Page 1, 25th November 1938

25th November 1938
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Organisations: Catholic Church
Locations: MANCHESTER, Shanghai, Moscow


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Fr. Wilcock, S.J., is one of the handful of English priests ordained in the Eastern Rite for the Russian apostleship. These priests are at present fully occupied with the ministry of Russians in exile, and Fr. Wilcock is shortly pro ceeding to Shanghai where there is one of the largest Russian parishes in the world.

This apostolate is however intended for the conversion of Russia itself and the actual work being done at present for this end has opened sources of precious information about conditions in Russia from which Fr. Wilcock's disclosures have come.

It would be fatal for public opinion if people knew the facts of persecution," said Fr. Wilcock in his analysis of the present state of affairs which revealed the hypocritical part being played by Litvinov.

Fr. Wilcock has revealed the story of the secret consecration of Bishops in Russia itself by order of the Pope; the horrible way in which clergymen have been forced to sign papers declaring that there is no persecution; the efforts of the Holy Father to prepare for the recapture of Russia along the lines once used to recapture England after the Reformation.

Fr. Wilcock's remarkable sermon was never more needed by the public than to-day when all indignation is being concentrated upon a comparatively mild persecution of Jewry in Germany and wholly forgetful of the appalling sufferings of Christians and Christianity in Soviet Russia, the inspiration of so many who are loudest in their protests against Germany.

From Our Own Correspondent


Fr. Wilcock said that about two months ago he was speaking to a Bishop of Moscow. He told him that of all the priests in Moscow (about 500), something like 250 have already died in the prisons and concentration camps in Russia.

Only two priests were allowed to say Mass, one in Moscow and one in Leningrad, and that in the Western (Latin) rite.

At the beginning of the Revolution in Moscow there were 460 churches. Only twenty of those were now open, and only one was a Catholic church.

"These churches are kept open," said Fr. Wilcock, " chiefly in order that when foreign tourists visit Moscow they may be shown these churches, and they are allowed to see Mass being celebrated in this one church so that when they come back home they can tell everyone that there is no persecution in Russia. They themselves saw Mass being celebrated."

"It would be fatal for public opinion if people knew the facts of the persecution," he said. " The mere figures I have given you are sufficient proof of the persecution. " Not long ago I met one of the Bishops who had just come out of prison after six years. The Bishop told me that he had charge of a little parish on the outskirts of Moscow. One evening a stranger came to the house and asked to see him privately. The stranger said he had been sent by the Pope to consecrate him a Bishop.

Pope's Secret Plan

"This is now public and there is no danger in my telling it to you," said Fr. Wilcock.

It was the Pope's idea that if he could consecrate a number of Bishops they could go about secretly ordaining priests and so keep the priesthood alive.

The Bolshevists found out about the secret consecration and the Bishop was put into prison on a trumped-up charge of being in possession of military documents.

The Bishop later escaped and returned to his parish. There he found the priest whom he had left in charge during his absence.

During the Bishop's absence, said the priest, a group of soldiers had asked him to sign a document declaring that there was no religious persecution in Russia. The priest refused.

The soldiers then started their usual form of torture. They kept the priest awake for days and nights by shouting at him until he was nearly off his head.

He got to such a state that he began to think that if he signed the paper it would not make things worse; it might make them better. So he signed the form.

Roosevelt Tricked

Just about this time," said Fr. Wilcock, " President Roosevelt wanted to make a treaty between America and Russia. Public opinion in America refused to allow the treaty to be signed because of the religious persecution in Russia," Litvinov retaliated by producing alleged declarations signed by Catholics and members of other denominations.

" One Protestant clergyman was kept awake for 21 days and nights to make him sign a similar paper."

Referring to the difficulties of priests, nuns and Catholics in the prisons and concentration camps, Fr. Wilcock said many of the priests used to slip away into the wood at night and say Mass in a hollow In a tree. Others celebrated Mass in a tiny little attic, using a box for an altar.

The Pope knew of the difficulties of the priests and secretly sent them dispensations from using vestments, altar servers, and other things which are not essential to the Mass.

Holy Communion was delivered to prisoners by nuns who were made to do nursing duties. These nuns used to smuggle little cachets which were used by the doctors to contain medicine for the patients to swallow.

Catholics contrived to have their confession heard by walking round the yard during their recreation as near to the priest as possible, " Despite all the persecution and hard. ship," said Fr. Wilcock, "all the Bishops, priests and nuns who come out of prison said they spent the happiest days of their lives in prison suffering for Our Lord.

"In England most people seem to think you can only be happy if you have cinemas, distractions and so on," In conclusion Fr. Wilcock said he was founding Russian seminaries and Catholic colleges where Russian boys could be taught and trained for the priesthood.

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