Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) In 1847 an Accomodamento, a generous but short-lived agreement was reached, by which Russia allowed the Pope to fill vacant Episcopal Sees of the Latin rites both in Russia and the Polish and Lithuanian provinces of Russia.

The Vatican and Eastern Europe (1846–1958) describes the relations from the pontificate of Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) through the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958). It includes the relations of the Church State (1846-1870) and the Vatican (1870-1958) with Russia (1846-1918), Lithuania (1922-1958) and Poland (1918-1958).

Pope Pius IX : protest or silence

The Pontificate of Pius IX began in 1846. In 1847 an Accomodamento”, a generous agreement, by which Russia allowed the Pope to fill vacant Episcopal Sees of the Latin rites both in Russia and the Polish and Lithuanian provinces of Russia. The new freedoms were short-live, as they were undermined by jealousies of the rival Orthodox Church, Polish political aspirations, and the tendency of imperial Russia, to act most brutally against any dissension. Pope Pius IX first tried to position himself in the middle, strongly opposing revolutionary and violent opposition against the Russian authorities, and, appealing to them for more Church freedom. After the failure of the Polish uprising in 1863, Pope Pius IX sided with the persecuted Poles, loudly protesting their persecutions, infuriating the Tsarist government to the point that all Catholic seats were closed by 1870, a catastrophe, which continued to haunt Vatican diplomacy for decades to come.[1]

Diplomacy of Pope Leo XIII



Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) was able to reach several agreements in 1896, which resulted in better conditions for the faithful and additional appointments of bishops.

Pope Leo XIII began his pontificate with a friendly letter to Tsar Alexander II, in which he reminded the Russian monarch of the millions of Catholics living in his empire, who would like to be good Russian subjects, provided their dignity is respected.


In Prussia, Polish Catholics were persecuted as Poles and, during the Kulturkampf, together with German Catholics, as Catholics as well: The Kulturkampf, which Otto von Bismarck began in 1871, insinuated a Polish-Catholic-Austrian connection.[2] I

Pius X : broken Russian promises


Pope Pius X We will not accept greetings or congratulations from Russia, which did not keep a single promise to us and or to the Catholics in Russia


Under Pope Pius X (1903-1914), the situation of Polish Catholics in Russia did not improve.


By 1914, Germany needed Polish volunteers for the war. Polish politicians had modest requests for their support: full recognition of Polish language, religious education in Polish language, the return of expropriated properties and the elimination of laws, which discriminated against the Polish population.[3]. This was not granted.

Pope Benedict XV

Russia and the Soviet Union

Part of a series of articles on
20th Century
Persecutions of the
Catholic Church

Cristero War  · Iniquis Afflictisque </div>
Saints  · José Sánchez del Río
Persecution in Mexico  · Miguel Pro

498 Spanish Martyrs
Red Terror (Spain) · Dilectissima Nobis
Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War
Martyrs of Daimiel
Bartolome Blanco Marquez
Innocencio of Mary Immaculate

Mit brennender Sorge  · Alfred Delp</div>
Alois Grimm · Rupert Mayer </div>
Bernhard Lichtenberg · Max Josef Metzger
Karl Leisner  · Maximilian Kolbe

Persecution in China · Ad Sinarum Gentem ·
Cupimus Imprimis  · Ad Apostolorum Principis
Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei · Beda Chang
Dominic Tang
Stefan Wyszyński
108 Martyrs of World War Two · Policies
Poloniae Annalibus  · Gloriosam Reginam
Invicti Athletae · Jerzy Popiełuszko

Eastern Europe
Jozsef Mindszenty  · Eugene Bossilkov
Josef Beran  · Aloysius Stepinac
Meminisse Juvat  · Anni Sacri

El Salvador
Maura Clarke  · Ignacio Ellacuría </div>
Ita Ford  · Rutilio Grande </div>
Dorothy Kazel  · Ignacio Martín-Baró </div>
Segundo Montes  · Óscar Romero </div>

Persecution of Christians
Church persecutions 1939-1958
Vatican and Eastern Europe </div>
Vatican USSR policies
Eastern Catholic persecutions
Terrible Triangle
Conspiracy of Silence (Church persecutions)

With the Russian Revolution, the Vatican was faced with a new, so far unknown situation, an ideology and government which rejected not only the Catholic Church but religion as a whole. “The Pope, the Tsar, Metternich, French radicals and German police, are united against communism said Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels[4] The Historical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences wrote, that “reactionary policies of the Vatican” were an outgrow of fear of socialism and hate of communism.

Lithuania and Estonia

The relations with Russia changed drastically for a second reason. The Baltic states and Poland gained their independence from Russia after World War I, thus enabling a relatively free Church life in those former Russian countries. Estonia was the first country to look for Vatican ties. April 11, 1919, Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri informed the Estonian authorities, that the Vatican would agree to have diplomatic relations. A concordat was agreed upon in principle a year later, June 1920. It was signed May 30, 1922. It guarantees freedom for the Catholic Church, establishes an archdioceses, liberates clergy from military service, allows the creation of seminaries and catholic schools, describes church property rights and immunity. The Archbishop swears alliance to Estonia.[5]

Relations with Catholic Lithuania were slightly more complicated because of the Polish occupation of Vilnius, a city and archiepiscopal seat, which Lithuania claimed as well as its own. Polish forces had occupied Vilnius and committed acts of brutality in its Catholic seminary there. This generated several protests of Lithuania to the Holy See.[6] Relations with the Holy See were defined during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939)


Before all other heads of State, Pope Benedict XV on October 1918 congratulated the Polish people to their independence.[7] In a public letter to the archbishop Kakowski of Warsaw, he remembered their loyalty and the many efforts of the Holy See to assist them. He expressed his hopes that Poland will take again its place in the family of nations and continue its history as an educated Christian nation.[7] On March 1919, he nominated ten new bishops and, soon after, Achille Ratti, already in Warsaw as his representative, as papal nuncio. [7]

Pope Pius XI

Pius XI after Coronation

Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) Warsaw forced his departure as Nuncio. Two years later, he was Pope. He signed concordats with numerous countries including Lithuania and Poland

Negotiations with the Soviet Union

In Berlin, Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli worked mainly on clarifying the relations between Church and the German State. But, after Achille Ratti was elected Pope, in the absence of a papal nuncio in Moscow, Pacelli worked also on diplomatic arrangements between the Vatican and the Soviet Union. He negotiated food shipments for Russia, where the Church was persecuted. He met with Soviet representatives including Foreign Minister Georgi Chicherin, who rejected any kind of religious education, the ordination of priests and bishops, but offered agreements without the points vital to the Vatican.[8] “An enormously sophisticated conversation between two highly intelligent men like Pacelli and Chicherin, who seemed not to dislike each other.” wrote one participant.[9] Despite Vatican pessimism and a lack of visible progress, Pacelli continued the secret negotiations, until Pope Pius XI ordered them to be discontinued in 1927.

The " harsh persecution short of total annihilation of the clergy, monks, and nuns and other people associated with the Church,[10], continued well into the Thirties. In addition to executing and exiling many clerics, monks and laymen, the confiscating of Church implements "for victims of famine" and the closing of churches were common.[11] Yet according to an official report based on the Census of 1936, some 55% of Soviet citizens identified themselves openly as religious, while others possibly concealed their belief.[11]


During the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), Church life in Poland flourished: There were some anti-clerical groups opposing the new role of the Church especially in education,[12] But numerous religious meetings and congresses, feasts and pilgrimages, many of which were accompanied by supportive letters from the Pontiff, took place.[12]

Lithuania [13]

Lithuania was recognized by the Vatican in November 1922. The recognition included a stipulation by Pietro Gasparri to Lithuania, “to have friendly relations with Poland”. There were diplomatic stand-stills, as the Lithuanian government refused to accept virtually all episcopal appointments by the Vatican. The relations did not did not improve when, in April 1926 Pope Pius XI unilaterally established and reorganized Lithuanian ecclesiastical province without regard to Lithuanian demands and proposals, the real bone of contention being Vilnius, occupied by Poland. In the Fall of 1925, Mečislovas Reinys, a Catholic professor of Theology became Lithuanian Foreign Minister, and asked for an agreement. The Lithuanian military took over a year later, and a proposal of a concordat, drafted by the papal visitator Jurgis Matulaitis-Matulevičius, was agreed upon by the end of 1926. The concordat was signed a year later. Its content follows largely the Polish Concordat of 1925.

Pope Pius XII



See also


  • Acta Apostolicae Sedis ( AAS), Roma, Vaticano 1922-1960
  • Acta et decreta Pii IX, Pontificis Maximi, VolI-VII, Romae 1854 ff
  • Acta et decreta Leonis XIII, P.M. Vol I-XXII, Romae, 1881, ff
  • Actae Sanctae Sedis, (ASS), Romae, Vaticano 1865
  • Owen Chadwick, The Christian Church in the Cold War, London 1993
  • Jesse D Clarkson, A history of Russia, Random House, New York, 1969
  • Richard Cardinal Cushing, Pope Pius XII, St. Paul Editions, Boston, 1959
  • Victor Dammertz OSB, Ordensgemeinschaften und Säkularinstitute, in Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, VII, Herder Freiburg, 1979, 355-380
  • Matthias Erzberger, Erlebnisse im weltkrieg, Stuttgart, 1920
  • A Galter, Rotbuch der verfolgten Kirchen, Paulus Verlag, Recklinghausen, 1957,
  • Alberto Giovanetti, Pio XII parla alla Chiesa del Silenzio, Editrice Ancona, Milano, 1959, German translation, Der Papst spricht zur Kirche des Schweigens, Paulus Verlag, Recklinghausen, 1959
  • Herder Korrespondenz Orbis Catholicus, Freiburg, 1946-1961
  • Andrey Micewski, Cardinal Wyszynski, A biography, Harcourt, New York, 1984
  • Pio XII Discorsi e Radiomessagi, Roma Vaticano1939-1959,
  • Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, A History of Russia, Oxford University Press, New York, 1963
  • Josef Schmidlin Papstgeschichte, Vol I-IV, Köstel-Pusztet München, 1922-1939
  • Jan Olav Smit, Pope Pius XII, London Burns Oates & Washbourne LTD,1951
  • Hansjakob Stehle, Die Ostpolitik des Vatikans, Piper, 1975


  1. All sources if not otherwise quoted, are Schmidlin, II, pp 213-224
  2. Micewski 3
  3. Erzberger, 173
  4. Communist Manifesto , 1848
  5. Schmidlin III, 305
  6. Schmidlin III, 306.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Schmidlin III, 306
  8. (Hansjakob Stehle, Die Ostpolitik des Vatikans, Piper, München, 1975, p.139-141
  9. Hansjakob Stehle, Die Ostpolitik des Vatikans, Piper, München, 1975, p.132
  10. Riasanovsky 617
  11. 11.0 11.1 Riasanovsky 634
  12. 12.0 12.1 Schmidlin IV, 135
  13. Schmidlin, Papal History, IV, 138 ff

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