2.8 The Ostpolitik of Pope Pius XI (1922 - 1931)

WHY did Pope Pius XI not obey Heaven’s requests at the very moment he learned of them, during 1930-1931? It is not hard to discover why. Would not the accomplishment of a solemn act of reparation and consecration of Russia by the Pope and all the bishops presuppose a formal, doctrinal condemnation of Marxism-Leninism, and a firm, supremely independent policy on Bolshevik Russia?

Now, since 1917, following the western democracies, the Holy See had boldly set on a completely different course. It followed the policy of compromise and conciliation to an extent hardly imaginable. To understand later events, we must first retrace this little known history of the relations between the Vatican and Moscow. This policy of “opening to the East” was carried out resolutely for almost ten years, and was an integral part of the more general Vatican policy. It was surely the major obstacle to the fulfilment of the great design of mercy revealed at Tuy for the conversion of Russia and world peace.


«A formal condemnation of the Marxist heresy (Henri Daniel-Rops pertinently remarks) had seemed to be due since the triumph of Communism in holy Russia and the manifest danger to the world from its propaganda.» 1 Correct. It was Saint Pius X who, after the evil law of separation of Church and State in France, did not hesitate but strongly condemned the masonic and socialist revolutions in Mexico and Portugal. Had he survived, he unquestionably would have condemned for all time and without delay, the perverse and diabolical theoria and praxis of Marxism-Leninism. Unfortunately, the holy Pope’s successors decided to adopt a completely different policy.


Cardinal Gasparri
Cardinal Gasparri

After the First World War, there was frightful misery in all Central Europe. On several occasions, Pope Benedict XV appealed to the charity of the Catholic faithful to help these unfortunate peoples. On August 5, 1921, he launched a world appeal, this time specially in favour of Russia, where the atrocious famine we have described was then raging. In his letter Le Notizie to Cardinal Gasparri, he invited Christian and civilised peoples to send help to the starving populations right away.

To organise the relief mission of clothing and food, the Vatican began talks with Lenin’s government. For instead of having to rely on American or Genevan associations, Benedict XV wanted the Vatican Itself to handle the distribution of alms. At Benedict XV’s death, negotiations continued between Cardinal Gasparri – who remained Secretary of State until December 1929 – and Vorovski, the Soviet delegate. On March 12, 1919, during the cruel persecution of the Orthodox which endangered the life of Patriarch Tikhon, Cardinal Gasparri sent a telegram of protest directly to Lenin. 2 The “People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs”, Chicherin, responded by a long document which appeared in L’Osservatore Romano.

Although the charitable intention of these frequent contacts appeared praiseworthy in itself, it had the disturbing disadvantage of favouring the foreign policy of the Kremlin, whose principal objective during the immediate post-war years was to obtain de jure recognition by the great powers. All public contacts with the Holy See, of whatever nature, were a precious trump card in the Kremlin’s favour. The moral authority of the Sovereign Pontiff was necessarily engaged in all these diplomatic contacts. Would this not permit the Western democracies later on, without scruple or infamy, to commit the political crime of officially recognising Lenin’s government?

With consummate skill and cynicism, Chicherin, the Russian Foreign Minister, was able to milk these renewed relations with the Vatican for all they were worth. Alas, he was able to keep them going and make them the object of constant blackmail for almost ten years!


In effect, Pope Pius XI, who succeeded Benedict XV on February 6, 1922, followed the policy sketched by his predecessor, but systematically and even more boldly.


Since April of 1918, when he had been sent to Poland as Apostolic Visitor, before becoming in short order Nuncio to Warsaw, as well as being entrusted with relations with Soviet Russia, Archbishop Ratti had been involved in talks with Moscow. On April 19, 1919, the Catholic Archbishop of Mohilev, Msgr. Edouard de Ropp, had been incarcerated. «Only in November, due to negotiations between the apostolic nuncio and the foreign commissar Chicherin, was he released and exiled to Poland.» 3

THE RELIEF MISSION TO THE FAMINE VICTIMS. As soon as he was elected, Pope Pius XI decided to send a pontifical mission to Bolshevik Russia to relieve the famine victims:

«Immediately after his coronation, the Sovereign Pontiff called Father Edmond Walsh, S.J., a member of the American Relief Association, to study with him the best means of coming to the aid of the Russian people. Father Walsh opened negotiations with the American mission, and it was agreed that the pontifical mission would cooperate with it.» 4

Before that could happen, the necessary visas and authorisations had to be obtained from Moscow.


Genoa conference

Organised especially to limit the just demands of Poincaré’s France, the international conference of Genoa was called to end the diplomatic isolation of Germany and Russia, and to contribute to their economic recovery. This, claimed the Anglo-Americans supported by Judeo-Masonry and the international left, was the indispensable condition for peace. For the first time the Bolsheviks were admitted to the talks. Chicherin defended their interests there.

On April 7, three days before the conference opened, the Pope published a letter addressed to Msgr. Signori, Archbishop of Genoa, in which he expressed the immense hope to be placed in this «international peace conference». The victors were discreetly asked to make «some sacrifices on the altar of the common good». Especially, the Pope continued, «because international hatreds, a sad legacy of the war, turn to the disadvantage of the victorious peoples themselves and prepare a fearful future for us all; for it must not be forgotten that the best guarantee of tranquillity is not a forest of bayonets but mutual trust and friendship.» 5

Conference of Rapallo

On April 16, during the Germano-Russian accord of Rappalo, Germany officially recognised the Bolshevik government. This was an initial success which Chicherin tried to reinforce with others, throughout the conference.

The Vatican, for its part, hoped for a great deal from the Soviets. The fall of the Czar meant the end of the monopoly of Orthodoxy, which no longer enjoyed any exclusive privilege. If a concordat or at least a modus vivendi could be signed with Lenin, what a wonderful field of action for our Catholic missions! Such was the Pope’s thinking at the beginning of 1922. Full of optimism, as though more could be hoped for from Lenin than from Nicholas II! This was the era when the young Italian “Christian Democracy” of Don Sturzo, whom the Pope greatly esteemed although he had been a furious adversary of the policy of Saint Pius X, openly advocated coming to an understanding with Bolshevik Russia.

Towards Chicherin’s Russian delegation, the Vatican multiplied its advances: Msgr. Sincero, Msgr. Pizzardo, substitute for the Secretary of State, and Archbishop Signori all tried their hand at it. The latter even caused some scandal: on April 22, during an official dinner on the Italian warship Dante Alighieri, the stupefying scene was witnessed of Archbishop Signori exchanging smiles and pleasantries with the Soviet representative, who was sitting across from him at the table. The two exchanged autographed photographs.

On April 29, the Pope intervened once again in favour of the Genoa conference. He continued, optimistically, to express his hopes for the success of the conference, for the peace and progress of all nations, especially Russia, which he referred to in these terms:

«These unfortunate populations of Eastern Europe, already isolated by war, internal conflicts and religious persecution, are presently decimated by famine and disease, even though they possess such great natural resources in their territories and could be powerful elements of social restoration. Although these peoples have long been separated from Our communion by unfortunate past events, We hope that Our word of compassion and consolation, as well as those of Our late predecessor, may reach them, as well as the ardent desire of Our paternal heart to see them enjoying with Us the same benefits of “unity and peace” expressed by common participation in the sacred Mysteries.» 6

No mention is made of the cursed revolution, or of inhuman and Satanic Bolshevism.

Meanwhile, on May 14, the official envoy of the Vatican, Msgr. Pizzardo, brought the members of the Genoa conference a memorandum in which the Pope proposed to the nations official recognition of the Bolshevik government on the sole condition that it promise to grant in Russia «respect for consciences, freedom of worship, and safeguard the goods of the Church» for all religious confessions, whatever they might be. 7

Msgr. Pizzardo was also entrusted by the Pope with negotiations with the Soviets on three important points:

  1. He asked that liberty be granted to the Patriarch Tikhon, who had just been interned at the monastery of Donskoi.
  2. He requested that passports be obtained for the eleven envoys of the pontifical relief mission for the famine victims.
  3. Finally, the Pope disclosed that he was disposed to ransom from the government of Lenin the icons and sacred vessels whose confiscation was called for by the recent decree of February 26, 1922.

On May 17, Chicherin acknowledged receipt of Msgr. Pizzardo’s letter, indicating that the propositions would be passed on to Moscow. On June 7, Cardinal Gasparri made the same request, sending a telegram addressed directly to Lenin. 8

Out of these three requests, Moscow responded only to the second one, concerning the relief mission for the famine victims. Once more a formal condition had been laid down, which the Vatican accepted: all manifestation of Christian faith and all apostolates were forbidden to the religious of the relief mission. They could celebrate Mass only behind closed doors. It was not even permitted to distribute with the food some images of the Most Holy Virgin, as Father Walsh desired.

Meanwhile, the persecution continued more horribly than ever, since during the year 1922 alone more than 800 Catholic and Orthodox priests, brothers and nuns were shot in Russia. 9

THE REACTION OF THE ÉMIGRÉS. The Vatican policy stirred up the strongest emotions among those Russians who had emigrated to the West. Their “National Committee” residing in Paris published an “Open Letter to the Pope”. The Russian refugees wrote:

«The newspapers are forecasting the conclusion of a concordat between the Holy See and the Bolsheviks. It matters little whether the news is true or not, for the form of the agreement with the Bolsheviks can change nothing in our relations with them. It is the very fact of the existence of these relations which afflicts us.» 10

The response from highly placed Vatican officials was that the Vatican wished only to aid the famine victims, and save innocent victims from their executioners... Nevertheless, the declarations of the press were well founded. The Vatican did indeed hope to obtain a modus vivendi from the Soviets.

THE DEPARTURE OF THE RELIEF MISSION. On July 10, 1922, the Pope published the apostolic letter Annus fere, ordering a general collection in favour of the starving Russian people. No reference was made there to the communist regime and the atrocious persecutions. There was question only of «the extreme misery of the Russian people, who were decimated by disease and famine, victims of the greatest calamity in history», and «the immensity of the scourge to be warded off.» 11

Father Edmund Walsh
Father Edmund Walsh

On July 24, the eleven envoys of the Holy See left Rome, after having attended the Pope’s Mass in his private chapel, and after receiving his blessing. Arriving in Russia at the end of September, Father Walsh and his collaborators began their difficult mission, harassed continually by the local authorities. With admirable patience and dedication, they were nevertheless able to multiply their relief centres, which in August, 1924 were daily feeding 158,000 of these unfortunates. It was a magnificent work in its own sphere, but Father Walsh realised very quickly that it was in vain, and in the final analysis mostly profited the Bolshevik government.

There, on the spot, «Father Walsh... came to see that a longer sojourn of the Papal Mission offered little or no hope of strengthening the tenuous hold of the Catholic Church in Russia, but he also realised that there were advantages to be gained by a delayed departure. He was well aware of the fact that the ultimate purpose of the Soviet Government in asking the Mission to stay on and continue its work, was to obtain from the Vatican de facto recognition of its existence, something he had determined never to encourage or to countenance. Moscow knew this and never missed an opportunity to make things awkward for him.» 12



Father d’Herbigny had become the specialist for Russian affairs within the Society of Jesus. His biographer writes: «It was a fatal mistake that he became an advisor and informant of the Pope». Thus from the very first weeks of the new Pontificate, Father d’Herbigny became «one of the advisors and collaborators of Pius XI.» 13

In September, 1922, an initial project of a visit to Moscow by Father d’Herbigny was approved by the Pope. A rather curious project, it has to be admitted: Some socialists had obtained permission to be present at the trial of some Russian socialist leaders, and «as the trial of the Orthodox Patriarch Tikhon was announced, why couldn’t an ecclesiastical witness be present at the trial, Pius XI wondered.» 14

At the same time, the radical socialist Edouard Herriot, who made himself at the time the apostle of Russian Bolshevism and actively worked for French recognition of the regime, was invited to Moscow by Chicherin, who arranged the trip. 15 And in fact on his return in November 1922, Herriot published La Russie nouvelle, a long, three hundred page plea, where, after a series of wildly enthusiastic praises of the regime, the conclusion was automatic: it was urgent that «the Russian republic be reconciled with the French republic». 16

Well, who would have believed it? It was agreed that Father d’Herbigny would accompany Herriot on his visit to Moscow. Father Renaud acted as go-between, and the accord was concluded. Herriot consented and a rendezvous was set. The religious service of the Quai d’Orsay wrote a memorandum drawn up for the intentions of the Soviet services: «For a vote in parliament on recognition of the Soviets, it is important to gain the votes of the right; the Soviets therefore ought to grant what the Jesuit d’Herbigny asks for.» 17

THE D’HERBIGNY-CHICHERIN INTERVIEW. In the end, the project of a voyage with Herriot did not come to pass, and Father d’Herbigny left for Berlin on September 22, accompanied by a fellow Jesuit, Father Cadet. The visas of the two Jesuits were to be granted by the Russian embassy at Berlin, through the mediation of the French embassy. «One day, the Soviet embassy informed Father d’Herbigny that Chicherin “wanted to see” this “enterprising Jesuit”.» After long conversations and interminable questions from the embassy personnel, d’Herbigny, who had come alone, spoke with the Soviet minister. But he himself tells us nothing about this astonishing interview.

The passports were to be granted at Riga. After arriving on October 8, Father d’Herbigny went to the Russian delegation: «“Are you going to Moscow for the Patriarch’s trial?” “Yes.” “And for no other reason?” “No.” “Then your journey is useless because the supreme presidium has just decided that this patriarch will not be tried.”» 18

The mission was terminated. Father d’Herbigny liked to think of it as a complete success, because, as he wrote later on, it had «spared the Patriarch all the consequences in which this trial would have resulted. Above all, it spared the government and in a sense, the people of Russia, from the responsibility, the infamous crime.» 19 This was going to a great deal of trouble to save Lenin from committing an infamous crime, at the very moment when he was cynically organising the massacre of Ukrainians on a grand scale. In this whole affair Rome treated the bloody, Satanic butchers from Moscow with respect and deference. 20

THE PONTIFICAL ORIENTAL INSTITUTE. Meanwhile Father d’Herbigny received a telegram: the Holy Father was appointing him president of the Pontifical Oriental Institute at Rome to replace Dom Schuster, the Benedictine Abbot of St.-Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls, the future Cardinal who later became the friend of Pope Pius XII. Very farsighted and firmly anti-communist, he was the first later on to publish the secret of Fatima. What a shame that he was removed from all responsibility concerning Russian affairs from the beginning of the pontificate! 21

On December 11, 1922, and once more in his inaugural encyclical, Ubi arcano Dei, on December 25, the Pope insisted on the importance of the pontifical work in favour of Russia: his intervention at the Genoa conference and the sending of the pontifical relief mission for the famine victims. 22


The Soviet Tyranny and Russia’s Misfortune. Such was the title of a book that Father d’Herbigny published in February of 1923. The president of the Pontifical Oriental Institute was not satisfied with describing at length, and in moving terms, the misery of the Russian people. His work also indicated the broad lines of a policy with regard to the Soviets, a policy undoubtedly adopted by Pope Pius XI himself, who had full confidence in his advisor.

Granted, Father d’Herbigny first of all condemns in vigorous terms the bloody tyranny of the men in power, of Lenin, «this cold and implacable calculator», who deliberately caused terror to reign as an essential phase of revolutionary tactics. He also describes the frightful misfortune of the oppressed people: massacres, persecutions, famines.

THE CAUSES OF THE EVIL. Having thus evoked the facts, d’Herbigny comes to pose the decisive question: «How can such a violent state last?» His response serves as the title of a chapter: «Three causes: dictatorships, secret societies, spiritism.» «The Russian people have almost always been governed by a dictatorship.» Then he repeats the old myth that has pacified the conscience of the West since 1917: the Bolshevik tyrants are only continuing in the footsteps of the Czars. The Czars were also responsible for the development of the secret societies. Then he begins bringing up haphazardly mediums, spiritists, turning tables, occultists and finally Rasputin. At length he comes to the Bolsheviks, whose seizure of power is thus easily understood.

On the ravages effected by idealistic, revolutionary German philosophy, on the tenacious hatred of Judeo-Masonry for a traditional, paternalistic and Christian monarchical power, our Jesuit is completely silent.

THE INEVITABLE FAILURE OF THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION. In any case, our author insists, without indicating what period of time he is talking about – 1918 or 1922? – the Russian people are absolutely powerless to shake off the new yoke of the tyrants in the Kremlin. It is a fact: the White insurrection did fail. Was it because they were shamefully abandoned by the West? No. Our author explains four reasons for this defeat, of a completely different order:

«Must this defeat be attributed to the bad choice of leaders or their incompetence? The lack of discipline or cruelty of their troops? The lack of precision of a program that did not guarantee land to the peasants? The popular fear of reprisals after a Czarist restoration?

«All these reasons have been given by different Russian émigrés, according to their different antipathies. There is some validity to all of them, especially the last two.

«However, General Kornilov, Admiral Kolchak, Generals Denikin and Wrangel do not seem inferior to the leaders who fought them. In pillaging and the execution of revenge, the White troops did not always equal, or at least visibly surpass the Red troops...» 23

Anyone who reads Solzhenitsyn can easily judge the validity of the reasons given above. They all demonstrate a curious bias in favour of the Reds, whose victory, we are told, seemed preferable to the Russian people rather than the Whites. Such reasoning ignores the force and extent of the spontaneous Counter-Revolution that followed immediately after the October Revolution. Solzhenitsyn writes:

«In Russia, all the forces which had been fighting each other up to that point – the supporters of the existing state, including the Cadets and socialists of the right – made a common front against communism. Without joining each other’s ranks or acting together, the people manifested their opposition at every level by thousands of peasants’ uprisings and dozens of workers’ riots. To constitute the Red Army it was necessary to shoot tens of thousands of resisters.

«But this national resistance to communism was not supported by the Western powers. Fantastic fables were rampant throughout the West, and “progressive” public opinion warmly greeted the beginning of the communist regime, in spite of the Cambodian-style massacre perpetrated in all thirty provinces of Russia in 1921... The Western powers bent over backwards to prop up the economy of the Soviet regime, which without this aid could not have survived. While six million people died of hunger in Ukraine and Kuban, Europe danced.

«... The fatal errors of the West in its attitude towards communism began in 1918, when the Western governments were not able to see the mortal danger it represented for them.» 24

Not only did they not perceive the danger, but blinded by their laicising and revolutionary ideology, they rejoiced heartily over the fall of the Czar. As Emmanuel Malinski observes:

«The Allied press was unanimous. Not a single voice was raised in defence of him who had been our faithful ally right up until death. According to Princess Paley, Lloyd George cried out loud: “One of England’s war aims has been attained.” The Allies enthusiastically applauded this new state of affairs.

«In 1793, France had against it, if not the peoples, at least the governments of all of Europe, while Russia in 1917 had the democracies of the entire world to assist it, second it, and help it to go on to victory, wrote M. Vandervelde in 1919. The latter was one of those who had been sent by the Allies to Russia, to bring the revolution the salvation of the western democracies.

«They were ecstatic over this “bloodless” revolution.» 25

Alas, it was not long before blood began to flow. And the error, or rather the criminal complicity of the West, is responsible in the highest degree for this horrible genocide. What, then, should have been done?

«It was necessary to nip in the bud this Bolshevik revolution, the shame of humanity, hatched by Jewish capitalism and transported into Russia by the German high command. The West hastened to recognise it, assist it, and help it in every way to triumph over Russia which had risen up against it.» 26

AT THE SOURCES OF THE VATICAN OSTPOLITIK. Instead of denouncing this collusion of liberal and plutocratic democracy with the popular Bolshevik democracy – both were united in fidelity to the ideology and myths of 1789 or 1793, which are one and the same – the Holy See more or less consciously calculated its attitude towards the Soviets after the attitude of the democracies. Since the death of Saint Pius X it wished to be reconciled with the democracies at any price.

Hence, the Vatican expert strives to absolve the democracies from all responsibility in the frightful Russian tragedy. To realise that, we need only read the long, clumsy plea found in Chapter Six: «Would a foreign intervention succeed?» Using sophisticated arguments, the author reaches the desired conclusion: «Thus it was great wisdom not to have sent in French and English arms to overthrow Bolshevism.» 27 The West is absolved of its criminal complicity which was, alas, undeniable. And the conclusion necessarily follows...

THE ESTABLISHED POWER MUST BE ACCEPTED. This in fact is the principle which guided Vatican diplomacy at the time, as it guided the diplomacy of all the great powers. Lenin is the de facto power who must be dealt with. Besides, the Vatican “expert” tells us, Lenin represents the lesser evil for Russia:

«As long as Lenin’s government, in the midst of a population exhausted by famine and misery, can feed its Red soldiers, as long as it appears to them the only one capable of saving them in the midst of universal disaster, its authority – however feeble – will remain the only power among other forces which are growing increasingly impotent.

«A widespread famine would perhaps bring about its ruin. But if it disappeared, what would follow? Would it not be radical anarchy? Party rivalries and individual hatred between men would be given free expression. Is not the small group of declared monarchists bitterly divided already over vitally important problems, and already over the choice of a claimant to the throne? Five or six candidates have their supporters, and others will rise up.» 28

ONE SOLE OBJECTIVE: TO OBTAIN RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. Now that all hope, all desire for a political solution which would finally deliver Russia from Bolshevism is resolutely excluded, what remains for the resistance? «Bolshevism has not given way, and will not give way except before one type of resistance: if moral forces are raised up against it.» These moral forces are Christianity, the moral forces of the Church, the only solid rampart facing Bolshevism. How are they to be exercised? By «the moral force of its example and its charity.» 29 Charity, understanding, and open-mindedness on the Church’s part are capable of gradually softening the cruelty of the Kremlin tyrants. Besides, the situation must necessarily evolve:

«The powerlessness of anti-Bolshevik efforts is due to historical, geographic and social causes. The latter will surely evolve and are already being modified. But until this evolution, which must be psychological, moral, and religious besides being economic, the Soviets will retain their power.» 30

Therefore, our Vatican “expert” continues, only one thing matters: to obtain freedom of action in Russia. If Lenin grants it, the envoys of the Holy See will be able to perform wonderful apostolic work over there. Let us therefore accept the Bolshevik regime. If in return it grants us religious liberty, gradually we will reconquer all of Russia for the Church through this toehold. «The individual return (of Russia) to the integral unity of the universal Church will not be accomplished by politics, but by virtue and supernatural means.» 31

WONDERFUL PROJECTS FOR THE APOSTOLATE. Russia then is to be converted, without any fear of Lenin, and even counting on the benevolent protection of Mr. Chicherin, his foreign minister. Are we in full-scale utopia? Yet this is the conclusion of the whole work:

«This work, which is impossible to men, will be accomplished by the Holy Spirit when praying souls ask it of Him.

«Let us ask God to raise up souls with heroic charity and devotion in the entire country, to save the bodies and souls of this immense land of Russia, which stretches from Europe to Siberia. Nurses, hospital personnel, teachers, contemplatives, all people of good will, all communities can find a place. Rarely has an opportunity for a more beautiful collaboration in the work of Christ been offered to the world. Will protestants of every denomination eclipse our zeal?

«The Holy See can find a way to employ all individual and collective aptitudes. They must agree to accept direction, and their sacrifices will quickly become fruitful on Russian soil. The Christian spirit, which survives in the pious and touching faith found among the masses, would rapidly raise up helpers there and vocations of every sort.

«Let us sow, therefore, in the souls of Russians. The harvests of the future will spring up from these seeds. After the famine – a famine of bread and of truth as well – Russia, which once furnished wheat to Europe, will become fruitful once more. In the spiritual order as well.» 32

While the Vatican expert was lulling the West to sleep with his chimerical projects, over in Russia the persecution was growing more cruel.


During January of 1923, the Holy See learned of a demand of certain communist circles: «They demanded that a high-placed member of the Catholic hierarchy be put to death next Holy Thursday.» 33 On March 2, 1923, Msgr. Cieplak, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Mohilev, his vicar general Msgr. Budkiewicz, thirteen other priests and a lay person were arrested. They were transferred to Moscow, and in derision led across the city in an uncovered truck. From March 21-25, they appeared before the revolutionary tribunal. The two prelates were sentenced to death. The others were given prison sentences of three to ten years.

The Vatican was informed. The Kremlin promised their release if official diplomatic relations were established between the Vatican and Moscow. Thus Chicherin’s objective was always the same: if the Vatican recognised de jure Lenin’s government, all of Europe would soon follow its example. Nevertheless, Rome could not accept the offer since no great power, with the exception of Germany, had dared to do so. Moscow executed the sentence.

Msgr. Budkiewicz
Msgr. Budkiewicz

On Holy Thursday of 1923, Msgr. Budkiewicz was martyred with frightful cruelty. Brutally pushed across a dark corridor, he fell and broke his leg. Father Walsh, superior of the relief mission for the hungry, waited not far away all through Holy Thursday: the authorities had been cynical enough to promise that he would be told in advance about the torture hour, so that he might assist his confrere.

Stripped of his clothes and no longer able to walk, the martyr was dragged by the ears all the way to the detachment of guards. One of his ears had been severed. In the gaping hole, he was given a revolver shot. Father Walsh, who was constantly requesting over the phone if he could finally come, heard the shot ring out among shouts, drunken singing and bursts of laughter. So that no relics would remain, the martyr’s body was burned and his ashes dispersed.

And «this was the signal for a series of attacks against the hierarchy, clergy and laity, many of whom were sent to the icy prisons of Solowki on the Black Sea, where a concentration camp was specially assigned for Christians; others died in prison, some of them reduced to madness by the torments they had endured.» 34

FATHER WALSH ACCUSED OF INTRANSIGENCE. The American relief mission for the famine victims had left the USSR. Only the Holy See’s mission remained, and the Bolshevik government requested its continuation. Father Walsh, who was still in Russia, was against it. But at Rome the Soviet representative, Jordanski, continued to multiply his promises, accusing Father Walsh of creating obstacles to a good understanding: he was too brusque and understood neither the new regime nor the Slavic spirit. Jordanski asked for his replacement. Rome remonstrated with the courageous missionary: the authorities «wondered if it might not be preferable, in view of the results hoped for, if the Father moderated his style of dealing with the Russian authorities.» 35


During an allocution to the Consistory of Cardinals, the Pope made known his decision. After mentioning the admirable work of the pontifical mission, «to honour them», Pius XI cited the names of the «illustrious prelates and other members of the clergy» who had recently been arrested, one of whom had been «cruelly put to death».

The Pope continued, revealing the nature of the talks which had taken place between Rome and Moscow during the trial:

«At first these facts took place without our knowledge, and then we were neither consulted nor even given a hearing when we asked that these ecclesiastics depending on our sacred authority be sent before our tribunal, with the evidence establishing their eventual guilt; and at the same time we made a solemn commitment to judge their case in all justice.»

Had Rome taken the word of the Red persecutors, as though they were the most honest, most legitimate of political authorities, and agreed to make these confessors of the faith stand trial simply on the denunciation of Moscow? It is inconceivable. A little further on, the Pope pronounced this other stupefying sentence, a real insult to the courageous and holy martyrs: « Whatever might be the significance and foundation of the other accusations against Msgr. Cieplak and his companions in suffering...», Pius XI continued, the sorrow that we endure in thinking about their lot «is mitigated in a wonderful manner». «This balm» is the thought that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.

As for the mission of aid to the famine victims, it was to continue:

«All these events, whatever they might be, will not stop us (must it be added?) in the works of mercy and charity which have already been undertaken... in view of relieving such frightful miseries. We will persevere as long as there is a need for help and as long as we have resources to distribute... Thus shall we demonstrate the pains we are taking to remain at peace with everybody.» While maintaining the rights of God and the Church, of course, the Pope declared that he was «disposed to the extent they are permitted, to make all concessions necessary to obtain a more favourable regime for the Church everywhere, and to restore harmony to the minds of men at the same time.» 36

Thus the negotiations continued «for the appointment of an apostolic delegate at Moscow, who turned out to be the Jesuit Father, Giulio Roj, a member of the pontifical relief commission.» 37 All to the greatest possible satisfaction of Chicherin, who was triumphant on all points.

On November 12, 1923, in the encyclical Ecclesiam Dei, commemorating the third centenary of the death of Saint Josaphat, 38 the Pope took up the same themes once more. The persecutions in Russia were always mentioned with the same discretion, without ever including the least condemnation of the ideology of Marxism-Leninism: «In addition, here and there (sic), Christians and even priests and bishops were tracked down to be imprisoned and even massacred. A very sweet consolation renders these evils less painful for us... 39», etc.


Father Walsh, who had been called on to justify his attitudes, responded at length to the Secretariat of State. He wrote:

«It is not strange that they find my insistence on justice and the rights of religion irksome. I beg to point out to the Holy See that such a result is practically inevitable. It is not necessarily the person who becomes thus non grata but the facts, the injustice and savagery which are in themselves a continual reproach... I regret to be obliged to communicate to Your Eminence 40 information of a disturbing nature.»

Under constant surveillance by the police, paralyzed in his charitable action by the administration’s double-dealing, Father Walsh was disgusted by the cynicism of the Soviets, who sought only to obtain the maximum of food and other materials, which they kept for their own profit. In his memorandum to Cardinal Gasparri he wrote:

«Those of us who know the executions, imprisonments, exiling, confiscations and other savage manifestations of class hatred and revenge that have been going on in Russia, know and beg to inform you that our work is impossible under such conditions. If, consequently, I cannot obtain a definite written agreement of a tolerable nature, I see no alternative but immediate and dignified withdrawal of the Relief Mission.» 41

The Vatican was slow to understand, and it was only at the end of September 1924 that the pontifical mission left Bolshevik Russia.

In a long allocution to the Consistory on December 18, 1924, the Pope briefly mentioned the event. After having congratulated the members of the mission, for the first time Pius XI pronounced a warning against communism:

«Let nobody, however, be mistaken about the nature of the relief which We have organised in favour of the Russian people, and think that in some way We have favoured a method of government: on the contrary, We are far from approving of it; and after having devoted Our energies, for so long and with such care, to relieving the terrible and innumerable misfortunes of this people, We believe it Our duty, by virtue of the universal paternity which God Himself has conferred upon Us, to speak to all peoples and in the first place to heads of governments, with a warning and an insistent exhortation in the name of the Lord: may all those who are solicitous for the holiness of the family and human dignity, join forces to preserve themselves and their fellow citizens from the very grave and very real menace of socialism and communism, without however neglecting the obligation incumbent upon them to occupy themselves in improving the condition of workers, and all the lower classes in general.» 42

That was all. This protest, which was addressed to the Cardinals and which was not destined to have great repercussions, was in no sense a firm and solemn doctrinal condemnation. 43 That was still another thirteen years in coming.

During this same year, 1924, Chicherin had enjoyed dazzling diplomatic successes, to which the conciliatory attitude of the Vatican had surely contributed: England, Italy, Norway, Austria, Greece, Sweden, China, Denmark, Mexico, and France on October 28, all recognised de jure the triumvirate government of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev.

Would the Vatican finally understand that its conciliatory policy towards the Bolsheviks had resulted in a crushing failure, that it was not only illusory and vain, but disastrous for the Church and Christendom? Alas, no! For Moscow cleverly made new advances, to which the Vatican hastened to respond.



In June of 1925, the Pope had created a new pontifical commission Pro Russia, attached to the Sacred Congregation of Rites and Oriental Affairs. It was entrusted to Father d’Herbigny, whose influence with the Pope increased. The Pope continued to give him long and frequent audiences.

At the beginning of October, 1925, there was to take place at Moscow «a Red, antipatriarchal orthodox council». Actually it was a solemn meeting of «the living Soviet and revolutionary Church», founded by Bishop Antonin in 1922, in opposition to the Patriarch Tikhon. It was, of course, the docile instrument of the Bolshevik regime, without any serious support from the population. 44 Now it so happened that Moscow desired a representative of the French clergy to be present at this “Red Council”. This curious invitation – sent by whom if not Chicherin himself? – arrived on the desk of Msgr. Chaptal, the auxiliary Bishop of Paris, who was then enamoured of ecumenism. He immediately passed it on to his friend Father d’Herbigny, then visiting Paris, who was enthusiastic about the idea.

Father d’Herbigny immediately informed the Pope that he desired to be present at the meeting. A telegram from Cardinai Gasparri informed him that the Holy Father supported the project. On September 24, after returning to Rome, d’Herbigny was received in audience by the Pope, who requested him «to do everything possible to get to Moscow on time to be present at this council.» 45

D’Herbigny returned to Paris and presented himself at the Soviet embassy. A visa was granted for sixteen days in Moscow. Mr. Aussem, Consul-General of the USSR at Paris, declared to him:

«Just as we had the new economic policy (the NEP), we now practise a new religious policy. We have observed that the majority of the Russian people are closely attached to religious ideas; we have decided to cease the direct struggle against these tendencies provided they do not serve as a cover for political agitation...» 46

How could the Vatican expert give the slightest credence to such a gross lie? That remains an enigma for us. It was precisely in the year 1925 that Stalin founded “The Association of Militant Atheists’’. 47

Objectively considered, it seems as though Chicherin had decided to use the hapless Father d’Herbigny once again. An NKVD agent could not have done better work for Moscow’s interests. What were these interests at the time? It is certain that all diplomatic relations which delayed or prevented a solemn condemnation of communism by the Pope singularly favoured the revolutionary activities of the Kremlin everywhere in the world, and facilitated its foreign policy. If the encyclical Divini Redemptoris had appeared fifteen years earlier, it would have been ten times more effective than when it appeared in 1937.

Moreover, from 1925 to 1927, as we will see, all exchanges between Moscow and Rome went through the French government. The name of the game was clear. By obtaining from Stalin advantages which the Pope judged to be of decisive importance for his projects for the apostolate in Russia, the French government, and more precisely the Quai d’Orsay, acquired valuable rights to obtain from Rome their part of the bargain: the condemnation of Action Française, whose increasing influence was threatening the socialist and Masonic republic, especially since its combat against laicism and the anti-religious laws of the left-wing Cartel had caused the elite of the clergy to rally to it, along with the majority of the Cardinals and Archbishops of France.

Thus the Quai d’Orsay applied itself to procuring the greatest possible success for the missions of Father d’Herbigny in Russia. 48

«At the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially at the section for worship directed by Mr. Canet, Father d’Herbigny had been promised that the French Ambassador, Mr. Herbette, would be informed, and it would be recommended that he give the Jesuit maximum assistance, but it was not possible to predict the personal reactions of this ambassador, whose political opinions (and especially his wife’s) were fairly left-wing. He tended to be anticlerical and hardly favourable to the Jesuits. In fact, the relations between the ambassador, his wife, and Father d’Herbigny were very cordial.» 49

Father d’Herbigny arrived at Moscow on October 4. Here is his own description of the proceedings:

«When I present myself to the location of the council before an audience of about six hundred people, I am given a welcome; they have me step up on the platform. The presiding Metropolitan greets this ecclesiastic who has come from Paris. I thank him and since they have invited me to speak, I manage to get the floor without difficulty, but only at the end of the session, after hearing the scheduled orators... 50

«At the embassy (of France in Moscow) where they have been advised by the Quai d’Orsay, they are increasingly deferential. I am invited there several times, notably with Mrs. Herriot, arriving from China and Japan... Since I thanked her for Mr. Herriot’s having agreed to introduce me to Moscow for the trial of Patriarch Tikhon, she insisted on inviting me: “You must come and see Edouard; he will be very happy to meet you this time, which he was not able to do before.”» 51

After a brief stay in Paris, Father d’Herbigny went to Rome where he described his trip to Pope Pius XI. «His Holiness wished to have as many details as possible. Nothing seemed useless or superfluous to him.» Father d’Herbigny had had a very favourable impression of the “Red Council’’. He had heard there numerous sincere testimonies and even «a famous contradictory conference between the atheistic Minister of Education and the Metropolitan Wedenski, whose incisive eloquence obtained a real triumph.» All these things, which tended to demonstrate a real religious liberty in the USSR, were reported to the Pope and published in the Études of December 20, 1925, contributing to improving the USSR’s image in the eyes of the intelligentsia.

The operation had succeeded. For everybody. For Moscow, for Paris, and for Rome, which was lulled to sleep by its sweet illusions. Father d’Herbigny convinced the Holy Father of the absolute necessity of consecrating two or three bishops who could reorganise religious life in Russia.


«On February 11, the anniversary of his election as Sovereign Pontiff, no doubt following Father d’Herbigny’s notes, Pius XI had a divine inspiration: Reverend Father d’Herbigny must be consecrated bishop so that he might be sent once more to the USSR to consecrate others.» 52 Father d’Herbigny, who had been informed the night before, was granted another audience, and got the Pope to accept the plan he had elaborated:

«Most Holy Father, it is at Paris that I must ask for this second visa, like the first one, without involving Rome in any way... I must get the approval of the French government by telling it that I am charged with bringing Father Neveu in Moscow the order to be consecrated bishop.» 53

The Pope regretted not being able to perform the consecration himself, but it was agreed that it would be done secretly, during the voyage itself, by Archbishop Pacelli, the nuncio at Berlin.

Msgr. d’Herbigny

Everything went very quickly, so quickly that by April 1, Bishop d’Herbigny was at Moscow. It must be said that «the French government agreed to facilitate everything. The large trunk containing all the instruments necessary for four or five episcopal consecrations would be sent by diplomatic bag to the French embassy at Moscow.»

«The French Ministry for Foreign Affairs had been informed by the French ambassador at the Vatican... The Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time, Aristede Briand, was in agreement in giving his approval, and he took into his confidence the secretary general of the minister, Mr. Berthelot, as well as the functionary in charge of religious affairs, Mr. Canet...» 54

After an initial refusal, the French government showed signs of extraordinary dedication to d’Herbigny’s cause: after a protest by the ambassador at Moscow, Briand, «becoming feisty, telegraphed the message that he would refuse all visas requested by Russians». Three days later the passport was granted.

If we may be permitted to pose a question here – since Chicherin had an excellent rapport with the very anticlerical French ambassador to Moscow, Mr. Herbette, might the first refusal by the Russians and the courageous intervention of Mr. Briand have been stage managed, simply to show the Pope how ready the French Republic was to fight generously for his interests?

«On Saturday, March 27, 1926, the eve of Palm Sunday, towards eight o’clock in the evening, a republican guard in full uniform brought Father d’Herbigny the passport requested.» 55

The nuncio at Berlin, Archbishop Pacelli, had received orders and he conferred the episcopate on the Pope’s envoy to Russia in the presence of his secretary, Msgr. Cento. Pacelli however had little confidence in d’Herbigny, and he was surprised at the important duties the Pope had entrusted to him. 56

The secrecy of this episcopal consecration was a farce since there were people who knew about it, beginning with the ambassador to Moscow and his wife, who had both been entrusted with the secret. If by chance Chicherin had not yet been informed, that would not last long.

On April 21, 1926, at Moscow, in the church of St.-Louis-des-Français, Bishop d’Herbigny was able to confer episcopal consecration on Father Neveu, a French Assumptionist.

A few days later, Bishop d’Herbigny asked for a visa which would enable him to travel all over the USSR. The same routine ensued as with his entry into Russia. At first the Soviet municipal officials pretended to refuse it. Then they declared to him: «You have an insupportable ambassador. He comes almost every day to request a travel visa for you... we do not want him to complain at Paris.» The visa was then granted, along with permission to prolong his stay in Russia.

So then, Bishop d’Herbigny was able to travel to Kiev and Leningrad. On May 8, he conferred the episcopate on Father Frison and Father Sloskans, again at St.-Louis-des-Français. Alas! We shall see the sad outcome which the Soviets reserved for these worthy, heroic and saintly priests. They were to have precious little time to exercise their episcopal ministry because, as might have been foreseen, the police had been informed of their consecration.

«Bishop d’Herbigny’s final days at Moscow were spent in visits, making contact with the leaders of various religious groups: Jewish, Protestant and Orthodox.» 57 What imprudent behaviour for a so-called clandestine missionary! To what purpose were these Moscow visits, first steps of an ecumenism which was dubious and in the end useless?

By May 23, 1926, Bishop d’Herbigny was on his way back to Rome. On the 25th, «he was received in audience by Pius XI for over two hours. At that moment they began considering a third trip to the USSR...» 58

To thank the French ambassador at Moscow, Pius XI sent him a pontifical gold medal. 59


The Pope wanted Bishop d’Herbigny to make a third trip, as early as possible, but this time informing the Moscow authorities that he was a bishop. «The Ministry of Foreign Affairs desired to be of assistance to the Pope in helping to arrange this third trip.» «The French Minister of Public Works had made important orders for raw materials from the USSR, and therefore he had a right to a favour from the ambassador, Litvinoff.» The latter gave a cordial reception to Bishop d’Herbigny, granting him among other things this good conduct certificate:

«You say enough bad things against us to show that you are neither one of our agents nor one of our supporters (sic). But you say nothing but true things, without inventing or distorting. Do the same after this third visit.» 60

At Moscow, Mr. Herbette immediately informed Chicherin of Bishop d’Herbigny’s arrival. Far from being clandestine, a more official visit could hardly be imagined. But the relations between the Stalin government and Rome were good. They were even excellent, so excellent that Bishop d’Herbigny’s principal mission was, unbelievably, to found a seminary in the USSR.

Bishop d’Herbigny arrived at Moscow on August 4, 1926. His biographer tells us:

«During the first few days he brought up the subject of opening a Catholic seminary in the USSR. The council of the people’s commissars was informed of this project but had made no decision yet... He was told: “To open a Catholic seminary is not impossible provided the professors are not Polish or from any country which has not recognised the USSR.”» Two or three French Jesuits would be accepted. «They would be able to add some Russian professors as well.» 61

The people’s commissary promised to back the request. Three days later there was yet another solemn promise: the visas for three Jesuits would be granted. But Moscow wanted nothing more to do with Father Walsh or any other member of the relief commission for the famine victims. Still, was it not a stunning success for the Vatican envoy?!

Bishop d’Herbigny wished to perform a third episcopal consecration, that of Father Malecki at Leningrad. At length he describes all the stratagems used to perform this consecration secretly. The Soviets, however, found out about it immediately. At Moscow, the president of the Oriental Institute bought some books and recovered some icons, which were brought to Rome through the French embassy’s diplomatic bag. This was «a new proof of the support of Mr. Herbette», who also multiplied his public marks of attention: «more numerous invitations to his table, with other hosts, trips in the embassy’s vehicle, sometimes with the ambassador or with another member of the embassy, sometimes alone, but always with the chauffeur wearing the tricolour.»

Bishop d’Herbigny returned through Berlin, where Archbishop Pacelli had received the mission of establishing, if not a concordat, at least a modus vivendi with Stalin’s representatives. 62

At Moscow, Bishop d’Herbigny had been able to inform the Pope of his stunning successes through the French embassy. Pius XI had given the order to publish the news immediately, and an article appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, which included a description of the Pontifical Mass celebrated in Moscow by Bishop d’Herbigny. The Superior General of the Jesuits was extremely annoyed: had it not been agreed that Bishop d’Herbigny’s episcopal consecration would remain secret?


Bishop d’Herbigny arrived at Paris in mid-September. His first visit was to the nuncio, who informed him in the name of the Pope that it behoved him to go and thank the official personages who had helped make his trip possible: «Mr. Berthelot, secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asked him to report his general impressions of the USSR. Two days later the same Mr. Berthelot received him again and told him that Mr. Briand, who was then president of the Council, desired to see him.» Fifteen days earlier, on August 25, Cardinal Andrieu had made known his condemnation of Action Française. But it was necessary now that the Pope support him with all his authority.

The Briand-d’Herbigny interview took place in the third week of September:


«“Thank you for having assisted and made possible these three trips, and everything I was able to do for the Church.” “And trips from which France benefited as well”, Briand responded amiably. Then Briand listened (to d’Herbigny) almost without interrupting. He listened with discretion, without posing questions. He let me direct the conversation as I wished. He was very attentive, intelligently attentive. Two or three times he wrote something down on a note-pad... “It was a great joy for me”, he repeated at three different times, “to do something agreeable for the Pope. I have a great deal of admiration for him and I wish that France could render other services to the Church and have better relations with it, and be understood by the other side.” Naturally these words were spoken to be repeated to Pius XI.

«The audience, which had been very lively throughout, came to a close. “Mr. President”, I told him, “now that these external things have been said, permit me to add in all simplicity what I regard as my duty: to pray for you, in Russia and in the future also.” He grasped both my hands: “Your Grace, how I thank you for saying that. Nobody, not even the missionary bishops I receive, dares to speak to me this way. Yet I need prayers so much.”

«It is said with conviction, with emotion. A few more words on this theme, and we separate, brought closer by the common Godward thought.» 63

The French president was a former anarchist, socialist and freemason. He had been the artisan of the law of separation of Church and State, without ever having abjured any of this past. He was certainly showing signs of surprising devotion today!

Nevertheless, when these words were enthusiastically reported to the Pope, they were enough to confirm him in his idea that Mr. Briand was a sincere friend of the papacy, and a zealous apostle of international peace. His political enemies, on the other hand – who accused him of betraying France to the Germans through his blind pacifism – were enemies of the public good and the Church.

It is not the place here to recall the terrible blame and harsh canonical sanctions that struck the members of Action Française from September of 1926 to March of 1927. Thus it happened that, to repeat an expression of Cardinal Pacelli, « well-known and sometimes very meritorious Christians were treated with a rigour not applied to infidels.» 64



THE DIPLOMATIC RUPTURE OF 1927. Since 1922, Moscow had held continuous talks with Vatican representatives, holding out the hope of a modus vivendi which would finally grant religious liberty to Catholics in Russia. Suddenly, at the end of 1927, Moscow began taking a hard line.

«But it soon became clear that the more the Vatican conceded, the more Moscow demanded. After interminable discussions... the crisis came to a head, when the Soviets suddenly announced that there could be no question of a concordat; they intended henceforth to deal with all Catholic problems, Church property, religious education, priests’ stipends, etc, by unilateral legislation. The Vatican would not even be consulted.» 65

Bishop Neveu

THE SEMINARY IN THE USSR? A FALSE PROMISE! Of course, the will-o-the-wisp of a seminary in Russia came to naught. «Two Jesuits tried to open this seminary at Odessa, but they were sent to Moscow... After a one month stay in the USSR they had to leave, since their-permission to stay had been withdrawn.» 66 It is easy to understand the increasing distrust of the Superior General of the Jesuits, Father Ledochowsky, for the man responsible for the fiasco.

THE BISHOPS PUT UNDER SURVEILLANCE, IMPRISONED, KILLED. The consecration of three new bishops – with the full knowledge of the Soviet authorities – hardly made any more sense. The least tragic fate fell to Bishop Neveu. In September of 1926, he took up residence in Moscow and served the church of St.-Louis-des-Français. Near the embassy, he continued to correspond with Bishop d’Herbigny and the Pope by diplomatic bag. But all episcopal ministry was practically impossible for him. In 1936, he was able to travel to France. His return visa was refused by the Soviets. 67

Bishop Sloskans
Bishop Sloskans

As for Bishop Sloskans, he was able to exercise his ministry for only one year. Arrested on September 17, 1927, he underwent a terrible Calvary for six years. Transferred from the sinister Lubianka prison to various forced labour camps in Siberia, where at each new stop he found twenty or thirty Catholic priests imprisoned like himself – he was returned to the cellars of Lubianka at Moscow. He was exchanged for a Bolshevik prisoner in Latvia, and finally released on January 21, 1933, but of course expelled from the USSR.

Bishop Frison

Bishop Frison was arrested, released, and put under continual surveillance by the police He was incarcerated again in 1935 and shot in 1937.

Bishop Malecki, along with the auxiliary bishop which he in turn had consecrated at the request of Bishop d’Herbigny, were both quickly imprisoned, deported to Siberia, and then expelled from the USSR in 1933 and 1934.

All things considered, the consecrations of the new bishops during the missions, which were not really clandestine, unfortunately brought but little fruit for the preservation of Christian life in Russia. Once again, Rome had allowed itself to be duped by the false promises of Moscow.


In 1927, Bishop d’Herbigny did a great deal of travelling: Serbia, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, the Holy Land and Mount Athos. For all these voyages he drew up a detailed report for Pope Pius XI on his return.

A GREAT HOPE: THE “SEMINARIUM RUSSICUM”. It was undoubtedly around the end of 1927 that Pius XI accepted the idea of founding a seminary destined to form priests for Russia. Since the project of establishing it at Odessa had failed, why not set it up in Rome itself, like the English and German Colleges? It was to be entrusted to the Jesuits. And so Bishop d’Herbigny, president of the Pontifical Oriental Institute and secretary of the pontifical commission “Pro Russia”, with which the seminary was intimately related, would practically be in control of this great work.

On February 11, 1928, the cornerstone of the seminary was blessed by Cardinal Sincero, president of the commission “Pro Russia”.

AN ENCYCLICAL TO REVIVE EASTERN CHRISTIAN STUDIES. On September 8, 1928, the Pope published the encyclical Rerum orientalium. The encyclical contained a long historical part describing the solicitude of the Popes for the Eastern Churches. It then recommended the Pontifical Oriental Institute to bishops and superiors of religious orders, insistently inviting them to send their subjects there. The Pope saw the development of Eastern Christian studies in the West as the principal means of effecting the return of schismatics to Roman unity.

It was a beautiful enterprise which could have been effective within its own sphere if, at the same time, Rome had acted energetically and wisely to liberate these poor peoples of the East from the communist yoke.

Msgr. d’Herbigny

At about the same time, Bishop d’Herbigny was encountering increasing opposition both inside the Society of Jesus and from various members of the Curia. The Pope continued to have complete confidence in him and went out of his way to show it. Thus he installed the commission “Pro Russia”, in which Bishop d’Herbigny had been the workhorse, «at the Vatican, beside the Secretariat of State, which caused a great deal of murmuring», writes Father Lesourd. 68

THE CANONICAL ERECTION OF THE RUSSICUM. On August 15, 1929, by the apostolic constitution Quam curam de Orientalibus, the Pope canonically erected the new “Seminarium Russicum”. From this seminary, reserved in the first place for Russian subjects, but also open to subjects of other nationalities, «will come forth new apostles, imbued with the Roman mentality, to return to their fellow citizens.»

The Russian College was placed under the patronage of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, and was next to the Oriental Institute, which the Pope had just installed on the Esquiline hill. It was to work together with the Oriental Institute, being directed by members of the commission “Pro Russia”. 69

There was only one fly in the ointment. How were these erudite priests, once they were prepared for the apostolate in Russia, actually going to begin exercising their ministry? Hadn’t a law of April 8, 1929 just instigated a renewal of the persecutions?

In the beginning of his Apostolic Constitution the Pope brought up this sad question:

«Before all and most especially Our pastoral solicitude reaches this noble Russian people, which has been cast into an abyss of innumerable evils, after an upheaval which has been raging furiously in this country already for quite some time. Satanic snares have been laid there especially for youths and adolescents, so that being perverted by the most impious doctrines, they might become accustomed to pursuing the most implacable hatred against men and, horrible as it is to say, God Himself. No hope has appeared that this sad situation will be ameliorated soon.

«Nevertheless, our faith teaches Us to hope against all hope, because nothing shall be impossible with God. The duties of the Sovereign Pontificate compel Us to occupy Ourselves, as far as possible, with the preparation of everything which might contribute, according to the designs of Providence, to the new spiritual resurrection in Russia when the time of divine mercy shall have arrived.» 70

This time of Divine Mercy had arrived two months earlier at Tuy, where the Holy Trinity had manifested its great design in favour of Russia. But would the Pope deign to accept the conditions?


Meanwhile, nothing but alarming news was coming out of Russia: arrests of bishops and priests, and persecutions of all sorts. 71 In May of 1929, Georges Goyau had published his moving work, “God Among the Soviets’’, revealing to the West the atrocious persecutions in the USSR. Bishop d’Herbigny himself published two small pamphlets: “The Anti-religious Front in Soviet Russia” (April-November 1929), and at the beginning of 1930, “The Anti-religious War in Soviet Russia. The Christmas Campaign” (December 1929 - January 1930). 72


At the very moment when events in Russia demonstrated the futility of all compromise with the Reds, the Vatican once again opted for a policy of compromise with the Revolution and persecutors of religion. This time it was at the instigation of the governments of Washington and Paris. The subject was Mexico.

The war of the Cristeros began in 1926. These soldiers of Christ the King were Vendean Mexicans, who following the call of their bishop and with the tacit consent of Rome, had risen up against a revolutionary government, which had decided to annihilate all traces of the Catholic religion in the country. 73

After three years of heroic fighting for the salvation of religion, during which thousands of martyrs had shed their blood, “the Christiade”, like Franco’s “Crusade” in Spain later on, was on the verge of a definitive victory, which would have finally liberated the country from Masonic and antichristian oppression.


During this time Aristide Briand has requested his chargé d’affaires in Mexico, Ernest Lagarde, to write up a long report on the politico-religious situation in Mexico. The report, of course, was favourable to the government and hostile to the Cristeros. It had a decisive influence, since the French embassy at the Holy See passed it on to the Secretariat of State. Jean Meyer reports that «the U.S. State Department had a copy as well, and both Rome and Washington determined their Mexican policy according to the contents of this analysis.» 74

The Masonic government did in fact feel threatened during the spring of 1929. It began talks with the Vatican, which capitulated across the board, content with a vague promise that the laws of persecution, without being abrogated, would no longer be enforced. The bishops had to order the victorious Cristeros to lay down their arms to their former persecutors. The latter did not even wait a few months to avenge themselves by innumerable assassinations and the renewal of the persecutions. 75


In this context, the Pope published his letter to Cardinal Pompili on February 2, 1930. We have already quoted from the essential part of this letter. 76 It was the first time since the beginning of his pontificate that the Pope had condemned the Bolshevik persecution so strongly.

It must however be pointed out that this anticommunist action on the Pope’s part was still very limited. The Pope had not written an encyclical, as he would soon do against fascism, but a simple letter of a few pages to Cardinal Pompili. It had no great repercussions. 77

Once again the Pope protested against the atrocious persecutions and against the anti-religious policy of the Bolsheviks. Still, he did not pronounce a firm condemnation of the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism. He did not condemn communism as such, or under all its aspects.

Why was this restriction employed? Possibly because a universal and solemn condemnation would have appeared to contradict and nullify, after the fact, all the Vatican’s attempts at conciliation and talks with the representatives of this «intrinsically perverse» communism, as well as the talks going on at the same time with the Mexican government.

Besides, the Vatican unfortunately was too attached to the Western democracies, which were constant accomplices of Bolshevism. This was obvious at the Mass of March 19, 1930, at St. Peter’s in Rome, a «Mass of expiation, propitiation and reparation», at which fifty thousand people attended. However, diplomats accredited to the Holy See by nations which had already recognised the Soviet government were not present, although they had been invited. 78

THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT THE “FILIOQUE”. In short, after this Mass of March 19, 1930, everything continued as before. One incident in particular made the rounds at Rome. It caused quite a stir in ecclesiastical circles.

«The liturgical chants of the Mass had to be done by the Basilians, and their seminarians at the Russian College, and by the Russicum. From the beginning of the preparations, a problem came up: in the chant of the Credo, would the Filioque be sung, as the Ruthenian bishops had long since introduced into their liturgy?» Or would it not be sung, since it is not obligatory for the Russians!

«So two opposing tendencies appeared, and became obvious in the choir practices. Cardinal Sincero, Secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and president of the commission “Pro Russia”, had adopted the Ruthenian position, and ordered the Filioque to be chanted.»

Bishop d’Herbigny was of the contrary opinion, so as not to hurt Russian susceptibilities.

«It was requested that the matter be referred to the Pope, who unhesitatingly adopted the Russian position, deciding on the omission of the Filioque in his presence...» 79

The day of the ceremony, in the sacristy, Cardinal Sincero publicly demonstrated his dissatisfaction with Bishop d’Herbigny, because he attributed the Pope’s decision to his influence.

BISHOP D’HERBIGNY, PRESIDENT OF THE COMMISSION “PRO RUSSIA”. After this fiasco, Pius XI received Bishop d’Herbigny in audience, and after telling him of his joy at the ceremony and «the importance of the Credo sung without the Filioque», he informed him of the sanction taken against Cardinal Sincero, who was dismissed from his presidency of the commission “Pro Russia”. 80

On April 6, 1930, the Pope manifested his decision by a Motu Proprio:

«We separate the Commission for Russia from the Congregation to which it had been connected until now, and We declare and constitute it entirely independent of all other authority except Our own; We name as president Our venerable brother Michel d’Herbigny, titular bishop of Ilion, to whom We confirm all the rights and powers which the president of the Commission enjoyed until now, and which we confirm for him as long as is necessary.» 81

When the Pope learned of the request for the consecration of Russia a few months later, if he conferred with anyone, it was undoubtedly Bishop d’Herbigny. And the year 1930 went by, along with the first few months of 1931, without anything being done to fulfil Heaven’s requests. This explains Our Lord’s complaint of August, 1931: «They did not want to heed My request...» 82


On the odious betrayal of the Cristeros by the Vatican, one may consult the final chapters of Hugues Keraly’s work, Les Cristeros (chapters IX and X, pp. 171-207). 83

On the Ostpolitik of Pius XI, there is Father Wenger’s work, Entre Rome et Moscou. 1900-195084 as well as Hansjakob Stehle’s book, Die Ostpolitik des Vatikans, 1917-1975, (chapters I to IV, pp. 11-149). 85

Some useful additional information, which on the whole confirms our analysis, is found in the study by Étienne Fouilloux, Les Catholiques et l’unité chrétienne du XIXe au XXe siècle86 Thus Étienne Fouilloux reveals to us that although Archbishop Pacelli was directly involved in these talks with representatives of the Kremlin, he personally was hostile to this policy, and on this subject it was already written in 1922: « During a recent interview», wrote the French minister in Bavaria at the Quai d’Orsay, « Archbishop Pacelli told me that, in his strictly personal opinion, he regretted the policy followed by the Holy See vis-à-vis the Soviet Russians. He believed that they were real criminals who were unworthy of the slightest appearance of trust.» (Note of May 14, 1922, cited by Fouilloux, p. 119).


(1) History of the Church, A Fight for God, (1870-1939), Doubleday, 1966, p. 324.

(2) Cf. Father Ulysses Floridi, S.J., Moscow and the Vatican, Ardis, p. 16.

(3) Floridi, op. cit., p. 16.

(4) André Saint-Denis, Pie XI contre les idoles, Bolchévisme, racisme, étatisme, p. 34. Plon, 1939.

(5) Actes de S.S. Pie XI, Vol. I, p. 36, Bonne Presse.

(6) Public letter to Cardinal Gasparri, Actes de S.S. Pie XI, Vol. I, p. 45-46.

(7) Letter to Cardinal Pompili, February 2, 1930, Actes. Vol. VI, p. 148. Cf. also Floridi, p. 18....

(8) Cf. Floridi, p. 16-17; Saint-Denis, p. 29-31; d’Herbigny, La Tyrannie soviétique et le malheur russe, p. 239-241 (Spes, 1923).

(9) Heller and Nekrich, p. 114, cf. supra, p. 450-452.

(10) D’Herbigny, p. 249.

(11) Actes de S.S. Pie XI, Vol. I, p. 73-76.

(12) Floridi, p. 19.

(13) Paul Lesourd, Entre Rome et Moscou, le Jésuite clandestin, Mgr. d’Herbigny, p. 42, Lethielleux, 1976.

(14) Ibid., p. 43.

(15) «Our voyage was facilitated (É. Herriot relates)... by Mr. Chicherin who was quite willing to give the orders necessary to avoid all problems and put at our disposal a young attaché of his commissariat, Mr. Schestakovski...»

(16) P. 5 and 297. Éd. Ferenczi, Paris, 1922.

(17) Lesourd, p. 44.

(18) Ibid., p. 47.

(19) Ibid.

(20) The following year, the Soviets were to obtain far more than a death sentence: the Patriarch Tikhon made a public declaration of total submission to the Bolshevik regime. Thus he was granted semi-liberty and continued to benefit from the personal aid of the Holy Father until his death on April 7, 1925. (Cf. Saint-Denis, p. 31.)

(21) Cf. the letter Decessor Noster, combining the Oriental Institute with the Biblical Institute and confiding it to the Jesuits. (Actes de S.S. Pie XI, Vol. I, p. 107.)

(22) Ibid., Vol. I, p. 132 and 138.

(23) La Tyrannie soviétique, p. 35.

(24) L’erreur de l’Occident, p. 11-12; cf. p. 36-37.

(25) La Guerre occulte, p. 204 (in collaboration with Leon de Poncins), Beauchesne, 1936.

(26) Abbé G. de Nantes, “Russia before and after 1983”, CRC 184, p. 22.

(27) P. 41 and 50.

(28) D’Herbigny, p. 52.

(29) Ibid., p. 56.

(30) Ibid., p. 24.

(31) P. 228.

(32) D’Herbigny, p. 232-233.

(33) The most complete account of this persecution of 1923 is given by Georges Goyau, Dieu chez les Soviets, Chap. V, (The tragic Holy Thursday of a Catholic Bishop), p. 61-71. Flammarion, 1929.

(34) D. Rops, A Fight for God, p. 326.

(35) Floridi, p. 20.

(36) Actes de S.S. Pie XI, Vol. I, p. 225-228.

(37) Floridi, p. 17.

(38) Father d’Herbigny’s biographer assures us that he wrote it, Lesourd, p. 51.

(39) Actes, Vol. I, p. 291-307. Cf. also the discourse in the Consistory, always in the same sense, December 20, 1923, p. 309-310.

(40) Cardinal Gasparri, Secretary of State, was in favour of maximum concessions towards the Soviets.

(41) Floridi, p. 19-21.

(42) Actes, Vol. II, p. 164-165.

(43) Moreover, H. Stehle reveals to us that three weeks later Pius XI gave the Nuncio, Pacelli, new instructions for his contacts with the Soviet Embassy at Berlin!

(44) As d’Herbigny himself explained in 1923 (La Tyrannie soviétique, p. 162-167).

(45) For the account of this voyage we follow Father Lesourd, p. 53-61.

(46) Ibid., p. 54, quoting Father d’Herbigny.

(47) Cf. supra, p. 455.

(48) It must be noted that it was precisely the same men - Aristide Briand, who after April, 1925, was practically a fixture as Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Protestant, Berthelot, his secretary-general, and the modernist and left-wing Christian Canet, as fierce an adversary of Maurras as of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Pius X - who on the one hand organised Bishop d’Herbigny’s journeys to Russia, and on the other hand obtained from Rome at the same time, the condemnation of Action Française. Cf. Nicolas Fontaine (alias Canet), Saint Siège, Action Française et Catholiques integraux, ed. Gambien, Paris, 1928; Lucien Thomas, l’Action Française devant l’Église de Pie X à Pie XII, p 106 sq., N.E.L., Paris, 1965. Cf. also the communication of M. Satou to the Charles Maurras colloquium in 1976, and CRC 108 p 9.

(49) Lesourd, p. 54.

(50) Ibid., p. 58.

(51) P. Lesourd, p. 59.

(52) Ibid., p. 62.

(53) P. 63.

(54) Lesourd, p. 64-66.

(55) Ibid., p. 69.

(56) Cf. p. 116.

(57) Ibid., p. 94.

(58) Ibid., p. 95.

(59) Ibid., p. 95.

(60) P. 104.

(61) Ibid., p.105.

(62) Cf. Floridi, p. 21. These attempts were pursued from 1925 to 1927.

(63) Lesourd, p. 124-125.

(64) Private admission to several Cardinals before the conclave of 1939, reported in Cardinal Verdier’s private notes. Cf. Papin, Le dernier étage du Vatican, témoignage de Pie XI à Paul VI, p. 29, Albatros, 1977.

(65) Floridi, p. 21.

(66) Lesourd, p. 106.

(67) Ibid., p. 87, 96.

(68) p. 144.

(69) Actes de S.S. Pie XI, Vol. VI, p. 7-13.

(70) Actes, Vol. VI, p. 8.

(71) Cf. Saint-Denis, p. 37-38.

(72) 64 pages and 72 pages, éd. Spes.

(73) Cf. the apostolic letter Paterna sane sollicitudo of February 2, 1926 where the Pope protested against «the iniquity of the condition imposed on the Church in Mexico», also the encyclical Iniquis Afflictisque of November 18, 1926, where Pius XI, approving the firm attitude adopted by the bishops, practically encouraged the uprising as the only solution, faced with an intolerable tyranny of a base minority persecuting religion, in a country with a unanimously Catholic population. (Actes de S.S. Pie XI. Vol. III, p. 131 and 260.)

Also must reading is the solid historical study by Jean Meyer, which was the first to break the conspiracy of silence maintained on this subject since 1926: Apocalypse et Révolution au Mexique, La Guerre des Cristeros, 1926-1929, éd. Archives Gallimand-Julliard, 1974.

(74) P. 27.

(75) Cf. Jean Meyer, p. 161-224. Read also the encyclical Acerba animi of September 29, 1932, Acts, Vol. VIII, p. 94-113.

(76) Cf. supra, p. 538-540.

(77) Thus L’Ami du Clergé contented itself with devoting six lines to it in its edition of April 17, 1930, p, 242.

(78) Floridi, p. 15.

(79) Lesourd, p. 146-147.

(80) Ibid.

(81) Actes de S.S. Pie XI, Vol. VI, p. 157.

(82) On the sad end of Pius XI’s Ostpolitik, cf. infra., p. 617-619.

(83) Dominique Martin Morin, March 1986, 214 pages.

(84) Desclée and Brouwer, 1987, 650 pages.

(85) The German version appeared in 1975. It was translated into English and appeared in 1981, under the title: Eastern Politics of the Vatican 1917-1979, 466 pages, Ohio University Press. We refer to this edition.

(86) P. 116-124 and 382-392, Le Centurion, July 1982, 1008 pages.