1. Dallas/Fort Worth, TX

  2. Lenten Mission

  3. Moscow Conference

  4. Ask Father


Historical Background to 

by Alexis Ulysses Floridi, S.J.

The primary obstacle preventing the bishops' obedience to Our Lady of Fatima's request to consecrate Russia to Her Immaculate Heart is the Vatican-Moscow Agreement. Since the time when we documented the existence of that agreement, in Issue No. 16 and 17 of The Fatima Crusader, no one has brought forth any evidence to disprove it. A few, like Bishop Brzana of Ogdensburg prefer not to examine the evidence, but only denounce us for publishing the fact.

In order to demonstrate the fact that The Fatima Crusader is not alone in publishing facts and information relative to this ill-advised accord, we publish here the findings of the Moscow-Vatican expert, Father Ulysses Floridi, S.J., author of the book Moscow and the Vatican.

At the end of this article we carry a brief extract which has more recently come to our attention, in which Malachi Martin, author of the book, The Jesuits, published in 1987, not only affirms the existence of the Vatican-Moscow Agreement, but also maintains that Pope John Paul II has personally agreed to carry it on.

The election of Pope John XXIII and the announcement of the Vatican Council II (1959) brought no change in the stormy relations. The assumption of atheist writers was that the Pope was new, but the "course" remained "old" and that the Council was summoned in an attempt to halt the flight of the faithful from the Church, to reaffirm papal absolutism and combat Communism.1 On these same assumptions the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate based their early criticism of Pope John and their rejection of the Council. This writer was drawn into a bitter exchange with the editor-in-chief of the journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, the late Professor Alexander Shishkin. He furiously attacked my article published in La Civilta Cattolica.2 In it I charged, as I have consistently, that the Church of Moscow was borrowing its anti-Roman arguments from Soviet atheistic propaganda and bore the responsibility for the destruction of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. In his five-page reply, Professor Shishkin accused me of "anti-Communist blindness" and of "being incapable of thinking realistically". He went on to question the "humility" and good intentions of Pope John in summoning the Council.3 Patriarch Alexei declared that the Council was an internal affair of the Roman Catholic Church and to the last moment declined the invitation to send observers to the Council with a definite "non possumus".4

At the first All-Christian Peace Assembly in Prague (June 13-18, 1961), Metropolitan Nikodim presented a lengthy paper in which he blamed the worldliness of the papal system, predicted the collapse of the Catholic Church and praised the proposals of Nikita Khrushchev as the only alternative to a real Christian peace in the world. Nikodim wrote:

… The theory of the Pope is the clearest and most concentrated expression of the spirit of external legalism and worldliness which has considerably penetrated into the teaching and life of the Catholic Church…

It is not just by accident that the abyss between the Vatican and progressive mankind is getting wider every day. It seems to us that a conflict between the masses of Catholic believers on the one hand and the leaders of the Vatican on the other is inevitable. This conflict has already started by the liquidation of unions such as that of Brest, so important for the Vatican as a bridgehead for penetration into the East…

It is well known to all that N. S. Khrushchev, head of the Soviet delegation to the sixth session of the General Assembly of the UN, submitted for the discussion in the UN basic proposals for an agreement on universal and total disarmament. Do these humane acts of the Government of our country go counter to the demands of Christian conscience? By no means!… Is it not the main task of modern Christian conscience to conform as closely as possible to that aim?5

Suddenly, three months later, Nikita Khrushchev contradicted Metropolitan Nikodim. In an interview with the correspondents of Pravda and Izvestia, the Soviet leader had commented favorably on a message of Pope John in support of the proposals of the neutral nations. The concern of the Pope for peace, said Khrushchev, was proof that he was taking into consideration "the feelings of millions of Catholics all over the world…. His appeal is a good omen…. As a Communist and atheist, I don't believe in Divine Providence. But because we always were, and are, for a peaceful solution of the conflicts, we can't but approve an appeal to negotiate in the interests of peace from wherever it comes. And now I am asking myself if fervent Catholics such as John Kennedy, Konrad Adenauer and others are going to understand the warning of the Pope."6

It took a few days for Metropolitan Nikodim to understand the warning of Khrushchev, because during the pan-orthodox Conference of Rhodes (September 24 - October 1), he was still attacking the Vatican.7 But, especially after Khrushchev had sent a greetings telegram to the Pope on November 23 for his 80th birthday, it was clear that the Moscow Patriarchate had to drop its political and ecclesiastical objection to the Council. Now its role was not to oppose, but to influence the Council through the presence of its observers in Rome. The only question to be solved was a tactical one: how to retract the categorical "non possumus" and obey the orders of an atheist boss without losing face.

The Vatican had decided to invite the observers of the Orthodox Churches through the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, who personally was willing to accept the invitation, but preferred to act in solidarity with the other sister Churches. This way the Patriarch of Constantinople, who is "primus inter pares", could avoid the accusation of taking unilateral decisions and the Vatican could be spared the embarrassment of direct refusals. The Moscow Patriarchate took advantage of this situation to play its diplomatic game. In international gatherings officials of the Russian Orthodox Church started to spread the rumor that if directly invited, they could reconsider their attitude. Archbishop Nikodim, in New Delhi, asked whether or not Moscow would send observers to Rome, replied: "We are almost ashamed at being unable to answer. But how can we reply, when we have not yet been invited?"8 Later, in August 1962, he met in Paris Msgr. Jan Willebrands, then secretary of the Roman Secretariat for Christian Unity, and let him understand that if he would make a personal visit to Moscow, the question of the observers could be settled. The Roman official spent five days from September 27 to October 2 in Moscow. On the evening of the inauguration of the Council (October 11), two Russian observers arrived in Rome. Meanwhile, on the night before, Patriarch Athenagoras had telegraphed to Rome that the heads of the Orthodox Churches, including the Patriarch of Moscow, had decided not to send observers.

The diplomatic maneuvers had worked successfully. The Russian representatives were the only Orthodox observers present in Rome at the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The prestige of Rome and the face of Moscow were saved.9 Archbishop Iakovos of New York indignantly commented that the Moscow-Vatican dealing had been "apparently aimed at disrupting Orthodox unity and undermining the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate."10 The Moscow-Constantinople rivalry as well as the dependence of the Russian Church upon the Soviet government were facts well known to the Vatican, but interests of diplomacy, even of Vatican diplomacy, cannot be stopped by considerations of human decency. In the pre-Vatican Council II days the question of Vatican prestige was of singular importance to the organizers of the Council. In the context of the ecumenical feelers being extended by Vatican officials to the Orthodox world, it would be embarrassing were the Council to open with no Orthodox observers. The readiness of the Moscow Patriarchate to send observers could not be disregarded, even if this Church lacked two important qualities (freedom of speech and action and solidarity with the other Orthodox Churches) and was about to demand a high price for its "ecumenical" services.

No one knows precisely the terms of the accord by which the Moscow Patriarchate agreed to send observers to Vatican II. On Moscow's part there was profound concern to scuttle any attempt to issue a condemnation of Communism by the Council. Msgr. Willebrands was in a position to give assurances that the Council "would not undertake anti-Communist polemics"11 because, as Pope John had already declared, the Council was expected to be a pastoral one. On the other hand, the presence of the Russian observers in Rome would be the best guarantee that the bishops would refrain from taking any harsh attitude. When the Ukrainian Catholic bishops protested against the presence of the observers from Moscow, the Secretariat for Christian Unity immediately reprimanded them and defended its "guests".12 Nevertheless, as can be gathered from the reading of the accounts and articles on the Council published by the journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church abstained from any favorable declaration almost until the end, fearing that the question of Communism would spoil everything. On several occasions, the Russian prelates had made it clear that silence on the question of Communism was a conditio sino qua non for their continued presence in Rome. As Father Georges Dejaifve, S.J., wrote about the stand taken by the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate at the Third Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes (November 1-15, 1964): "The Russian Church showed that it was impossible to speak of a dialogue with the Church of Rome before the closing of the Council… because in the eyes of public opinion a condemnation of atheism would be equal to a condemnation of Communism and consequently of the Soviet regime."13

That Father Dejaifve was not reporting mere rumors appears also from what the well-known anti-religious writer N. Sheinman wrote during the Vatican Council: "In the same Roman Curia and in the Council the bitter fight on whether to go along the line of John XXIII or to go back to Pius XII's course is not yet concluded. This was shown also during the second session of the Vatican Council. On the eve of the closing of the session, on December 3, 1963, more than 200 bishops from 46 countries, sent to the Vatican Secretariat of State the proposal of a declaration 'on Communism' to be discussed the following session. Thus, these bishops and their supporters are pushing the Council toward an anti-Communist 'crusade'."14

The "reserves" of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the Vatican Council II were finally lifted toward the end of the same when the request of more than 300 bishops to discuss Communism was inexplicably blocked and dropped.15 Now the "dialogue" was possible, but it became mostly a useless exercise in rhetorical speeches, a diplomatic exchange of official delegations without the necessary contacts with the base. Since 1967 four major "theological conversations" took place among representatives of the Russian and Roman Churches.

1. L. N. Velikovich, Krzis sovremennogo Katolitsizma pp. 21-42.
2. La Civilta Cattolica, January 28, 1961, pp. 238-252.
3. Zhurnal Moskovshoi Patriarkhii, 1961, No. 6, pp. 76-80.
4. Ibid., 1961, No. 5, p. 73.
5. And on Earth Peace, pp. 63-67.
6. Izvestia September 21, 1961.
7. La Croix (Paris), October 21, 1961.
8. Informations Catholiques Internationales (Paris), January 1, 1962.
9. Christ und Welt, October 19, 1962.
10. America (N.Y.), November 11, 1962, p. 1080.
11. R. B. Kaiser, Pope, Council and World, p. 100.
12. X. Rynne, Letters from Vatican City, p. 80.
13. La Civilta Cattolica, 1964, vol. IV, pp. 461-462.
14. M. M. Sheinman Sovremennyikleri kalizm, p. 80.
15. G. F. Svidercoschi. Storia del Concilio. pp. 601-607.