoslavia. In gigantic letters in the Sunday Express (Irish edition) I read: ‘Pope’s Envoy Walks Out. Government to Discuss Insult to Nuncio.’

Blanshard has described the measures taken against Skeffington in Dublin and myself in Kilkenny. The persecution was of a familiar pattern, and I try to see in it not a personal hard-luck story, but material for a study in the modern indifference to evidence, but I think both of us knew that had we been less fortunate in our backgrounds we would have been ruined. Skeffington, the son of a father executed by the British in 1916 — or, to be more accurate, murdered at the orders of a hysterical British officer — is at his happiest when he is fighting, and shortly afterwards he had fought his way into the Irish Senate. For myself, I am grateful for the few inherited acres which have helped me to survive the disapproval of my neighbours. All the local government bodies of the city and county held special meetings to condemn ‘the Insult’. There were speeches from mayors, ex-mayors, aldermen, creamery managers. The County Council expelled me from one of its sub-committees, and I was obliged to resign from another committee. Although my friends put up a fight, I was forced to give up the honorary secretaryship of an archaeological society which I had myself founded and guided through seven difficult years (see Appendix). My opponents hoped that my liquidation would be decorous and quickly forgotten, but my friends and myself were little inclined to oblige them, and for a time our small society enjoyed in the metropolitan press a blaze of publicity which its archaeological activities had never won for it.

I decided that before I resigned I would tell our two or three hundred members something about the forced conversion campaign in Yugoslavia. Much of the evidence, including the utterances of the Orthodox Church and its bishops, and Archbishop Sharitch’s ‘Ode to Pavelitch’, with its sonorous denunciations of Serbs and Jews, I put aside, because I was certain that it would not be believed. Finally, I decided to publish the long letter written by Stepinac to Pavelitch on the subject of the forced conversions. I had translated it from a typescript in Zagreb in 1946, and it seems to me a document of vast importance which deserves a prominent place in the annals of religious history. Its reception was disappointing. Many were confused by the outlandish names and inextricably complicated series of events, and I was taken aback when one friendly disposed reader congratulated me on ‘my interesting article on Czechoslovakia’.

There is in Ireland a historic loathing of proselytism. The well-meaning Protestants who plied the starving peasants of the west with soup and Bibles after the famine of 1846 have never been forgiven. Religious apprehensions as strong as these survive in Yugoslavia, and I had hoped that some of my neighbours would be capable of the necessary mental adjustment and would see the parallel. Surely it would be obvious to them from the Stepinac letter that the Croatian bishops, while denouncing the use of force, were delighted with the opportunity for mass conversion which the chaos and defeat of Yugoslavia afforded them. There was, for example, Dr Mishitch, the Bishop of Mostar and the kindliest of mortals, whom even the Communists have praised for his clemency. He too had made quite plain the hopes which he had entertained at the beginning of Pavelitch’s regime:

By the mercy of God [he wrote] there was never such a good occasion as now for us to help Croatia to save the countless souls, people of good will, well-disposed peasants, who live side by side with Catholics…. Conversion would be appropriate and easy. Unfortunately the authorities in their narrow views are involuntarily hindering the Croatian and Catholic cause. In many parishes of (my) diocese … very honest peasants of the Orthodox faith have registered in the Catholic Church… But then outsiders take things in hand. While the newly-converted are at Mass they seize them, old and young, men and women, and hunt them like slaves. From Mostar and Chapljina the railway carried six waggons full of mothers, girls, and children under eight to the station of Surmanci, where they were taken out of the waggons, brought into the hills and thrown alive, mothers and children, into deep ravines. In the parish of Klepca seven hundred schismatics from the neighbouring villages were slaughtered. The Sub-Prefect of Mostar, Mr Bajitch, a Moslem, publicly declared (as a state employé he should have held his tongue) that in Ljublina alone 700 schismatics have been thrown into one pit.

Elsewhere in his letter the Bishop wrote:

At one time there was a likelihood that a great number of schismatics would be united to the Catholic Church. If God had given to those in authority the understanding and the good sense to deal effectively with conversion, so that it could have been carried through more ably, more smoothly and by degrees, the number of Catholics might have been increased by at least five or six hundred thousand. Such a number is required in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if there is to be an increase from 700,000 to 1,300,000.

The other three bishops, whose letters Stepinac quoted, all took the normal human view that it is inadvisable in the name of religion to throw waggon-loads of schismatics over cliffs; they were critical of the conversion campaign, but they did not find the occasion for it unseasonable. Had there been no cruelty, and if possible a little soup, they would have welcomed it. But compared with Mgr Mishitch’s letters theirs are cold, calculating and self-righteous. Archbishop Sharitch opined that the town council of Sarajevo was imposing too high a tax on the Bosnian Orthodox for their change of religion. The Bishop of Kotor, Dr Butorac, declared that the missionaries to the Serbs must be wisely selected. ‘We must not entrust the problem,’ he wrote, ‘to monks or priests who have no tact at all and who would be much better suited to carry a revolver in their hands than a cross’. And he expressed the fear that if the Serbs were driven too hard they might, out of defiance, pass over in a body to Islam.

I must confess that I find Mgr Stepinac’s comments on these letters and the situation that provoked them curiously narrow and thin-lipped. He scolds the miserable, hunted Orthodox for their terrible errors, deriving, he declares, from ‘hatred and schism’, and he blames them for the Russian Revolution, just as he blames the crimes of Pavelitch and his gang on the Chetniks — that is, the followers of Mijailovitch — the Communists, and the Royal Yugoslav Government. He considers that the best way to convert the Orthodox might often be found through the medium of the Greek Catholic Church, which recognizes the authority of the Pope while preserving its Orthodox ritual. He ends his letter, as he began it, by exonerating Pavelitch from all blame in the crimes that had been committed.

Yet Count O’Brien tells us in his little book that at this time, in defence of the Orthodox, the Archbishop had swept into Pavelitch’s office. ‘“It is God’s command!” he said, “Thou shalt not kill!” and without another word left the Quisling’s palace.’

Stepinac’s long and respectful letter to Pavelitch at this date proves the anecdote to be a hagiographical fabrication. Yet it was quoted at me several times in the press at Kilkenny and Dublin. The letter was obviously the most important that Stepinac had ever written, and it struck me as odd that though I had published it twice in Ireland — for my critics in Kilkenny and also in The Church of Ireland Gazette — nobody in the British Isles, at a time when so much was written and said about the imprisoned Archbishop, ever commented on it, quoted from it, or wrote to me to enquire how I had secured it. Three years later, however, Richard Pattee published in America a lengthy book in defence of Stepinac, and among his documents the long letter belatedly appeared. Yet I believe that my translation is the more accurate of the two. Mr Pattee has thought it best to omit a sentence or two here and there. He leaves out, for instance, Mgr Mishitch’s calculations of the number of conversions required in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Again, wherever the word ‘conversion’ appears in the text Mr Pattee reads it as ‘legitimate conversion’, thus adding an epithet which I could not trace in the original. Stepinac’s admiring description of the Bishop of Banja Luka as ‘that old Croatian warrior’ likewise disappears, presumably because Mr Pattee does not wish his readers to infer that the bishops were Croatian separatists trying to ingratiate themselves with Pavelitch.

About the same time Mr Michael Derrick published in The Tablet a paragraph or two from Mishitch’s letter, but he attributed it to Stepinac, and he omitted the extraordinary parenthesis about the Sub-Prefect who told of the barbarities inflicted upon the Orthodox, and the bishop’s comment that ‘as a state employé he should have held his tongue’. In the succeeding issue of The Sword, Mr Derrick published my translation of Stepinac’s THE REGULATIONS FOR CONVERSION without acknowledgement! Anybody who read these regulations with an open mind, and particularly an Irish Catholic with his inherited horror of ‘souperism’, would have to admit that they bore every trace, except soup, of illegitimate conversion. For instance, Clause XI, an appeal that the Orthodox be granted full civic rights, has been much applauded, but it begins, ‘A psychological basis for conversion must be created among the Greek Orthodox inhabitants.’ If still in doubt as to the bearing of these regulations one would have only to read the manifesto of Dr Shimrak, editor of the leading Catholic daily, and chosen by Stepinac as one of his two colleagues in the supervision of conversion:

Every priest must have before his eyes that historic days have come for our mission. Now we must put into practice that which we have spoken of in theory throughout the centuries. In the matter of conversion we have done very little up to this, simply because we were irresolute and dreaded the small reproaches and censure of men. Every great task has its opponents, but we must not be downcast on that account, because it is a question of a holy union, the salvation of souls and the eternal glory of the Lord Christ. Our work is legal in the light of the ruling of the Holy See … also in the light of the ruling of the Holy Congregation of Cardinals for the Eastern Church. . .and finally in the light of the circular sent by the Government of Independent Croatia, July 30, 1941, whose intention it is that the Orthodox should be converted to the Catholic faith (Diocesan Magazine of Krizhevtski, No. 2 [1942], pp. 10-11).

Count O’Brien, an Austrian of Irish descent, had been until he came to Ireland after the war editor of an important Viennese paper, and he claims in his book to have known Shimrak intimately for twenty years. He also writes that all the Croat bishops had opposed Pavelitch’s ‘evil plan’ for the forced conversion of the Orthodox. This seemed in such strong conflict with Shimrak’s declaration that long before the ‘Insult’ I had visited Count O’Brien to ask for an explanation. An explanation was forthcoming. The Count replied at once that Shimrak had not been a bishop at the time, but only an administrator. It appeared from his reply that it was actually after he had proved himself in sympathy with Pavelitch’s plan that Shimrak was appointed to the bishopric and to Stepinac’s committee for regulating conversion. I then asked how it came about that, if all the bishops were hostile to Pavelitch and his plans, Archbishop Sharitch of Bosnia, one of the greatest of them, had been able to print his Ode to Pavelitch in the ecclesiastical papers of his own archdiocese and that of Zagreb. I had made a translation of his ode in twenty-six verses, describing his meeting with Pavelitch at St Peter’s in Rome, and I now ventured to remind Count O’Brien of a few lines:

Embracing thee was precious to the poet

as embracing our beloved Homeland.

For God himself was at thy side, thou good and strong one,

so that thou mightest perform thy deeds for the Homeland. . .

And against the Jews, who had all the money,

who wanted to sell our souls,

who built a prison round our name,

the miserable traitors. . .

Dr Ante Paveli! the dear name!

Croatia has therein a treasure from Heaven.

May the King of Heaven accompany thee, our Golden Leader!

Count O’Brien had an explanation for that, too. He said: ‘The Archbishop was an abnormal man, very emotional. He was always embracing people. Whenever we met, he used to kiss me on both cheeks. He can’t be taken seriously.’

These replies made me feel very helpless, since they could not have been made if venal indifference had not reigned around us. When I went home I was feeling as emotional as the Archbishop, and I remember that I wrote a poem myself of the Massacre of the Orthodox, though I must admit that it was the massacre of the truth that really outraged me.

Milton, if you were living at this hour,

they’d make you trim your sonnet to appease

the triple tyrant and the Piedmontese.

‘Why for some peasants vex a friendly power?

We’d like to print it, but Sir Tottenham Bauer

and half the Board would blame us. Colleen Cheese

would stop its full-page ad. They’re strong RCs.

It’s old stuff now, and truth, deferred, goes sour.

So cut those lines about “the stocks and stones”

and “slaughtered saints”, or keep for private ears

that fell crusade, for even in undertones

it breeds disunion and the Kremlin hears.

Say nothing rash or rude, for it is right

that all the godly (west of Kiel), unite!’

I thought my poem almost as good as the Archbishop’s, but I had some difficulty in getting it published. In the end it appeared in a pacifist weekly, but very inconspicuously and in very small print. The Archbishop had been luckier. His had appeared in Katolicki Tjednik (The Catholic Weekly) on Christmas Day, with a signed portrait of Pavelitch and a decorative border of Christmas tree candles and little silver bells.

I suppose that the small community in which I live has about the same significance for the world as the community of Mr Bjitch, who as a state employé ‘should have held his tongue’ about the massacres, so I need not apologize for returning to it. My friends and neighbours were memorably kind and supporting; for they knew that I had not intended to insult anybody. But others were puzzled. I was not, like Mr Bjitch, a state employé, and some found it difficult to make their disapproval materially felt. This problem would not have baffled them for long had it not been for the courtesy and good sense of the local Catholic clergy. I was most vulnerable through the Kilkenny Archaeological Society. This had been a famous Victorian institution, with the Prince Consort as patron and the Marquess of Ormond as President, but it had shifted to Dublin as an All-Ireland Society, and when I revived it in Kilkenny in 1944 it had been dead there for half a century. In a couple of years the new Society became a real bridge between Protestant and Catholic, Anglo-Irishman and Celt. The friendliness which it created was perhaps our main achievement, but we did other things, too. Mr O. G. S. Crawford made for us a photographic survey of old Kilkenny such as no other Irish provincial town possesses; Dr Bersu, the Director of the Institute of Frankfurt, made his principal Irish excavation on a hill fort outside Kilkenny and reported it in our journal; we had a centenary celebration of the old society in Kilkenny Castle; and the National Museum co-operated in a very successful Kilkenny Exhibition. But I think I was proudest of having organized a week’s visit from the principal archaeological society in Northern Ireland; for cultural fraternization between North and South are as rare as they are valuable. I feared that all this work would be wasted, so I decided to appeal to a certain Stephen Brown, a Jesuit, who had attended meetings of our Society. He had escorted the Nuncio to the fateful meeting, and afterwards in the Irish Independent had defended the Croatian hierarchy against the charges of illegitimate proselytism, with copious quotations from Count O’Brien but, as it seemed to me, with a total ignorance of Yugoslav conditions. Father Brown received me warmly. He said he was satisfied that I had not intended to insult the Nuncio, that he strongly disapproved of the introduction of the incident into the affairs of an archaeological society, and that in any case the Nuncio had visited the meeting by mistake under the impression that he was bound for a meeting of a Catholic society with a similar name. Father Brown said that he would send me a letter making these three points, and that I might publish it in any paper I chose. The letter never arrived. It seemed, however, that a compromise had been reached in the matter, for a few days later a paragraph appeared in The Standard under the heading ‘Mr Butler rebuked’. After commending all the denunciations by public bodies, the passage ended:

It is well that such a repudiation should be known. But we doubt if any good purpose would have been served by the proposed step by which Mr Butler would have been deprived of office in, say, the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, of which he is presumably an efficient functionary, and into which he can scarcely introduce secular issues. If he has any regard for public opinion he must know by now that his action met with not alone local but national disapproval. That is sufficient.

It was difficult for me to return as a presumably efficient functionary to a Society which I had myself founded, so I never after attended a meeting, but my friends, both Catholic and Protestant, still support the Society and I am glad today that it continues.

I hope I have not appeared to diagnose in my Catholic countrymen a unique susceptibility to a disease with which we are all of us more or less infected. Speed of communications has increased, and we are expected to have strong feelings about an infinite series of remote events. But our powers of understanding and sympathy have not correspondingly increased. In an atmosphere of artificially heated emotionalism truth simply dissolves into expediency. This shifting current of expediency may be illustrated by a chronicle of the changing attitude to Pavelitch in the past ten years. In Croatia, upheld by the victorious Germans, he had for four years been regarded as a great Christian gentleman and patriot. All the Catholic bishops and the Evangelical bishops were among his panegyrists and had received decorations from him. Then the Nazis collapsed, and Pavelitch was regarded by the outer world as one of the basest of war criminals, while in Croatia all the dignitaries hastened to disavow the compliments they had paid him. A former Italian Fascist, Malaparte, in his book, KAPUTT, has described how, as correspondent of Corriere Della Sera, he visited Pavelitch in his office in 1942 and saw behind him what appeared to be a basket of shelled oysters. ‘Are these Dalmatian oysters?’ Malaparte asked. ‘No,’ Pavelitch replied, ‘that’s forty pounds of human eyes, a present from my loyal Ustashe in Bosnia’ — eyes, that is to say, of Serbian Orthodox. I am ready to believe that this story is an invention, like Stepinac’s visit to the ‘Quisling’s Palace’, and that stories like this were repeated by the ex-Fascists, who thought that if they made the whole world black their own shade of dirty grey would be less conspicuous. But in 1948 no one told Malaparte that he was a liar. Indeed, writing about KAPUTT in The Irish Times, Mr Kees van Hoek, the biographer of the Pope, said that Malaparte was ‘the most accurate observer and reliable witness’.

That was the universal western view of Pavelitch seven or eight years ago — a monster of iniquity, an ogre out of a fairy-tale. But since then Pavelitch has become more respectable, and if he was wanted again in a campaign against Communism in the Balkans it is possible that he and his friends would be used. He now lives in South America and two or three papers and journals are published in his interest. Five years ago he issued postage stamps commemorating the tenth anniversary of Independent Croatia, and he has cashed in very effectively on the Stepinac legend, since one of his Ustashe clubs in the Argentine is called after the famous Cardinal. Archbishop Sharitch, the devoted admirer of both Pavelitch and Stepinac, lives in Madrid, but still publishes his odes (rather modified), as well as ecstatic reminiscences of Stepinac, in Hrvatsk Revija, a Croatian separatist quarterly of Buenos Aires. I once visited Mgr Stepinac in prison and found him a gentle and serious man, who obviously acted as he thought was right. Surely it must be one of the hardest blows that fate has dealt him that both Pavelitch and Sharitch speak well of him?

In one way or another the memory of a terrible crime against humanity is being confused and effaced, so that many people believe that it never happened at all or that it has been monstrously exaggerated. I have seen Pavelitch compared in Irish papers with Roger Casement and Patrick Pearse as a simple-hearted patriot who merely did his best for his country in difficult circumstances. In October 1952 he was interviewed for an Italian picture paper, Epoca of Milan. He was photographed basking in the South American sun with his wife and family, stroking a pet dog. He told how he had escaped from Croatia through the Allied lines, how he had paused for weeks at a time in Naples, the Vatican City, and Castel Gandolfo. He was to be considered a romantic fellow, the carefree immunity which he enjoyed no more than his due.

How has all this happened? Three centuries ago Milton gave undying notoriety to the massacre and forced conversion of the Waldenses, and Cromwell sent out emissaries to collect information about the sufferings of this tiny Alpine community. We are mostly now immune from the religious fanaticism which once intensified racial antipathies and to which Cromwell himself was no stranger; why has it become unwise to censure or even to take notice of an explosion of those ancient passions fifty times more devastating than that which Milton observed? There were scarcely ten thousand Waldenses to be persecuted in Piedmont, while the decrees of Pavelitch were launched against more than two million Orthodox, and 240,000 were forcibly converted.

Looking for a reason, I can only conclude that science has enormously extended the sphere of our responsibilities, while our consciences have remained the same size. Parochially minded people neglect their parishes to pronounce ignorantly about the universe, while the universalists are so conscious of the world-wide struggles of opposing philosophies that the rights and wrongs of any regional conflict dwindle to insignificance against a cosmic panorama. They feel that truth is in some way relative to orientation, and falsehood no more than a wrong adjustment, so that they can never say unequivocally ‘that is a lie!’ Like the needle of a compass at the North Pole, their moral judgment spins round and round, overwhelming them with information, and telling them nothing at all.


A Statement to the Committee and Members of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society

by the Honorary Secretary, Hubert Butler

November 10, 1952

A Committee Meeting is being summoned on Wednesday next, at 8.30 p.m., in the Technical Schools, Kilkenny, to discuss the effects upon the Society of the incident at the International Affairs Association. I think it would leave you freer to discuss the matter if I did not come to the meeting myself but sent to each of you a statement which you could study before you reached the meeting.

I expect that some of you will think I ought to resign without more ado and others, who bear me no ill will and realize that I spoke without any intention to give pain to anyone, will think I ought to give up the secretaryship in order to tide things over and prevent the Society from dissolving.

I need not emphasize how desperately sorry I would be if the Society did break up along sectarian or other lines, and how ready I shall be to co-operate in any effort to keep it going. We are, I think, unique in having survived so long without a trace of bitterness or dissension. So I have to think hard what is the right thing to do.

In the first place, I do not believe that my resignation now would save the Society as an interdenominational one to which people of every shade of opinion could belong. Secondly, pressure has been exercised to make me resign. That makes resignation impossible for me for it would imply that I admitted that what I did or said was wrong, and that I cannot admit.

As I have been secretary for seven years, of which the recent year, in which we organized the exhibition in the Tholsel and the visit of the Belfast Field Club, has been the most successful, I should have to consider the request to resign as a mark of disapproval. I could not take it in any other way.

Before you make a decision I would like you to look back over the many pleasant summer afternoons we have spent together in the past seven years, and how often we might have split upon just such issues as this and yet we survived. Do you remember, for instance, the outing to Carrickshock, when Father Clohosey spoke to us on the Tithe War at the memorial to the three men who had been killed in an attack on the tithe collector, Edmund Butler, who, with twelve policemen, lost his life? Most of the Protestants went home from the bottom of the hill, but I went to the top, because I knew that Father Clohosey could be relied on to give an impartial account of this bitter controversial event. And that is just what he did do. And, if you remember, it was I who offered him the thanks of the Society when the evening ended at Ballybodan. Yet that was an issue which, had I been a bigotted person, might have affected me strongly. My great grandfather, Richard Butler, the Rector of Burnchurch, near Bennetsbridge, had been mobbed and molested so frequently by the agitators that in the end he had to leave his home for several years. Yet in fact, he thought, as I think, that the tithe agitators had right on their side. He did not, and no more could I, make a sectarian issue of it.

I mention this because I have been attacked, but each one of us has acted in the same way. Our little Society, under our chairman, John O’Leary, has been doing Christian work healing the sores of history and reconciling conflicting opinions. I am quite certain that His Excellency, the Nuncio, could not possibly wish it to come to grief.

It would not have been surprising if we had split on some local issue of Kilkenny history, the Confederation, Cromwell, the Penal laws, but it is to me almost unbelievable that we should be in danger of disintegrating because of two different interpretations of tragedies that happened eleven years ago in the plains of Slavonia and the wild hills of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As I would like you to understand some of the issues at stake, I will quote you the letter I wrote to the Nuncio, but I gather at present he does not want it to appear in the press.




Co. Kilkenny

Nov. 2, 1952

Your Excellency,

I would like to express my regret at any embarrassment or pain I may have caused you by my remarks after Mr O’Curry’s talk. I felt, as I have felt for six years, that vital facts were being suppressed and that, though their discussion might at first be very bitter, worse would follow if they were ignored.

I think the enclosed letter from Mgr Stepinac, which I translated and published Dec. 29, 1950 in the Church of Ireland Gazette, discloses a complex situation in Yugoslavia, which could not possibly be ignored in any discussion on ‘Yugoslavia, the Pattern of Persecution’. You are not, I think, likely to have seen this letter, because it was never published in Yugoslavia or mentioned at the Archbishop’s trial by his accusers. The Communists were at that time holding him responsible for the barbarities of the conversion campaign and this letter shows too clearly that he was not responsible for them.

Nonetheless, it also shows (the quotation from Mgr Mishitch in particular) that force was being used to affect opinion, or, to put it differently, the violence of the times was being exploited for the purpose of proselytism. Since these were the methods used then and later by the Communists for their proselytism too, an unfair and unbalanced view of persecution in Yugoslavia would have been obtained if Mr O’Curry’s paper had not been discussed in the light of these facts.

The International Affairs Association with its membership drawn from all creeds seemed the only forum in which these delicate issues could be soberly discussed. I went as the guest of a foundation member, who assured me that unfettered discussion had always been the order of the day.

I had gone, I admit, with the intention of disputing Mr O’Curry’s interpretations, which I already knew, but, believe me, the last thing I wished to do was to insult you, your Church or Mr O’Curry.

My family is Irish, I was born here and have lived here most of my life. My experience and the experience of most Irish Protestants is that the kindliness, toleration and good will of Irish Catholics toward their Protestant fellow countrymen is such that it is hard for us even to conceive what bitterness and violence can exist in other lands.

In conclusion I would like to assure your Excellency of my sincere esteem and good will.

Yours sincerely,


As for the charge that I spoke uncharitably of Mgr Stepinac, I hope that one of the Kilkenny papers will print the account which I published over a year ago in The Church of Ireland Gazette, 20 April 1951, of a visit I paid to Mgr Stepinac with four Quakers. It will show that I never thought him ‘a dupe’ (a misreporting) and that my feelings toward him have always been respectful.

I will quote here one extract: ‘Mgr Stepinac in prison is a figure, who commands respect. What he did, he did in the belief that it was right. Christians, who think otherwise — and there are millions of them — would mostly agree that while he remains in prison, the focus of violent emotions, there is little hope of a dispassionate enquiry into the tragic story of 1941.’

I attach also a translation of the letter from Mgr Stepinac to Pavelitch, which I have sent to the Nuncio. It is long and difficult, but I took great pains to translate it accurately from the Serbo-Croatian, and I am rather surprised that here, where Mgr Stepinac is so greatly venerated, it excited so little interest on publication nearly two years ago. No Irish paper asked permission to republish it, yet I believe it is the most important letter the Archbishop ever wrote. The facts to which he refers are all corroborated in the publications of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Those who read the letter will admire Mgr Stepinac for his courage and humanity, though some may share the views of the Serbian Orthodox Church, expressed very strongly in their war-time publications, that he could have helped them best by withholding his recognition from the Government which decreed their compulsory conversion. But I do not think we are likely to divide on this point along the obvious lines. It is a question upon which each person will have his own individual opinion.

The Archbishop’s letter will show that Count O’Brien, who is quoted against me in the Dublin and Kilkenny papers, is a wholly unreliable historian. Of the gigantic compulsory conversion campaign he writes on page 16 of his book on Mgr Stepinac, published by The Standard, ‘It was through Mgr Stepanic’s firm stand that Pavelitch’s endeavours to impose the Catholic faith by force ended in complete failure.’ Mgr Stepinac, who is modest as well as brave, shows in the attached letter how wildly untrue this statement is. The compulsory conversion campaign in Croatia, 1941, was one of the most terrible in the history of Europe.

I am glad to say that these problems do not touch us here, where for several generations we have shown tolerance and not tried to force our faith upon each other. Yet, at the meeting in Dublin, having expert knowledge relating to a subject which was being very seriously investigated, I felt it my duty to speak as I did. I could not have done otherwise.



©Hubert Butler, 1985-86. From ESCAPE FROM THE ANTHILL, The Lilliput Press , 1986. Published by permission of The Lilliput Press  62-63 Sitric Road, Arbour Hill, Dublin 7, Ireland.




Books by Hubert Butler:


Wellbrook Press, 1972

_________, ESCAPE FROM THE ANTHILL. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1985

_________, THE CHILDREN OF DRANCY. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1988

_________, GRANDMOTHER AND WOLFE TONE. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1990


London: Viking Press, 1990

_________, L’ENVAHISSEUR EST VENU EN PANTOUFLES. tr. Phillipe Blanchard.

Pref. Joesph Brodsky. Paris Anatolia Editions, 1994

_________, IN THE LAND OF NOD. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1996

_________, INDEPENDENT SPIRIT. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996

Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard. Tr. Hubert Butler. Intro. Tyrone Guthrie. London:

H.F.W. Dane & Sons Ltd; Boston.: Baker’s Plays

Leonid Leonov, THE THIEF. Tr. Hubert Butler. London: Martin Warburg, 1931. New York: Vintage, 1960


Relevant books:

Paul Blanshard, THE IRISH AND CATHOLIC POWER. An American Interpretation. Foreword,
      H. Montgomery Hyde. London: Derek Verschoyle, 1954

Curzio Malaparte, KAPUTT. Tr. from the Italian by Cesare Foligno. New York: Dutton, 1946.

Anthony Henry O’Brian, Count of Thomond, ARCHBISHOP STEPINAC: THE MAN AND HIS CASE.
      Westminster: The Newman Bookshop, 1947

Richard Pattee, THE CASE OF CARDINAL ALOYSIUS STEPINAC. Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1953

Marco Aurelio Rivelli, L’ARCIVESCOVO DEL GENOCIDIO: Monsignor Stepinac, il Vaticano, e la
      dittatura ustascia in Croazia, 1941-1945. Milan: Kaos Edizioni, 1998.

Andrée Sheehy Skeffington, SKEFF: THE LIFE OF OWEN SHEEHY SKEFFINGTON 1909-1970. Dublin:
      The Lilliput Press, 1991

Sudjic, Milivoj J. YUGOSLAVIA IN ARMS. (“Europe under the Nazis” series) London: Lindsay
      Drummond, Ltd., 1942

Various, MARTYRDOM OF THE SERBS (Persecutions of the Serbian Orthodox Church and Massacre of the
      Serbian People) (Documents and reports of the United Nations and of eyewitnesses) The Serbian
      Eastern Orthodox Diocese for The United States of American and Canada, 1943.



Chris Agee, “The Balkan Butler,” this issue

_________, “The Stepinac File,” this issue

Hubert Butler, “The Artukovitch FileArchipelago, Vol. 1, No. 2

Richard Jones, “An Appreciation of Hubert Butler,” Archipelago, Vol. 1, No. 2

A selection of papers read at the Centenary of Hubert Butler (October 20-22, 2000), Kilkenny

The Bosnian Institute , London, directed by Quintin Hoare

The Clero-Fascist Studies Project: Christianity, Fascism and Genocide in the 20th Century 

“This site is a production of the Clero-Fascist Studies Project, an on-going research and public information project exploring the convergence between certain strains of Christianity and fascism in the 20th century. In part, this project is a response to attempts by some of the parties responsible to cover up, erase, or cleanse their history. Our goal is the preservation, not the purification of history.”

Archbishop Stepinac’s Reply at the Trial

The Case of Archbishop Stepinac

“This document assembling facts in the case of Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac of Yugoslavia has been prepared because the arrest and trial of the Archbishop are still being used in the United States in a campaign of misrepresentation against the Federal Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia. This campaign, accusing Yugoslavia of religious persecution -- which does not exist in my country and which is specifically outlawed by the Constitution -- has gone to considerable lengths. Petitions for which thousands of names have been obtained have been submitted to the White House and to the Department of State.

“Resolutions have been introduced in the Congress. In the face of such organized and continuing attacks I have felt compelled, in justice to the government and people of Yugoslavia, to make this material available in English. It shows that Archbishop Stepinac was tried and convicted solely because of the crimes in which he engaged against his own nation -- the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, later the Federal Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia -- and against his own countrymen.

“Americans who may have been misinformed on the point should know also that millions of patriotic citizens of Yugoslavia are Catholics, enjoying full freedom of worship today under constitutional guarantees. Having firsthand knowledge of the role played by Archbishop Stepinac during the war, they do not identify their religion with the secular political course in support of Hitler and Mussolini which he chose to follow.

“Sava N. Kosanovic, Ambassador of the Federal Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia.

“Washington, 1947”

Kaos Editions
The Lilliput Press

The Irish Times


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