Page 4, 24th February 1967

24th February 1967
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Locations: Peking, Berlin, Moscow, Rome, Warsaw, Hanoi


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Pope Paul's recent historic meeting at the Vatican with Soviet President Podgorny brought speculation that an exchange of representatives would follow their talks. It is felt that this would ,not only help relations between Church and State in Russia and the other Communist countries but enhance the Pope's current role as a mediator for peace

By a Diplomatic Correspondent

THE ESTABLISHMENT of unofficial relations between the Vatican and the Kremlin is expected to be discussed this week. It is understood that Mgr. Casaroll, an Under Secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastic Affairs and an expert negotiator with Communist countries, is visiting Moscow to discuss the possibility and it is thought in Rome that he may become the Holy See's first permanent representative there.

At present, Mgr. Casaroli is in Warsaw exploring the possibility of an agreement between Poland and the Vatican. It is expected that any exchange of representatives there would be similar to that with Yugoslavia and on an unofficial basis.

There has probably not been a better time for some form of non-diplomatic but strong and permanent contact between the Vatican and the Soviet Union. The present relaxed relations stem largely from the fact that Vatican Council II did not draw the entire Church together behind a strong condemnation of Communism.

This is what the Russians were expecting, but it did not come. In fact, on the eve of the opening of Vatican II, Moscow received assurances that the Council would abstain from any action directed against the Soviet Union or against Communism. In turn, the Soviet authorities permitted two representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as representatives of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, to attend the council.

Further reassured by Pope John's opening address, the Soviets freed the imprisoned leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Cardinal Slipyi.

Following the death of Pope John, Mr. Krushchev, who had already expressed by telegram his distress at his illness and then his death, addressed a congratulatory message to the new Pope Paul. He received a reply from Rome which was more than pure formality. Both the original telegram and the reply were printed on the front page of the Soviet Press.

The Church in Russia

Then followed a new and extensive coverage of Papal activities on the pages of Soviet newspapers. Not only did Communist papers report Papal activities affecting international affairs but it gave coverage to such events as the first Papal helicopter flight and Pope Paul's trip to the Holy Land.

So, despite some criticism of Papal activities, an entirely new image of the Catholic Church and of its leader has been gradually created in the minds of Soviet citizens.

In 1965 the Pope's visit to the U.N. benefited from this better atmosphere and he was able to have greater influence on delegates. His speech urged delegates to seek peace and sup

ported the admission of Communist China. Afterwards, he told reporters that he would be prepared to go to Peking or Hanoi to seek peace in Vietnam.

The importance of the Pope's role as mediator has grown since then. Last April he met Mr. Gromyko, the Soviet Foreign Secretary, and a few weeks ago there took place in the Vatican, at the Russians' request, the first meeting between a Pope and a Soviet Head of State since the Revolution.

This meeting between Pope Paul and Mr. Podgorny brought forecasts in the Press that diplomatic relations would be established soon. This reflected the cordiality which was felt to have grown between the Church and the Communist state.

The Vatican said afterwards that the questions discussed regarded the "maintenance of peace and development of better relations among people" and the Pope also "mentioned problems concerning religious life and the presence of the Catholic Church in Soviet Union territories."

Certainly there is a new desire for a dialogue. But casual contacts between the Vatican and the Soviet Government are not novel; they go back to the early days of the Soviet Union. In the years preceding the Revolution in 1917 Vatican relations with Czarist Russia and the officially protected Orthodox Church were not very good. This, coupled with a Russian religious revival occurring early in the 20th century, encouraged the Vatican to seek contacts with the new Bolshevik Government.

The few contacts actually made, however, bore little fruit. Vatican efforts to intercede for Russian Orthodox Patriarch Tikhon were rejected; the meetings of Soviet Foreign Minister Chicherin with Mgr. Giuseppe Pizzardo and the 1924 Berlin meetings between Maxim Litvinov and Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, had no apparent results.

Yet while these contacts were being made and were failing, there were other Church activities inside the new Soviet State. Acting for the Vatican and for the National Catholic Welfare Council of the bishops of the U.S., Fr. Edmund Walsh, S.J., of Georgetown University, organised a large-scale famine relief programme. Cooperating with Herbert Hoover's American Relief Administration, Fr. Walsh worked to stave off the starvation that faced the Russian people.

In 1926, two years after the relief programme closed, a French Jesuit scholar, Fr. Michel d'Herbigny, went into Russia on a visit. Later, elevated to the Episcopacy and travelling under the protection of the French Government, he returned to the Soviet Union several times to consecrate bishops secretly, filling Sees made vacant by death or persecution.

Yet the famine relief programme, the secret consecrations and the more official contacts in the long run led to nothing. Only the coming of World War II and the pressure of Western leaders forced a subtle relaxation of Soviet antireligious activity.

This relaxation, obscured by Stalin's sarcastic desire to know "how many divisions the Vatican had," was engineered by Soviet officials eager to improve their nation's image and already making plans for the takeover of heavily Catholic eastern Europe.

For their part, Vatican officials made a special point of not approving the German attack on Russia in June, 1941. Later, Pope Pius XII emphasised (February 25, 1946) that he had refrained from cornmenting on the attack despite pressure from the German and Italian Governments as well as from high Church authorities.

But the end of the war saw a new wave of persecution strike the Church as the Soviets moved to consolidate their position in the countries of Eastern Europe. This persecution was countered by severe Vatican censure of the U.S.S.R. This in turn sparked a renewed Communist propaganda campaign against the Church as the support of colonialism" and an "instigator of war."

Revolt in Hungary

By 1956, however, the danger of world disaster was pushing the two closer together again. That year, the Rome Charge d'Affaires of the Soviet Union delivered a Note on the Suez Canal crisis and world disarmament to the Papal Nuncio to the Italian Government. This was the first time since the 1917 Revolution that the Soviets had recognised the Vatican as a diplomatic entity, and the first sign of warmth since the end of the war.

Then another event brought

a new coldness—the short-lived Hungarian revolt of October, 1956. Brutally crushed by Russian intervention, the Hungarian revolt marked a relapse into hostility between the U.S.S.R. and the Vatican.

Then, with the death of Pope Pius in 1958, Moscow again began to send out feelers toward reaching some sort of an agreement. On the eve of the election of Pope John, Moscow Radio stressed that "real possibilities exist for the establishment of contacts and collaboration for the defence of peace and the realisation of the hopes of humanity."

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