A Croatian court on Friday squashed a communist era verdict convicting a controversial World War II-era cardinal for collaborating with the Nazis, ruling that he did not have a fair trial.
Alojzije Stepinac, who critics say failed to condemn the persecution of Serbs and Jews, headed Croatia's Catholic Church during WWII. He was later sentenced by Yugoslav communist authorities for allegedly collaborating with the countrys pro-Nazi regime which he denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in jail.
The 1946 verdict against Stepinac "grossly violates basic principles of both then and current criminal law," a Zagreb court judge said. The goal of the trial was to "morally discredit him and the Catholic Church", judge Ivan Turudic said.
Stepinac spent five years in prison and was then put under house arrest. He died in 1960 at the age of 61.
The judge said the trial was a "rigged political process."
The quashing of the verdict, sought by Stepinac's nephew, will likely fuel tensions with Serbia, where he is considered a war criminal. His trial was for long a sticking point between the Catholic Church and the Yugoslav communist regime.
Stepinac has been beatified but has not been declared a saint. In overwhelmingly Catholic country, many see Stepinac as a national hero and martyr for his attachment to an independent Croatia and unwavering faith in the face of communist persecution.
In 1992, Croatian lawmakers adopted a declaration condemning the "political verdict" against Stepinac. Nearly 90 percent of the former Yugoslav republics population of 4.2 million is Roman Catholic.