Ivan Tomas and the Smuggler for the Pope

  • Domagoj Tomas Filozofski fakultet Osijek
Keywords: Ivan Tomas, Aloysius Stepinac, Frances Yenko Chilcoat, communist Yugoslavia, Church-State relations


During the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939 - 1958) the relations between the Holy See and the European communist countries were strained or severed. In such circumstances the trial of the Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac, was held in the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (FPRY), ending in 1946 when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. After serving a five-year prison sentence, Stepinac was given a choice to go to Rome or to serve the rest of the sentence under house arrest in his hometown of Krašić. After Stepinac was appointed cardinal in 1953, the FPRY severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and Stepinac lost the opportunity to go to Rome and take over the cardinal's insignia.

At the time Croatian Catholic priest Ivan Tomas was working at Vatican Radio in Rome. The result of Tomas's effort and the help of an American tourist of Slovenian origin, Frances Yenko Chilcoat, was an interesting and unusual journey of Stepinac’s cardinal robe and its safe arrival to the territory of the FPRY in 1954. Yenko Chilcoat described her endeavour in a memoir entitled Smuggler for the Pope, published in 2006.

This paper will first explain the international political context of the time of her arrival from the United States of America to Europe and the church-state relations between the Holy See and the FPRY after World War II. Furthermore, the paper will verify the authenticity of Yenko Chilcoat's memoir and the credibility of her claims, analyse Tomas's role in the transfer of the cardinal robe, as well as the consequences of the cardinal robe coming into Stepinac's possession. Finally, a conclusion will be made about the meaning and the importance of Stepinac's cardinal robe transfer from Rome to the FPRY in the context of the contemporary church-state relations.