(English) From One Exile to Another Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj at Vatican II

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From One Exile to Another

Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj at Vatican II

Dr. Karim Schelkens


Upon my arrival in Moskwa Hotel, sixth floor, I identified Slipyj, who was coming from the opposite corridor, by his stature, the look of his eyes. I went to meet him and said : ‘Are you Archbishop Slipyj ?’ He answered : ‘Are you coming from Rome ? I said yes. He continued : ‘I waited eighteen years for you’.[1]


These words were written down by John Cardinal Willebrands in the early 1990’s, reminiscing one of the most impressive moments in his long career. Today, the moment in early february 1963, where Willebrands travelled to Moscow has its place among the list of memorable moments in twentieth century church history. This moment also marks the starting point of my contribution to the present Symposium, celebrating the 120 anniversary of Cardinal Slipyj’s birth. As a non-ukrainian, I consider myself an “amateur” of contemporary Ukrainian church history. An amateur in the best sense of the word, as one who has gradually discovered the richness, the complexity and … the often painful story of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. It is with some feelings of awe, therefore, that I present this modest contribution, and with a sharp awarenes of its limited scope. Studying the role of Metropolitan Slipyj at Vatican II is not an easy task. First of all, other and better scholars before me – and I am naturally thinking of Jaroslav Pelikan[2] here ‑ have devoted time and pages to this, and I have no intention to challenge or redo their work. So I decided to choose a particular perspective or approach for my talk, departing from the field I am most confident with : Sources on Vatican II history, and more in particular : Diaries of Council participants. In the past decade, a vast number of council diaries have been made available to the public, and most recently, I have had the chance to be involved in two edition projects that proved to be very relevant as a background for my current contribution : first, the edition of the diaries of Card. John Willebrands[3], who played a key role in Slipyj’s departure from the USSR in early 1963 ; and second, the council notes of Ukrainian Greek Catholic Metropolitan Hermaniuk, from the Winnipeg Metropolia[4]. The combination of these two sources, with other diaries and archive documents offers one an interesting account of Slipyj’s role and activities at the Council. From there, I depart, all the while making use of other existing sources and literature. The contribution is necessarily partial therefore, and I am always open for additions and comments that may enrich the scope of this modest study.



A Balance Yet to Be Found : the First Intersession


Returning to the notes jotted down by the late Cardinal Willebrands we find ourselves already in the middle of the conciliar event of Vatican II. Vatican II, for Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj, spans a period of a mere two and a half year, between early spring of 1963 until the winter of 1965. For the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Community, however, the event had started already in 1960, and in particular as of October 1962 it was not void of painful moments[5]. Besides the absence of Slipyj himself – clearly mentioned in the Ukrainian Episcopate’s 1962 Pastoral Letter, under the header “Our Joy is Mixed with Sorrow”[6] –, the Ukrainian hierarchy had to cope with the ecumenically motivated presence of Russian Orthodox representatives at the Council – Vitali Borovoi and Vladimir Kotliarov. Their presence alone had marked the first council period strongly, but added to it was the change of direction taken in the Vatican Ostpolitik. These issues deserve a study of themselves, but I will not go into them in the limited framework of this contributions.

Josyf Slipyj, travelling from Moscow, via Vienna, and ultimately to the Grottaferrata Abbey near Rome, arrives there during the first intersession[7]: An “in-between” moment at which many of the fifteen Ukrainian diaspora bishops had returned home to their flock, in the US, Canada, England, Brazil, … Moreover, this early in 1963, even most of the Conciliar Commissions were not very active, its members spread over the globe to pick up what they had left behind before they come to the eternal city. So, even when the moment of “liberation” was filled with deep emotions[8], as is so well described by Fr. Stransky CSP. Even when an already very ill Pope John XXIII personnally rejoiced in the Metropolitan’s release, and had him picked up upon his arrival by his personal driver in the Pope’s car[9], the atmosphere surrounding this major moment had something awkward. Quickly the news of Slipyj’s release spread, and Ukrainian Catholics in the free world were thrilled with enthousiasm. At the same time many were surprised by the overall silence surrounding this joyful event. No front pages in Catholic newspapers, a minor article in L’Osservatore Romano. It took a while before many come to realize that the background of this silence lay in a officious agreement between the Vatican State Secretariat and Moscow’s Department for Foreign Affairs: no media coverage was be given to the event, an agreement arranged by Willebrands and Norman Cousins, and stressed by Khruthchev[10]. The unofficial diplomacy round that – also due to the help of the Russian Orthodox archpriest Vitali Borovoj[11] – led to Slipyj’s release as a personal favour from Kruthchev to the Pope, was an ungoing one. Cousins would return to Moscow as ‘informal’ envoy again in Early April, 1963[12]. To illustrate the feelings on the Ukrainian side of the story, one has but to read the notes in Met. Hermaniuk’s diary on February 20, 1963 :


Today I received from Ottawa, in a press communiqué of the CCC, in French, news that our Metropolitan Josyf “is resting” in the monastery of Grottaferrata near Rome, and that no one, apart from three Ukrainians from that monastery, can see him (not even anyone from our clergy in Rome). What is this supposed to mean? It’s difficult to know[13].


All of the above indicates the complex situation in which, after eighteen years of imprisonment, the Metropolitan landed into. He was in the free world, but still exiled from his native soil, and a subject of both geo-political stakes[14], and of the tensions between several Roman dicasteries (the Vatican State Secretariat, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the Secretariat for Christian Unity). Amidst this turmoil, Josyf Slipyj was to seek and regain his own place[15]. Not to mention the effect of his return on the balances within the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Hierarchy. Very rapidly so, determing the place and role of the Metropolitan became a topic of discussion with a variety of aspects being raised :  What role was the Metropolitan to play as a Council Father, now that the conciliar machinery was already well running ? Would it be thinkable to have him as a Ukrainian respresentative in the Secretariat for Christian Unity ?[16] What was to be his authority within the Ukrainian Conference of Bishops ? Would the Council provide with the momentum for the (re-)establishment of an Ukrainian Greek Catholic Patriarchate ? What attitude will the Metropolitan take in the conciliar discussions on Religious Liberty, and over against the Soviet Union ? All of these issues will come to the fore in the conciliar period, with varying intensity.


Although, as is convincingly shown by Jaroslav Pelikan, the Metropolitan displayed a remarkable range of activities in the first year after his release, much of the matters summed up above would only really come to the forefront by the fall of 1963. On September 26, Slipyj visited a delegation from the Secretariat for Christian Unity[17], discussing with them the conciliar approach to religious freedom. The topic was crucial for the council and engendered stark opposition, also from anti-communist-inspired sources. Slipyj’s attitude was delicate, … and wise. He would not agitate against the new turn taken in the Vatican’s Ostpolitik under John XXIII[18], and adopted by Paul VI, yet he would always remain suspicious regarding the communist authorities as well as the position of the Moscow Patriarchat under Soviet rule. On the side of the Vatican officials, an openly hostile stance against communism was no longer accepted, and the distinction between the ideology rejected and the person holding it would become central in Vatican policy.

In the course of the next days, Slipyj has other important meetings : in the late afternoon of September 27, 1963, together with Metropolitan Hermaniuk, who had led the Ukrainian Bishops Conference in recent years, the Metropolitan discussed the program of his first meeting with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic episcopate scheduled the next day. Whereas initially, Hermaniuk reports, Slipyj showed himself undecided or even reluctant to reassume leadership and act as the head of the Bishop’s conference, ultimately he conceeded. During that first meeting Slipyj immediately sought to strengthen the organization of the Episcopal Conference by imposing on its members an oath of secrecy, and installing as a rule that any decision voted by a two-third majority would henceforth be considered as binding. The concern was to preserve the unity among Ukrainian hierarchs, but at this juncture the complexity of Slipyj’s position as the “returned leader” was suddenly on the table: Metropolitan Senysyn went on to question both the need for secrecy and the binding character of voted decisions[19]. The next day, Slipyj would enter the conciliar realm…



Metropolitan Slipyj Becomes A Council Father


On September 29, a new episode of Vatican II starts with a solemn procession. During its tumultuous opening period, Vatican II had chosen direction in the ecclesiological field, and had been a council ruled by the episcopate.  As of this day the council fathers gathered under the governance of another Pope. For the Ukrainian faithful, the momentum was grand, with Slipyj participating in the procession, surrounded by and reunited with his colleague bishops. Yet, it was also hurtful that the television broadcast of the opening paid ample attention to the presence of Moscow’s observors, but failed to mention the highly symbolic fact of Slipyj’ presence. On the next day, the Metropolitan silently occupied his seat in St. Peter’s Basilica – n° D0022. The heroic confessor Slipyj was now one among over two thousand council fathers… and once again, on this first day of general congregation, chairman Agagianan failed to notify his presence to the fathers[20]. For the Ukrainians, the matter was clear: any utterance that might disturb Moscow was carefully avoided by the Vatican.


It remains difficult to asses the Metropolitan’s precise role at Vatican II. The Council’s second period alone counts a multitude of memorable moments, involving his “active participation”. On need but think of the audience Paul VI granted to some 200 Ukrainians on October 18, 1963[21], where Slipyj held a strong patriotic speech. Nevertheless, at Vatican II, he was not part of any council commission or Secretariat, and therefore did not share in much of the “official” process of drafting and revising council texts. And, having arrived only for the second council period, some of the crucial directions for Vatican II were already taken. The debate on the liturgy, so important for the UGCC was already completed, and as of the second period this already required the local bishops conferences to reflect upon their reception of Sacrosanctum Concilium. I will not go into this in detail, but time and again the Ukrainian Conference of Bishops devotes itself to the revision of the Ukrain Liturgical books and prayers.

Talking about the liturgy, one cannot forget the occasion granted to Slipyj, on October 29, 1963, to concelebrate the “byzantino-ucrainus ritus” – as the Council booklets described it – before the Council, together with Bishops Isidore Borecky and Jaroslav Gabro. And there’s more still: an event worthwile pondering is the placing of the relics of St. Josaphat in St. Peter’s Basilica, with the Pope’s participation. The event was initiated by Slipyj[22]. Met. Hermaniuk noted in his diary on November 25, 1963:


17:00 – the solemnity at the altar of St. Basil the Great in St. Peter’s Basilica on the occasion of the deposition, on the 22nd of this month, of the relics of St. Josafat. The Holy Father Paul VI himself participated in this unique solemnity, modo privato. Eighteen of our bishops, presided by Metropolitan Confessor Most Rev. J. Slipyj, celebrated a Moleben to St. Josafat.[23]


From the outset: the picture is double: many a festive occasion, but as for as influence on council texts or the council’s program is concerned, the image is much less clear. At this juncture, not much more is found than the Metropolitan’s official council speechs. That said, his major occupation during Vatican II was that of streamlining the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Conference of bishops at the Council. In what follows, we will consider both: his role as the head of the episcopal conference, and his council interventions. At the same time, a clear thread runs through the Metropolitan’s activities: his care to prevent his church from latinizing tendencies within an overall Latin Council, all the while underlining its distinct position over against the (Russian) Orthodox. In all of this, one element plays the central role: Slipyj’s hope to see the Metropolitan see raised to the rank of an Ukrainian Greek Catholic Patriarchate.



Leading the Ukrainian Conference of Bishops at Vatican II


The story of the Ukrainian episcopate at the Council is worth a monograph in itself, so I will merely present some points that are of importance here. First and foremost: the question of the patriarchat divided the bishops from the very first day. Metropolitan Senyshyn’s opinion, along with that of other Basilians, was clearly antipatriarchal, and on other occasions too, he was seen representing a more ‘latinizing’ tendency among the diaspora bishops. For instance, during the bishops’ meeting of October 4 1963, the episcopate discussed and rejected a letter by Senysyn contesting the aformentioned secrecy vows[24]. While such occasions already illustrate the tensions, the question of the patriarchate raised most of the objections.


On October 10, 1963, for the first time, Josyf Slipyj was to address the Council fathers. In fact, the Metropolitan, when being called to the speakers stance – and receiving applause even before ever uttering a word – did not have his text with him[25]. Nevertheless, he presented this initial speech on that day to the episcopal conference, which, on that evening, took some interesting decisions: For one, a Joint Pastoral Message was to be prepared, its redaction confided to Met. Hermaniuk; Second, Ukrainian bishops planning to speak on behalf of the Conference of Bishops were required to notify the secretary, Neil Savaryn, beforehand. This would streamline the actions of the episcopate[26].

Metropolitan Slipyj’s speech of October 11, 1963, consisted of four major parts[27]: it opened with an appraisal of the Council’s work, saying grace to God for the occasion of Vatican II, and then went on to sketch the history of the participation of Kyivan Metropolitans at Ecumenical Councils. Third, Slipyj entered the ecclesiological discussions. At that point, he insisted heavily on the papal prerogatives over against the college of bishops, somewhat opposing episcopal collegiality to papal primacy. The intervention, at this point, reveals something of the theological positions of the Metropolitan, linked strongly with his ideas on the identity of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church: however a community of its own right within Catholicism, adherence to the pope is at the heart of his church’s identity. The theological tension this causes is resolved somewhat differently by some bishops from the diaspora. In particular Met. Hermaniuk of Winnipeg revealed himself a strong advocate and even one of Vatican II’s pioneers in defining episcopal collegiality, somewhat lessing the centralist ecclesiology that had shaped Catholicism after Vatican I. Hermaniuk made the claim that precisely an emphasis on the role and importance of the bishops is closer to the Eastern tradition of synodality[28], and so ties his ecclesiological position to the identity of the UGCC in quite another way than Slipyj[29]. One is struck to see both the Vatican II minority and majority position with regard to the collegiality doctrine defended within the Ukrainian hierarchy, each with a legitimizing reference to the particular Ukrainian tradition.

Last, but certainly not least, Slipyj made an unequivocal petition to the Council to establish the Kyiv-L’viv Patriarchate[30]. His petition did not go unnoticed: Msgr Willebrands, for instance, indicated to be seeking a mandate from the Vatican to arrange for the Metropolitan to return to L’viv. Willebrands had also noticed the surprise of Russian observers Borovoj and Kotliarov[31], who though it more appropriate instead to speak about the establishment of the L’viv Patriarchate. A patriarchate of Kyiv raised objections, and from the perspective of the Moscow Patriarchate the establishment of a “uniate” patriarchate on its territory was unimaginable. And the obstacles were’nt confined to the Russian Orthodox side side. Msgr Cardinale from the Vatican State Secretariat was also informed of Slipyj’s speech. The State Secretariat made it abundantly clear to the Secretariat for Unity that there should be no more talk of establishing a Greek Catholic Kyiv patriarchate during the council meetings[32]. Clearly, both the Russian observers and the Vatican diplomats were bothered with the political implications of Slipyj’s request. Precisely these tensions gave rise to an increasing contact between the Metropolitan, exiled in Rome, with the Russian observers. It even led to a visit paid by Slipyj, accompanied by Willebrands, to the Russian embassy in Rome on November 7, 1963. Soon, negative reactions would rise from within the Episcopal Conference – reactions that would stretch far beyond the second period of Vatican II.


First, though, other events need to mentioned here. We will briefly mention two: First, Slipyj was also engaged in ecumenical endeavours, which are to be understood against his care for the Ukrainian faithful in a large sens. Given that another contribution at the present symposium is already devoted to the theme of Slipyj and ecumenism, I will not go into this at length. Still, one should point to the fact that hroughout the Council’s Second Period, Slipyj not only had regular contacts with the Russian Orthodox, but also made serious efforts to obtain the presence of Ukrainian Orthodox bishop Mystyslav Skrypnyk as an observer at Vatican II. This proved quite difficult, since Skrypnyk was willing to attend on his own initiative, but could not act as an official delegate from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. On several occasions one sees Slipyj intervening with Cardinal Bea on behalf of Skrypnyk[33]. A second topic is also quite interesting: Metropolitan Slipyj, in this period of time, starts raising the idea of establishing an Ukrainian Catholic University in Rome[34]. He unfolds his plans during the bishops meeting of October 17, 1963, and there is a sense of urge to it. But here too, the Metropolitan sparked an initiative that would have consequences for the period to come. Slipyj wanted to move fast, and immediately presented the bishops with a charter for the University – much inspired by the foundations he had laid out for the Theological Academy under Szeptyckyj[35]. In all probability, he acted too fast, for upon his request to sign the charter on the spot he was unable to find a majority. Several bishops judged the initiative immature and insufficiently adapted to the notion of a university in the west. Hermaniuk, who most of the time sided with Slipyj’s initiatives, wrote in his diary:


In my modest opinion, the proposed plan does not correspond to the idea of a university in the Western world. Probably the name of Ukrainian Scientific Institute, or Theological Academy would better suit this draft.

I was personally very sorry that we could not fulfil the expectations of our Metropolitan-Confessor. However, I have hope that this issue nevertheless can be solved somehow. The address of Most Rev. Avhustyn Hornjak, O.S.B.M., was rather unpleasant and perhaps impolite[36].


This made it all the more clear that the episcopal conference was far from a monolith. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian Catholic University of Pope St. Clement would be founded in Rome in 1963 with Slipyj as its first rector. This institute was regarded by Slipyj as the continuation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s Theological Academy in L’viv, founded in 1928 by Šeptyc’kyj, and closed by the Soviets in 1944.



A Peculiar Council Reception:

The Patriarchate Question and the Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum


From the moment he returned to the free world, Josyf Slipyj faced opposition from the Basilian Fathers. The opposition was not new, it was grounded in events long before, dating back to the period before his incarceration, and to some extent belonging to the heritage of Andrej Szeptyckyj[37]. In 1963, and partially due to Slipyj’s actions to generate a broad support campaign among the Ukrainian diaspora faithful, as well as his contacts with the Russians, the opposition grew steadily. The Metropolitan’s presence at a reception in the Russian Embassy with ambassador Kozyrev, on November 7, 1963, on the occasion of the celebration of the 1917 Communist Revolution sparked strong reactions. A week after, the Italian periodical Il Borghese reported on his presence there. This gave impetus to an antagonism that went on after the closing of the Second Council Period on December 4, a few weeks only before Slipyj was designated the title of Archbishop Major by the Pope[38].

Slipyj insisted continually on the role he would assume as patriarch, and his authority over all Ukrainian Greek Catholics. Bishops Senysyn, Martynec, and Hornjak disagreed with him over this issue.  In particular Senysyn picked up on the Embassy visit, and in the course of 1964, polarization grew, while  others bishops, such as Bukatko, Sapeljak and Hermaniuk stood behind Slipyj and his dream. To illustrate, in February 1964, upon request of the Metropolitan, Maxim Hermaniuk prepared a letter to the pope, and also approached Cardinal Bea once again on the matter:


Today around 18:00 – in the evening I presented to His Eminence Cardinal Bea (who as chair of the Secretariat for Christian Unity is staying with us), the matter of the necessity of granting, by the Apostolic See, our Metropolitan Confessor J. Slipyj an appropriate dignity in the Church. For example, granting him the dignity of becoming the first Ukrainian Patriarch, simultaneously establishing the Ukrainian Patriarchate. The Cardinal asked me to give him a short memorandum concerning this matter, which he will present to the Holy Father next week. I promised to do this. God grant that this plan become reality[39].


When in mid-September, 1964, most of the bishops have returned to Rome for the opening of the Third Council Period, the agenda of the Bishops Conference is once more determined by the patriarchate issue. The immediate background was an article in the Svoboda-issue of September 11, entitled (English trans.): “Met. Senyšyn, Before Departing for the Council in Rome, Condemned Action on a Church Matter Without the Agreement of Church Authority.[40]”  In the article, Metropolitan Senysyn stressed his deep respect for Slipyj, but also cast doubts as to the origin and true nature of the gathering of signatures for a petition to the Holy Father for the creation of a patriarchate. And more, he and warned the Ukrainian clergy and faithful not to sign such petitions. This caused quite a stir[41]. During the meeting of the bishops of September 14, it eventually came to a secret vote: 13 bishops voted in favour of further actions in view of a patriarchate, 1 voted against, and one indicated that the time was not yet ripe. Later more press statements would follow, on which we will not focus here[42].


All of the above played in the back of Metropolitan Slipyj’s head when, on October 16, 1964, he offered his council speech regarding the schema De ecclesiis orientalibus[43]. I want to focus briefly on this intervention at the Council, since it is more important that what has been thought up until now. It brings together some themes, and is located within a discussion in the council hall that painfully marked the tensions among the Eastern Catholic Churches[44]. Naturally, Slipyj picked up on the Decree’s art. 11, which stated that new patriarchates ought to be established where needed[45]. Next, Slipyj acted preciesly against the coercion of Eastern Catholics into the Latin rite, warning against the risk that the Union of the Greek Catholics with Rome be seen only as a bridge towards latinization, and a river into the Latin Sea…[46] In the back of Slipyj’s head clearly played the latinizing tendencies of the Basilians in the Americas. Finally, he ended his speech with the notorious words ‘Miseremini Patres Conciliares, nobis, quia sumus Orientales[47]. But apart from that, the document on which Slipyj commented here would become very important to him, indeed. On November 21, 1964, the closing day of the third Period, it was promulgated as the Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum. Soon after the Third Period closed, Slipyj made it known to all the Ukrainian bishops that as of the Feast of Theophany 1965 the Decree would become binding. This rapid reception of the Conciliar Decree is not without a motive: In fact, Slipyj would use precisely its art. 23 as an argument in favour of his cause. Orientalium Ecclesiarum 23, a very concise text, reads:


It belongs to the patriarch with his synod, or to the supreme authority of each church with the council of the hierarchs, to regulate the use of languages in the sacred liturgical functions and, after reference to the Apostolic See, of approving translations of texts into the vernacular[48].


However short, this article conflates, with some vagueness, three elements: the role and jurisdiction of a patriarch, the right of the Eastern Churches to follow its own rite and customs, and the question of the “supreme authority” within the Eastern Churches. All three have their importance for the role Metropolitan Slipyj wished to play within the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Community at large – in particular the question whether the Metropolitan was to govern over metropolitan sees other than his own. Slipyj interpreted this very phrase as conferring equal rights to a “patriarch” as to the “supreme authority of each church”, which for him signified that he in fact had the patriarchal status, and that Rome could not refuse that status. During the third intersession and the Fourth Period of Vatican II, Slipyj would put pressure on the Pope with precisely this reference. He could use it all the more, since in early 1965, the authoritative title of the cardinalate was offered to him by Paul VI. Slipyj would be created cardinal at the consistory of February 22, 1965, and receive the red biretta on February 25, followed by an audience with the Pope, where Slipyj expressed the longing of the Ukrainian Catholics for unity with Rome throughout the centuries. Met. Hermaniuk formulated the importance of the cardinalate for Slipyj as such:


The Almighty has heard the petitions of our people and elevated, in the person of our heroic Confessor of the Faith, our entire Church and particularly that part which together with him has endured in the native lands all suffering, burdens and humiliations. God grant that this joyful event, so significant in the history of our Church, place an end to the disorder […]. This event is the closest step to creating our patriarchate. God grant that this happen rather soon. May there be sincere gratitude to the Almighty for this His new blessing for us.[49]


In fact, this attitude was well reflected in the fact that the Ukrainian bishops decided henceforth to use the title “Blažennišyj / His Beatitude” for Slipyj, a title formally given to Patriarchs. Still, the high hopes raised were not to be met. In the course of May 1965, the assessor of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Msgr. Giovannelli, made it known that the interpretation of Orientalium Ecclesiarum offered by Slipyj was invalid. According to the Vatican officials “Cardinal Josyf Slipyj has no jurisdictional authority at all in our Church beyond the borders of the ecclesiastical province of Halyč. In liturgical matters, he probably could, personally or through someone else, have oversight of these matters, but he must refer everything for a decision by the Oriental Congregation[50]”. On top of this restrictive interpretation, another point was made. The Apostolic See strongly demanded the Ukrainian faithful to stop sending petitions to Rome concerning the creation of the patriarchate. On top of this, Slipyj suffered personnally from the news that the Vatican had conferred to Met. Senysyn the rank of Assistant to the Papal Throne[51]. But again, one sees that the problems come from various sides, not just the Basilians, the Vatican State Secretariat or the Oriental Congregation. Msgr. Willebrands from the Secretariat for Unity also notes some doubts, in his agenda on October 20, 1965:


Moi-même j’ai demandé [to Msgr. Dell’Acqua] où en était la question du patriarcat pour le card. Slipyj. Cela ne se fera pas; “sarebbe un disastro”. Le vrai problème c’est que les évêques ukrainiens cherchent un point central de référence pour leur église. Cela dépend d’eux-mêmes. Veulent-ils reconnaître Slipyj en tant que tel?[52]



Towards the End of the Council


In September 1965, Vatican II opened its fourth and final period. By the time the Council entered its last working session, the split within the Ukrainian community went deep, even causing political effects such as a split among the Banderivci fraction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. On the other hands, when looking at the meetings of the episcopal conference, the bishops sought to collaborate more closely on important topics, devoting much of their time to the introduction of modern ukrainian in the Ukrainian liturgy, thus carrying out the Vatican II liturgical reforms in their own realm. The Metropolitan spent much time discussing the importance of the “Old Calendar”, again a way to preserve unity among his flock both in the Ukrainian home territory and the diaspora.

As a council father, Slipyj held several noted council interventions during this period. On September 16, for instance, the Metropolitan spoke in a rather appreciative way about the text on religious liberty, which was under strong attack by many of the Latin American and Spanish Bishops at Vatican II. This degree of openness from someone who had suffered personnally and deeply from the effects of intolerance and the lack of religious liberty from the side of communism – so feared by precisely the aforementioned bishops – made a deep impression, even if Slipyj speech lasted somewhat too long, and was interrupted by Cardinal Agagianian[53]. The question of Religious Liberty was tantamount to Slipyj, who had endorsed the principles laid out by John XXIII in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris without any hesitation, and had even carefully translated the encyclical into Ukrainian. The importance of the topic, and above all the insistence on the “freedom of coercion”[54], only really became obvious when later during this last Council period, on November 19, 1965. On that day, Slipyj and his colleague bishops issued a “Common Letter” explaining to the council fathers the relationship between religious freedom and the public order, which precisely under communist rule, was very problematic[55].

Offering long speeches appeared to have been one of the Metropolitan’s habits, since the same thing occurred at the end of Slipyj’s next council intervention, delivered on October 1, 1965. This time, talking about the Schema On the Church in the Modern World, Slipyj expressed his concern that the text was entirely focusing on the “Western” modern world and neglecting the problems of the East[56]. But the attention of th council fathers was raised more, when Slipyj was reminded twice by the moderating Cardinal Suenens that his time was up. The Metropolitan carried on, and started citing Suenens, who in turn reacted with the quip: Gratias pro citationibus, sed velis concludere [57]. The entire event caused some laughter in the Council Hall.

Finally, before coming to some conclusions, we should mention Slipyj’s continuing initiatives to address the Ukrainian faithful as a whole. In that sense, he strongly supported the tradition of the Episcopal Conference to draft Joint Pastoral Letters, informing the flock of the council, and explaining its importance for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Community. This is important, for more than anything, it shows the particularity of the Ukrainian episcopate within the group of the council fathers[58], but also how they insisted on taking the heritage of Vatican II at heart. In this, Slipyj shared without any reticence, as he pushed further and carefully followed each step in the process of drafting the Common Pastoral Letter on the Council. Notwithstanding some obstructions, on December 6, 1965, the Letter was signed by all members of the Ukrainian Hierarchy present in Rome[59]. With it, the delicate process of conciliar reception was to take its start, but that falls outside of the limits of this contribution[60].





By means of closing thoughts, a few things can be said: Initially, the actions of Josyf Slipyj at Vatican II may have caused some surprise among both members of the Ukrainian hierarchy and Vatican officials. The return of the Metropolitan of Kyiv-Halyč after eighteen years of confinement by the Soviets forced him to re-invent himself, and his surroundings. The combined context of Slipyj being in a “second exile” and the often fast and tumultuous evolutions at the Second Vatican Council made this all the more complex. Hence, the Metropolitan’s rapid adaptation proved to be a difficult process, both on the level of Slipyj’s pastoral endeavours and hopes – raising the Kyiv See to the rank of a patriarchate, securing seminary and university education for Ukrainian Greek Catholics, safeguarding the byzantine character of his community in the diaspora… – and the theological level. Slipyj’s theological vocabulary had not evolved sufficiently to make it fit for some of the theological battles fought at the Council[61], although he did engage in various debates, ranging from the one on religious liberty, over the ecclesiological debates, until the topic of the Eastern Churches. In much of his speeches, as prof. Jan Grootaers has pointed out, Slipyj’s perspective was politico-ecclesiastical rather than theological. On the Roman front, his concern was to keep his church out of the centralizing grip of the Vatican forces, while on the side of the Ukrainian side: he was keen on safeguarding the Eastern character of his church, steering it away from latinizing tendencies. All of this made for a difficult and at occasions personnally painful role to play. Surely, the Metropolitan’s suffering had not ended with the journey from Moscow to Rome. Looking back at all of this, one cannot but admire the force and intensity with which he acted during Vatican II.



[1] Katholiek Documentatie Centrum (Nijmegen, The Netherlands): Private papers Willebrands, 199: Notes on the release of Met. J. Slipyj, 1994, 3p. In it, Willebrands refers to the book by Sergio Trasatti, La croce e la stella (Milan, 1993).

[2] Jaroslav Pelikan, Confessor Between East and West. A Portrait of Ukrainian Cardinal Josyf Slipyj (Grand Rapids MI, 1990).

[3] Leo Declerck (ed.), Les agendas conciliaires de Mgr. J. Willebrands, secrétaire du secrétariat pour l’Unité des chrétiens, (Leuven, 2009).

[4] Karim Schelkens & Jaroslav Z. Skira (ed.), The Conciliar Diary of Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk C.SS.R. (1911-1996). Critically Annotated Bilingual Edition, (Leuven, 2012).

[5] An interesting account of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic participation in the Second Vatican, was published shortly after Vatican II by Walter Dushnyck, The Ukrainian-Rite Catholic Church at the Ecumenical Council 1962-1965 (New York NY, 1967).

[6] The only UGGC bishop to have published a full account of the council is Andrij Sapeljak, Ukraïns’ka Cerkva na II Vatukans’komu Sobori (Rome-Buenos Aires, 1967). On p. 72 of his book, Sapeljak accounts how the bishops felt the absence of Slipyj. In their first group picture, in Slipyj’s absence they placed a large portrait of him in the center of the photo.

[7] On Slipyj’s liberation, see Ivan Choma, Storia della liberazione del metropolita Josep Slipyi dalla prigiona sovietica, in Intrepido Pastore (Rome, 1984), pp. 323-47; Giancarlo Zizola, L’Utopia di Papa Giovanni (Assisi, 19733), pp. 205-6.

[8] For a survey, see my recent study on Slipyj’s release: Vatican Diplomacy After the Cuban Missile Crisis. New Light on the Release of Josyf Slipyj, in Catholic Historical Review 98 (2011), 680-713.

[9] The detail is not found in any source, and was told to the author by a family member of Card. Willebrands, Mrs. Lies Willebrands.

[10] The relationship between Rome and the communist world has been the subject of various excellent studies, such as those by HansJakob Stehle, Geheimdiplomatie im Vatikan: Die Päpste und die Kommunisten, (Zürich, 1993), and Andrea Riccardi, Il Vaticano e Mosca, 1940-1990, (Rome & Bari, 1992). On the Russian Orthodox Church under communist rule, see Dimitri Vladimirovich Pospielovsky, The Russian Church under the Soviet Regime 1917-1982, 2 vols. (New York, 1984); Bohdan Rostyslav Bociurkiw, The Formulation of Religious Policy in the Soviet Union, in James E. Wood (ed.) Readings on Church and State (Waco TX, 1989), pp. 303-18; and also John Anderson, Religion, State and Politics in the Soviet Union and Successor States (Cambridge MA, 1994).

[11] Schelkens, Vatican Diplomacy After the Cuban Missile Crisis; and Trasatti, La Croce e la stella, pp. 188-189.

[12] Norman Cousins, The Improbable Triumvirate: An Asterisk to the Hopeful Year 1962-1963 (New York, 1972). Also see the archive dossier in Archives Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels: Personal Archives Suenens, box 20: Voyage États-Unis. Papiers Cousins-Morlion.

[13] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, February 20, 1963.

[14] Cf. Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, February 25, 1963: “Today I received news from Most Rev. Ivan and Very Rev. Fr. Krajevs’kyj from Rome regarding their contacts with Met. Josyf Slipyj. Met. Josyf is keeping well, from the looks of the letter of Most Rev. Ivan Bučko, and here the game of large stakes is playing out between the Apostolic See and the Soviet regime. God grant that the freedom of our Church and of the entire Ukrainian people finally arrive. Today I decided to travel to Rome, to meet personally with Metropolitan Kyr Josyf.”

[15] Cfr. Alberto Melloni, L’Altra Roma: Politica e S. Sede durante il Concilio Vaticano II, 1959-1965 (Bologna, 2000).

[16] At that time, no Ukrainian Greek Catholics were represented in the Secretariat for Christian Unity, and Met. Hermaniuk expressed his hopes to have Slipyj appointed as a member. Instead, at the end of the Second Period, Hermaniuk himself was elected into the Secretariat. Slipyj was appointed a member to the Congregation of the Oriental Churches (not of the Conciliar Commission, however) by the Pope. See Dushnyck, The Ukrainian Rite Catholic Church, p. 46.

[17] Leo Declerck (ed.), Agendas Willebrands: September 26, 1963: “11 h 30 – 12 h 30 : Visite de Mgr Slipyj pour Arrighi, Duprey et moi-même.”

[18] On the evolution of the Vatican Ostpolitik, also see the recent book by Philippe Chenaux, L’église catholique et le communisme en Europe, 1917-1989. De Lénine à Jean-Paul II (Paris, 2009).

[19] Schelkens & Skira, Diary Hermaniuk, September 28, 1963: “When all the bishops were already gathered in the salon of the College (downstairs) I escorted in Metropolitan Kyr Josyf Slipyj, whom the bishops greeted with loud applause. After a prayer I welcomed our dear Metropolitan-Confessor in the name of our Bishops Conference and invited him to assume the leadership of our conference. Metropolitan J. Slipyj briefly expressed his thankfulness and seemingly stated, that if we desire that our Bishops Conference successfully function, we have to:

  1. Swear an oath to maintain
  2. Regard decisions of the conference having two-thirds of the votes as binding.

On this point, immediately an unpleasant discussion unfolded, led by Metropolitan Ambrosij [Senyšyn]. The oath was taken, but the second point was deferred.”

[20] For Agagianian’s opening words, see AS II/1, pp. 213-214.

[21] Reported in L’Osservatore Romano 243, October 20, 1962, under the heading “L’augurio paterno di Sua Santità al Movimento Cristiano Ucraino”, p. 1.

[22] The occasion of the martyr’s celebration and the transfer of his relics to St. Peter’s Basilica – initiated by Slipyj – caused a negative stir among the Russian Orthodox observers, who threatened to leave the Council. See Diary de Lubac, Vol. II, November 29, 1963; and also Emmanuel Lanne, La perception en Occident de la participation du Patriarcat de Moscou à Vatican II, in Alberto Melloni (ed.), Vatican II in Moscow 1959-1965 (Leuven, 1997), pp. 121-122.

[23] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, November 25, 1963.

[24] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, October 4, 1963: “16:30 – the second meeting of our Bishops Conference in the College of St. Josafat presided over by Metropolitan J. Slipyj. Following my advice, completely suppressed was the letter of Metropolitan Ambrosij (Senyšyn) against the oath of bishops regarding the preservation of secrecy of our deliberations”.

[25] Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II [henceforth AS], II/2, p. 393. The Council Acts indicate that Slipyj – announced as Archiepiscopus Leopolitanus Ucrainorum – was applauded by the congregation even before he attempted to speak. Also see Neophytos Edelby, Il Vaticano II nel diario di un vescovo arabo. Ed Riccardo Cannelli (Milan, 1996), p. 167: “Il presidente dell’assemblea annuncia in seguito un intervento di mons. Slipyj, metropolita ucraino di L’vov, liberato dalla prigione l’anno precedente. Ma questi, per ragioni sconosciute, si scusa. Verrà ascoltato domani. La sala nondimeno vibra di applausi commossi per questo confessore della fede.”

[26] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, October 10, 1963: “It was decided today:

  1. To prepare the draft of a Common Pastoral Letter (I was to take care of this issue).
  2. Bishops who would like to speak at the Council in the name of all of our bishops should notify the secretary of the Conference Most Rev. Nil’ Savaryn.
  3. Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj read for the bishops the text of his speech tomorrow at the Council.”

[27] See the speech in AS II/2, pp. 442-446. Slipyj’s speech was summarized differently by G. Caprile’s chronicle (part II, p. 86), in Il Concilio Vaticano II: Cronache del Concilio Vaticano II, V Vols., (Rome: 1966-1969). According to Caprile the highlights of the speech were: the expectation that the Council would reflect on atheism and on social issues; the statement that the Pope’s mission is directly dependent upon Christ and, therefore, the Pope supersedes the college of bishops; there are arguments in favour of, but also against, the reformation of the diaconate. Slipyj ends his speech with a plea to elevate the Metropolia of Kyiv-Halyč to patriarchal status.

[28] See the study by Bernard M. Daly, Maxim Hermaniuk: Canadian Father of Collegiality at Vatican II … and After, in Gilles Routhier (ed.), Vatican II au Canada: Enracinement et réception (Montréal, 2001), pp. 427-439.

[29] Cf. Edelby, Il Vaticano II, p. 209: “Il metropolita Slipyj ha fatto un intervento poco chiaro. Ha voluto fungere da conciliatore tra partigiani e oppositori della collegialità episcopale e di un consiglio universale di vescovi attorno al papa.”

[30] For a brief history of patriarchal movement in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, see Vasyl Markus, The Role of the Patriarchal Movement in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, in David J. Goa (ed.), The Ukrainian Religious Experience: Tradition and the Canadian Cultural Context (Edmonton, 1989), pp.157-170; Also see Thomas E. Bird & Eva Piddubcheshen (ed.) Archiepiscopal and Patriarchal Autonomy (New York, 1972), as well as the article by the Basilian M. Vojnar, Projekt konstytuciï patriarchatu Ukraïns’koï cerkvy, in Bohoslovija 34 (1970), pp. 5-39.

[31] Declerck (ed.), Agendas Willebrands, October 22, 1963: “12 h: Conversation avec Borovoj au Secrétariat. Sa crainte des développements ultérieurs en ce qui concerne Slipyj et l’attitude de celui-ci, qui a des implications politiques.”

[32] Declerck (ed.), Agendas Willebrands, October 13, 1963: 8 h 30: “Father Long téléphone: Mgr Cardinale a téléphoné hier au sujet de l’intervention de Mgr Slipyj concernant la restauration du patriarcat de Kiev. Selon Mgr Cardinale il ne faut plus faire mention au concile du patriarcat de Kiev, sa signification étant purement historique et non politique.”

[33] Declerck (ed.), Agendas Willebrands, October 23, 1963: “Mgr Slipyj téléphone au sujet de l’invitation à Skrypnyk. Les évêques ukrainiens lui ont demandé d’aller chez le pape. Il ne veut pas mais il me demande de faire quelque chose. Je lui en parlerai demain”; Also see on October 24: “Au Secrétariat, parlé avec Father Long au sujet d’un arrangement possible de la question Skrypnyk. Conversation avec Mgr Slipyj à Saint-Pierre; il a déjà vu le card. Bea. Il écrira lui-même à Skrypnyk. Après son arrivée à Rome, nous verrons.”

[34] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, October 17, 1963: “17:00 – consultation of the Ukrainian Bishops Conference at the College of St. Josafat. Most Rev. Met. J. Slipyj presented to the bishops his own plan for establishing a ‘Ukrainian Catholic University’ in Rome. Discussion ensued. A majority of bishops stated support for the idea of studying the question of establishing such a university, yet only seven declared support for the immediate signing of the founding charter. When it came to a vote there were only 9 votes in favour and 5 against.”

[35] On Slipyj’s concern for theological education, see Pelikan, Confessor Between East and West, pp. 133-140. The Theological Academy was re-established in 1994, subsequently becoming the Ukrainian Catholic University.

[36] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, October 17, 1963.

[37] Among some of the Basilians there was a tendency to refer to the exemptio of the Order in order to escape the authority of the bishops. This constituted a difficulty for the principle of the collegiality of bishops, one of the major issues on the conciliar agenda. As a result of a reform in 1882, the Basilian Order had become more centralised. Later on, attempts were made to retrieve less strict structures: Metropolitan Šeptyc’kyj tried in the 1920s to return to the traditional structures of monastic life in Ukraine, and he reproached the Basilians’ attempts to ‘latinize’ the liturgy. Slipyj also reacted against the influence of the Basilians, who were dissatisfied with Šeptyc’kyj’s announcement that Slipyj would be his successor. Cf. Pelikan, Confessor Between East and West, pp. 126-127, 186-188; also see Cyrille Korolevskij, Le prophète ukrainien de l’unité: Métropolite André Sheptyc’kyj (1865-1944) (Paris, 1964) [2nd edition in 2005], pp. 260-277.

[38] See the official decree conferring this title, in AAS 56 (1964), p. 214.

[39] Schelkens & Skira, Diary Hermaniuk, February 28, 1964.

[40] Cf. Svoboda, 170 (September 11, 1964).

[41] Cf. Sapeljak, Ukraïns’ka Cerkva, pp. 250-253.

[42] In its issue of January 8, 1965, The Ukrainian Weekly, 4/LXXII, carried the full text of an interview that Senyšyn gave on Dec. 26, 1964, to the editors from Ameryka and Svoboda, among others, in which Senyšyn affirmed that, according to Vatican II, the Ukrainian Catholic Church has the right to a patriarchal status, though he is opposed to the campaign of petitions. He also indicated that now may not be the best time for a patriarchate because a number of Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs object to it, and because it would further divide the Ukrainian churches. He also admitted that he has had differences of opinion with Slipyj, though he still respected him. He also denied that he had aspirations of being named the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s next patriarch.

[43] AS III/5, pp. 9-43. A broader study of the relevance and importance of the Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum for the UGCC was published by Victor J. Popishil, Orientalium Ecclesiarum: The Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches of the II Vatican Council: Canonical and Pastoral Commentary (New York, 1965).

[44] Edelby, Il Vaticano II, p. 258: Il dibattito di questa mattina a San Pietro, sebbene in generale favorevole all’Oriente, ha anche mostrato delle divergenze abbastanza profonde tra i padri orientali su alcuni problemi. Il vescovo maronita di Sarba, mons. Doumith, ha attacatto a fondo lo schema, chiedendo il suo dislocamento e la sua ripartizione in altri schemi. Mons. Ghattas, copto, ha chiesto l’unificazione della giurisdizione, come d’altra parte mon. Doumith ha chiesto, contrariamente al suo patriarca, che si proibisca la latinizzazione dell’Oriente. Mons. Zoghby ha ugualmente fatto un importante discorso, ma di carattere piuttosto dogmatico. Il discorso più impressionante è stato quello di mons. Slipyj; che ha condotto un attacco a fondo contro la latinizzazione dell’Oriente. Pronunciato da un confessore della fede, questo discorso aveva qualcosa di veramente toccante.”

[45] In the same council period, a warm plea for the establishment of new Patriarchates was held by the German Benedictine abbot Hoeck, and highly welcomed by the majority of the Ukrainian bishops. See his intervention in AS III/5, pp. 788-805, esp. p. 793, under the header “De Patriarchis”.

[46] AS III/5, pp. 19-21, p. 21: Denique tali actione funesta timendum est ne acatholici orientales deterreantur cum ipsi sibi persuadeant, se suas Ecclesias, suos fideles, suos ritus et saepe saepius, nationem suam, se uniendo cum Ecclesia catholica, perdere posse. Quod repetunt nunc non solum fideles orthodoxi, set etiam athei autumantes nostram Unionem esse tantum pontem et tramitem ad latinizationem et evacuationem in mari latino.”

[47] AS III/5, pp. 19-21, p. 21: “Miseremini ergo nostri, venerabiles Patres, quia orientales sumus, et adiuvate nos, ut nostram missionem in Ecclesia catholica alte implere queamus.” Cf. Sapeljak, Ukraïns’ka Cerkva, p. 225, who simply reports Slipyj’s request for assistance for the Eastern Catholics in the Church’s mission, which he does in the context of discussing the unfortunate history of the attempts of the West’s latinization of the East.

[48] Decretum Orientalium Ecclesiarum, in AAS 57 (1965), pp. 76-89.

[49] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, January 25, 1965.

[50] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, May 11, 1965. The discussion would be carried further, when on October 16, 1965, Met. Hermaniuk visited Card. Testa at the Oriental Congregation, asking “that the Apostolic See resolve the question of the Suprema аuctoritatis in our Church, and grant His Eminence Cardinal J. Slipyj, as Major Metropolitan, the authority over all our metropolia and exarchates in Ukraine and outside of Ukraine.”

[51] Schelkens & Skira (ed.), Diary Hermaniuk, May 13, 1965: “18:00 – a visit at Cardinal Slipyj’s. He, despite his great moral suffering and humiliation, is keeping well. He has hope for the victory of truth and justice. The elevation of Metropolitan A. Senyšyn to the dignity of Assistant to the Papal Throne does not yet end the matter.”

[52] Declerck, Agendas Willebrands, October 20, 1965.

[53] AS IV/1, pp. 236-239.

[54] See Dushnyck, The Ukrainian Rite Catholic Church, who cites Slipyj on p. 67: “Future generations will be in admiration of this phase of the work of Vatican II. It would be well to stress the opportuneness of the doctrine of religious liberty in view of present-day religious persecutions, lest the document seem to be only academic and theoretical. Freedom from coercion is necessary for the Church but it is likewise necessary for the welfare of every state, in order that its citizens not be saddled with insupportable burdens.”

[55] This letter, signed by all the Ukrainian diaspora bishops, was distributed to all Council Fathers on the eve of the Council’s vote on the Declaration on religious freedom, on November 19, 1965. The document is found in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Conc. Vat. II, 1450.

[56] AS IV/3, pp. 101-142.

[57] Slipyj’s speech is found in AS IV/3, pp. 106-110..

[58] On the Ukrainians at Vatican II, see the study by Myroslav Tataryn, Canada’s Ukrainian Catholics and Vatican II: A Guide for the Future or Struggling with the Past?, in Michael Attridge, Catherine Clifford & Gilles Routhier (ed.), Vatican II: Expériences canadiennes – Canadian experiences (Ottawa, 2011), pp. 239-252

[59] The original Ukrainian text is found in Blahovisnyk, 1/1 (1965), pp. 3-24.

[60] On the postconciliar reception of Vatican II reforms by the UGCC, see Peter Galadza, The Reception of the Second Vatican Council by Greco-Catholics Ukraine, in Communio: International Catholic Review, 27 (2000), pp.312-339,

[61] This was also noted already during the Council by the Melkite bishop Neophytos Edelby, in his diary. See Edelby, Il Vaticano II, p. 154: “[Slipyj] è un grande amico nostro, anche se su alcuni punti la sua teologia ecumenica resta – a nostro avviso – un po’ troppo classica. Non bisogna dimenticare che da diciassette anni è rimasto tagliato fuori da ogni contatto con la teologia moderna. Ci siamo lasciati con una totale comprensione.”

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