Table of contents:
- Pre-war relations between the USSR and the Vatican
- The position of "military neutrality" of the Holy See
- Stalin's letter to the Pope or propaganda fake
- Reaction of the Holy See
- The leader of the nations against the pontiff
At the very beginning of the spring of 1942, leaflets were scattered from German aircraft over the positions of the Red Army, which contained unheard of news. The proclamations reported that the "leader of the peoples" Stalin wrote a letter to the Pope on March 3, 1942, in which the Soviet leader allegedly asks the pontiff to pray for the victory of the Bolshevik troops. Fascist propaganda even called this event "Stalin's gesture of humility."
So was such a letter actually written by the Soviet leader, or did Goebbels' propaganda machine, as in most cases, present yet another lie and disinformation in the form of a sensation?
Pre-war relations between the USSR and the VaticanUntil the beginning of 1942, relations between Stalin and the Holy See could be called more than cool: the Pope himself and all Catholic priests, back in 1930, on the eve of the 16th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, were declared enemies of the Bolshevik Party by the very "leader of the peoples". Naturally, a powerful Soviet repressive machine was deployed in those years against Catholic clergy (as, indeed, against representatives of other religious denominations).
In February 1929, according to the Lutheran accords signed between the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of Italy, the Vatican was recognized as a sovereign state. However, no gestures for the establishment of "normal" relations between themselves, either from Moscow or from the Vatican, followed after that. Joseph Stalin had absolutely no sympathy for Pius XII, who ascended the papal throne in 1939, as well as for his predecessor, Pius XI.
The position of "military neutrality" of the Holy SeeThe new pontiff in Rome itself had enough political "worries". Under constant pressure from the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini, Pius XII tried his best to remain neutral. In addition, the Vatican understood that in Germany the Nazis were unlikely to be loyal to Catholics: in the Reich, the creation of its own ideological religion was already in full swing.
The Pope did not in any way condemn the aggressive military campaigns of the Nazis, or their racial ideology. And even when, in September 1941, Great Britain, together with France, turned to the pontiff with a request to declare the German Reich an aggressor country - Pius XII flatly refused to do so. Motivating his refusal by the desire of the Vatican to stay out of politics. But in the direction of the USSR, where the persecution of Catholics continued, the Holy See sometimes "threw condemning glances."
Stalin's letter to the Pope or propaganda fakeAt the very beginning of 1942, direct contacts really began to be established between the USSR and the Vatican. However, it is hardly possible to call them completely diplomatic. At that time, the Soviet Union began to form the so-called "Army of Anders", which was created from former prisoners of Polish soldiers. The Holy See turned to Moscow with a request to allow the Catholic Bishop Józef Gavlina to visit this military formation. Oddly enough, Stalin agreed to this visit, and at the end of April 1942 the bishop arrived in the USSR.
In addition, there were several more facts of mutual "gestures of attention" from the Vatican and the Kremlin.Thus, the ambassador of the Polish government, who was in exile at that time, asserted a certain "interest" of Stalin in the Papal Curia. According to the Polish diplomat, the "leader of the peoples" realized and recognized that the Vatican has a rather significant moral authority in Europe. In addition, there was information that during Stalin's meeting with the diplomatic representative of the French government in exile, the Soviet leader made it clear that he would not be against a political alliance with the Vatican.
It was this information that became the basis for the creation of a "true story" by German propaganda about Stalin's appeal to the Papal See with a letter. In which, in addition to establishing diplomatic relations, the "leader of the peoples", being in despair, allegedly asked the Pope to pray for the Bolsheviks. In addition to propaganda leaflets, information about "Stalin's letter to the Pope" was widely disseminated by the Germans and Italians on the radio. Even the British BBC, believing Goebel's propaganda, broadcast this "sensational news" on its air.
Reaction of the Holy SeeImmediately after the information was published that Stalin was asking the Pope to pray for "Russia and the Bolsheviks," the Vatican cardinals began to speak out with a refutation of this "sensation." However, the "duck" was so competently prepared and timely that few people in the world believed the assurances of the papal cardinals. Although the interest of the Germans in such blatant misinformation was more than obvious: relations between the Third Reich and the Vatican at the beginning of 1942 were frankly not getting along.
Despite convincing requests from the Nazi leadership of Germany, Pope Pius XII refused to declare an "anti-Bolshevik crusade" against the USSR. Hitler's reaction followed immediately - the "Eastern Mission" of the Vatican (which was supposed to convert the inhabitants of the territories of the Soviet Union occupied by the Wehrmacht to the Catholic faith) was closed.
Further, the Nazis even more took up the "loosening of the nerves" of the head of the Holy See. The RSHA agent, through the secret papal secretary, asked the pontiff how true were the rumors that the Vatican allegedly wanted to recognize the USSR. The response of Pius XII (which was immediately transmitted to Berlin) pleased the Nazis a little - the pontiff was "simply furious" that such rumors could have appeared at all.
The leader of the nations against the pontiffBefore the landing of the Allies in Italy in September 1943, Western states began to extol the role of the pontiff in international politics in every possible way. But the USSR was not so loyal to the "military-political importance" of the Holy See. For example, historians describe a case when, during the Tehran conference, Winston Churchill began to insist that the role of the Vatican should be taken into account in the "Polish question". Stalin, abruptly cutting off the British prime minister, mockingly asked: "And how many army divisions does the Pope have?"
The "leader of the nations", however, could not completely ignore the abbot of the Roman Catholic Church. At that time, the troops of the Red Army began to liberate the western regions of Ukraine, and also prepared an attack on Lithuania - regions where many Catholic believers traditionally lived. In the spring of 1944, before the liberation of Lvov from the Nazis, Stalin received Stanislav Orlemansky, an American Catholic bishop and a personal friend of Roosevelt, in the Kremlin. During the meeting, the "leader of the peoples" assured Orlemansky that he was fully ready to cooperate with the pontiff.
And then the whole matter was ruined by the primate of the Catholic Church himself. In January 1945, Pius XII issued a statement that the USSR began to regard as openly anti-Soviet. The pontiff not only proposed to conclude a "soft peace" with the defeated states, but also spoke openly about the persecution of Ukrainian Catholics. Such statements led to the fact that Soviet journalists immediately hung on the Pope the stigma of "defender of fascism."
However, not only the pontiff, but also Stalin himself "had a hand" in the confrontation between the Kremlin and the Vatican. According to one of the plans of the "leader" after the war, a "world religious center" should have been created in Moscow. In this case, the Vatican was the main stumbling block for the implementation of the Stalinist plan. A plan, one of the unconditional successes of which was the rejection of the Ukrainian Catholic Uniates from the Papal Curia in 19465 (the dissolution of the "Brest Church Union" in 1596).
In the early 1950s, the opinion was actively promoted in the USSR that Pope Pius XII took the side of the "Axis states" during the Second World War. A whole scientific work was devoted to this issue, called by its authors "The Vatican in World War II" - a book that was published in the USSR in 1951. However, already in the next year, 1952, Stalin radically changed his position on the Vatican. The "Leader of the Nations" publicly praised the pontiff for his peacekeeping initiatives during the war.
Who knows what the next "round of peace, friendship and good neighborliness" between the Holy See and the Kremlin would have been if in 1953 this relationship had not been interrupted by the death of Joseph Stalin.
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