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Today the Ukrainian Catholic Church is Fiercely Persecuted

Claiming "no institution has suffered more than the Ukrainian Catholic Church" in the deliberate attack on religion by the Soviet government, the United States Department of State has recently issued an authoritative report entitled Soviet Repression of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The report, prepared by the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs of the State Department documents how the Soviet government forcibly attempted to liquidate the Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1946, and has continually repressed all attempts at the free exercise of their faith by the Ukrainian Catholics in western Ukraine, who are in union with Rome.


The Appeal of Archbishop Stephen Sulyk

Commenting on the special report, Archbishop Stephen Sulyk of the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia stated that "this tragic story of the persecuted faithful of the Ukrainian Catholic Church must be shared with the whole world. As Yosyf Terelya, a major figure in the underground Ukrainian Catholic Church, who was released recently from the notorious Camp 36, near Kuchino, known as 'death camp', after spending many years in Soviet labor camps, prisons, and psychiatric institutions stated, 'All information about the Ukrainian Catholic Church will be passed on for scrutiny by the world public. The Catholics of the world should know and be reminded in what conditions we exist.'"

In an effort to share this State Department report with as large an audience as possible, the Ukrainian Archdiocese of Philadelphia is disseminating it to all American Catholic Bishops, major news organizations, and appropriate officials of the United States government.

In his appeal to brother bishops in the United States, Archbishop Sulyk writes: "As members of the same Body of Christ, I trust that you will choose to help ease the struggles of our Ukrainian Catholic brethren in the modern catacombs by appealing to man's sense of brotherhood and justice" through all means available.

In expressing the fervent hope of Ukrainian Catholics worldwide, Archbishop Sulyk prays that the Soviet authorities will end this ruthless persecution of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the Soviet Union. "If the spirit of 'Glasnost' is genuine and authentic, then the Soviet government should be eager to terminate this violation of basic human rights."


The Official Report

During the nearly seven decades that have elapsed since the Bolsheviks seized power, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has sought to eliminate religion or, failing that, utilize it for the purposes of the state. In this deliberate attack on religion, no institution has suffered more than the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Claiming the devotion of millions in Western Ukraine, the Church — leaders and laity alike — has been systematically repressed by Soviet rule. Official Soviet historiography even goes as far as to claim that the church "liquidated itself" in 1946, that its followers "voluntarily joined" the Russian Orthodox Church.1

But the Ukrainian Catholic Church lives on, in the catacombs, as witness numerous samizdatdocuments and repeated discussions in Soviet publications of the need to repress it. This paper sets forth an account of that repression.

Church and State in the Soviet Union: 
1917-1946

Situated primarily in Western Ukraine, which the Soviets forcibly annexed from Poland in 1939, the Ukrainian Catholic Church traces its modern lineage to the 1596 Union of Brest, through which it affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church while preserving its Byzantine form of worship and spirituality. Thus, unlike the Russian Orthodox Church or the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that arose after the revolution in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian Catholic Church has looked to the West, recognizing the authority of the Pope from its inception.

Western Ukraine poses a particular problem for the Soviet regime, since according to Soviet sources, nearly half of the officially permitted religious congregations in the Soviet Union are located there.2 In addition, there are many unofficial groups which include Ukrainian Catholics. Furthermore, the Ukrainian Catholic Church has served as a focus for the of a distinct Ukrainian national and cultural identity in Western Ukraine. Not surprisingly, these characteristics have marked the Church in Soviet eyes.

Legislation Discriminates Against Religion

In its first years the Soviet regime attacked all religious institutions, accusing them of political opposition to the regime and collusion with its internal and external enemies. All religious groups suffered from discriminatory Soviet legislation, beginning with the Soviet Decree of February 5, 1918, on the Separation of Church from State and School from Church.

The new laws transferred all houses of worship to the state. Clergy and their families were stripped of their civil rights. Organized religious instruction of minors was made a criminal offense, and all theological schools were closed, as eventually were all monasteries and convents. The regime sponsored abusive anti-religious campaigns which were accompanied by the harassment of believers and their exclusion from all positions of importance.

During the 1920s, however, the regime shifted its tactics in the direction of "sovietization" of individual churches and sects. "Disloyal" religious leaders were replaced by others who were willing to accept a platform of loyalty to the Soviet state and were prepared to submit to far-reaching controls over the external and internal activities of their groups. By 1927 these conditions were accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in return for a limited and uncertain tolerance; but the price was the alienation of many Orthodox bishops, clergy, and believers who considered such a compromise with the atheist state to be incompatible with the integrity and spiritual mission of their church.

These early won concessions did not last long, however. By 1929 Stalin's regime had embarked on a violent, widespread anti-religious campaign. More and more churches and prayer houses of all faiths were closed down by the authorities, often on the basis of fabricated "demands of workers". Growing numbers of bishops and clergy were banished, imprisoned, or executed.

This situation worsened during the late 1930s, culminating by the end of the decade in the near total suppression of institutional religion throughout the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities destroyed what remained of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church during this period, killing most of its bishops and many thousands of its followers.3 They also drew up plans for the liquidation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church; these became reality with the Soviet acquisition in 1939 of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia, which had large congregations of Catholics.

With Soviet occupation, there immediately followed the abolition or state takeover of longstanding Church institutions — including schools, seminaries, monasteries, and publishing houses — and the confiscation of all Church properties and lands. Finally, as the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet secret police rounded up a large number of Ukrainian Catholic priests who were either murdered or deported to the east.

Following the Nazi attack on the USSR, Stalin altered substantially his tactics toward religious communities. Fearing for the very survival of the Soviet regime, he reduced anti-religious propaganda and offered significant concessions to the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as other denominations, in the hope of harnessing all the potential of the Soviet Union in its struggle against Nazi Germany.

But with the Soviet reoccupation of Ukraine in 1944, repression of Ukrainian Catholics, already suffering under Nazi occupation, was resumed once again, culminating in the official "liquidation" of the Church in 1946.

Liquidation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, 1946

From the very beginning of the Soviet reoccupation of Western Ukraine, measures aimed at liquidating the Ukrainian Catholic Church were undertaken. In the winter of 1944-1945, Soviet authorities summoned Catholic clergy to "re-education" sessions conducted by the secret police, the NKVD.

On April 5, 1945, the Soviet media began an anti-Catholic campaign. Then on April 11, 1945, the NKVD began arresting the entire Ukrainian Catholic Hierarchy of Western Ukraine, including the secular and monastic clergy — a program that would last for the next five years.

Along with Metropolitan Yosyf Slipyj, the NKVD arrested Bishop Nykyta Budka, the Vicar General of the Metropolitan; Gregory Khomyshyn, the Bishop of Stanislav, and his Auxiliary Bishop, John Laityshevsky; Paul Goydych, the Bishop of Priashiv, and his Auxiliary Bishop, Basil Hopko; Bishop Nicholas Charnetsky, Apostolic Visitator of Volyn; Msgr. Peter Verhun, Apostolic Visitator for Ukrainian emigrants in Germany; and Josaphat Kotsylovsky, the Bishop of Peremyshl, and his Auxiliary Bishop, Gregory Lakota. (All but one of these either died in prison or died shortly thereafter, their health ruined by the abuse they had suffered; only Metropolitan Slipyj, through the efforts of Pope John XXIII, was finally released from prison in 1963 and allowed to leave for Rome.)

According to eyewitnesses, in Lvov alone there were about 800 priests imprisoned at that time; and in Chortkov about 150 priests from the district of Ternopol were deported to Siberia.4

Meanwhile, in late May, 1945, as these mass arrests of Catholic clergy were being carried out, Soviet authorities sponsored the so-called Initiating Committee for the Reunification of the Greek Catholic Church with the Russian Orthodox Church. This was a preparatory committee, which subsequently convened a pseudo-synod — the authorities proclaimed it a "Sobor" — in Lvov on March 8-10, 1946. In that "Sobor" an end was proclaimed to the 1596 Union of Brest, and the Ukrainian Catholic Church was declared "reunified" with the Russian Orthodox Church.

This entire exercise was planned and guided by Soviet authorities. Knowledge of the "Sobor" was withheld from the public; no advance election of delegates was held, and only 216 clerics and 19 laymen — allegedly representing the Ukrainian Catholic Church — brought about "reunification". Not surprisingly, the NKVD was entrusted with the task of coercing the remaining Catholic clergy to join the Russian Orthodox Church.

Reunification Not Acceptable

Both the Vatican and the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the West have refused to recognize this forced reunification, considering it to be uncanonical and illegal; according to Catholic and traditional Russian Orthodox Canon Law, to be valid, a synod must be called by the Pope or by a patriarch and must be attended by bishops. Yet Soviet authorities consider this "Sobor" and its decisions binding on all Ukrainian Catholics in the USSR to this day.5

The protests of almost 300 Ukrainian clerics and the 1946 and 1952 encyclicals of Pope Pius XII in defense of the Ukrainian Catholic Church have gone unheeded. Moreover, the same fate met the Catholic Church in Transcarpathia, a part of Czechoslovakia incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR, at the end of World War II, where the Mukachiv Eparchy was liquidated and subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1947. Its bishop, Theodor Romza, was killed.6

Father Gruner and the International Fatima Rosary Crusade Pilgrim Virgin Statue at the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Vancouver, B.C., at special services held to pray for the Faithful persecuted today behind the Iron Curtain.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church in the Catacombs

Forty years after the official abolition of their Church, Ukrainian Catholic communities continue to exist in the Soviet Union, as even Soviet sources attest. The most telling evidence of the survival of the Catholic Church is to be found in Soviet propaganda, which wages a vigorous campaign against the Church through books, pamphlets, periodicals, television programs, movies, lectures, and exhibits, all designed to falsify the historical record, defame Catholic leaders and clergy, and intimidate Church members.

To this day, the great Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, who led his Church for four and one-half decades (1900-1944), saving the lives of thousands of Jews during World War II, is maligned by Soviet officials.

At the outset, the priests of the Catacomb Church were those who did not rejoin Russian Orthodoxy during the 1945-1949 period but remained Catholics, giving up any public exercise of their clerical duties. After 1946, a significant portion of Catholic laymen continued to depend on the services of these "illegal" priests and monks, whose numbers increased after the mid-1940s with the return of what the Soviets called "recalcitrant" clergymen — those who had completed their sentences or had benefited from the post-Stalin amnesties.

The hope that de-Stalinization would lead to the restoration of the Ukrainian Catholic Church produced a marked intensification of covert Catholic activities. By the late 1950s, however, as more and more "converts" to the Church began to repudiate Orthodoxy, Communist authorities dispelled any hope for a change in official policy toward the Church by arresting even more priests and unleashing a new wave of anti-Catholic propaganda. Notwithstanding this widespread anti-religious campaign, the number of priests increased in Western Ukraine in the 1950s and thereafter, due in part to secret ordinations in exile. In addition, the existence of secret theological "seminaries" in Ternopol and Kolomyia was reported in the Soviet press in the 1960s in connection with the arrests of their organizers.

Today, the underground Catholic Church is said to embrace hundreds of priests, headed by a number of secret bishops working under the authority of their Primate in Rome. Religious women in orders working throughout Ukraine number more than 1,000. Many former Catholic and non-Orthodox priests have retained a spiritual allegiance to the Pope as well, while others have taken up civilian professions and continue to celebrate the sacraments in private.

A certain number of Ukrainian Catholic priests live in exile outside Western Ukraine or as free settlers in Siberia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, and Eastern Ukraine, often serving their faithful from afar. Members of religious communities and monastic orders have maintained close contact with each other, and most have remained faithful to their vows. In 1974, a clandestine Catholic convent was uncovered by police in Lvov.

(The above report was prepared by the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in January, 1987.)

Footnotes:
  1. See note 4.


  2. Voprosy nauchnogo ateizma, publication No. 24, Moscow, 1979, p. 46. Stanovleniya i rozvytok masovoho ateizmu v zakhidnykh oblastiakh Ukrainskoi RSR, (Kiev, 1981) p. 51.


  3. Soviet repression and liquidation of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church in Eastern Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s was a portent of its later repression and liquidation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Western Ukraine. Shortly after the revolution, a number of Ukrainian Orthodox bishops separated themselves from the Russian Patriarchal Church, creating in 1920 an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church. By 1924, the Church embraced 30 bishops, 1,500 priests and deacons, and 1,100 parishes in the Ukrainian SSR. From 1922, however, Soviet authorities began imposing restrictions on the Autocephalous Church, attempting to split it from within by supporting a splinter faction. In 1926 they arrested its Metropolitan, Basil Lypkivsky, along with a number of other leaders and ordered the dissolution of its central body, the All-Ukrainian Church Council. Then in 1929, massive repressive measures were taken against the bishops, clergy, and faithful, culminating in the dissolution of the Church in 1930. The remnant of the Church was allowed to reconstitute itself at the end of 1930 but was progressively decimated until the last parish was suppressed in 1936. According to Ukrainian Orthodox sources, two metropolitans of the Church, 26 archbishops and bishops, some 1,150 priests, 54 deacons, and approximately 20,000 lay members of the Church councils as well as an undetermined number of the faithful were all killed. See Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopedia, vol. 11, University of Toronto Press, pp. 170-171.


  4. Analecta O.S.B.M., First Victims of Communism White Book on the Religious Persecution in Ukraine (Rome 1953) pp. 42-44. This book was composed by Ukrainian Catholic priests resident in Rome; it was translated from Italian with Ecclesiastical approbation.


  5. See, for example, K. Kharchev, chairman of the Council of Religious Affairs attached to the USSR Council of Ministers, in an interview for the Warsaw weekly, Prawo i zycie,February 8, 1986, p. 13. The current stand of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the Lvov "Sobor" is presented in detail in "The Moscow Patriarchate and the Liquidation of the Eastern Rite Catholic Church in Ukraine", Religion in Communist Lands, vol. 13, No. 2, summer 1985, pp. 182-188. Compare the article of Metropolitan Nikodimus of Lvov and Ternopol, published in Visti z Ukrainy, No. 5, January, 1986, with the article inMoskovskyye novosti, No. 22, June, 1986, and the article of K. Dmytruk in Radianska Ukraina, May 31, 1986.


  6. Analecta, First Victims, pp. 30-59.

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