"Conciliabolo" : Rome and the 1946 Lviv Pseudo-Synod
During the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland (Western Ukraine) 1939–1941, Stalin fell back on old Tsarist plans to suppress the Greek-Catholic Churches. But attempts to entice clergy to defect floundered on the moral authority enjoyed by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. When the Red Army returned to Lviv in July 1944, the Metropolitan was already declining, and died within four months, on 1 November. With Sheptytsky out of the way, the NKVD operation was given the go ahead.
In the spring of 1945, as the Second World War was coming to an end, an Iron Curtain descended upon the eastern half of Europe. On the Old Continent, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) found itself subject to atheist Communist rule in the east, and in the west, its clergy and faithful displaced across hundreds of refugees camps. In this moment, two projects were set in motion: the first, led by refugee Bishop Ivan Buchko though Pope Pius XII and the Vatican Curia, to raise the agonizing UGCC from the ashes of destruction; the second, concocted by Joseph Stalin and his henchmen, to destroy the Church once and for all.
Vatican Information System
By the twentieth century, the Roman Curia had adopted a multi-tiered system of gleaning information from local Churches: The first tier was the apostolic nuncio (or apostolic delegate for countries that did not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See). The nuncio/delegate or his deputy sent regular reports to the papal Secretariat of State, the central office which acted as moderator of all the curial departments. The State Secretariat had a section for internal church-related matters, and also a foreign office for matters pertaining to political and diplomatic affairs. If an issue pertained to the competency of a specific curial department (such as the Congregation for the Eastern Church), then the nuncio/delegate sent his report there. The second tier of information came from local clergy: first the diocesan bishop/eparch and the hierarchs of province or country. Trusted informers also included religious superiors, especially the Jesuit provincial, and local clergy with particular knowledge or expertise in various questions. The third tier was information from diplomatic and civil authorities, such as an ambassador to the Holy See.
During the Second World War, this system partially broke down, as communications became difficult and habitual channels were cut off. With the closure of the nunciature of Warsaw, in September 1939, information had to be sought after from the nunciatures in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Catholic prelates from Allied countries also used their political and military contacts to keep the Pope and his Roman Curia informed. Among the most important liaisons in the Allied countries were the apostolic delegates in London and Washington D.C., William Godfrey and Amletto Cicognani. The Holy See approached ambassadors of countries that had relations with the Soviet Union for information regarding Soviet occupation zone. For countries under Axis control, it used the Nunciature to Italy or Berlin. Military chaplains, such as the Italian military expedition that to the USSR in 1941, also sent reports. Among these were UGCC priest-students in Rome, such as Vasyl Vavryk, Meletiy Voinar, Petro Diachyshyn, and Volodymyr Hrabets, recruited by the Italian military via Yevhen Onatsky, for their knowledge of Ukrainian and other Slavic languages.
From the Diplomatic Service
The Vatican first heard of Metropolitan Sheptytsky’s death via the Polish Ambassador to the Holy See, Casimir Papée, and announced it in the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on14 and 15 November 1944. The news of the hierarchy’s arrest (on 11 April) also came from Polish diplomats. On 15 June 1945, the Polish ambassador in Washington D.C. informed the apostolic delegation that Metropolitan Slipyi and the other bishops had been arrested. Already at that time, they believed that it was apparent that the Soviets were aiming to destroy the Uniate Church by replacing it with Russian Orthodoxy. (The Government-in-Exile had already warned the Vatican of the dangers to millions of Catholics behind the Curzon Line, following the Yalta Conference, when Molotov had commented that the Soviets would not tolerate Catholics, only Orthodox.) On 18 June, Apostolic Delegate Amletto Cicogniani passed this information to Monsignor Tardini, head of the papal Foreign ministry, who informed the Pope on 6 July.
From Ukrainian Clergy
Details of Sheptytsky’s funeral and the enthronement of his successor were dispatched by Metropolitan Yosyf Slipyi on 19 November 1944, but did not reach Rome until 6 March 1945. Cardinal Tisserant, the head of the Pope’s Eastern-Churches department, brought Slipyi’s letter to Pius XII, who ordered that the account be published in L’Osservatore Romano.
From his Roman exile, Sheptytsky’s auxiliary bishop, Ivan Buchko, became a focal point for Ukrainian exiles and organizations. Pius XII appointed him as apostolic visitor for UGCC throughout western Europe, and Buchko began to lobby for material and pastoral aid for tens of thousands of his displaced countrymen. He also began to lay the groundwork for the creation of a full global hierarchy, to make up for those suppressed in the homeland.
Bishop Buchko began to receive news from the Ukrainian underground, via European contacts, of the preparations for schism taking place in Soviet Ukraine.
On 27 March 1945 he informed the Secretariat of State that his compatriots in America reported that 38 priests in Galicia (Western Ukraine) had been shot and 145 priests had been “invited” to become Orthodox or face deportation. On 1 July, he received a letter from Father Gabriel Kostelnyk’s surviving sons, Iriney and Zenon (interned at Bellaria-Rimini) confirming that, in 1941, the NKVD had already tried to get their father to lead a movement to unite UGCC with the Russian Orthodox Church. Buchko communicated this to Cardinal Tisserant on 30 July.
In July 1945, Father Bronisław Kreuza (Tadeusz Rzewuski), an eyewitness to the death of Metropolitan Andrey and the arrest of the bishops, arrived in Rome. He submitting a long and extremely detailed report to the Oriental Congregation, chronicling the events that occurred before his own departure. These included the last illness and death of Metropolitan Andrey, attempts by Archimandrite Klymenti Sheptytsky and Father Yosyf Kladochny to dialogue with Kostelnyk, the arrest of the bishops and principal clergy. A Capitular Vicar, Canon Mykola Galant, had been duly elected within the remaining members of the Lviv Chapter of Canons, but he was soon killed and a clandestine vicar general [Redemptorist Father Joseph de Vocht] was officially governing the Lviv Archeparchy. On 11 August, Rzewuski-Kreuza was permitted to recount some of the story in an audience with Pope Pius XII.
On 14 August, a Sister Servant of Mary Immaculate in Lviv wrote to her superiors in Rome of Kostelnyk’s activities. Bishop Buchko forwarded an Italian translation of the letter to the Vatican. On 9 September 1945, he received details of the violence of the Initiative Group’s campaign from Father Volodymyr Prokopiv of the Przemyśl Eparchy (who would be arrested and deported to USSR in October). On 22 September, Buchko forwarded the information to the Oriental Congregation: Mykhailo Melnyk, Vicar General for the Przemyśl Eparchy in Soviet territory, was had the reputation of being a good preacher and theology professor; Antoniy Pelvetsky, who had been Buchko’s seminarian in Lviv, was deemed intellectually mediocre; and Kostelnyk, who was notorious to the Apostolic See, was known for his anti-Roman and anti-celibacy publications. Since the beginning of the Second World War, Kostelnyk became involved with mysticism. He was also reported to have lost control of his behaviour and have become an alcoholic due to pressure from the NKVD and the murder of his eldest son at their hands. Buchko had also been informed that there were Russian Orthodox bishops working as agents of the NKVD.
Bishop Buchko also submitted Italian translations of 5 documents: the first two were signed by the members of the Initiative Group; the first, dated 28 May, informed the clergy that the government was placing the Group in charge of UGCC to prepare a merger with Russian Orthodoxy; the second, dated 16 June, was a request to Soviet officials to sanction their plans; a third document was the reply of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Ukrainian USSR, approving their work; and a fourth was the protest against the activities of the Group, addressed to Molotov, signed by the Metropolitan Chapter and faithful priests. Buchko had received the documents from the Ukrainian Information Service in Munich, which had obtained them via the Ukrainian underground or, as he guessed, via Bishop Kotsylovsky. Cardinal Tisserant forwarded the report and translations to the Secretariat of State on 18 October.
On 5 November 1945, the spiritual director of the Przemyśl seminary, Father Mykola Denko, took advantage of a courier leaving for Czechoslovakia to pen an overview of the situation to Bishop Buchko, as the former was unaware of what was known beyond of the Iron Curtain. He wrote of the arrest of Bishop Kotsylovsky, of NVKD tortures, and the death of many priests. Some had accepted Orthodoxy since they lacked the courage to endure deportation, imprisonment, and torture. Some clergy and faithful from that eparchy that sought protection from the Latin bishops but had been turned away. Writing from Frankfurt on 6 December, Basilian Father Stefan Reshetylo wrote of the arrests in the Przemyśl Eparchy and confirmed the apostasy of the members of the Initiative Group. Buchko submitted this letter to the Oriental Congregation on 14 January 1946.
At the end of December 1945, a similar report was written by a professor of the same seminary, Father Volodymyr Holynsky. He reported that Mykola Galant, Capitular Vicar of Lviv, was dead, and that Canon Kunytsky was dying. Metropolitan Andrey’s old entourage, For the time being, Fathers Klymentiy, Kladochny and Kotiv were still living at Saint George’s Palace. (This report did not reach the Rome until June 1946). In April 1946, a letter was received from Khomyshyn’s secretary, Father Sudak, who had escaped the USSR and was hiding in Warsaw, furnishing details of Khomyshyn’s arrest.
In February 1945, Patriarch Sergei of Moscow died and was succeeded by Metropolitan Alexei. On the occasion of his election, an appeal to Greek-Catholics to break with Rome, bearing the new patriarch’s name, was distributed in Soviet Ukraine. The appeal also accused the Vatican of “arming the faithful against all peace-loving people and leading them in the opposite direction, against the whole world.”
A copy of this appeal reached Rome in the summer, with the arrival of Father Rzewuski-Kreuza. Bishop Buchko translated it into Italian on 6 September and it was sent to Monsignor Tardini on 17 September. A translation a booklet against the Papacy, recently published by Kostelnyk, was also sent to the State Secretariat on 12 December. These documents were further evidence that the Soviets were preparing to suppress the UGCC.
Since the 950thanniversary of the Union of Brest was approaching, Buchko wrote to Cardinal Tisserant on 8 December, asking for a message of encouragement for the persecuted Church. Cardinal Tisserant decided on a papal encyclical and received the go-ahead from Pius XII during an audience of 27 October 1945. This solemn commemoration was to be used simultaneously as a protest against the persecution of the UGCC.
The encyclical’s text was prepared by Jesuit Father Emil Herman, a professor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute and adviser of the Oriental Congregation. It was divided into three parts: a history of the Union, its positive results, the tragic contemporary situation. The first part contains strong praise of the late Metropolitan Sheptytsky (reworked from texts which Tisserant had previously proposed to the State Secretariat for a letter on Kyr Andrey’s anniversary). And the final section included a thunderous condemnation of Alexei’s enticements to schism. The papal message encouraged fidelity but foresaw martyrdom.
On 22 January 1946, the Oriental Congregation submitted the final draft of the encyclical to the Internal Affairs section of the Secretariat of State. In a cover letter, Tisserant explained to Monsignor Montini that official Latin translation had been done by the Jesuit General Curia and reviewed by Herman. Since the document concerned the UGCC, the Congregation had decided to use Ukrainian versions of the names of people and places, reviewed by Bishop Buchko.The encyclical Orientales omnes Ecclesias, bore the date 23 December 1945, the anniversary of the Union, but it was actually published on 20 January 1946.
There were immediate reactions to the encyclical: Ukrainian Catholic were overjoyed by papal solidarity. Buchko thanked Tisserant and asked for a group audience with the Pope, so that the Ukrainian community in Rome could pay him their homage. On 3 April, Father Emanuīl Korduba, head chaplain of the 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers of the Ukrainian (formerly Galicia) Division, interned as POWs in Rimini, wrote thanking thanked the Pope for the encyclical which “condemned the heretical summons to schism.” For some reason, this letter was not shown to the Pope until October 1946, at which time Pius XII was recorded to have said: “it’s a beautiful letter.”
Poles complained that the encyclical’s proper names were not the Polish version. A telling critique came from Paris, when the text of the encyclical was published in La Croixand Études. On 11 February 1946, Dominican Father (Archimandrite) Christophe-Jean Dumont complained that certain “unilateral” passages of the document had offended the Russian Orthodox and even Russian Catholics. Dumont, who served a s superior of a mission to Russian émigrés, expressed concern for possible tensions between the two religious denominations. Like other missionaries, he had been encouraged to understand and even absorb the mentality and culture of his flock. As a result, he had acquired a Russian reading of history, which looked upon Ruthenians (Ukrainians, Belarusians, Rusyns) as Russians who had strayed from the Mother Ship. In this vein, Dumont commented that, Although it was unfortunate that the Soviet state had intervened, yet, “could this not be a solution to the prickly Ruthenian question.” Dumont had proposed to Yves Congar that he allude to this inTémoignage Chrétien. (At the height of Vatican Ostpolitik, in July 1963, Dumont would be dispatched to Moscow to offer felicitations for Alexei episcopal jubilee).
It appears as if Father Holynsky’s report, written at the end of December 1945, was the first to specifically mention that a synod was being prepared by the Initiative group (although this information did not reach Rome until three months after that event had taken place).
On 6 January 1946, the Vicar General of the Basilian Order, Father Dionisiy Holovetsky, passed on a report from Father Mykhailo Ivanyshyn, who had come from Lviv to Warsaw at the end of 1945. The same month, an undated seven-page report was submitted by Redemptorist Father Maurice Van de Maele through Monsignor Forni of the Prague Nunciature. It recounted the Soviet religious policy from the moment of their occupation. At first, Roman and Greek Catholic Churches were encouraged, to keep the locals calm and content. Then, in 1945, when victory was in sight, the policy of one state – one religion was announced. Van den Maele noted that none of the monastics had yet given in but that many secular priests had succumbed to save their families from deportation to Siberia. “A great synod” was already being talked about and “the nationalist youth” (many of which were the children of the clergy hiding in the forests) had threatened to kill Kostelnyk if he carried out the planned schism.
In February, Tardini informed Tisserant that Forni had also received another report from a Basilian, who claimed that 90% of priests that had gone into schism. Tisserant replied that this did not correspond with the information received from Van de Maele, and asked for the name of the source. Forni replied that the information had come from Father Sebastian Sabol in Trebišov, Czechoslovakia, a few kilometres from the Soviet border. Forni noted that Sabol was in constant contact with his compatriots and was greatly trusted by Bishop Pavel Gojdič of Prjaševo (Prešov). On 16 May Tardini specified that Sabol confirmed that his information had been accurate but that the percentage of apostate priests had been exaggerated.
Meanwhile, Polish sources continued to send information from behind the Curzon line, regarding preparations for schism. The Basilians in USSR had lost their monasteries and Bishop Kotsylovsky, who had been detained in Rzeszów, had been deported to USSR, presumably to Kyiv to join his imprisoned brother bishops awaiting trial.
At the end of February 1946, Cardinal Tisserant went on the offensive by giving a number of interviews to the press regarding the recent papal encyclical. On 28 February, he spoke to the Italian press about the persecution of UGCC in USSR and how clergy and faithful were being forced to accept the state religion, laying some of the blame at the doorstep of the Patriarch of Moscow. From 1–3 March, similar interviews appeared in the English-language press, especially the New York Times. Buchko wrote to Tisserant on 2 April that, although several prominent cardinals, such as Tisserant, de Barros Câmera, and Griffin, had raised their voices against the persecution, the international Catholic press had reported little on Orientales omnes.
Reactions to the Pseudo-Sobor
The Lviv pseudo-Sobor took place on 8–10 March 1946, after which the results were announced on Radio Moscow. On 19 March, the nunciature in Cairo wrote that it was bring reported that “the head of Uniates in Lvov had broken with Rome.” On 24 March, the Apostolic Delegate had telegraphed from Washington, asking the Secretariat of State for clarification on: who were Kostelnyk, Melnyk, Pelvetsky that had signed a letter to Stalin declaring the Union abolished; why the Greek-Catholic bishops had not reacted, and if some were dead, as rumoured. Tisserant replied that the signatories were apostates (no longer qualified representatives), and that the UGCC hierarchs had been arrested the previous April. The rumours of Khomyshyn’s death were suspected to be true, but Slipyi’s was not confirmed.
The first public response from the Vatican was an article entitled “I greco-cattolici nell’Unione Sovietica” (Greek Catholics in the Soviet Union), published in L’Osservatore Romano on 25–26 March 1946. The piece reported news from Étudeson Kostelnyk and the pressure on the clergy to commit schism. The text of the Initiative Group’s letter to Soviet officials and appeal to the UGCC clergy (already translated by Buchko in in September 1945) were also included. The article also noted that La Croixhad published the faithful clergy’s protest to the Initiate Group on 20 October 1945.
On 26 March, the apostolic Delegate in London, William Godfrey, reported that a letter had been issued by Council of Christians and Jews, signed by Socialist leader and politician, Ernest Bevin. The letter expressed concern that the secession of UGCC from Rome had been brought about under pressure, and noted the encyclical Orientales omnes.
When Ukrainians learned of the fake synod, they began to issue their own protests and statements of solidarity. On29 March 1946, a telegram was sent to Pius XII, signed by Rev. Dr Basil Kushnir (of a visiting Canadian committee) on behalf of 9,000 soldiers of the Ukrainian Division in Rimini. On 30 March, Bishop Buchko wrote directly to Pius XII. In apocalyptic language, he declared that the devil was attempting to deceive the world into believing that the UGCC had spontaneously broken the Union, although no one was free under Stalin. The bishop renewed his request for an audience for all Ukrainians in Rome, including 30 priests and religious brothers and sisters, representatives of 5,000 Ukrainians in the Polish Corps and the 4 Catholic chaplains from Rimini. In reply, Buchko was told that the Pope appreciated the declarations and would do his best to help the Ukrainians in Italy. However, an audience would not be a good idea, since it would draw attention to them at a time when the USSR is trying to work for their repatriation.
On 5 April, Tisserant informed Tardini that there were only 2 apostate priests on the Polish side of the border and that reports of quasi-universal apostasy among the clergy on the Soviet side were exaggerated. Tisserant asked the Secretariat of State to thank Cardinal Hlond and Bishop Sokołowski for the care they had shown to the Greek-Catholics.
On 14 April 1946, the Central Aid Committee of Ukrainians in Germany sent a letter to the Holy Seer repudiating the pseudo-synod, declaring that the Ukrainian National Republic (a kind of umbrella organization for various political factions) considered it an act of deceit and violence. The letter also noted that bishops of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church had issued a condemnation at their synod in Esslingen, Wurttemberg. The hierarchs noted that Orthodoxy would never force conversions and expressed their sincere fraternal compassion and prayers to God shorten the sufferings of the UGCC. To a declaration from the Ukrainian Committee in Berne, Switzerland, Tardini wrote Nuncio Bernardini, on 28 April, that the Holy fathers knows of the plight of Ukrainians and had issuedOrientales omnes in solidarity with them. The Ukrainian General Council of Liberation also sent a memorandum on the pseudo-sobor to Monsignor Montini on 22 May.
On 12 June, Bishop Buchko reported to Cardinal Tisserant that, Radio Moscow’s announcement of the pseudo-sobor had provoked protests from refugees in Germany. He had received 34 protests signed by thousands of Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox. Buchko described them as the indestructible voice of the UGCC’s union with the Pope, which those in homeland were prevented from expressing. All of the declarations were in Ukrainian except for one, written in Latin. Buchko had them translated into Italian for the Apostolic See. The bishop noted that, among the signatories were: political representatives including former MPs of the Second Polish Republic, a former senator, members of the League of Ukrainians from German concentration camps, members of the League of university students, and thirteen priests.
On 22 June 1946, these declarations were presented to Pius XII by Bishop Arata. Tisserant’s deputy at the Oriental Congregation. In response, the Pope “blessed persecuted Ukrainian people from his heart.” Arata was instructed to “make these declarations known to the world but cautiously, so as not to harm those in homeland.” Canon Yustyn Hirnyak of Stanyslaviv, representing 122 refugee priests and faithful in Austria, had brought another declaration protesting the “conciliabolo” (imposter council) to Rome and protesting their attachment to the Apostolic See. Cardinal Tisserant presented it to Pius XII on 13 July.
Finally, on 13 July, Apostolic Delegate Godfrey reported to the papal Secretariat of State on the declarations and accusations against the Church by Radio Moscow. William Godfrey believed that the behaviour of Soviets was destroying the esteem they had won among the Allies during the war. He also noted that, in response to the pseudo-sobor, the Archbishop of Canterbury (head of the Anglican Communion) had issued statement expressing hope that the Soviets would show more tolerance.
A year later information continued to arrive describing resistance to the “conciliabolo.” In March 1947, a priest who had escaped gave information to Apostolic delegate Cicognani and Cardinal Tisserant asked Bishop Buchko to evaluate it. On 2 May, Buchko noted that it was very different from news he had received from the Ukrainian Information Service. Although he judged such news “incomplete in content” he guessed that the Information Service was the same as the one called “KIRA.” Buchko’s information was that there were entire regions in the Carpathians Mountains where UPA was sheltering faithful priests. In the former Przemyśl Eparchy, priests audibly commemorated the Pope in the liturgical services. The apostate Bishop Melnyk was rumoured to be tacitly consenting, and even supporting those priests who had secretly remained faithful to Rome. In August 1946, the Information Service reported that about half of the priests accepted the sobor, while others preferred deportation to Siberia. Six were killed by UPA as soon as they returned home from the pseudo-sobor. No religious were yet reported to have submitted to Moscow.
Sometime toward the end of 1946, a copy of a letter by Father Kostelnyk, addressed to a priest in his native Bačka region of Yugoslavia, was sent to Bishop Buchko, who translated it into Italian and submitted it to the Oriental Congregation. Dated 15 November 1946 and signed “Gabor,” the letter stated that Kostelnyk was always convinced that the Union with Rome had been the ruin of the UGCC (identifying it with Polish hegemony). He claimed that noting could be done in 1941 without destroying the Church but times had changed in 1945. He suggested that union with the Russian Orthodox Church was “the only way,” proven by fact that 1110 out of 1250 priests had accepted it. (No mention of the assassinated, tortured, or deported).
Kostelnyk believed that the Red Army had saved the western Ukrainians from annihilation at the hands of avenging Poles. Since the UGCC bishops had been accused of collaboration with the Germans, the only way to save the UGCC was to accept the freedoms the Orthodox had won through loyalty to USSR. Kostelnyk declared himself innocent before God and history, and suggested that the Križevci Eparchy follow his lead. He ended with the warning (in ideological language): “Be careful the progress of history does not crush you under its wheels.”
Kostelnyk had told his friend that he was planning to visit Yugoslavia to help them join Orthodoxy, but first the terrain had to be prepared. On 24 May 1948, the chargé d’affairesof the Belgrade Nunciature, Joseph Hurley, informed Rome that the priests and faithful of the Križevci Eparchy had remained faithful and were preparing to resist Kostelnyk upon his return. But the planned visit never took place. On 24 September 1948, Bishop Buchko informed the Oriental Congregation that Kostelnyk had been assassinated. On 28 September, Monsignor Luigi Poggi informed Monsignor Tardini that Patriarch Alexei had declared that the assassin was a “bourgeois Ukrainian nationalist” acting on orders of the Pope. The lurid accusation might have been designed to lesson papal prestige in countries, such a Italy, were the Communist parties on the offensive, seeking to take power. Whatever the reason, it was considered sufficient for an official denial, which appeared as an article entitled “Calunniose Perfidie” (Calumnious perfidy), on the front page of the 19 January 1949 issue of L’Osservatore Romano.
Historians expert on Ukrainian sources, such as those that participated in the recent UCU conference on the Pseudo-Synod, will be able to compare what the Vatican was told to other sources, in order to determine what was accurate and was false. In examining only some of documentation of the Roman Curia of the period, we can already see that the Holy See, fare from being disinterested or standing aloof, was very concerned to the fate of the UGCC. Highly influential in this process was Bishop (later Archbishop) Ivan Buchko, whose efforts to preserve the UGCC and Ukrainian diaspora organizations were crowned with great success. This was due to the generous financial and moral support of the Apostolic See, mediated through the intercessions of Cardinal Eugène Tisserant. the Pope continued to
publically proclaim solidary for Ukrainians in apostolic letters and encyclicals, and by the creation of bishoprics and metropolitan provinces throughout Europe, the Americas, and Australia. By the time of the his death, in October 1958, Pius XII had established the UGCC hierarchy across 4 continents of the globe.