January 30th 2016

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COVER STORY Dyson report only partial answer to union problems

CANBERRA OBSERVED No urgency but Turnbull will want to make his mark

NATIONAL AFFAIRS SA pays price of solar and wind generation

FRENCH POLITICS AND ISLAM Kepel scathing of French elites, Salafists and far-right Islamophobes

ENVIRONMENT New bushfire tragedies: when will we ever learn?

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Betrayal: Curia no friend to Russian Catholics

HISTORY OF TAIWAN From pivot of Dutch trade to Japanese outpost

LIFE ISSUES Victoria enacts law based on lies told to Parliament

LIFE ISSUES Euthanasia: a false start to end-of-life issues

ETHICS Book traces foundations of true civilisation

RELIGION AND SOCIETY A welcome in truth for the same-sex attracted

CINEMA The beauty beyond fear: The Good Dinosaur

BOOK REVIEW Secularism mars insights

BOOK REVIEW A novel for the remnant


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Betrayal: Curia no friend to Russian Catholics

by Lawrence Cross

News Weekly, January 30, 2016

The tiny Russian Catholic Church, which suffered the savagery of communism for over seven decades, has, at least in operational terms, fared little better since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But this time, the cause was not communist apparatchiks. It was the Vatican’s Curia.

Bishop Joseph Werth SJ,

of Novosibirsk.

The Vatican, which had fought hard to bring down Soviet communism, then did little to protect its true Russian Church, as defined by its own Canon Law. Instead, the Latin Church, which has no jurisdiction over Russian Catholics, and is in fact a foreign Church in Russia, has been given jurisdiction.

The small Russian Catholic Church that managed to survive the horrors of communist persecution may end up not surviving the actions and decisions of its own Church headquarters.

Under communism

What happened to the Russian Catholics under Soviet rule? At first, there seemed to be some grounds for optimism. In May 1917, Metropolitan Andrew Szeptysky, newly released from prison, convened the first Russian Catholic Synod, at which seven priests were present. Metropolitan Andrew appointed Leonid Feodorov (1879–1935) as the first Exarch (non-territorial head of a Church). Rome subsequently recognised this new Exarchate in 1921.

There were also some disturbing counter-plays. After the February 1917 Revolution the Latin Rite clergy took “revenge” on Russian Orthodoxy, beginning a campaign of agitation. The Orthodox were viewed as a product of the schism between the West and East.

Fr Feodorov and his followers condemned this Latin proselytism and prohibited their clergy from trying to have Orthodox laymen convert to Catholicism. In response, the Polish Latin Rite clergy described Feodorov and Abrikosov as “fanatics of the Oriental Rite” in their reports to the Roman Curia.

These squabbles were mere ripples, however, compared with the tidal wave of terror that was to come. By the time the Bolsheviks had fully established themselves in power by 1923, all forms of Christianity were attacked. As Orthodox Patriarch Tikhon commented, the Bolsheviks were a “demonic herd”. They set upon any form of religion. All Christians suffered.

After 1917 Fr Feodorov and the Russian Catholics could celebrate the Divine Liturgy publicly, but not for long. As the communist regime found its confidence, restriction and persecution began. Eventually, in 1923 the authorities imprisoned Fr Leonid. He was incarcerated in the Solovetski prison camp, a virtual hellhole for the torture and murder of clergy, both Orthodox and Catholic. Somehow Fr Leonid survived and was sent into internal exile in a village near the Urals where he died of his treatment in 1933. In 2001, Pope John Paul II beatified him.

Feodorov’s fate was typical. Driven underground, the Russian Catholic Church was virtually annihilated in the communist persecutions. Much of its leadership was condemned either to prison camps or death. The second Exarch, Blessed Klement Szeptysky, died in a Stalinist prison camp in 1953 and there has been no Exarch since. In the Annuario Pontificie (the year book and directory of the Catholic Church) the Russian Exarchate is still listed, but with no leader.

The Russian Orthodox Church in the same period suffered a persecution that eclipsed that of the Roman Empire for its brutality and scope. The Church was also infiltrated by communist operatives and many a church hierarch cooperated with the KGB. While this is most regrettable, it must be seen against the horrendous ordeal to which the Russian Orthodox Church was subjected.

When Stalin needed its patriotic support, after his friend Adolf Hitler turned on Russia, persecution was relaxed a little and churches opened, but only 500 priests could be found in the whole of Russia. There had been fifty thousand in 1917. Only four bishops could be found in the whole of Russia, and one of those was the Patriarch of Moscow. The ferocity of the communists should not be forgotten or underestimated.

After 1917 Russians fled their homeland or were expelled from it to form a Russian diaspora, at first largely in Europe, and after 1945, in other parts of the globe. In the first years of the communist regime, Patriarch Tikhon urged bishops who had left the country to regroup and form churches in Western Europe. At a synod held at Karlovsy in Serbia, the Russian Church Abroad was formed, but other Russians created a Russian Orthodox Church in France under the leadership of Bishop Evlogii.

This Russian Church in France produced some of the leading scholars and theologians of the Orthodox Church in the 20th century, men such as Fathers Sergius Bulgakov, Alexander Schmemman and John Meyendorf.

The Karlovsky-derived Church established a famous seminary in America at Jordanville, New York State. This Russian Church Abroad and its seminary were much more at odds with their new environment than were their Russian French counterparts. Fiercely anti-communist, they denounced the Moscow Patriarchate as Satan’s Church and refused all contact with her. Deeply conservative in their theology, and nostalgically monarchist in their ethos, this Church was decidedly against ecumenism in all its forms.

There is, however, another Russian Orthodox Church, known to itself as the Autonomous Russian Orthodox Church. This Church did not leave the country after the Revolution, but went underground. Patriarch Tikhon had appointed Metropolitan Peter Krutitsi as his locum tenens while he himself was in prison. Metropolitan Peter consecrated several bishops to continue this line of authority before he was imprisoned for 10 years at the end of which he was martyred by being shot. This Church is still semi-underground in Russia today.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Orthodox Church in Russia has been able to bring people back from that diaspora to reinvigorate itself, at least in some part, and it has enjoyed state support.

No such restoration was possible for the Russian Catholic Church. Indeed, there is a suspicion that Rome’s policy is that the Russian Catholics be eliminated: sacrificial lambs to the cause of ecumenical progress with the Moscow Patriarchate. Certainly, there has been no effort to protect it.

During the communist years, instead of putting the Russian mission into the care of the exiled Russian Catholic leaders – which would have made perfect sense – the Curia put it under the direction of the Congregation of Eastern Churches in Rome. And those leaders of the Russian Catholic Church who had managed to escape to the West, particularly Father Abrikasov, were ignored, marginalised and slandered in Rome.

The Russian Catholic mission then became a project of the Jesuits under the leadership of Michel d’Herbigny SJ. During this period, the strategy seemed to be to get into Russia while the Orthodox Church was weak. It was understandably deeply resented by the Russian Orthodox Church, which was itself suffering terribly.

Father d’Herbigny, who later set himself up as the leader of the Russian mission, worked to undermine the Russian Catholic priests who had sought asylum in Rome. He tried to have the Russian Exarchate abolished and Feodorov dismissed. He opened the door to foreigners’ heavy participation in the missionary work in Russia.

Disgracefully, Father d’Herbigny undermined the exiled Russian Catholic clergy, particularly Father Abrikasov, by starting the rumour that he was a foreign spy. Not that the results of such a policy of aggression had any effect. Almost all the priests sent into Russia were apprehended by the communists; it was a heroically misguided failure, completely at odds with the aims of the real Russian Catholics, who since 1917 has been canonically sui generis, a separate canonical entity, a real Church.

Post communism

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Not long after, the Soviet Union was dissolved. But there was to be no revivification for the Russian Catholic Church. The Russian Orthodox, remembering the activities of the Jesuits and other Latin missionaries, regarded Russian Catholics with extreme suspicion. Although this was unfair – Feodorov had insisted on respect for the Orthodox clergy and laity – it was neither surprising nor is it to be condemned. The Latin behaviour towards the East had been highly questionable, and the Russian Catholics were found guilty by association.

Meanwhile, plots were afoot in Rome against the Russian Catholics. It is not going too far to say that they were betrayed by the Apostolic Nuncio to Russia, Archbishop Mennini, and that Cardinal Walter Kasper, who was president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, was implicated too. The strategy seemed to be that the Russian Catholics were to be sacrificed to further the cause of unity with the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate and that a deal had been struck to that end.

When the five remaining Russian Catholic priests active in Russia met in Sargatskoe, near Omsk, in 2004–05 and, following the direction of Canon Law, convened a synod of the Russian Catholic Church, they elected one of the priests, Father Sergei Golovanov, pro-tempore Exarch. Evidence can be produced to show that Canon Law was entirely on their side. Yet Rome and the Roman Catholic authorities in Russia treated this canonically legitimate synod as if it had never happened.

A strategy was devised to neutralise what that synod signified. All Byzantine Christians in the Russian Federation were placed under the jurisdiction of one Roman Catholic Bishop, Joseph Werth SJ, of Novosibirsk, well known for his lack of fondness for Eastern Christians.

All attempts to dialogue with him were met with silence. Worse, he is on record as saying that those Russian Catholic priests should go back to the Orthodox Church. This is a grave and serious canonical offence for which he should have been disciplined. In effect, he was suggesting that the Russian Catholics should enter into schism. Once again, a very strange notion of unity was coming from Rome.

Consider how Canon Law functions. Russians who wish to become Catholics in Russia rightly should join the Russian Catholic Church. But the Latin tactic is essentially to poach them: “Canon Law states clearly that those in full communion with the Catholic Church from Eastern Orthodox Churches, have the right and the duty to save and to follow their own rite.” Feodor Petrov (a pseudonym).

This is something that the Eastern Churches almost never do. The Latin proselytisers simply direct converts to the local Latin Church, never mentioning the existence of the Russian Catholic Church and the directions of Canon Law. Instead they absorb them into the Latin Rite, completely against the law of the Church. Meanwhile, the Russian College in Rome (Russicum) has not produced one priest for the Russian Catholic Church in 40 years.

The cost of Rome’s indifference, or outright antipathy, to the Russian Catholics, is high. The schism between East and West is the oldest, and most shameful, in Christianity. Part of the way forward is the stance adopted by Russian Catholics, such as Feodorov, towards the Orthodox: not competition, but union.

It should be possible, through delicate ecumenical discussion, for Russian Catholics to come to an understanding with the Russian Orthodox so that they can cooperate with an eye to full communion. There is a precedent from the Orthodox side. In the 1970s, for almost 10 years, Roman Catholics in Russia were allowed by the Orthodox to come to Orthodox Holy Communion because they had no churches of their own. That is hugely significant, an admission that we are in fact and mystery the same Church. That permission later was suspended, but not revoked.

The Ost Politik of the Vatican since Vatican II, but not because of Vatican II, has been, at best, a muddle. That is partly because of the complexities of the East, which often are, as it were, byzantine. But by failing to observe its own canonical strictures, Rome has missed the chance to use those with local knowledge, the Russian Catholic Church. Until that policy changes, it will be near impossible to find a way forward.

Archpriest Dr Lawrence Cross OAM is the Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity St Nicholas Russian Catholic Church in East St Kilda and leader of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Mission in Australia. He is an alumnus of the University of Sydney, St John’s College, Oxford, and the Melbourne College of Divinity.

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