Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ADSS 3.1.79 Szeptyckyj to Cardinal Tisserant: life under the Soviets

Three months of Soviet occupation had brought radical change to the Polish Ukraine.  Rigged elections introduced "revolutionary committees" who were given wide-ranging powers to implement the Soviet "liberation" of the Ukraine.  At the time this letter was written the NKVD had begun deporting "unreliable" Poles into the USSR.

In his letter to Rome, Andrea Szeptyckyj outlines the fiercely anti-Christian character of the occupation forces.  Every dimension of life is under attack and the people of his diocese are suffering according to the Archbishop.  The only ones benefiting are greedy Jews who have arrived in the area in great numbers and engaged in money changing zlotys into roubles at exorbitant rates.  In the context of the letter, Szeptyckyj's comments are firmly within the rationale of the document, but still reveal a negative bias towards Jews.  It is important to keep in mind that this is well before the German slaughters of 1941-1942 that changed his attitude and behaviour towards the Jews.

The life of the Church continues but with a great many restrictions and persecutions.  Szeptyckyj proudly points out that the people are not seduced by communism and are remain committed to their faith.

Towards the end of the letter Szeptyckyj asks Cardinal Tisserant to request that the Pope give permission for the Archbishop to offer his life for his people, and for a mass exorcism to be performed to defeat the evil emanating from the Soviet Union's anti-Christian ideology.

ADSS 3.1.79

Reference: AES 1500/40

Location and date: Lvov [Leopol] 26.12.1939

Summary: Consecration of Joseph Slipyi (1892-1984) in secret (22.12.1939); Situation in the diocese under the communists is terrible; all Catholic institutes are subject to the State; the people are threatened with deportation and death, but resist atheistic propaganda with courage.  A large number of Jews have arrived escaping the Germans.  In Lwow Jews have a prodigious number in the economic life of the country, characterised by avarice.  

Language: French


Please accept my sincere thanks for the favourable response to my letter 10 October [1939]. (1) The extraordinary faculties given to all the ordinaries of the diocese by the Holy Father were happily received in duplicate on two different occasions.  Bishop de Serre (2) was consecrated in my chapel; bishops Nykyta Budka and Nicholas Czarneckyj (3) were the only members of the chapter present.  The newly ordained made his promise of fidelity and obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff and his successors.  The faculties were communicated to all the bishops, not without difficulty; I could not , and have still not been able, to find the name or residence of the Vicar General of the archdiocese of Vilnius. 

I am attaching to this letter a small memorandum concerning requirements for the clergy and faithful of these regions, after the experience of recent years, to serve as a complement to those faculties.  I also pray that your Eminence pass on the attached letter to the Holy Father, and ask that you intercede for us to obtain all the requests in the memorandum for the bishops, clergy and faithful (the memorandum was written by me without consulting the bishops because it was impossible to do so), and for my poor request which I have explained in my letter to the Holy Father. (4)

I also add six copies of documents I referred to in my letter.  I do not think I gave a copy to the Sacred Congregation; I did not have them in Rome.

I do not know how I will send these letters; I will try to do it through the Nuncio in Berlin and I beg Your Eminence to send your response through him.  He will send the letter to the parish priest of our Rite in Krakow; I hope he is able to do the task.  The parish priest will find the means to send me the letter.  But I would also ask that you reply with a postcard from Rome with just a word that would be a sign that the letters have reached you (these cards go through Moscow but are forwarded).  Finally I would like to give Your Eminence a brief report on the position of my diocese.

In observing this regime in peacetime, because their arrival here was peaceful, we understand that they were in Spain in time of war.  It is a system that absolutely excluded all that is or could be charitable or kind even toward the poor.  Everything that emanates from the authorities seems to have as its intention to offend, ruin, destroy, cause pain; and with it a disorder that is almost unbelievable.  There are multitudes of jobs, offices, committees, representatives of all authorities in Moscow and Kiev and all these authorities have nothing defined or clear but believe they have the power to do everything.

All orders are given with the threat of death.  Each branch of these authorities makes requisitions and always with the threat of death, and it seems that their employees are permitted to kill anyone without risk of punishment.  The former Cheka, now called the NKVD (Narodnyk Komisariat Vnutrennych Diel) forces and threatens young people to become secret gents.  For the first time all schools are declared state schools. 

Forbidden to teach religion, there is a systematic tendency to corrupt young people primarily through dances, music, games and a fanatical atheistic propaganda. 

After the farce of a quasi-plebiscite, a parliament of 1400 delegates voted unanimously to suppress all monasteries and disperse the communities.  Only a few of the churches and schools remain open and working with some priests and some religions in secular dress as servants.

Commerce and trade are almost completely nationalised, that is to say, the businesses of many merchants has been confiscated without compensation and become the property of the State.  The property of houses in the cities has been confiscated.  All Catholic schools, orphanages, institutes and societies have been suppressed without any compensation.  All small business owners are ruined.  They have also begun to confiscate the small properties of the peasants.

No judges, lawyers, notaries, no contracts, defense, appeals, laws; no representation to the central authorities, and local authorities who remain in power for a little time and then change like a kaleidoscope.

In all details manifest there is enmity, hatred of religion, of the clergy, incredibly it loos as though it is a hatred of humanity in general.  They all hate each other, they consider everyone their enemy.  All this with the ruin of war, there are thousands upon thousands fleeing the Germans, coming to us from Poland.  There are a great number of Jews emigrating, fleeing the Germans which has made life more than difficult. 

At the beginning the Polish army requisitioned all necessary material and the Red Army exported en masse all manufactured goods and generally everything you could buy.  All the inhabitants live under the threat of their possessions being taken and they being put in prison.  Arrests are increasing, even in the villages.  Of course, no one is able to count them.  From time to time crowds of people strive with great difficulty to give prisoners some food or clothes (if they happen to learn of the place of detention). 

In every parish (village), “revolutionary committees” have been established, elected from among the people.  In the committees, the leftist elements gradually move to the top, and it is on them that the existence of the parish and the parish priest, depends.  The central authorities say they do not wish to touch the land of the parishes, but in many cases we seek people to share these lands.  The people in most cases defend Church property and it is not touched.  By the grace of God the people resist with great tenacity the atheistic propaganda campaigns; a reaction that is characterised by an exclusive religious movement. 

They [the Soviets] came to “liberate and save the Ukrainians”, which in their language means to subjugate and ruin, they are required to play the comedy of liberators and saviours, in all the villages the Polish schools were Ukrainian. 

In Lvov the authorities confiscated the buildings of the major and minor seminaries, organising with great fanfare a Ukrainian university; they promised 35 chairs for studying only philosophy.  The Academy and Faulty of Theology was suppressed, other high schools are created, in part Ukrainian, but all these privileges do not prevent people from seeing the whole system as one complete ruination of Ukrainian national life.

Institutions created and supported by the offerings and sacrifices of the people (cooperatives, prosvitas, torhovlas etc) are suppressed or declared bodies of the State one after another.

Jews in prodigious numbers have invaded the economic life of the country and give the actions of the authorities the character of sordid avarice.  We are accustomed to only seeing small dishonest and sleazy Jewish merchants.  For example, for three months, no state bank would exchange zlotys for roubles. And then one day to the other it suppresses zlotys in order to give the Jews the opportunity to buy them for nothing and probably do good business.  Or, all saving deposits in the banks whereby the greatest sum of a few thousand ended up being about 300 roubles, worth about 30 zlotys before the war.

Through the good will of our people, the clergy still work in all parishes and churches.  A number of priests without a living, and who suffered depression of nerves, panicked following the atmosphere and left our country to move to areas occupied by the Germans.  In this way the diocese lost fewer than thirty priests; this emigration continues, and I give permission for a priest to leave if he feels that he cannot work fruitfully under this regime, as we must admit that nervous suffering leads to an inclination to pessimism, sadness, and discouragement can lead to real diseases and madness.  The best priests, paralysed by the fear of Bolshevik prisons with their drugs, lose their presence of mind.  But on the other hand, the diocese is forced to give priests to parishes that had been administered up until this time by visiting priests.  In my report on the state of my diocese I explained the circumstances.  There are 1267 parishes and 807 priests and administrators; 400 parishes are currently exposed to intense attacks than other parishes.  Many of them require priests and I gave them 26.  The priest-monks, Basilians, Redemptorists and Studites, who are busy with the work of their monasteries, are serving parishes with good fruit for the whole country.  The dispersed religious have organised to preach and teach the catechism.  Fortunately before the war we printed 50,000 copies of a catechism.

The diocesan paper was replaced for three months with sheets produced on a cyclostyle.  In this way, I have written pastoral letters to the clergy, the people, Catholic women, cantors of the Church and young people.  The cyclostyle was confiscated and it is with great sorrow that we are working how to organise communication with the clergy and faithful.  But the machines, typewriters, are also becoming increasingly rare as are the materials required to operate them.

All along the line we see the weakening of the system and the collapse of the army: a great number, it seems, deserted, and many, when they have the opportunity to speak with someone they can trust, speak of how they have been deceived and of the great misery at home.  From what we see, it seems that there are many people who hunger and thirst for religion.  Even atheists are always looking for the opportunity to discuss religion even when they deny that it interests them.  It seems likely that these lands will become a successful field for the apostolate.

Once again I ask that your Eminence present to the Holy Father my request that his His Holiness deign to give me his paternal and Apostolic Blessing allowing me to die for the faith and the unity of the church.  I dare not present this request directly to the Holy Father, as my letter to His Holiness is already too long and is a sign of great boldness on my part.  The audacity of this request is great as is the grace requested.  And I am unworthy of it.  But I pray Your Eminence to intercede on my behalf.  That His Holiness deign to consider that the Church has nothing to lose and can only gain through my death, then it should be someone who is a victim of this invasion.  As the pastor of this poor people who are suffering so much, have I not the right to die for their salvation?  If the Holy Father does not agree to this request, I ask you, Eminence to do so as Secretary of the Congregation of the Eastern Churches.  You are our Superior and you must take care of our Church.

I have one final humble request.  One cannot explain this regime except by way of a mass demonic possession.  I dare to ask His Holiness to recommend the contemplative orders, (Carmelites, Trappists, Carthusians, Camaldolese) to exorcise, through the co-operation of the priests in the monasteries, Soviet Russia.  Church exorcisms are not restricted to location and can be done from afar.  To avoid offending the Russians, the Holy Father could order this sub secreto Pontificio.(5)

I also pray the Holy Father ask communities of women religious and the female contemplative orders to pour out their prayer for the increase in holy vocations.  A great harvest …

Excuse me, Eminence, for this long letter, my poor writing and spelling mistakes, and please pray for us all.

PS.  I am sending these two letters today, 16 January 1940, through the German Commission who worked in Lvov.  I promised to send them to the Apostolic Nuncio in Berlin.  This may be the last opportunity to send a letter since it is now more difficult to cross the border than it was when I sent my first post.  There is an on the spot death penalty and frequent cases mean it is impossible to cross. 
  This is why I request to change the way I send responses to the Nuncio and the parish priest of Krakow.  The Nuncio may find a way of sending responses to me via the German authorities (?)

Request: send two copies.

I would also add that the Archimandrite of Harbin, [Fabian] Abrantowicz is still in prison.(6)  It is impossible to learn anything about his fate.  We have five priests in prison.  Request prayers and benedictions.

Cross references: 
(1) See ADSS 3.1.52
(2) Joseph Slipyi
(3) Nyjyta Budka (1877-1949) Auxiliary bishop Lvov; Nicholas (Mykola) Czarneckyj (1884-1959) Auxiliary bishop Lvov.
(4) Not published in ADSS.  The letter referred to faculties the archbishop obtained through Pope Pius X (1903-1914) because of difficulties faced in the Russian Empire.  Szeptyckyj wanted confirmation of these same faculties.  “Faculties” is a canonical term that refers to rights and privileges granted to a person either by means of their office or through the gift of another who has the authority to grant them.  E.g. bishops have the faculty to ordain priests by virtue of their office; the pope may grant faculties to army chaplains to grant absolution without confession on the battlefield – this faculty is limited and not automatic; the chaplain does not have the right to the faculty.  It is usually associated with the granting of special rights to bishops in special circumstances.
(5) sub secreto Pontificio – literally – “under the secrecy of the Pontiff”, it is the highest form of confidentiality used by the pope.  If something is done “sub secreto” it binds those involved to total secrecy on pain of mortal sin.  The only higher form of “sub secreto” is the “seal of the confessional”.
(6) Fabian Abrantowicz (1884-1946) Originally a Latin Rite priest, he joined the Marian congregation in 1926 and transferred to the Greek Catholic rite.  Pius XI appointed him as priest in charge of the Eastern Rite Catholics in Harbin, China.  He returned to Europe in 1939 and was in Lithuania visiting relatives when the war broke out.  Attempting to return to Rome he was arrested by the Germans who handed him over to the Soviets.  Imprisoned on charges of espionage Abrantowicz was sentenced to ten years labour in the gulags, but remained in the Butyrki prison in Moscow where he died on 02.01.1946.  His cause for canonisation was opened in 2003.

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