Thursday 10 April 2008
The Reluctant-to-Accept and the Reluctantly-Accepted Bishop
Count Andrei Roman Alexander Maria Sheptytsky
Published in Progress Ukrainian Catholic News, no.15/2144 (24 August 2008), pages 6, 10, and 11.
Of the many Ukrainian national and religious leaders of the twentieth century, a name stands out as representing a universal father-figure. His name was reviled during the Soviet period not only because of its Catholic overtones but also because it had become synonymous with the defense of the persecuted Ukrainian identity. This name is Andrei Sheptytsky, Metropolitan of Halych, Archbishop of Lviv, Bishop of Kamianets-Podilsk, Primate of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and extraordinary Apostolic Exarch for the Eastern-Catholic Church in Russia. Surprisingly, however, during the early days of his career, Sheptytsky was not regarded very positively by Ukrainians. This article reveals key events in the hitherto untold story of how a young Polish aristocrat became a Ukrainian monastic priest, reluctantly accepted the burden of the episcopacy and was reluctantly accepted by the political leaders of his flock as their spiritual father.
The future Kyr Andrei entered the world as Count Roman Alexander Maria Szeptycki (Polish spelling). His father’s lineage was an ancient Ruthenian (as Ukrainians were once called) noble line which had adopted the Latin Rite and become Polish. Roman was born in 1865 at Przylbice (Prybylchi) in the Kingdom of Galicia, a portion of Poland which had been partitioned to Austria in 1772. At the time of his birth, the Austrian empire was rife with political tensions between its component nationalities. The following year (1866) saw a crucial military defeat for Austria, which hastened a radical, internal state reform along national lines. A year later, in 1867, the emperor divided the government of his realms, creating the dual-monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Two additional consequences of this compromise were the granting of parliamentary ministerial government and the handing-over of political power in Galicia to the Polish aristocracy. These two decisions would come to have a major effect on the process of choosing future leaders for the Greek-Catholic Church.
Virtually all of the Ruthenian nobility had adopted the Latin Rite to secure a political and social position. This left the clergy as the nation’s leaders and foremost among them was the metropolitan of Halych, who had inherited the Greek-Catholic primacy when, in 1807, Pope Pius VII transferred it from Kyiv (under Russian domination) to Lviv. The metropolitan commanded great political authority among the Ruthenians and promoted a policy of absolute loyalty to the ruling Habsburg dynasty in exchange for political concessions. However, by the 1860’s, the Ruthenians were developing their own educated laity and political class. By handing political power to the Poles in 1867, Austria had dealt a severe blow to the authority of the Greek-Catholic hierarchy. Believing that their nation had been sacrificed by Austria, Ruthenian leaders began to look towards Russia for political and spiritual fulfillment. This movement became known as Russophilism and it represented a serious threat to Austrian rule and to the Catholic Church in Galicia.
In the 1880’s, the Apostolic See of Rome had also turned its gaze towards Russia. The Vatican shared Austria’s fear that this aggressive Orthodox empire (and its international arm of pan-slavism) would continue to severely persecute any Catholics who fell under its rule. Nonetheless, Pope Leo XIII took a positive approach to the issue by seeking to improve diplomatic relations with the Tsarist regime. This new openness accorded with the optimism that was being expressed by Russian thinkers such as Vladimir Solovëv, who began to look positively towards Rome as the centre of Christian unity.
Pope Leo’s vision was far from Austrian political concerns. In Galicia, spiritual Russophilism within the Greek-Catholic Church seeped over into political Russophilism in Ruthenian society. The Austrian government admonished the Greek-Catholic hierarchy to curtail the movement, but throughout the 1870’s Russophile clergy succeeded in occupying the chief administrative posts of the eparchial consistories. In the early 1880’s, certain radical Russophile leaders openly declared their Russian sympathies and one parish even attempted to break with the Catholic Church (hitherto, there had not been a single Orthodox church in Galicia). The Austrian government reacted by sentencing the ringleaders and calling for the removal of Metropolitan Josyf Sembratovych, together with leading clergy. After years of delaying, it also agreed to subdivide the enormous archeparchy of Lviv by creating a second eparchy of Stanislaviv. In doing so, it hoped to lessen the authority of the Russophiles who held sway in Lviv. As a final measure, Austria sanctioned the Galician Jesuits reform of the Basilian Order, the only Ruthenian religious order then in existence.
There remained the problem of a shortage of acceptable episcopal candidates. The government was looking for bishops who would be both loyal and capable administrators. For the sake of the public peace, it sought candidates who would be acceptable to the Ruthenians and, at the same time, not antagonistic towards the Poles. The Apostolic See, meanwhile, was looking for zealous reformers who would not only decrease the influence of Russophilism but also strengthen the Church’s bonds with Rome. Looking beyond the backwater of Austrian-Galicia, Rome viewed the Ruthenian Church as an ideal base from which to spearhead a mission to Russia and the Orthodox world.
One of the major limitations concerning candidates was the lack of unmarried Ruthenian clergy. From the Union of Brest (1596) until the end of the eighteenth century, only Basilian monks were eligible to become Uniate bishops. While Austrian reforms generally strengthened clerical and educational institutions, they weakened monastic communities, thus leading to in a period of decadence among the Basilians which resulted in a lack of suitable candidates from their ranks. However, by the 1870’s, choosing Basilian bishops was again becoming a necessity, for Rome began rejecting all widowers, further narrowing the list of eligible secular priests. In 1891, the Greek-Catholic Synod of Lviv followed up by incorporating the exclusion of widowers into its own particular church law.
Enter Roman Sheptytsky who, socially speaking, had the world at his feet but having been brought-up in a very pious familial setting, it is not surprising that he gravitated toward a religious vocation. In this decision, he was much influenced by one of his mother’s spiritual advisors, Father Henryk Jackowski, Provincial of the Galician Jesuits. Jackowski also happened to be a protagonist in Pope Leo’s plan for the Greek-Catholic Church in Russia and the Basilian reform. Accordingly, the young count decided take part in Jackowski’s project-in-the making and join the Ruthenian Basilians, even though he had been brought up in the Latin Rite. His family initially expressed opposition but later acquiesced when they became convinced, with Jackowski’s help no doubt, that the new Basilians were destined to be of better spiritual calibre than the Greek-Catholic secular clergy.
Entering the Basilians in 1888, Sheptytsky took the monastic name of Andrei. Quite independent of his superior upbringing, the young monk’s spiritual and intellectual qualities were quickly noticed by his superiors. Ever watchful of his progress, Jackowski continued to entrust Father Andrei with key positions in the reformed order. Soon after his priestly ordination, in 1892, Sheptytsky was the first reformed Basilian to be appointed to the crucially important position of novice master. Four years later, he became the first reformed superior of St. Onufri monastery in Galicia’s capital city of Lviv. By all accounts, the young levite was entirely focused on the religious life, free of any desire for greater leadership outside of his religious community.
Such a naturally and spiritually gifted individual could not go unnoticed by religious and civil authorities, especially in view of the lack of celibate episcopal candidates. Besides his personal qualities, Father Sheptytsky fulfilled all Rome’s prerequisites: not only was he unmarried but he was prayerful, zealous and a convinced follower of Pope Leo XIII’s policy of respect for the traditions of the Eastern Churches and openness to Russia. In addition, he was not antagonistic to either the Latin Church or Polish society, in which he had been educated. Such qualities endeared him to a fellow Polish nobleman who was the head of the Vatican department in charge both of worldwide missions and also the Eastern Catholics. This man was Cardinal Mieczyzlaw Ledóchowski, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide.
1. Candidate for Przemysl, Lviv and Stanislaviv
Archival sources show that, only four years following his priestly ordination, in 1896, Sheptytsky was already being considered to replace the recently deceased bishop of Przemysl (Peremyshl). This nomination was premature and his Jesuit superiors begged Cardinal Ledóchowski to pass over the candidacy for the time-being, considering the vital role this young monk was playing in the delicate beginnings of the Basilian reform. In the end, the primate, Cardinal Sylvester Sembratovych (nephew of ex-metropolitan Josyf) proposed Canon Konstantyn Chekhovych, having omitted to mention that he was a widower. Two years later, Sembratovych himself was on his deathbed and asked for a coadjutor-bishop, again presenting one of his widower canons. This time in the know, Propaganda Fide replied that it was impossible to exempt from the laws of the Synod of Lviv (which they had worked for so many years to achieve). In the meantime, Cardinal Sylvester died before being able to present an alternative candidate.
Obtaining a successor was not a simple matter for the nomination process had become very complicated. First of all, since the Union of Brest, the Greek-Catholic primate held the privilege of nominating his suffragen bishops, not by right but in the name of the Apostolic See. The metropolitans of Halych partly inherited this privilege by being able to present three candidates to be vetted by Propaganda Fide and the papal secretariat of state. However, the Holy Roman (Austrian from 1804) emperor also held the personal privilege of presenting episcopal candidates within his realms. With the introduction of ministerial government, candidates had also to be approved by the foreign ministry and the ministry of religion. In Galicia, the local viceroy also had to be consulted. The Apostolic See was not happy with government intrusion and the nuncio reminded the emperor that the privilege of presentation was accorded to him alone, not to his ministers. In addition, the liberal ministries of the 1870’s sought confrontation with the Vatican, initiating an ever-growing conflict over episcopal appointments. This situation made it exceedingly difficult to find a candidate who was simultaneously acceptable to the Apostolic See, to Ruthenians, Poles and to all levels of government.
By 1897, Father Andrei Sheptytsky was the favoured candidate in both Vienna and Rome but not in Galicia. Ruthenian political leaders were extremely wary of Polish manipulation of their most important national institution, their Church. They had reacted strongly against the Jesuit reform of the Basilians and had been further alienated by Cardinal Sembratovych’s attempts at détente with the Polish Galician rulers (known as the New Era). The Ruthenian press had predicted that Sheptytsky’s entry into the Basilians was an attempt by the Poles to control their church from the inside. Sembratovych himself had explicitly excluded the young Basilian as his successor but for just the opposite reason; he feared that Sheptytsky would show inordinate zeal on behalf of the Ruthenians, thus upsetting the political balance that he had worked to establish.
With the cardinal primate’s death, the responsibility for the nomination passed to Emperor Franz Josef, a devout Catholic who attempted to mitigate conflicts with the Church. Already at the end of the previous year, His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty had heard favorable reports of Sheptytsky, no doubt from his Polish-Galician ministers (although Sheptytsky’s biographer, Cyrile Korolevskij, erroneously assumed that “his name was not known in Vienna”), and promised the nuncio that he would favour the candidacy. But when the nuncio suggested Sheptytsky to the government, Galician leaders once again urged caution. This time it was the viceroy, Count Leon Pininski, who repeated the same objections as the late Cardinal Sembratovych. He also suggested that, at thirty-three, two years shy of the canonical age, Sheptytsky was too young and inexperienced to become metropolitan-archbishop directly. Pininski proposed that the older and more experienced Bishop Chekhovych be transferred to Lviv and that Sheptytsky be made bishop of Przemysl. Propaganda Fide rejected the proposal outright for two reasons: firstly, Chekhovych was a widower, a state that was unsuitable for Greek-Catholic primate; secondly, Chekovych was held to be weak, and the Holy See reminded the government about the problems created by the last metropolitan who had been soft on Russophilism. In any case, Cardinal Ledóchowski had always favoured Sheptytsky and he continued to press for his candidacy.
The government then proposed promoting the aged Bishop Julian Sas-Kuilovsky of Stanislaviv and assigning him a Basilian auxiliary-bishop, who would begin to combat Russophilism by assuming the direction of the Lviv seminary. Sheptytsky was then to replace Kuilovsky in the small Stanislaviv diocese, in order to gain experience. This plan was acceptable to all concerned except Father Andrei, who had no such ambitions. He had already refused the nomination to Przemysl, two years previously, and was uncomfortable with the pressure that the government was exerting. In a desperate attempt to resist, Sheptytsky wrote three letters to the Apostolic See refusing the episcopacy, claiming that he was “unworthy” of the honor. The Jesuits, however, had grafted two special vows onto the Basilian constitutions: the first to spurn promotions and the second of particular obedience and submission to the Roman Pontiff. With the second vow in view, Sheptytsky had to include the proviso that he would only accept if ordered to by the Pope and such was indeed the will of Leo XIII and his minister, Cardinal Ledóchowski, who had been cherishing such hopes for several years. Sheptytsky’s refusal had also been prompted by his apprehension of the desperate moral state of Stanislaviv’s population, especially the clergy, imbued with Russophile tendencies. Thus, he made his acceptance of the imperial nomination conditional upon the government fulfilling its long-delayed promise of constructing a seminary for that diocese.
Having received the go-ahead from the nunciature, on 1 February 1899, Emperor Franz Josef simultaneously presented the names of Bishop Julian of the knights Sas-Kuilovsky and Andrei Count Sheptytsky to Pope Leo XIII, who announced their promotions in the consistory assembly of 19 June. Sheptytsky was ordained bishop in Lviv, on 17 September, by Metropolitan Kuilovsky, assisted by Bishop Chekhovych and Bishop Weber, the Latin-Rite auxiliary of Lviv. The following day, he was enthroned as bishop of Stanislaviv. The new Bishop immediately began a dynamic spiritual, moral and educational reform of his diocese. Not two months later, the apostolic nuncio was already praising his “rare qualities”, noting that “with prudence and caution, he has began to manifest an exceptional zeal in the government of his Diocese, where there is an extreme need to summon the clergy to a more disciplined life, which conforms to the priestly state.” Bishop Andrei’s “firm resolve” combined with his profound spirituality and warm attitude towards both clergy and laity won the hearts of the flock. Even hitherto skeptical Ruthenian-Ukrainian nationalists leaders somewhat changed their opinion of Sheptytsky from wariness to praise for his dedication to the people.
2. Nomination as Metropolitan-Archbishop
Like all Greek-Catholic episcopal nominations since the 1870’s, the 1899 nominations amounted to what had become the standard compromise between various interest groups of church and state. In addition, just before his formal nomination, Bishop Kuilovsky rejected Basilian Father Platonides Filas as his designated auxiliary-bishop and seminary rector. It was understood that the elderly bishop could not manage the large archdiocese alone and the government contemplated leaving aside Kuilovsky’s nomination altogether. At this point, Cardinal Ledóchowski made one last effort to propose Andrei Sheptytsky as metropolitan. However, since the emperor had already signed the presentation, Rome decided to go ahead, in the hope that the new metropolitan would accept Filas in time. It did not have long to wait for a solution to present itself because the infirm Kuilovsky died less than a year later, on 4 May 1900.
Now the path seemed to be cleared for the favoured candidate, Sheptytsky, who had gained experience and popularity in the eyes of his flock and of church and state leaders. The apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Emidio Taljani, stated that, “despite his youth, he possesses all the requisite qualities to become an excellent archbishop.” However, even this second nomination would not go as smoothly as planned. Papal secretary of state Cardinal Rampolla informed the nuncio of the Pope’s will that Sheptytsky accept the promotion to Lviv and that Father Filas replace him as bishop of Stanislaviv. This proposal appeared to acceptable to all when Sheptytsky traveled to Vienna to perform the bureaucratic procedures. There he was presented with a new condition by the government, which he and the nuncio both deemed unacceptable; a condition which had its root in the very foundation of the Stanislaviv eparchy.
In the eighteenth century, Austria took over the financial administration of the Church and established a Religion Fund to pay salaries and expenses. It had promised to found a third Greek-Catholic eparchy as far back as the 1780’s but continued to procrastinate. Finally, during the height of the Russophile scare, the government agreed to create the Stanislaviv eparchy but could not come to a final agreement as to how it would be funded. In relinquishing his office in 1882, ex-Metropolitan Josyf Sembratovych had been granted a pension by the Lviv Archeparchy. Upon his death, instead of returning the revenue to Lviv, the government planned to use part of it to fund Stanislaviv, thus exonerating itself of having to use the Religion Fund. Sheptytsky stood firm on refusing the nomination under such conditions, and submitted a clever counter-proposal containing the proviso that any decision on the Lviv revenues be subject to the approval of the Apostolic See.
Rome, however, chose not to challenge Austria on a financial issue, in view of the fact that negotiations for new bishops were becoming ever more difficult. The nuncio assured Cardinal Rampolla that, since the government was willing to defer financial negotiations, the emperor was ready to sign the nomination. It was precisely during this period of intense negotiation that Bishop Sheptytsky led a group of pilgrims to Rome to celebrate the Jubilee Year. There he met with Cardinal Rampolla, who instructed him to accept the nomination and to forward a report on the issue for a future decision by the Apostolic See. In an audience of 29 October 1900, two days before the emperor had signed his letter of presentation, Pope Leo XIII announced to the pilgrims that their bishop was to become the new metropolitan. The following 5 November, the Viennese nuncio was instructed to initiate the canonical process of collecting testimonies from three well-known priests, which was performed on 12 November.
As if the saga had not been complicated enough, Sheptytsky sent a letter to the nuncio on 11 December, placing the decision regarding the finances in the hands of the Pope. In the same missive, however, he resolutely declared that he was not willing to endure any further government pressure and, if necessary, was ready to renounce the episcopacy to return to the monastic life. Sheptytsky’s inflexibility can be further understood in the light of the fact that he had invested personal funds in Stanislaviv, expecting the government to fulfill its promise to fund a seminary on condition that he accept the episcopacy. As a result, the bishop was left financially destitute but his persistence succeeded in convincing the government to reduce some of its claims. Andrei Sheptytsky’s nomination as Greek-Catholic archbishop of Lviv was finally proclaimed at the papal consistory of 17 December 1900 and he was enthroned as metropolitan of Halych on 12 January 1901. Having agreed to Sheptytsky’s promotion, the government nonetheless suspended the nomination of his successor in Stanislaviv for another three years, until the financial issues could be resolved.
Already in the first months of office, the new Metropolitan surprised everyone by unequivocally supporting the national and political demands of his flock, just as Cardinal Sembratovych had predicted. Despite this fact, the Ukrainian national movement continued to be wary of the Polish aristocrat, whom they suspected of being a traitor in disguise. While Sheptytsky supported every honorable Ukrainian aspiration, he continued to be misunderstood by both Ukrainian and Polish nationalists. Many of them held anticlerical or even agnostic views, having been educated in Austrian legalist philosophy which looked upon the Church as an earthly instrument of the nation. With much prejudice and little foresight, Ukrainian notables continued to passionately oppose Basilian episcopal candidates, such as Platonid Filas and Josaphat Kotsylovsky, men who were to become defenders of the national identity and even protagonists in the formation of the short-lived Western Ukrainian state. While recognizing these faults, instead of withdrawing from the political forum “into the sacristy”, Sheptytsky challenged the intelligentsia and attempted to bring the teaching of Christ to the national movement. He also emasculated the Russophile movement by inaugurating a ritualist revival that was both faithful to his Church’s Kyivan roots and also to the unity of the Universal Church. It might be said that, in some respects, he beat the ritualist and political ideologues at their own game.
With the blessing of Leo XIII’s successor, Pope Pius X, Kyr Andrei also began a secret mission to establish an authentically Russian Eastern-Catholic Church. Remarkably, not only the Tsarist government but so too the fledgling Ukrainian government objected to this mission, both for nationalistic reasons.
Metropolitan Andrei’s breakthrough with the Ukrainian national movement finally came after he had been imprisoned. The Russians imprisoned him in Siberia, in 1914, because he was a danger to their plan to Russianize the Galician Ukrainians and to make them break their ecclesial unity with the Roman Pontiff. The Polish army confined him in his own archiepiscopal palace, in 1919, after they had captured Lviv from Ukrainian forces. The Polish Government tried everything to have Sheptytsky removed as Greek-Catholic archbishop of Lviv because he was an obstacle to their plan to Polonize the Ukrainians. Having failed to achieve their designs, when Sheptytsky attempted to return to his diocese from abroad in 1923, as the Pope has specifically commanded him, the Polish Government ordered that he be interned in Poznan, in an attempt to extract from him an unconditional oath of political loyalty. Notwithstanding Sheptytsky’s consistent resistance to government intrusion in Church affairs, he outlasted each one of the regimes that persecuted him. At the time, these regimes appeared to represent the greatest danger but Kyr Andrei understood that the moral condition of the individual human beings that constitute the nation had an infinitely greater and lasting significance. Throughout his episcopal ministry, Andrei Sheptytsky retained the “firm resolve” that had been credited him by the papal representative in 1899. In exile, former political leaders lost any effective voice in the homeland. The Metropolitan never fled persecution however, and he remained to comfort his people in their plight and was finally recognized by the nation a great hero and a moral figurehead. Most significantly, he remained a living martyrios, a witness to his people of Catholic unity and fidelity (not merely in theory but also in practice) to his spiritual Father, the Roman Pontiff, Successor of Blessed Peter the Apostle.